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Maryland v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 13, 2015

ABDUL JALIL MARYLAND, KIM PERRY, ETHEL ELLIS, DE-SHAWN MARCUS-JONES, ERIC McDONALD, MAVIS THORNTON, LA'SHA WN SMITH, KELLIE BASEMORE, DENIS BUTTS, NETTIE TAYLOR, TONIA WHITE, and KEITH TROTMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, MV TRANSPORTATION, INC., LELAND PETERSON, PAUL COMFORT, JAMES WAUGH, DONNA SNOWDEN, NICOLE BROWN, CHARLES KHAI, and PAVEL LESHO, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THEODORE D. CHUANG, District Judge.

This case is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend the Complaint, ECF No. 4; a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants MV Transportation, Inc., Leland Peterson, Paul Comfort, James Waugh, Donna Snowden, Nicole Brown, Charles Khai, and Pavel Lesho, ECF No. 10; Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 15; Plaintiffs' Motion for a Declaratory Judgment, ECF No. 35; and Plaintiffs' Motion for Certification of a Class, ECF No. 40. Having reviewed the filings, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Amend is GRANTED, both Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED, the Motion for a Declaratory Judgment is DENIED, and the Motion for Class Certification is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

The twelve named Plaintiffs in this case, who are proceeding pro se, are all current or former employees of MV Transportation, Inc. ("MV Transportation"), a contractor for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"). On September 11, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court of Prince George's County, Maryland against WMATA, MV Transportation, and seven supervisors at MV Transportation ("the Individual Defendants") in which they allege that MV Transportation regularly monitored and recorded employees' conversations without their consent, in violation of federal and state wiretapping laws. Plaintiffs assert that MV Transportation then used "false allegations" about the content of those monitored conversations to suspend or terminate employees. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 2. Although it appears that Plaintiffs allege that the conversations at issue took place over the telephone, they do not indicate whether the devices allegedly tapped were personal phones or phones provided by MV Transportation for work purposes. Plaintiffs complained about this practice to management, but, they allege, both WMATA and MV Transportation asserted that they are exempt from wiretapping laws, that such laws "d[id] not apply in their business model, " and that they would therefore "continue this practice." Id. ¶ 4.

Plaintiffs also allege that they have been subjected to discrimination by being denied wages and fringe benefits, but do not identify any specific basis, such as race or gender, for the discrimination, and they do not identify any protected classes to which they individually belong. Plaintiffs note that WMATA and MV Transportation, having received federal funding, therefore agreed "to comply with all applicable equal employment opportunity requirements of [the] U.S. Department of Labor." Id. ¶¶ 12-13.

Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants violated the Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq. (2012); the Stored Wire and Electronic Communications and Transactional Records Access Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq. (2012); and the Maryland Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc., § 10-401 et seq. (2009). Plaintiffs also allege violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution relating to the alleged wiretapping. Furthermore, they assert claims of discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VI"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (2012); the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 206(d) (2012); the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2012); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (2012); 42 U.S.C. § 6101 et seq. (2012), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs receiving federal financial assistance; the Federal Transit Administration Act, 49 U.S.C. § 5301 et seq. (2012); and 41 C.F.R. § 60-1.1 et seq. (2015), which bars discrimination by government contractors and subcontractors.

On October 6, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint to include a claim of retaliation. In that Motion, Plaintiffs state that on or about June 11, 2014, Plaintiff Abdul Jalil Maryland ("Maryland") reported MV Transportation and WMAT A to the Office of the Inspector General for misappropriation of federal funds. Plaintiffs allege that on September 11, 2014, in response to the filing of the Complaint in this case, MV Transportation terminated Maryland from his position. They also allege that on September 29, 2014, Plaintiff Da-Shawn Marcus-Jones ("Marcus-Jones") was terminated in retaliation for joining this lawsuit. Plaintiffs contend that these acts of retaliation violated Title VI and 29 C.F.R. § 33.13 (2015), which enforces the prohibition on discrimination on the basis of handicap in programs or activities conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

On October 29, 2014, Defendants removed this action to this Court. On November 5, 2014, MV Transportation and the Individual Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. On November 14, 2014, WMATA filed its Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. On November 25, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Declaratory Judgment. On December 15, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Certification of Class.

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend the Complaint

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 allows plaintiffs to amend their pleadings "once as a matter of course" if the pleading is amended within 21 days after serving it. Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Amend on October 6, 2014. According to the Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Defendants were served with the original Complaint on October 6, 2014.[1] Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Civil Action No. CAL1424334, available at http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us. Because Plaintiffs amended their Complaint within the time frame allowed under Rule 15, the Motion to Amend is granted.

