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Crump v. Montgomery County Education Association

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 23, 2014

LAVERN R. CRUMP, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

Plaintiff, a former teacher who is self-represented, brings this action against her union and its statewide affiliate alleging claims for breach of the duty of fair representation as well as discriminatory and retaliatory discharge under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendant union moves to dismiss, alleging, inter alia, that Plaintiff's claims are time-barred. Because Plaintiff's claims arose no later than 2009 and Plaintiff did not commence this action until December 2013, Plaintiff's claims are time-barred and her case must be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

For purposes of considering Defendants' motion, this Court accepts the facts that Plaintiff has alleged in her complaint as true. See Aziz v. Alcolac, 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). This case is the second attempt by Plaintiff Lavern Crump to seek redress for her termination as a teacher for the Montgomery County Public School system ("MCPS"). In a prior case, Crump sought to bring claims against MCPS and certain of its employees, which were dismissed in October 2013. See Crump v. Montgomery Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. PWG-12-3378, 2013 WL 5797632 (D. Md. Oct. 25, 2013) ( Crump I ). In this case, Crump seeks to hold her labor union, Montgomery County Educators' Association ("MCEA"), and the statewide organization of which it is an affiliate, Maryland State Educators' Association ("MSEA"), [2] liable for the same underlying events. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 2. The facts surrounding Crump's termination are discussed at length in Crump I; accordingly, I will summarize only those allegations that particularly are relevant here.

According to her pro se Complaint, Plaintiff is an African-American woman who has been a primary school teacher for over thirty-five years, fifteen of which were spent teaching for MCPS. Am. Compl. ¶ 1. During the 2004-2005 school year, Crump expressed concerns that the school at which she taught was not doing enough to serve its minority students, an issue which had been of interest to her. Id. ¶¶ 32-34. In the 2005-2006 school year, Plaintiff was transferred to a new school, Bel Pre Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, which had a larger minority population and where she was supervised by Principal Carmen Van Zutphen. Id. ¶¶ 3-5. Crump and Van Zutphen clashed repeatedly over Crump's teaching style and, although Crump had received positive reviews previously, Van Zutphen's review of Crump's performance indicated that she was "not meet[ing] standards." Id. ¶¶ 27-47. Crump alleges that this review was without factual justification, id. ¶¶ 48-50, and was not based on the factors that Van Zutphen was "contractual[ly]" obligated to consider under the relevant collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") and that neither MCEA nor MSEA made any attempt to address the breaches. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-7.

As a result of this negative review, Crump was placed in the "PAR" Program for the 2006-2007 school year.[3] Crump alleges that she was not provided with the documents considered by the PAR Panel and that the Panel accepted Van Zutphen's characterizations without independent consideration. Id. ¶¶ 52-53. Although Crump worked diligently to comply with the demands of the PAR Panel, she was continued in the PAR Program for the 2007-2008 school year and transferred to a new school, Beall Elementary School. Id. ¶¶ 58-61. Crump spent much of that school year on a medical leave of absence due to job-related stress. Id. ¶¶ 62-63. Crump alleges that MCEA "ignored the hostile work environment, the blatant retaliation and harassment tactics in place at Bel Pre during the 2005-2006 and the 2006-2007 school year, " id. ¶ 9, and refused to file grievances on Crump's behalf, id. ¶ 8.

At this point, MCEA first became involved in Crump's difficulties and negotiated her transfer to another school, Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, Maryland, id. ¶ 64. Crump continued to receive poor evaluations through the PAR Program, and alleges that the teacher evaluating her did not devote sufficient time and energy to the evaluations, and that the PAR Panel made the decision to recommend her termination without seeking additional information. Id. ¶ 65-70. During this time, Crump alleges that "MCEA and [Montgomery County Public Schools] were equal partners and assumed joint responsibility for the PAR program, the PAR panel, " and other aspects of Crump's review process. Id. ¶ 18. Crump was placed on leave without pay in July 2008, id. ¶ 74, and following a hearing, Crump was informed of the final decision to terminate her in February 2009, id. ¶¶ 78-79.

Crump appealed the decision of the hearing officer to the Montgomery County Board of Education ("MCBOE"), apparently-though the Complaint is not clear-with representation provided by her union. Compare Am. Compl. ¶ 80 ("Plaintiff, pro se"), with Am. Compl. ¶ 81 (referring to actions of "the union attorney" at the hearing). According to Crump, "the union attorney... did not address the most pertinent issues during the evidentiary hearing, " introduced no more than ten documents, and argued only that Crump should be given another year in the PAR Program. Id. ¶ 81.[4] Crump's termination was upheld by the MCBOE in April 2009. Id. ¶ 82.

After the MCBOE decision, Crump proceeded without counsel to appeal to the Maryland State Board of Education, which upheld the MCBOE's termination decision in April 2010 following an administrative hearing at which Crump alleges she was allowed only a limited opportunity to present her case. Id. ¶¶ 83-94. According to Crump, she was unable to retain legal representation because her union would not pay for her counsel out of its insurance policy. Id. ¶ 19. Crump proceeded to challenge her termination in the Circuit Court for Howard County, which ruled against her in August 2011, id. ¶ 99, and she filed her prior case in this Court in November 2012, id. ¶ 101, which was dismissed in October 2013, Crump I, 2013 WL 5797632.

Crump filed her original pro se Complaint in this case in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on December 11, 2013, Compl., ECF No. 12-1, but amended before serving, Certification of Filing of State Court Papers 1, ECF No. 12. Her three-count Amended Complaint alleges (I) "Breach of Contract/Due Process Violations"; (II) "Wrongful Discharge/Racial Discrimination" in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (III) Retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Am. Compl. Defendants removed to this Court on January 27, 2014, Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1, and the next day filed a Motion to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot."), ECF No. 9, and supporting Memorandum ("Defs.' Mem."), ECF No. 9-1. Crump has filed her Opposition ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), ECF No. 18, and Defendants have replied ("Defs.' Reply"), ECF No. 19; the motion now is fully briefed and is before me. Having reviewed the filings, I find a hearing is not required. Loc. R. 105.6.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for "the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose "is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.'" Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief, " as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly ). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663.

That said, "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Proctor v. Metro. Money Store Corp., 645 F.Supp.2d 464, 472-73 (D. Md. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545). A plaintiff fails to state a claim where the allegations on the face of the complaint show that an affirmative defense would bar any recovery. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 214-15 (2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c)); see Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 181 (4th Cir. 1996) (noting that dismissal is proper "when the face of the complaint clearly reveals the existence of a meritorious affirmative defense"). Although Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and her complaint is to be construed liberally, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this ...


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