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Hodge v. College of Southern Maryland

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 3, 2015


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          Harold Hamilton Hodge, Jr., Plaintiff, Pro se, Prince Frederick, MD.

         Chante' Nicole Hodge, Plaintiff, Pro se, Prince Frederick, MD.

         For College of Southern Maryland (CSM), Dr. Bradley M. Gottfried, President of CSM, Sue Subocz, VP of Academics Affairs Math Dept., Loretta McGrath, Richard B. Fleming, Jeffrey Potter, Richard Welsh, Matthew Schatz, Ricardo " Doe" , Charlie " Doe" , CSM Computer Tech, Defendants: Steven David Frenkil, LEAD ATTORNEY, Miles and Stockbridge PC, Baltimore, MD.

         For Calvert County Local Government, official and unofficial capacity, Charles County Local Government, Official and Unofficial capacity, Defendants: John F Breads, Jr, Law Office of John F Breads Jr, Hanover, MD.

         For State of Maryland, Official and Unofficial capacity, Defendant: Elizabeth Lynn Adams, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Tort Litigation, Annapolis, MD.

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         DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, United States District Judge.

         Presently pending and ready for review in this civil rights case are several motions to dismiss filed by Defendants College of Southern Maryland and its affiliated Defendants, Calvert County Local Government, Charles County Local Government, and the State of Maryland. (ECF Nos. 15, 21, and 26). The relevant issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants will be granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Harold Hodge and Chante' Hodge, proceeding pro se, filed this action on September 5, 2014 against thirteen Defendants:

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College of Southern Maryland (" CSM" ); Dr. Bradley M. Gottfried, President of CSM; Sue Subocz, Vice President of Academic Affairs in CSM's Math Department; Loretta McGrath; Richard B. Fleming; Jeffrey Potter; Richard Welsh; Matthew Schatz; Ricardo " Doe" ; Charlie " Doe" ; Calvert County Local Government; Charles County Local Government; and the State of Maryland. (ECF No. 1). Along with their complaint Plaintiffs filed motions to proceed in forma pauperis, which were granted. (ECF Nos. 2, 5, and 6). The complaint asserts multiple civil rights violations and other claims relating to events that occurred between 2009 and 2013 while Plaintiffs were enrolled as students at CSM. Plaintiffs seek $500,000 in compensatory damages from each individual Defendant, and $3,500,000,000 in exemplary damages for the injuries they purportedly suffered as a result of incidents described below. (ECF No. ¶ 128).

         The crux of Plaintiffs' complaint is that Mr. Hodge received a final grade of " D" when he had purportedly earned a " C" in the entry-level math class that he was enrolled in during the spring 2013 semester at CSM. Mr. Hodge appealed his final grade seeking to have it changed to a " C" but Plaintiffs allege that the Vice President of CSM's Math Department, Sue Subocz, refused to change his grade, stating that Mr. Hodge had miscalculated his math grade and that his final grade of " D" was correct. (ECF No. 1, at 6-7). Thereafter, Mr. Hodge submitted multiple written complaints to various CSM administrators and the President of CSM, Bradley Gottfried, demanding that his grade be changed to a " C." These individuals allegedly did not respond except for Ms. Subocz, who rejected his complaint that his math grade was incorrect. Plaintiffs assert that CSM and its administrators " racially discriminat[ed] and maliciously depriv[ed]" him of his final math score. ( Id. ¶ 38). When Mr. Hodge's written complaints received no response, Plaintiffs allegedly filed official " intent to sue" notices with Defendants on September 19, 2013. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 36). Plaintiffs allege that because Mr. Hodge received a " D" in the math course, he was unable to transfer to a four-year University as he had planned, and Mrs. Hodge was required to delay her transfer to a four-year university as well because she refused to transfer without her husband. Plaintiffs allege that " in great humiliation" Mr. Hodge enrolled in an entry-level math course at Prince George's Community College (" PGCC" ) in January 2014 even though he had already passed the math course at CSM. Plaintiffs further allege that this math class was harder than the course at CSM and required Mr. Hodge to drive an hour to get to PGCC. Mr. Hodge allegedly passed the course at PGCC with a " C" grade, which enabled him to transfer to a four-year university with Mrs. Hodge. Plaintiffs assert that they began attending the University of the District of Columbia (" UDC" ) starting in August 2014 to work towards earning Bachelor of the Arts and Juris Doctor degrees. ( Id. ¶ 47).

         The complaint references a number of other unrelated incidents that occurred between 2009 and 2013 while Plaintiffs were enrolled as students at CSM. These other incidents also serve as a basis for the claims Plaintiffs assert. Only a relevant sampling of the incidents will be discussed here. Plaintiffs allege that in October 2009, CSM's librarian, Jeffrey Potter, " maliciously" threw away Mr. Hodge's math homework completion certification that was sitting on the library printer even though he knew that it belonged to Mr. Hodge. (ECF No. 1 ¶ ¶ 52-56). Mrs. Hodge, while attending a CSM sponsored field trip to the " Black Wax Museum" in Baltimore in October 2009, was " intentionally

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left in Baltimore" and the bus driver had to turn the bus around to go get her. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 68-70). Mr. Hodge asserts that in January 2010 he checked his grades online and noticed that CSM had added to his grade report two classes from 1986 that Plaintiff never took, which caused his grade point average (" GPA" ) to drop from 3.5 to 1.7. Plaintiffs assert that CSM " falsely added and intentionally meant to damage" Mr. Hodge by adding these classes. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 63). Based on the these incidents and others referenced in the complaint, Plaintiffs assert that CSM was " a hostile and racially discriminatory environment for both [of them,] but they endured the environment because they had a right to be at (CSM) which was receiving Federal and state funds" for education. ( Id. ¶ 73).

