United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge
pending and ready for resolution is a motion to dismiss filed
by Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
(“Defendant” or “WMATA”). (ECF No.
6). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no
hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the
following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted.
separate suit against various individual WMATA employees,
Plaintiff alleges that he was unlawfully pulled over by
members of a police unit operated by WMATA called the Metro
Transit Police Department (“Transit Police”) on
July 30, 2013. See Second Amended Complaint at 3-4,
Gray v. Sarles, No. DKC-14-2939 (D.Md. May 9, 2016), ECF No.
25. Plaintiff contends that the Transit Police officers who
pulled him over were acting outside the geographic and legal
scope of their authority at the time of the stop.
to initiating that suit, Plaintiff sent a letter seeking
information on the Transit Police officers involved to WMATA
General Manager Richard Sarles on April 29, 2014. (ECF No. 1,
at 3). Transit Police Deputy Chief Kevin Gaddis responded on
May 15, stating that the incident was “undergoing
investigation within the [Transit Police]” and that he
would contact Plaintiff when the investigation was complete
and the results were available. (ECF No. 8-1, at 1).
Plaintiff replied to Mr. Gaddis on July 24 (id. at
2), but he never received more information from WMATA about
the internal investigation (ECF No. 1, at 3).
September 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed his suit against Mr.
Sarles and three unnamed officers from the 2013 Stop,
alleging violations of 18 U.S.C. § 241, 18 U.S.C. §
242, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
(Id.). On July 6, 2015, the court dismissed the case
against Mr. Sarles, finding that he had been sued in his
official capacity and that, in that capacity, he was immune
from suits for torts committed by Transit Police officers
performing governmental functions. Gray v. Sarles,
No. DKC-14-2939, 2015 WL 4092455, at *2-4 (D.Md. July 6,
2015). Because Plaintiff had failed to name or serve any
other defendants in that case, the court also ordered
Plaintiff to show cause why the case should not be dismissed.
Id. at *3-4.
August 5, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a request to WMATA under
the Maryland Public Information Act, Md. Code, Gen.
Provisions § 4-101, et seq., seeking records
including: (1) the identities of the three officers who were
involved in the traffic stop; (2) the identity of the
responding supervisor for that stop; (3) the identity of the
dispatch person who received a call he had made during the
stop; (4) the findings of the investigation that Deputy Chief
Gaddis had referenced; (5) a copy of the Transit Police
jurisdiction policy; (6) “any logs and officers[']
reports regarding this matter;” and (7) any WMATA
communications regarding the traffic stop. (ECF No. 8-1, at
4-5). Defendant responded on August 25, acknowledging
Plaintiff's request and explaining that the request would
be processed under the Public Access to Records Policy
(“PARP”), a public records law modeled after the
Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C.
§ 552, and applicable to WMATA. (Id. at 6).
Defendant's letter notified Plaintiff that: (1) he needed
to submit a notarized request before any records could be
released; (2) certain information was exempt from disclosure
and would be redacted; and (3) it would charge him a fee for
any staff time spent beyond the first two hours and any
copying beyond the first 100 pages. (Id. at 7).
Plaintiff responded on September 3 with a notarized request
for the same information he had originally requested.
(Id. at 9).
October 23, Defendant responded to Plaintiff's formal
September 3 request, indicating it had records responsive to
each of Plaintiff's inquiries that would be
“releasable subject to redaction” for various
PARP exemptions. (ECF No. 6-2, at 3). It also told Plaintiff
that the estimated cost of the records would be $252.00
(id. at 4) and that he would have to pay before
WMATA would retrieve the records. See PARP 8.9
(WMATA may seek payment in advance if it has estimated that
the fees will exceed $250.00); see also 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(a)(4)(A)(v) (same rule under FOIA). The letter
concluded by explaining that PARP policy was to consider
requests withdrawn if payment or clarification was not
received within 30 business days, giving Plaintiff until
December 8 to respond or submit payment. (ECF No. 6-2, at 4).
On December 11, Defendant sent a letter notifying Plaintiff
that it had not received any payment or reply and was
assuming that he had withdrawn his request. (ECF No. 6-3).
This letter also explained that he could appeal the
determination until January 27, 2016. (Id.).
filed the instant suit under FOIA on May 25, 2016. (ECF No
1). He seeks the same seven sets of records he previously
requested. (Id. at 3-4). On August 15, Defendant
moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
under Fed.R.Civ.P 12(b)(1). (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff responded
on August 23 (ECF No. 8), and Defendant replied on September
9 (ECF No. 9).
Standard of Review
moves to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) on the grounds
that (1) Plaintiff's pleadings as to subject matter
jurisdiction under FOIA are invalid and (2) he has failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies. The plaintiff bears the
burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction properly
exists in the federal court. See Evans v. B.F. Perkins
Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). A
failure to exhaust administrative remedies under FOIA
deprives the courts of subject matter jurisdiction,
see 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(ii), requiring
analysis under Rule 12(b)(1) at the motion to dismiss stage.
See Pair v. Soc. Sec. Admin., No RDB-15-1458, 2016
WL 739188, at *2-4 (D.Md. Feb. 25, 2016). Exhaustion is also
a jurisdictional prerequisite under PARP. See PARP
§ 9.2.1. In a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court “is
to 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.”
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United
States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991);
see also Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219
(4th Cir. 1982). The court should grant the motion
to dismiss only “if the material jurisdictional facts
are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to
prevail as a matter of law.” Richmond,
Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R., 945 F.2d at 768.
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) (quoting
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976));
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). 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.”).
purports to bring this action under FOIA. (ECF No. 1 ¶
1). He argues that WMATA receives federal funding, making
FOIA applicable here. (ECF No. 8, at 2). Defendant moves to
dismiss because it is not subject to FOIA. FOIA applies only
to agencies that are an “authority of the Government of
the United States.” 5 U.S.C. §§ 551(1);
552(f)(1). “However, it is clear on the face of 5
U.S.C. § 551(1) that an ‘agency' must be a
federal entity, and to the extent that the non-state
status of the District of Columbia creates any ambiguity, the
definition of ‘agency' explicitly does not include
the District of Columbia.” People for the Am. Way
Found. v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 516 F.Supp.2d 28, 36
(D.D.C. 2007) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 551(1)(D)). Courts have
affirmed that WMATA is not a federal agency, but rather an
interstate compact that serves as “an
‘instrumentality and agency of each of the signatory
parties - the District of ...