II. Defendants' Motions to Dismiss

As a threshold matter, WMATA contends that it "is not subject to, or otherwise enjoys sovereign immunity" to claims alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), the ADA, and the ADEA because it is an arm of the state of Maryland. WMATA Mot. Dismiss at 3. WMATA further contends that, under the terms of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact (the "Compact"), WMATA and MV Transportation are exempt from suit under the federal wiretapping laws, and WMATA is exempt from suit under the Maryland wiretapping law. As discussed below, the Court finds that WMATA may not be sued under Section 1983, the ADA, the ADEA, or the Maryland wiretapping statute, but that neither WMATA nor MV Transportation is exempt from suit under the federal wiretapping laws.

Beyond these threshold questions, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs have failed to plead factual content sufficient to maintain any of their causes of action.

A. Claims of Immunity and Exemption from Suit

1. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

WMATA is an "interstate compact agency and instrumentality of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia." Lizzi v. Alexander, 255 F.3d 128, 132 (4th Cir. 2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Nevada Dep't of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721 (2003). As an instrumentality of the State of Maryland, WMATA is not a "person" within the meaning of Section 1983 and therefore cannot be sued under that statute. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (holding that a state is not a "person" under Section 1983 and therefore is not subject to suit under it); James v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 649 F.Supp.2d 424, 430 (D. Md. 2009) ("WMATA is not subject to suit under Section 1983."). Because Section 1983 is the means by which private citizens assert claims for constitutional violations by government officials, Plaintiffs' claims for violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution must be construed as claims under Section 1983. Zombro v. Baltimore City Police Dept., 868 F.2d 1364, 1366 (4th Cir. 1989) (stating that Section 1983 is the "statutory basis to receive a remedy for the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, WMATA is similarly not subject to Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims. Plaintiffs' Section 1983, Fourth Amendment, and Fifth Amendment claims against WMATA are therefore dismissed with prejudice. See U.S. Airline Pilots Ass'n v. Awappa, LLC, 615 F.3d 312, 320 (4th Cir. 2010) (stating that when any alteration to a cause of action would be "futile" and have "no impact on the outcome of the motion to dismiss, " the district court need not grant leave to amend).

2. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The Eleventh Amendment provides: "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. amend. XI. The Eleventh Amendment immunizes states, state agencies, and state instrumentalities from suit by private parties in federal court. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98 (1984); Bland v. Roberts, 730 F.3d 368, 389-91 (4th Cir. 2013) (holding that federal court claims for damages against a state official in his official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment). In enacting the ADA, Congress explicitly sought to abrogate the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity in order to permit suits against states for disability discrimination. Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 364 (2001). The Supreme Court, however, has held that because the abrogation was not a valid exercise of congressional power, the Eleventh Amendment protects states from suits under the ADA. Id. at 374. Similarly, the Supreme Court has held that Congress's abrogation of Eleventh Amendment immunity in the ADEA was invalid, such that the states may not be sued for age discrimination under the ADEA. Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 91 (2000).

Thus, states are generally immune from suit under the ADA and ADEA. Because it is an instrumentality of the State of Maryland, WMATA may partake of Maryland's Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Lizzi, 255 F.3d at 132. However, the Compact carves out certain exceptions to sovereign immunity. Specifically, the Compact waives WMATA's immunity to suit for any torts "committed in the conduct of any proprietary function." Md. Code, Transp. § 10-204(80). The Compact, however, does not waive sovereign immunity for "torts occurring in the performance of a governmental function." Id. Because "hiring, training, and supervision practices are governmental functions, " Lizzi, 255 F.3d at 133 (holding that the Compact did not waive sovereign immunity from suits by WMATA employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act), the waiver of immunity for torts involving proprietary functions does not apply to Plaintiffs' claims of ADA and ADEA violations arising from WMATA's employment practices. Thus, WMATA is immune to suit for those alleged violations. See Garrett, 531 U.S. at 374; Kimel, 528 U.S. at 91; Jones v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 205 F.3d 428, 432 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (holding that Eleventh Amendment immunity protects WMATA from suits under the ADEA); Hopps v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 480 F.Supp.2d 243, 255 (D.D.C. 2007) (holding that Eleventh Amendment immunity bars suits under the ADA); see also Minor v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., Civ. Action No. RWT-12-1061, 2013 WL 3776365 ...


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