United States District Court, D. Maryland
BECKY L. GLOVER, Plaintiff
UNIV. VILLAGE AT SALISBURY, LLC, et al., Defendant.
JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.
Plaintiff Becky L. Glover was employed for several years as a property manager at University Village Apartments in Salisbury, Maryland. She brought this suit claiming employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2 and 2000e-3, against University Village at Salisbury, LLC ("University Village"); Onley Road Associates, LLC ("Onley Road"); Lockwood Design and Construction, Inc. ("Lockwood Design"); Darin Lockwood; and Donald Lockwood. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) All Defendants other than Darin Lockwood, who has filed a motion to dismiss, have filed answers. (ECF Nos. 13 & 27.) In addition, University Village and Donald Lockwood filed a counterclaim against Glover for alleged abuse of process, and University Village also counterclaimed against her for alleged tortious interference with actual and prospective contractual and/or business relationships. (ECF No. 13.) University Village, Lockwood Design, and Donald Lockwood also filed a third-party complaint against Ambling Management Company, LLC ("Ambling"), claiming breach of contract and a right to indemnification on the theory that Glover was actually, and only, an employee of Ambling. (ECF No. 14.)
Now pending before the Court are (1) Glover's motion to dismiss the counterclaim for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 16), (2) Ambling's motion to dismiss the third-party complaint for failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (ECF No. 24), and (3) Darin Lockwood's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction (ECF No. 38). The motions have been briefed (ECF Nos. 16, 19, 35, 41, 42, 43), and no hearing is required, Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). Darin Lockwood's motion will be denied, and the other two motions will be granted.
II. Standard of Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim
A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists "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 678. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. As the Twombly opinion stated, "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. at 555. "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'... Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
II. Standard for Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1)
The burden of proving subject-matter jurisdiction is on the plaintiff. Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982) (noting challenge may be either facial, i.e., complaint fails to allege facts upon which subject-matter jurisdiction can be based, or factual, i.e., jurisdictional allegations of complaint are not true). See also Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (same); Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Ry. Co., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (same). In the case of a factual challenge, it is permissible for a district court to "consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment." Richmond, Fredericksburg, 945 F.2d at 768 (citing Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219).
A. Darin Lockwood's Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1)
Because a challenge has been raised to the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction in Darin Lockwood's motion, the Court will address this issue first.
Darin Lockwood contends that Glover did not charge him in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") complaint and, therefore, she has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with respect to him. A plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies for a Title VII claim deprives federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction over the claim. Jones v. Calvert Group, Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009). Further, a civil action may be brought under Title VII only against the respondent named in the EEOC charge. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). "The purposes of this requirement include putting the charged party on notice of the complaint and allowing the EEOC to attempt reconciliation." Causey v. Balog, 162 F.3d 795, 800 (4th Cir. 1998). However, in various opinions from this Court, a "substantial identity" exception has been recognized to this "naming requirement." In Chastang v. Flynn & Emrich Co., 365 F.Supp. 957 (D. Md. 1973), aff'd in relevant part, 541 F.2d 1040 (4th Cir. 1976), it was stated:
[W]here there is a substantial, if not complete, identity of parties before the EEOC and the court, it would require an unnecessarily technical and restrictive reading of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 to hold that this court lacks jurisdiction.
Id. at 964. See also Alvarado v. Bd. of Trs., Montgomery Community College, 848 F.2d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1988) (noting that Chastang 's language had been quoted with approval in dictum in EEOC v. Am. Nat'l Bank, 652 F.2d 1176, 1186 n.5 (4th Cir. 1981)).
Thus, the naming requirement "is not applied in a hyper-technical fashion." Kronk v. Carroll Cnty., Md., Civ. No. L-11-277, 2012 WL 245059, at *5 (D. Md. Jan. 25, 2012). Consequently, if the purposes of the naming requirement are met-that is, if (1) the defendant contesting jurisdiction had fair notice of the EEOC charge and if (2) the EEOC had the opportunity to mediate the controversy-then a failure to name a specific defendant may be excused. Elzey v. Wal-Mart Assocs., Inc., Civ. No. RDB-11-2151, 2012 WL 3715321, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 28, 2012); Vanguard Justice Soc. Inc. v. Hughes, 471 F.Supp. 670, 687 (D. Md. 1979). See also Chastang, 365 F.Supp. at 962 (actual attempt by EEOC to mediate is not jurisdictional prerequisite; Title VII's policy of encouraging informal negotiations and conciliation efforts by EEOC satisfied as long as EEOC had opportunity to mediate). This is in keeping "with the judicial policy of liberally construing Title VII." Id. at 964.
The Court has been supplied with various documents relevant to the question at hand. The first noted is the EEOC "Intake Questionnaire" filled out by Glover on January 3, 2012. (Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1, ECF No. 42-2.) In it, Glover indicates her belief that she was discriminated against by her employer and the owner of the property where she worked; in the space for "Organization Name, " she wrote, "University Village owner Darin Lockwood." Glover named both "Don Lockwood" and "Darrin Lockwood" as persons responsible for the discriminatory actions taken against her. She indicated that at the end of December 2011, approximately two weeks after she had reported her complaint of sexual harassment to Ambling, her employment was terminated. Attached to her Intake Questionnaire was a narrative list of the acts of sexual harassment committed by Darin Lockwood against her.
The next relevant document is a letter written by her former counsel on February 2, 2012, and addressed to
(Darin Lockwood Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 3, p. 15, ECF No. 38-5.) In it, Glover's then-attorney invited the recipient to contact him ...