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Shuler v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

October 7, 2014

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

Plaintiff Melodie V. Shuler filed suit against Prince George's County (the "County"), the District of Columbia (the "District"), and three individuals, alleging multiple violations of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, Compl., ECF No. 3, in response to which the County and the District moved to dismiss, ECF Nos. 38 & 43. Plaintiff did not respond and, mindful that she is proceeding pro se, but also that she is an attorney, I issued an Order on May 27, 2014, dismissing her Complaint in part, ordering her to address the viability of her remaining claims against the County or face dismissal for failure to prosecute, and ordering her to show cause why I should not dismiss the claims against the Individual Defendants[1] without prejudice, for failure to prosecute. ECF No. 51. Specifically, I dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the District and Counts I, II, and VII[2] against the County for failure to state a claim, and I ordered her to respond to the County's motion with regard to Count VI and to address whether she has stated a claim against the County in Count V.

Plaintiff's response was due by June 10, 2014, but Plaintiff has not filed a response. Rather, on July 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Extension of Time to Respond to Court Order, to Reopen the Case and Request for Service Upon the Un-served Defendants, ECF No. 52.[3] For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion is denied and her remaining claims are dismissed.


Rule 6 provides that, "[w]hen an act may or must be done within a specified time, the court may, for good cause, extend the time... on motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect." Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(1)(B). A showing of excusable neglect "is not eas[]y..., nor was it intended to be." Thompson v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 76 F.3d 530, 534 (4th Cir. 1996). The Fourth Circuit has emphasized that "a district court should find excusable neglect only in the extraordinary cases where injustice would otherwise result.'" Symbionics Inc. v. Ortlieb, 432 F.Appx. 216, 220 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Thompson, 76 F.3d at 534 (citation omitted)) (emphasis in Thompson ) (considering excusable neglect in context of Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)).

Whether neglect is "excusable" has been described by the Supreme Court as "at bottom an equitable [inquiry], taking account of all relevant circumstances, " including the following: (1) the danger of prejudice to the non-movant; (2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings; (3) the reason for the delay, including whether it was in the reasonable control of the movant; and (4) whether the movant acted in good faith. Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 395 (1993).
[T]he third Pioneer factor-the reason for the delay-is the "most important." Thompson, 76 F.3d at 534.

Fernandes v. Craine, ___ Fed.App'x ___, 2013 WL 4427809, at *1-2 (4th Cir. Aug. 20, 2013).

Plaintiff argues that she could not respond timely "due to unforeseen circumstances of medical illness which has required her taking medication that has interfered with Ms. Shuler's ability to manage this case, " and also because "she has had an inability to receive mail, " such that she did not "discover[] the Court's [May 27, 2014] Order" until she "retrieve[d] mail from her former address during the first week of July." Pl.'s Mot. 1-2. According to Plaintiff, she was "illegal[ly] evicted from her place of residence in December of 2013 and then due to a fire at her new place of residence in April of 2014 it has been difficult to manage her affairs and receive mail." Id. at 1-2. She insists that "good cause exists to grant this limited extension." Id. at 2.

It is true that pro se litigants, such as Ms. Shuler, "are entitled to some deference from courts." Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 96 (4th Cir. 1989). However, that deference generally relates to construing a pro se plaintiff's complaint. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (stating that courts hold pro se complaints "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers"); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978) (stating that, in cases involving civil rights plaintiffs, "the district court must examine the pro se complaint to see whether the facts alleged, or the set of facts which the plaintiff might be able to prove, could very well provide a basis for recovery'" and that the court "will not permit technical pleading requirements to defeat the vindication of any constitutional rights which the plaintiff alleges'") (citation omitted). And, Ms. Shuler's status as an attorney minimizes the deference she should receive. Additionally, pro se litigants and other litigants alike "are subject to the time requirements and respect for court orders without which effective judicial administration would be impossible." Ballard, 882 F.2d at 96; see Birl v. Estelle, 660 F.2d 592, 593 (5th Cir. 1981) (dismissing untimely appeal because "the right of self-representation does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law"). Thus, a pro se litigant

proceeds... with full knowledge and understanding of the risks involved acquires no greater rights than a litigant represented by a lawyer, unless a liberal construction of properly filed pleadings be considered an enhanced right. See. Rather, such a litigant acquiesces in and subjects himself to the established rules of practice and procedure.

Birl, 660 F.2d at 593 (internal citations to United States v. Pinkey, 548 F.2d 305, 311 (10th Cir. 1977); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Larkin v. United Ass'n of Plumbers & Pipefitters, 338 F.2d 335, 336 (1st Cir. 1964), omitted).

Notably, Plaintiff does not contend that she could not have retrieved her mail sooner or contacted the Court to provide an address at which she could receive mail, in accordance with this Court's Local Rules, or made any other effort to check the status of her case. Yet, it was Plaintiff's responsibility to have a procedure in place for effective communications with this Court during the pendency of her case. See Loc. R. 102.1(b)(iii) ("Self-represented litigants must file with the Clerk in every case which they have pending a statement of their current address where case-related papers may be served. This obligation is continuing, and if any selfrepresented litigant fails to comply, the Court may enter an order dismissing any affirmative claims for relief filed by that party...."); see also Soliman v. Johanns, 412 F.3d 920, 922 (8th Cir. 2005) ("[A] litigant who invokes the processes of the federal courts is responsible for maintaining communication with the court during the pendency of his [or her] lawsuit.") (quoted in Robinson, 599 F.3d at 413); Edward H. Bohlin Co. v. Banning Co., 6 F.3d 350, 357 (5th Cir. 1993) ("A party has a duty of diligence to inquire about the status of a case.") (quoted in Robinson, 599 F.3d at 413). Indeed, during the December 9, 2013 conference call with the parties and "by Letter Order on December 10, 2013, ECF No. 39, I informed Plaintiff that, pursuant to Loc. R. 102.1(b)(iii), she is responsible for notifying the Clerk's office of her current address and contact information." May 27, 2014 Order 3-4. Consequently, Plaintiff has not shown excusable neglect, and her Motion for Extension of Time shall be denied. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(1)(B); Fernandes, 2013 WL 4427809, at *1-2.

As noted, I ordered Plaintiff to respond to the County's motion with regard to Count VI and to address whether she has stated a claim against the County in Count V by June 10, 2014, and I cautioned Plaintiff that failure to respond to my order would result in the dismissal of the remaining claims against the County for failure to prosecute. See Knott v. Wedgwood, No. DKC-13-2486, 2014 WL 1573548, at *3 (D. Md. 2014) (stating that "a district court has the inherent authority.. to dismiss a lawsuit sua sponte for failure to prosecute'" (quoting United States v. Moussaoui, 483 F.3d 220, 236 (4th Cir. 2007)). Because Plaintiff failed to respond or to ...

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