Earp v. Quinlan. (Lawyers Weekly No. 10-16-0770, 16 pp.) (Sanford L. Steelman Jr., J.) Appealed from Durham County Superior Court (Allen Baddour, J.). N.C. App. Unpub.
Holding: The trial court erred when it dismissed the plaintiff’s claims of civil conspiracy to interfere with her right to work and her civil-obstruction-of-justice claim against one defendant.
We affirm the trial court’s dismissal of nine other claims against multiple defendants. The trial court erred when it granted the defendants’ Rule 12(b)(7) motion to dismiss for failure to join necessary parties.
The plaintiff was employed by Carochem, which was later purchased by Quinlan. Carochem also employed Durrett, who had been convicted of viewing and possessing child pornography. Over time, the plaintiff was subjected to pornographic images that Durrett downloaded onto a work computer.
After the plaintiff complained about him, Durrett created a folder with a document containing an unsavory message directed at the plaintiff. When the plaintiff complained to Quinlan, he moved the plaintiff and defendant to different shifts, which resulted in the plaintiff moving from full-time to part-time employment.
The plaintiff filed suit against Carochem and Durrett and later sought to add Quinlan, a manager, and two corporations owned by Quinlan as defendants. The trial court added the manager as a defendant but denied the motion to add Quinlan and the corporations.
The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her suit against Carochem, Durrett and the manager. The plaintiff brought a second suit against Quinlan and the corporations. She alleged that her post-traumatic stress syndrome had been caused by the work environment and stated 11 causes of action.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss and a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff and her attorney. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss but denied the motion for sanctions.
The plaintiff appealed.
The defendants argued that the plaintiff was precluded from commencing an independent action against the same parties, seeking the same relief as set forth in proposed amendments to the complaint in a prior lawsuit.
The plaintiff did not have a full opportunity to litigate her claims against these same defendants. The trial court’s denial of her motion to amend in the first lawsuit was not a final judgment on the merits, and did not preclude her from filing the second lawsuit.
Dismissal of Numerous Claims
Of the plaintiff’s 11 claims, four were not raised on appeal and were considered abandoned. Five of the seven remaining claims were dependent upon piercing the corporate veil and alter-ego claims in order to be viable.
The plaintiff’s claims for piercing the corporate veil have been abandoned on appeal. Therefore the trial court’s order dismissing the claims that were dependent on piercing the corporate veil and alter-ego claims is affirmed.
Claims Against Quinlan
The plaintiff alleged that Quinlan conspired to interfere with her exercise or enjoyment of her right to work in an environment free of sexually oppressive conduct under G.S. § 99D-1.
Our Supreme Court has held that a complaint sufficiently stated a claim for civil conspiracy when the complaint alleged (1) a conspiracy; (2) wrongful acts done by the alleged conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy; and (3) damages as a result of the conspiracy. State ex rel. Cooper v. Ridgeway Brands Mfg., LLC, 362 N.C. 431 (2008).
The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that Quinlan, motivated by the plaintiff’s gender, conspired with Durrett and the manager to interfere with the exercise or enjoyment of her right to work and earn a living in an environment free of sexually oppressive conduct.
Quinlan’s alleged acts included “repeated covering up of sexual harassment” and “aiding and abetting the harassment of the plaintiff.” The plaintiff claimed that she was damaged as a result of the conspiracy.
She has alleged sufficient facts that, taken together, are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. The trial court erred by dismissing this claim.
Civil Obstruction of Justice Claim
Civil obstruction of justice is a common-law cause of action, consisting of acts which obstruct, impede or hinder public or legal justice and would amount to the common law offense of obstructing public justice. Grant v. High Point Reg’l Health Sys., 184 N.C. App. 250 (2007).
The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that after Quinlan was put on notice of the lawsuit, he tampered with evidence by altering or removing the Internet history on a work computer, deleted files and altered the contents of a computer. These actions were designed to impede and hinder the plaintiff’s discovery of evidence, and his conduct was meant to obstruct the administration of justice.
These allegations were sufficient to sustain a claim against Quinlan based on civil obstruction of justice. The trial court erred by dismissing this claim.
12(b)(7) Motion to Dismiss
The plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by granting the defendants’ Rule 12(b)(7) motion to dismiss for failure to join necessary parties. A trial court errs when it dismisses a case because a necessary party has not been joined. The trial court erred in granting defendants’ motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7).
We reverse the trial court’s order dismissing the plaintiff’s claims based upon conspiracy to interfere with civil rights and civil obstruction of justice against Quinlan. We affirm the trial court’s order dismissing the remainder of the plaintiff’s claims against Quinlan. We affirm the trial court’s order dismissing the plaintiff’s claims asserted against the corporate and other defendants. We reverse the trial court’s order granting a motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary party pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7).
Affirmed in part; reversed in part.