United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. Grimm United States District Judge.
case, Plaintiff Faith Sakala alleges that Defendants
Bernadette Tembo Milunga and Kaingu Milunga (“the
Milungas”) brought her to the United States from her
native Zambia as a domestic worker and compelled her to
perform unpaid labor. Am Compl., ECF No. 10. The Milungas
have filed an Answer in which they bring Counterclaims
alleging that Sakala participated in a civil conspiracy to
extort money from them (Count I); committed fraud by
misrepresenting her desire to work for them and pursue
studies in the United States (Count II); defamed and
inflicted emotional distress upon them by telling others that
she was mistreated and exploited (Counts III and IV);
committed assault and battery by poisoning their food and
physically abusing their children (Count V); and invaded
their privacy by publishing pictures of their children on
Facebook (Count VI). Answer & Defs.' Counterclaims
36-45, ECF No. 22. Pending before the Court is Sakala's
Motion to Dismiss the Milungas' Counterclaims, Pl.'s
Mot., ECF No. 49, along with which she has filed a supporting
Memorandum, Pl.'s Mem., ECF No. 49-1. The Court
forewarned the Milugas that failure to respond to
Sakala's pending motion could result in dismissal of
their Counterclaims. ECF Nos. 54, 55. The Milungas filed a
letter that attacks the merits of the Amended Complaint but
have not responded to Sakala's arguments. Defs.'
Ltr., ECF No. 53. Rather than dismiss the Counterclaims for
failure to prosecute, however, I will do so because the
Milungas have failed to state any claims for which relief can
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for “the
dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted.” Velencia v.
Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md.
Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose “is to test the
sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests
surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the
applicability of defenses.” Id. (quoting
Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480,
483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind
the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to
dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint
must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state “a plausible claim
for relief, ” as “[t]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4
(discussing standard from Iqbal and
Twombly). “A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. With respect to claims that allege fraud,
“a party must state with particularity the
circumstances constituting the fraud or mistake.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). Fraud allegations that meet these
heightened pleading requirements “typically
‘include the time, place and contents of the false
representation, as well as the identity of the person making
the misrepresentation and what [was] obtained thereby.'
” Piotrowski v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No.
DKC-11-3758, 2013 WL 247549, at *5 (D. Md. Jan. 22, 2013)
(quoting Superior Bank, F.S.B. v. Tandem Nat'l
Mortg., Inc., 197 F.Supp.2d 298, 313-14 (D. Md. 2000)).
I: Civil Conspiracy
conspiracy requires evidence of: (1) an agreement; (2) an
unlawful or tortious act in furtherance of the conspiracy or
employment of tortious means to accomplish an otherwise
lawful act; (3) actual legal damage to the plaintiff.
Lloyd v. Gen. Motors Corp., 916 A.2d 257, 284 (Md.
2007). The conduct that the Milungas allege to be
the core of the conspiracy is the filing of this lawsuit.
Defs.' Counterclaims ¶ 16. From this Sakala infers
that the Milungas allege malicious use of process as the
underlying tortious act. Pl.'s Mem. 6. But the claim
fails even under this generous construction because a
malicious-use-of-process tort requires proceedings to have
terminated in the alleged victim's favor. Siegman v.
Equitable Tr. Co., 297 A.2d 758, 762 (Md. 1972). As
Sakala's lawsuit remains pending, no such claim is
cognizable. Accordingly, I will dismiss the Milungas'
civil conspiracy counterclaim.
II: Fraud and Misrepresentation
claim requires particularized allegations that:
(1) the defendant made a false representation to the
plaintiff, (2) the falsity of the representation was either
known to the defendant or the representation was made with
reckless indifference to its truth, (3) the misrepresentation
was made for the purpose of defrauding the plaintiff, (4) the
plaintiff relied on the misrepresentation and had the right
to rely on it, and (5) the plaintiff suffered compensable
injury as a result of the misrepresentation.
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Albright, 71 A.3d 30, 49 (Md.
2013); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). The Milungas
allege that Sakala “fraudulently represented that she
wanted to come to the United States to work for” them.
Defs.' Counterclaims ¶ 20. But it is uncontested
that she did work for them. E.g.,
id. ¶¶ 5 (“Sakala began to work for
Counterclaimants on December 1, 2014 . . . .”), 11
(“[B]y February 2015, it was clear to Counterclaimants
that they could no longer afford to employ Sakala.”).
The Milungas also allege that “Sakala falsely
represented that she wanted to attend school/college while
she was employed with them.” Id. ¶ 21.
Even if Sakala never had any intention of pursuing higher
education in the United States, the Counterclaims present no
plausible explanation of how the Milungas reasonably relied
upon that information to their detriment. As the Milungas
fail to allege any causal connection between a false
statement and any reasonable reliance or injury they
suffered, their fraud counterclaim fails.
III & IV: Defamation and Intentional Infliction of
Milungas allege that, during her employment, Sakala falsely
told a person she met on trip to IKEA and Bernadette Tembo
Milunga's work associates at the World Bank that she was
“mistreated, abused, overworked and unpaid (had
received no wages) by the Counterclaimants” and
published similar falsehoods by filing a complaint with the
World Bank after her employment concluded. Id.
¶¶ 27-38. The Milungas allege that this conduct
amounts to both defamation and intentional infliction of
emotional distress. See Id. ¶¶ 26-35.
Maryland law, to present a prima facie case for defamation, a
plaintiff must ordinarily establish that the defendant made a
defamatory statement to a third person; that the statement
was false; that the defendant was legally at fault in making
the statement; and that the plaintiff thereby suffered
harm.” Gohari v. Darvish, 767 A.2d 321, 327
(Md. 2001). “[I]n all defamation actions, ‘truth
is no longer an affirmative defense to be established by the
defendant, but instead the burden of proving falsity rests
upon the plaintiff.” Telnikoff v. Matusevitch,
702 A.2d 230, 246 (Md. 1997) (quoting Jacron Sales Co. v.
Sindorf, 350 A.2d 688, 698 (Md. 1976)). Maryland's
statute of limitations for defamation claims is one year. Md.
Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-105. Sakala's
interaction with the individual at IKEA allegedly occurred in
August 2015. Id. ¶ 15. And although it is
unclear when Sakala's alleged communications with World
Bank officials occurred, the Milungas state that they took
place prior to her September 2015 termination. Id.
¶ 27; Answer 24. As the Milungas did not bring their
Counterclaims until December 2016, the defamation claims
arising out of Sakala's communications during her
employment tenure are time-barred. As for the statements
contained in Sakala's complaint to the World Bank, the
Milungas admit that they continued to employ Sakala between
March and September 2015 without paying her. Defs.'
Counterclaims ¶ 12. By their account, they did so with
Sakala's permission because she preferred to work without
pay rather than be sent back to Zambia. Id. ¶
13. Whatever the precise contours of the Parties'
agreement, it is uncontested that Sakala was not paid during
at least part of her tenure, so the Milungas cannot pursue a
defamation counterclaim based on Sakala's statement that
she was unpaid. As to her statements that she was
“mistreated, abused, and overworked, ”
id. ¶ 28, ...