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Alston v. Chevrolet

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 15, 2016

RONNIE LEE ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
OURISMAN CHEVROLET “ et al., ” Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending is Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 17) and Plaintiff's Motion to File a Response Out of Time (ECF No. 19). The issues are fully briefed and the Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary. For the reasons stated below, both motions are granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On October 6, 2015, Plaintiff Ronnie Alston (“Alston”) purchased a 2015 Chevrolet Sonic from the Defendant, Ourisman Chevrolet of Marlow Heights (“Ourisman”), agreeing to a $700 down payment and monthly payments of $498. ECF No. 1. Alston wanted to make his monthly payments electronically, so he asked Ourisman to provide him with the appropriate routing and account number. Alston alleges that Ourisman refused to provide him with this information because Alston is a “black, disabled, aged customer.” ECF No. 13-1. Without the routing and account number, Alston alleges that he was unable to make the necessary car payments. Alston also alleges that Ourisman prevented him from registering his car and filed a false theft report against him with the police, all because he is an elderly, black, and disabled man. Additionally, Alston alleges that he was charged “a higher interest rate” and a “higher sticker price” for the Chevy Sonic than “non-black, non-disabled, younger customers” purchasing comparable vehicles. ECF No. 13 at 2.

         On December 7, 2015, Alston, appearing pro se, filed his Complaint alleging “discrimination due to age and race, ” but did not aver under which constitutional or statutory provisions Plaintiff is proceeding or how particularly Ourisman violated the same.[2] ECF No. 1-1. Adding to the confusion, Alston alleges throughout his pleadings that the above-described discriminatory acts were committed by a collective group of “Defendants, ” yet Plaintiff only names Ourisman as a single defendant. The case caption, drafted by Alston himself, refers to the “Defendants” as “Ourisman Chevrolet ‘ .'” (emphasis added).

         On December 23, 2015, this Court dismissed Alston's Complaint because, at most, it alleged a state law claim for breach of contract, and thus this Court was without jurisdiction. ECF No. 5. Alston asked the Court to reconsider its December 23rd Order asserting, for the first time, that his case is a “Civil Rights action, based on Racial Discrimination.” ECF No. 6. Alston's motion was granted on the ground that his allegations could be construed as a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which “bars discrimination on the basis of race in the making and enforcement of contracts.” ECF No. 12 at 2.

         On April 26, 2016, Alston filed an amended complaint, which again fails to specify a cause of action. ECF No. 13. On June 15, 2016, Ourisman filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that Alston's amended complaint failed to properly identify a defendant party, but instead repeatedly refers to a group of “Defendants” without any other specificity or identifying information. ECF No. 17. Alston missed the July 5th deadline to file a response to Ourisman's motion to dismiss. On July 6, 2016, Alston filed a Motion to File a Response Out of Time, and attached a proposed response to that motion. ECF No. 19. Because Ourisman has suffered no prejudice from Alston's day-late filing, the Court will grant Alston's Motion to File a Response Out of Time and consider his response. For the following reasons, Ourisman's motion to dismiss will be granted. Plaintiff's amended complaint will be dismissed without prejudice, providing him one final opportunity to amend his complaint to cure its defects, if possible.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 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 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, 193 (4th Cir. 2009); Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (“Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Ultimately, a complaint must “‘permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct' based upon ‘its judicial experience and common sense.'” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         Generally, pro se pleadings are liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Liberal construction means that the court will read the pleadings to state a valid claim to the extent that it is possible to do so from the facts available; it does not mean that the court should rewrite the complaint to include claims never presented. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1132 (10th Cir. 1999). That is, even when pro se litigants are involved, the court cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts that support a viable claim. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990); Forquer v. Schlee, No. RDB-12-969, 2012 WL 6087491, at *3 (D. Md. Dec. 4, 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (“[E]ven a pro se complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege a plausible claim for relief.”).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Ourisman argues that the deficiencies in Alston's pleading prevent it from establishing a proper defense. For instance, the amended complaint asserts claims against “Defendants, ” but Ourisman is the only defendant in the case. Initially, it could have been assumed that Alston simply used the plural form in error, believing it appropriate when referring to acts committed by Ourisman's employees on behalf of Ourisman. Yet, Alston undercuts this assumption in his response to Ourisman's motion to dismiss. There, he confirms that he deliberately uses the phrase “ .” in the case caption because there are multiple defendants. ECF No. 19-3 at 4. He also refers to several Ourisman employees and members of the Prince George's County police department as defendants. ECF No. 19-3 at 1-2 (naming “Kenny Powers, General Manager of Ourisman Chevrolet, . . . Scott Barnby, Finance Manager of Ourisman Chevrolet, . . . Saied Dadkoo, position unknown to Plaintiff, of Ourisman Chevrolet, . . . Officer Mason, Officer Thompson, Officer Jones, of Prince George's County Police Department and Sgt. Hader of Internal Affairs of the Prince George's County Police Department”).

         By referring to the “Defendants” as a group throughout the amended complaint, he fails to specify which individuals or entities are responsible for each act. See, e.g., Taylor v. Nw. Educ. Loan Ass'n, No. 3:09CV235, 2009 WL 3297564, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Oct. 13, 2009) (granting a motion for more definite statement when “Plaintiff refer[red] generally to the ‘defendant(s)' without specifying which Defendant he is referring to and without referring to the particular acts of each Defendant.”). Alston's lack of specificity prevents Ourisman from understanding which allegations apply to it versus any other potential defendant, and thus Ourisman cannot adequately respond to Alston's pleading. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 (stating that Rule 8(a)(2) requires “‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is.”) (emphasis added) (citations and internal quotation ...


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