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Cook v. Springfield Hospital Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 19, 2016



          Ellen Lipton Hollander, United States District Judge

         Dreama Cook, the self-represented plaintiff, filed suit against her former employer, defendant Springfield Hospital Center (“Springfield”), as well as Paula Langemead, Nick Pindale, Connie Schaeffer, and Thomas Wright (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”). ECF 1.[1] In the suit, filed June 10, 2016, Cook alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (the “ADA”). ECF 1. Plaintiff appended several exhibits to her suit, including a copy of the Charge of Discrimination (the “Charge”) that she submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on December 17, 2014 (ECF 1-3 at 3-4) and the EEOC's “Notice of Suit Rights, ” dated March 9, 2016. ECF 1-2 at 1.

         Cook, who is hard of hearing, worked part time as a Sign Language Interpreter at Springfield, pursuant to a contract. ECF 1 at 4-5. She was terminated on March 17, 2015. Id. at 6. Cook claims, inter alia, that Springfield failed to accommodate her disability and then terminated her in retaliation for her filing of the Charge with the EEOC. ECF 1 at 4-6.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint (ECF 8), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 8-1) (collectively, the “Motion”). Relying on Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(b), defendants argue, inter alia, that the case is barred by the state sovereign immunity doctrine, as embodied in the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution, and that Ms. Cook failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. ECF 8-1 at 4-8. The Court received Cook's “Answer” to the Motion on September 19, 2016. See ECF 13.[2] It states: “I have a genuine issue of material fact. I would like a hearing.” Id. Further, the Answer states: “I will mail out a typed copy of this letter tomorrow and a certificate of service.” Id. However, no further correspondence has been received from Ms. Cook.

         A hearing is unnecessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion.

         I. Factual Summary

         Cook began working at Springfield in October 2009. ECF 1-3 at 3. She alleges that, during the summer of 2010, her supervisor, Thomas Wright, began “making threats that he was going to give [Ms. Cook's] contracted hours to another employee.” ECF 1 at 5. On August 21, 2013, Mr. Wright reduced the plaintiff's hours to four days per week. Id. According to plaintiff, none of her twelve co-workers suffered a reduction in hours. Id. About a year later, on July 5, 2014, Mr. Wright told Ms. Cook that he was planning on hiring a new interpreter, who would assume some of the hours that Ms. Cook had been working. Id. Ms. Cook's hours were reduced from “96” a month to 32 hours per month. Id.

         On December 17, 2014, Ms. Cook filed her Charge with the EEOC, claiming that she was discriminated against based on her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. ECF 1-3 at 3-4. She alleged that the discrimination took place between July 5, 2014 and December 10, 2014. Id. at 6.

         Ms. Cook was terminated from her position at Springfield on March 17, 2015. ECF 1 at 6. She amended her charge on July 15, 2015, to allege retaliation. ECF 1-2.

         The EEOC investigated the allegations in the Charge and, on March 9, 2016, closed its investigation, as it was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.” ECF 1-2. The EEOC issued a Notice of her right to sue, dated March 9, 2016. Id.

         In her suit, Cook seeks a total of $152, 900 in damages, including lost benefits, reduced wages, and severance. ECF 1 at 7. However, she does not seek prospective injunctive relief.

         II. Standards of Review

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See Demetres v. East West Const., Inc., 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir. 2015); see also Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). A challenge to subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed “in one of two ways”: either a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations pleaded in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “‘that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.'” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted) (alteration in original); see also Buchanan v. Consol. Stores Corp., 125 F.Supp.2d 730, 736 (D. Md. 2001).

         In a facial challenge, “the facts alleged in the complaint are taken as true, and the motion must be denied if the complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192; see also Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). In a factual challenge, on the other hand, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. In that circumstance, the court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). Here, defendants assert a facial challenge.

         Defendants also premise their Motion on Rule 12(b)(6), for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Goines v. Valley Cmty, Servs, Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. McBurney v. Young, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1709 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . . ” (citation omitted)); see also Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 768 (4th Cir. 2011). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotations omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint”' and must “‘draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 402 (2011); Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 385-86 (4th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. 992 (2010). But, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th.Cir. 2011), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 1960 (2012).

         A motion asserting failure to state a claim typically “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Edwards, 178 F.3d at 243 (quotation marks omitted); see Houck, 791 F.3d at 484; Tobey v. James, 706 F.3d 379, 387 (4th Cir. 2013). But, “if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of the complaint, '” or in other material that is the proper subject of consideration under Rule 12(b)(6), such a defense can be resolved on the basis of the facts alleged in the complaint. Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original); see Houck, 791 F.3d at 484.

         In resolving a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court is “generally limited to a review of the allegations of the complaint itself.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 165-66; see Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013) (abrogated on other grounds by Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015), as recognized in Cahaly v. Larosa, 796 F.3d 399 (4th Cir. 2015)); Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). Under limited exceptions, however, a court may consider documents beyond the complaint without converting the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015).

         Of relevance here, a court may properly consider documents that are “explicitly incorporated into the complaint by reference and those attached to the complaint as exhibits. . . .” Goines, 822 F.3d at 166 (citations omitted); see U.S. ex rel. Oberg v. Pennsylvania Higher Educ. Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 136 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Philips v. Pitt Cty Memorial Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009)); Anand v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 754 F.3d 195, 198 (4th Cir. 2014); Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 979 (2004); Phillips v. LCI Int'l Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999)). A court may also “consider a document submitted by the movant that was not attached to or expressly incorporated in a complaint, so long as the document was integral to the complaint and there is no dispute about the document's authenticity.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 166 (citations omitted). To be “integral, ” a document must be one ...

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