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Battle v. State, Dep't of Labor, Licens'g & Regul'n

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 7, 2014



JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.

Sabrina L. Battle filed this suit on May 15, 2013, claiming violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) The Defendant is the State of Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation ("DLLR"). Defendant was served on January 27, 2014 (ECF No. 8), and after an extension of time to answer, filed the pending motion to dismiss (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff's counsel requested and received an extension of time to file a response to the motion by April 14, 2014 (ECF Nos. 14, 15), but to date nothing has been filed in opposition to Defendant's motion. No hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). The motion will be granted.

I. Service of Process

With an original filing date of May 15, 2013, the complaint was due to be served on Defendant by September 12, 2013, which is the end of the 120-day period allowed for service under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). Rule 4(m) states in relevant part:

If a defendant is not served within 120 days after the complaint is filed, the court-on motion or on its own after notice to the plaintiff-must dismiss the action without prejudice against that defendant or order that service be made within a specified time. But if the plaintiff shows good cause for the failure, the court must extend the time for service for an appropriate period.

On September 17, 2013, the Court ordered Battle to show cause within 14 days why the case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute based on failure to effectuate service on Defendant by September 16, 2013.[1] (ECF No. 3.) In response, Battle's counsel filed an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the issue of service of process and requested that the Court extend the period for Plaintiff to effectuate service. (ECF No. 5.) On October 2, 2013, the Court exercised its discretion to grant Plaintiff an additional 120 days to complete service of process. (ECF No. 6.)

Defendant now contends that the extension granted Plaintiff resulted in a total period of 240 days for completion of service. (Def.'s Mot. Supp. Mem. 4-5.) Thus, when Defendant was served on January 27, 2014, that marked day 257 from the filing of the complaint, and, therefore, service was untimely. ( Id. ) Although Defendant's analysis is not unreasonable, the Court's order may have created some confusion based on what apparently was Plaintiff's interpretation, namely, that the new 120-day period effectively began on the day of the Court's order, October 2, 2013, rather than retroactively on September 13, 2013. Under that interpretation, service on January 27, 2014, was timely. The Court considers it the better part of discretion to rule in Plaintiff's favor, although by no means is the Court suggesting this is the only correct call.

II. Ninety-Day Filing Period after Receipt of Right-to-Sue Letter

Defendant implicitly raises the question of whether the complaint was filed within 90 days after Plaintiff's receipt of the right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Def.'s Mot. Supp. Mem. 4.) Defendant notes the EEOC's letter is dated February 13, 2013, Plaintiff claims to have received it "on or about February 16, 2013, " and her suit was filed 91 days after the date of the letter, but 88 days from the date Plaintiff alleges she received it. ( Id. ) Although the Fourth Circuit does not embrace an "actual receipt" rule, see Harvey v. City of New Bern Police Dep't, 813 F.2d 652, 653-54 (4th Cir. 1987) (rejecting "actual receipt" rule and embracing flexible rule: "district courts should conduct a thorough examination of the facts to determine if reasonable grounds exist for an equitable tolling of the filing period"), the Court finds it implausible that Plaintiff should be held to have received the letter on the same date it was issued, particularly since Defendant's date stamp on the letter indicates Defendant did not receive it until February 15, 2013 (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 2). See also Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 148 n.1 (1984) (allowing three days for mail service under then-Rule 6(e) for presumed receipt of right-to-sue letter from EEOC). The Court accepts as true Plaintiff's allegation that she received the letter on or about February 16, 2013 (Compl. ¶ 85). Accordingly, the complaint was timely filed.

III. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

It seems undisputed that the Maryland DLLR is a Maryland state agency and, therefore, entitled to whatever Eleventh Amendment immunity to which the State of Maryland is entitled. This claim of immunity has been raised against Battle's claims under the ADA and the FMLA. Defendant has rightly noted the Supreme Court's decision in Board of Trs. of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001), which held that Congress did not, pursuant to the Enforcement Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, validly abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity to suits by private individuals for money damages under the ADA's Title I. Id. at 368-74 & n.9. In addition, the case of Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, 132 S.Ct. 1327 (2012), held the same as to suits for money damages under the FMLA's self-care provision. Id. at 1338. Maryland has not waived its immunity for suits in federal court. Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 12-103 (LexisNexis 2009). Thus, Battle's claims under the ADA and FMLA, her second and third causes of action, will be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

IV. Failure to State a Claim for Racial Discrimination

Battle's remaining claim is that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race. Defendant asserts this part of her complaint fails to state a claim for relief ...

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