         The complaint also cites several incidents in which CSM professors limited the Hodges' self-expression in the classroom. For example, Plaintiffs allege that in November 2010 CSM Professor Richard Welsh refused to let Mrs. Hodge express her opinions in class, and when Mr. Hodge mentioned that an African American woman was one of the first female pilots, Professor Welsh accused Mr. Hodge of lying. Plaintiffs assert that: " It was clearly understood that defendant Wel[s]h had a problem of her being an African American plane flyer. Moreover, at the end of the semester the defendant Welsh sent the plaintiffs an email and said: ' I hope that you and she find appropriate forum[s] for you to present your personal opinions.' ( Id. ¶ ¶ 66-67) (emphasis in original). Plaintiffs also assert that in October 2013 they took a class with CSM Professor Matthew Schatz.[1] Plaintiffs assert that Professor Schatz " maliciously skipped over the Civil Rights section of the text book and would not even attempt to teach on it" even though it was in the syllabus. ( Id. ¶ 78). Plaintiffs also assert that at some point during a class discussion on welfare policy, Professor Schatz indicated that he " wanted to keep race out of the matter[.]" ( Id. ¶ 78). They further allege that Professor Schatz " would allow 'white' students to express any view point they wanted, but he told the Plaintiff Mrs. Hodge she could not and indirectly [told] [] Mr. Hodge [the same thing.] It got so bad in the class [that] the 'white' students were even trying to stop the plaintiff Mrs. Hodge from stressing her view point[.]" ( Id. ¶ 78). Plaintiffs assert that " this atmosphere was maliciously and racially discriminatorily created by the (CSM) Welfare Policy instructor." ( Id. ¶ 78).

         Plaintiffs' complaint asserts ten purported causes of action arising from these events: (1) violation of Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process; (2) violation of the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995; (3) 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) race discrimination; (5) loss of consortium; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (7) defamation-libel; (8) false light invasion of privacy; (9) violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974; and (10) pain and suffering.

         In three separate motions, Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on various grounds pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF Nos. 15, 21, and 26). Plaintiffs filed an opposition (ECF No. 34), and Defendant CSM replied (ECF No. 36).

         II. Standard of Review

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b) (6) is to test the sufficiency

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of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a " short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). " Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). That showing must consist of more than " a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" or " naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal citations omitted).

         At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999) ( citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted. Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

         Finally, while courts generally should hold pro se pleadings " to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers," they may nonetheless dismiss complaints that lack a cognizable legal theory or that fail to allege sufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); Turner v. Kight, 192 F.Supp.2d 391, 398 (D.Md. 2002), aff'd, 121 F.App'x. 9 (4th Cir. 2005) (unpublished).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiffs are no strangers to this court. They have filed numerous civil lawsuits over the years in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, including: Hodge v. Stephens, No. 12-cv-01988-AW, 2013 WL 398870 (D.Md. Jan. 31, 2013); Hodge v. Bd. of Cnty. Com'rs, No. RWT-10-2396, 2010 WL 4068793 (D.Md. Oct. 15, 2010); Hodge v. Calvert Cnty, No. PJM 09-2252, 2009 WL 2884928 (D.Md. Sept. 4, 2009); Hodge v. St. Mary's Cnty. Sheriff's Office, No. PJM 08-2522, 2009 WL 8708855 (D.Md. June 22, 2009); and Hodge v. Taylor Gas Co., No. DKC-05-319, 2005 WL 5501493 (D.Md. June 21, 2005).

         In the current suit, although Plaintiffs' complaint almost exclusively discusses their grievances with CSM, they have also named several local county governments and the state of Maryland as Defendants. All Defendants have moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Because Plaintiffs are proceeding in forma pauperis, the court is also required to dismiss their case if it " fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         A. The County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Plaintiffs state only one allegation in their complaint pertaining to Calvert County, Maryland and Charles County, Maryland local governments (the " County Defendants" ). Plaintiffs assert that County Defendants violated Plaintiff Harold Hodge's Fourteenth Amendment rights by " turning a blind eye to Mr. Hodge's complaints" regarding his allegedly incorrectly

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reported math class grade. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 88). Plaintiffs assert a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the County Defendants based on this single allegation. ( Id. ¶ 97). The County Defendants move to dismiss the complaint arguing that the it does not state any viable claims against them because it does not contain any factual allegations showing that the County Defendants " played any role in any of the events [] or that any of the named individual Defendants currently are or were at the time [of the events in question] local government employees." (ECF No. 15-1, at 2). In addition, the County Defendants contend that the complaint fails to state a proper § 1983 claim based on the standard for municipal liability set forth in Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).

         Under the Monell standard, " a municipality can be found liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue." City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989) (emphasis in original). Municipalities are not liable under respondeat superior principles for the constitutional violations of their employees simply because of the employment relationship. Monell, 436 U.S. at 692-94. " Liability arises only where the constitutionally offensive acts of city employees are taken in furtherance of some ...

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