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Moore v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 18, 2017

BESSIE MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORP. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On August 30, 2016, Bessie Moore, the self-represented plaintiff, brought suit against defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”), arising out of an injury that she sustained while boarding an Amtrak train in Baltimore. ECF 1. Although the Complaint does not explicitly state a cause of action, I construe it to assert a claim for negligence under Maryland law. See also ECF 1-2 (civil cover sheet).[1]

         In her Complaint, Moore states that on December 20, 2013, at 1:30 p.m., she boarded an Amtrak train at Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore for a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ECF 1 at 2. As she was walking down the aisle, her “right foot became entangled in the strap of a passenger's bag.” Id. According to Moore, she was “unable to disengage [her] right foot from the strap”, causing her to fall forward. Id. Moore states that she tore her right rotator cuff in the fall, which had to be surgically repaired. Id. She also suffered pain in her left arm and hips as a result of the fall. Id. Moore seeks $200, 000 in damages. Id. at 3.

         Now pending is Amtrak's motion to dismiss (ECF 7), which is supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 7-1 (collectively, Motion). After the Motion was filed, the Clerk mailed Moore a letter informing her: “Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. If this motion is granted, it could result in the dismissal of your case or the entry of judgment against you.” ECF 9 (“Rule 12 Letter”). Moreover, the Rule 12 Letter advised Moore of her right to respond, and provided her with information as to the relevant Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rules to assist her in doing so. Id. Moore has not responded, and the time for her to do so has expired. See docket; Local Rule 105.2(a).

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. The Court is mindful of its obligation to construe liberally the pleadings of a pro se litigant, which are “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also White v. White, 886 F.2d 721, 722-23 (4th Cir. 1989). Nevertheless, for the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion.

         I. Standard of Review

         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 well-pleading allegations 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.” Twombly, 550 U.S. 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 Hall v. DirecTV, LLC, __F.3d__, No. 15-1857, 2017 WL 361065, at *4 (4th Cir. Jan. 25, 2017). 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 Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Belmora LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG, 819 F.3d 697, 705 (4th Cir. 2016); 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, 565 U.S. 943 (2011). 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).

         In general, courts do not “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). The purpose of the rule is to ensure that defendants are “given adequate notice of the nature of a claim” made against them. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555- 56 (2007). But, “in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long Term Disability Plan, 533 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009); see also U.S. ex rel. Oberg v. Penn. Higher Educ. Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 148 (4th Cir. 2014). However, because Rule 12(b)(6) “is intended [only] to test the legal adequacy of the complaint, ” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993), “[t]his principle only applies . . . if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of the complaint.'” Goodman, 494 F.3d at 464 (quoting Forst, 4 F.3d at 250) (emphasis added in Goodman ).

         II. Discussion

         In the Motion, Amtrak argues that the Complaint is subject to dismissal because Moore has failed to make allegations sufficient to state a claim for negligence under Maryland state law. ECF 7-1 at 2-4.

         The Maryland Court of Appeals recounted the elements of a prima facie case of negligence in Hamilton v. Kirson, 439 Md. 501, 523-24, 96 A.3d 714, 727 (2014). It said, id. ...


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