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Verdiner v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 11, 2016



DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this personal injury case is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA” or “Defendant”). (ECF No. 11). The issues have been fully briefed and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted, and Plaintiff will have 21 days within which to file an amended complaint.

I. Background

A. Factual Background[1]

This case stems from a July 3, 2012, incident on the Green Line Metro near College Park, Maryland. (ECF No. 2 ¶ 4). Plaintiff Latasha Verdiner (“Plaintiff”) was a passenger when the train on which she was riding lost power and came to a sudden stop. At the time of the incident, Plaintiff alleges, Defendant’s employees operated the train. After waiting for some time and receiving no guidance or assistance from Defendant’s employees, Plaintiff and other passengers evacuated the train. There was no ladder or assistive device, the ground outside the car was rocky and uneven, and there was only a small space between the train car and a concrete wall. Upon evacuating the train, Plaintiff “wrenche[d] her knee” as she landed and fell against the wall. (Id. ¶ 6). She walked along the rail to the College Park Metro station, injuring her knees and back.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff originally filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, asserting three counts of negligence against Defendant. Defendant removed the case to this court on September 3, 2015. (ECF No. 1). The complaint alleges that: Defendant violated federal, state, local, and industry standards by, inter alia, failing to have, implement, follow, and oversee policies and procedures for evacuating passengers trapped on the rail system (Count I); Defendant is vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees that violated federal, state, local, and industry standards (Count II); and Defendant harmed Plaintiff by negligently hiring, training, and supervising employees (Count III).[2]

On September 10, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 11). Plaintiff responded in opposition and attached as exhibits the police and incident reports as well as excerpts from Defendant’s Standard Operating Procedures (“SOP”). (ECF Nos. 12; 12-1; 12-2). In her opposition, Plaintiff acknowledged that “the hiring, training and supervision of [Defendant’s] employees is a discretionary function for which [Defendant] is immune from suit.” (ECF No. 12, at 8). Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew Count III, which will be dismissed. Defendant replied, requesting that its motion to dismiss be treated as a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No.13).[3]

II. Standard of Review

A. Rule 12(b)(1)

Assertions of governmental immunity are properly addressed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), which allows defendants to challenge an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Smith v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 290 F.3d 201, 205 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Williams v. United States, 50 F.3d 299, 304 (4th Cir. 1995)). Generally, “questions of subject matter jurisdiction must be decided ‘first, because they concern the court’s very power to hear the case.’” Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Meade, 186 F.3d 435, 442 n.4 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting 2 James Wm. Moore, et al., Moore’s Federal Practice § 12.30[1] (3d ed. 1998)). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction properly exists in federal court. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court “may consider evidence outside the pleadings” to help determine whether it has jurisdiction over the case before it. Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. U.S., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). Such a motion should only be granted “if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Id.

B. Rule 12(b)(6)

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A complaint need only satisfy the standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing, ’ rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (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 (2009) (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 (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); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged, but it has not ‘show[n] that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Iq ...

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