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Harris v. Publishing America LLLP

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 17, 2015

ADDIE M.C. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
PUBLISH AMERICA, LLLP, et al., Defendants.


Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

Plaintiff Addie M.C. Harris (“Harris” or “Plaintiff”) brings this pro se breach of contract action against Defendants Publish America, LLLP (“PA”), Traditional Publishing House, Willem Meiners, and Lawrence Clopper (collectively, “Defendants”). Currently pending are Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and/or to Dismiss Improper Parties (ECF No. 9); and Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and/or to Dismiss Improper Parties (ECF No. 12).[1] The parties’ submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the original Complaint (ECF No. 9) is MOOT[2] and Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (ECF No. 12) is GRANTED. Accordingly, this case is DISMISSED as to all Defendants.


In a ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court must accept the factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint as true and construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. See, e.g., Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). Moreover, a pro se litigant’s complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the litigant can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Yet, a plaintiff’s status as pro se does not absolve him of the duty to plead adequately. See Stone v. Warfield, 184 F.R.D. 553, 555 (D. Md. 1999) (citing Anderson v. Univ. of Md. Sch. Of Law, 130 F.R.D. 616, 617 (D. Md. 1989), aff’d, 900 F.2d 249, 1990 WL 41120 (4th Cir. 1990)).

Plaintiff Addie M.C. Harris entered into an agreement with Publish America regarding her book, “Talking that Talk” (“the Book”). Compl., ECF No. 1. PA published the Book in 2010 and thereafter allegedly withheld the Book’s proceeds from Plaintiff. Id. In addition, PA did not provide Harris with monthly statements regarding her book sales. Id. Harris further asserts that she has tried to get in touch with Defendants for a long time and has “a nice some (sic) of money in there (sic) business.” Pl.’s Am. Compl. at pg. 1, ECF No. 11.

The relevant sections of the contract between Plaintiff and PA provide:

3(a) Royalties: The Publisher shall pay to the Author the following royalties for sales of any regular edition of the Work or translation thereof in the United States and elsewhere: For the first 2000 copies sold by Publisher or on its behalf: 8 percent of the sales price received by Publisher.
15. Statement of Account: The Publisher agrees to render and forward to the Author . . . semi-annual statements of account for so long as copies of the Work subject to royalty are sold. With respect to copies sold, the statement shall indicate the price of each copy sold. The statement shall also indicate both the total royalties payable to Author on sales during the accounting period . . . With each royalty statement, Publisher shall include payment for any amount due and owing as indicated in the statement; however, Author agrees that Publisher shall withhold royalty payments until the amount of royalty payable has reached an aggregate of forty-nine dollars.[3]

Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss Compl. Ex. A3 at pg. 2, 6, ECF No. 9-4.

On August 27, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Complaint (ECF No. 1) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that Defendants are withholding proceeds from her book, “Talking that Talk” and that Defendants have failed to provide her with monthly reports of her book sales. See generally id. The action was transferred to this Court on November 24, 2014 after a determination that Harris’s claims arose in Frederick, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9) contending that: (1) Plaintiff has failed to allege a plausible claim for royalties; (2) Publishing America does not owe any royalties to Plaintiff; (3) all parties should be dropped; and (4) Plaintiff failed to properly serve Defendants. In response, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11) and Defendants subsequently moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 12), asserting the same defenses.


Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) 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.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

The Supreme Court’s recent opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), “require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In Twombly, the Supreme Court articulated “[t]wo working principles” that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. (stating that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim). In the context of pro se litigants, however, pleadings are “to be liberally construed, ” and are “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted); accord Brown v. N.C. Dept. of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 724 (4th Cir. 2010).

Second, even a pro se complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “a plausible claim for relief.” Id. at 679; see also O’Neil v. Ponzi, 394 F. App’x. 795, 796 (2d Cir. 2010). In making this assessment, a court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense” to determine whether the pleader has stated a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “At bottom, a plaintiff must nudge [its] claims across the line from conceivable to ...

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