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Rodman v. Maryland Department Of Human Resources

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

May 24, 2013

DIONÉ RODMAN, Plaintiff
v.
MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES et al., Defendants

MEMORANDUM

JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.

Dione Rodman ("Plaintiff") brought this suit against Maryland Department of Human Resources ("DHR"), Baltimore City Department of Social Services ("BCDSS"), Sylvia Phillips, Jennifer Fowlkes, Sonja Lorick and Ron Allen (collectively, "Defendants") alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(2) and 1986, constitutional violations and multiple Maryland tort law claims. Now pending before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint (ECF No. 10), Defendants' motion to dismiss the first amended complaint (ECF No. 14), Plaintiff's motion to file a second amended complaint (ECF No. 20), and Plaintiff's motion to stay proceedings (ECF No. 22). The issues have been briefed and no hearing is required. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint (ECF No. 10) will be DENIED AS MOOT, Defendants' motion to dismiss the first amended complaint (ECF No. 14) will be GRANTED, Plaintiff's motion to file a second amended complaint (ECF No. 20) will be DENIED, and Plaintiff's motion to stay proceedings (ECF No. 22) will be DENIED AS MOOT.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff receives state benefits in the form of food stamps and temporary cash assistance. (Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) These benefits are distributed through BCDSS, which is a local department of DHR. ( Id. ¶¶ 2.) Plaintiff alleges that she signed a contract with BCDSS "entitling her to [the state benefits] as long as she complied with the provisions of Work Activity, " which is a "program established under the Maryland State Law." ( Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.) Plaintiff further alleges that at various times since 2010, Defendants have denied Plaintiff the benefits to which she is entitled under state law and ignored the legal processes for terminating such benefits.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Leave to file an amended or supplemental pleading should be "freely give[n] where justice so requires." FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2). A district court may deny leave, however, if: (1) the new pleading would prejudice the opposing party; (2) the moving party has acted in bad faith; or, (3) the new pleading would be futile ( i.e., if it could not withstand a motion to dismiss). Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006); Perkins v. United States, 55 F.3d 910, 917 (4th Cir. 1995). If a district court chooses to deny leave, it must give justifying reasons. See id. (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).

A motion to dismiss under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) is a test of the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). To pass this test, a complaint need only present enough factual content to render its claims "plausible on [their] face" and enable the court to "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff may not, however, rely on naked assertions, speculation, or legal conclusions. Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556-57 (2007). In assessing the merits of a motion to dismiss, the court must take all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). If after viewing the complaint in this light the court cannot infer more than "the mere possibility of misconduct, " then the motion should be granted and the complaint dismissed. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

A plaintiff filing pro se is held to a "less stringent standard[]" than is a lawyer, and the court must liberally construe his claims, no matter how "inartfully" pled. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); accord Brown v. N.C. Dept. of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 724 (4th Cir. 2010) (observing that liberal construction of a complaint is particularly appropriate where a pro se plaintiff alleges civil rights violations). However, even a pro se complaint must meet a minimum threshold of plausibility. See, e.g., O'Neil v. Ponzi, 394 Fed.App'x. 795, 796 (2d Cir. 2010).

It is well established that "the power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants." Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). Courts should consider three factors when ruling on a motion to stay: "(1) the interests of judicial economy; (2) hardship and equity to the moving party if the action is not stayed; and (3) potential prejudice to the non-moving party." Johnson v. DuPuy Orthopaedics, Inc., No. 12 Civ. 2274 (JFA), 2012 WL 4538642, *2 (D.S.C. Oct. 1, 2012) (quoting Meyers v. Bayer AG, 143 F.Supp.2d 1044, 1049 (E.D. Wis. 2001)).

III. ANALYSIS

Every party to litigation in federal court is entitled to "amend its pleading once as a matter of course within... 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b)." FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(1). Plaintiff took advantage of this rule when she filed the first amended complaint (ECF No. 13) on March 1, 2013. Defendants moved to dismiss the first amended complaint on March 15, 2013. (ECF No. 14.) At that point, Plaintiff was entitled to amend the complaint "only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave." FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2). However, on April 5, 2013, Plaintiff filed the second amended complaint (ECF No. 20) without indicating that Defendants consented to the filing or seeking the Court's leave.

The Court will treat the filing of the second amended complaint as a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, and the Court will deny the motion because the amendment would be futile. The Court has closely compared the second amended complaint to the first amended complaint, and the documents are almost identical. The only differences that the Court has identified are that (1) Plaintiff inserted paragraph 10 of the second amended complaint, and (2) Plaintiff attached four exhibits to the second amended complaint.[2] The new paragraph states that Plaintiff complied with the notice requirements set forth in the Local Government Tort Claims Act; that provision is not relevant to Plaintiff's allegations because Plaintiff has not asserted any claims against local governments. The new exhibits are also irrelevant to the motion to dismiss because they do not add any relevant information that is not pled in the first amended complaint. Therefore, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion to file a second amended complaint.

A. Sovereign Immunity

Plaintiff's claims against DHR and BCDSS are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.[3] States enjoy immunity from suits for damages under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that protection extends to arms of the state. Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280 (1977). DHR is "established" by state law "as a principal department of the State government." MD. CODE HUM. SERVS. § 2-201. BCDSS is also established by state law as a "local department" of DHR. Id. § 3-201. DHR has the power to determine whether state or federal funds will pay for the ...


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