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Dandridge v. Self Storage Services Inc.

United States District Court, District of Maryland

May 7, 2015



Jillyn K. Schulze United States Magistrate Judge

Presently pending are Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Count I of Plaintiff’s amended complaint, ECF No. 38, and Defendant’s motion to dismiss Counts II through V of the complaint, ECF No. 18.[1] The issues have been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant’s motions will be granted.

1. Background.

Plaintiff, Jennifer Dandridge, filed suit against Defendant, Self Storage Services, Inc., alleging racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I), retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) (Counts II and III), fraud (Count IV), and breach of contract (Count V). ECF No. 14-1 at 9-27.

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant from 1998 to July 16, 2014. ECF No. 14-1 ¶ 6. During the final four years, Plaintiff was the manager of two of Defendant’s facilities: Waldorf Self Storage and Affordable Self Storage. On June 24, 2010, the parties entered into an agreement allowing Plaintiff to live in an apartment on Defendant’s property, located at 3150 Leonardtown Road, Waldorf, Maryland 20601. Id. at ¶ 77. The agreement stated that “[a] resident apartment, rent free will be made available to you. The comparative pretax value of this benefit is $12, 000 annually . . . .” Id. Plaintiff lived in this apartment during her four years as a manager for Defendant. Id. at ¶ 16. On July 16, 2014, Defendant terminated Plaintiff’s employment. Id. at ¶ 9. On July 18, 2014, Mr. Daniel Stanton, Defendant’s Vice President of Operations and Plaintiff’s supervisor, issued a termination letter to Plaintiff, stating that she was terminated for (1) offering rental rate discounts and move-in discounts that were not authorized by the corporate office; (2) amassing an unacceptably high accounts receivable figure; and (3) selling automobiles on the facility’s property despite being informed by Mr. Richard Moran, Defendant’s president, that this practice was unacceptable. Defendant’s Exhibit 12.

Plaintiff continued to live in the apartment after her termination and, on August 22, 2014, Defendant filed a wrongful detainer action against Plaintiff in the Charles County District Court, alleging that Plaintiff owed Defendant $1, 000 per month in rent during her occupancy of the premise, $800 in attorney’s fees, and $543.90 per week for costs incurred to house the replacement manager at the Comfort Suites Waldorf. Id. at ¶ 46. The court dismissed the wrongful detainer action on September 4, 2014, reasoning that a wrongful detainer action was the wrong procedural vehicle by which to remove Plaintiff from the apartment, that Defendant needed to give Plaintiff a 30-day notice to quit, and that the correct action was a holdover tenant action.[2] Id. at ¶ 35.

2. Standard of Review.

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.

Summary judgment may be entered only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Emmett v. Johnson, 532 F.3d 291, 297 (4th Cir. 2008). Summary judgment is inappropriate if any material factual issue “may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); JKC Holding Co. LLC v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001).

“A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ’ but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). “A mere scintilla of proof . . . will not suffice to prevent summary judgment.” Peters v. Jenney, 327 F.3d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 2003). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). At the same time, the facts that are presented must be construed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Emmett, 532 F.3d at 297.

3. Discussion.

A. Summary Judgment Motion - Discrimination Claim (Count I).

Count I contends that Defendant terminated Plaintiff’s employment on the basis of her race. A plaintiff may establish a claim for intentional discrimination using two methods. She may either demonstrate through direct evidence that her race “motivated the employer’s adverse employment decision, ” Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 284 (4th Cir. 2004), or she may “proceed under a ‘pretext’ framework”-commonly referred to as the McDonnell Douglas approach-“under which the employee, after establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, demonstrates that the employer’s proffered permissible reason for taking an adverse employment action is actually pretext for discrimination.” Id. at 285. Direct evidence is “evidence of conduct or statements that both reflect directly the alleged discriminatory attitude and that bear on the contested employment decision.” Warch v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 435 F.3d 510, 520 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal marks omitted). To defeat a motion for summary judgment using direct evidence, the evidence must show that the employer announced, admitted, or “otherwise unmistakably indicated” that an impermissible consideration was a determining factor, or that discrimination can properly be assumed from the circumstances. Cline v. Roadway Express, Inc., 689 F.2d 481, 485 (4th Cir.1982).

Plaintiff has presented no direct evidence that her employment was terminated based on her race.[3] Absent direct evidence, Plaintiff must prove her case circumstantially using the pretext framework established in McDonnell Douglas. Under this framework, Plaintiff must first demonstrate a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge, which requires Plaintiff to show that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; (3) she was performing at a level that met her employer’s legitimate expectations at the time of the adverse employment ...

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