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McClure v. Ports

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 15, 2017

JAMES PORTS, ET AL. Defendants


          Marvin J. Garbis United States District Judge

         The Court has before it Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Or in the Alternative, For Summary Judgment [ECF No. 29], and Plaintiffs' Motion for Discovery in Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 33]. The Court has held a hearing and has had the benefit of arguments of counsel.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         Plaintiff David McClure (“McClure”) is the President-Business Agent of Plaintiff Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1300 (“Local 1300”), a local labor organization representing certain employees of the Maryland Transit Administration (“MTA”).[1] McClure was an employee of the MTA who is on leave from active service so that he can serve as union president. First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) ¶ 54, ECF No. 25. Defendants are officers of the Maryland Department of Transportation (“MDOT”) and/or agents of the MTA: James Ports (Deputy Secretary of MDOT), Earl Lewis (Deputy Secretary of MDOT), Louis Jones (Director at MDOT), and Kevin Quinn (Acting Administrator of MTA). FAC ¶¶ 10-13. Defendant Kevin Quinn replaces Paul Comfort, who was named as a Defendant in the original Complaint but has since left his position. Id.

         Together, Plaintiffs bring several claims under Section 1983 for unlawful reprisal of protected speech and denial of their freedom of association. McClure alone asserts a Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and injunction, compensatory and punitive damages, and legal fees.

         B. Facts as Alleged in the Complaint[2]

         McClure and Local 1300 have engaged in two public campaigns “aimed at improving Baltimore's public transit.” FAC ¶ 1. The first campaign began in July 2016, when Plaintiffs issued a report and a press release on safety hazards in Baltimore's subway system and criticized Defendants for “endangering the safety of the public riding the Baltimore Metro.” Id. ¶ 20.

         McClure alleges that Defendant Ports, Deputy Secretary of Operations for MDOT, “got into a heated discussion with McClure” about this campaign and stated “I can get you.” Id. ¶¶ 29-30.

         The second campaign began in September 2016, when Plaintiffs issued a “People's Plan for Baltimore Transit” which criticized Maryland's Department of Transportation and Governor for implementing the “BaltimoreLink” program instead of investing more in Baltimore's transit systems. Id. ¶¶ 1, 19. Plaintiffs have “leafleted, ” “circulated petitions, ” and “hosted town hall meetings” to allow members of the public to express their opinions about BaltimoreLink. Id. ¶ 35.

         In addition to managing these public campaigns, McClure regularly participates in disciplinary due process hearings on behalf of his members.

         On September 15, 2016, McClure attended one of these hearings. Id. ¶ 39. Because the employee who was the subject of the hearing had retired, McClure sought to withdraw the employee's grievance and forgo the hearing on his behalf. Id. ¶ 42. The hearing officer, Ms. Vastina Holland-Brown (“Holland-Brown”), refused to allow McClure to withdraw the grievance. Id. ¶ 48. McClure and Holland-Brown then had a verbal exchange about her competency to hold the hearing. Id. ¶¶ 50-51. McClure's statements offended her and caused her to stop the hearing.[3] Id. After the incident, Holland-Brown filed an internal EEO charge with the MDOT Office of Diversity and Equity alleging that McClure “harass[ed]” her verbally.[4] Id. ¶ 53.

         In the instant case, Plaintiffs contend that the Defendants engaged in two sets of reprisals against them in response to the two public campaigns and to McClure's statements to Holland-Brown at the September 15, 2016 hearing.

         The first set of alleged reprisals was directed at McClure alone. On December 8, 2016, Defendant Lewis Jones (“Jones”) wrote a letter to ATU International President Lawrence Hanley (“Hanley”) requiring McClure to obtain permission prior to entering union property to conduct union business. Def.'s Mot. Ex. K, ECF No. 29-12. The letter also stated that McClure's badge access to various MTA facilities was being suspended. Id.

         On February 21, 2017, Defendant Earl Lewis (“Lewis”) wrote another letter to Hanley reiterating the access restrictions in the December 8, 2017 letter, citing McClure's “unprofessional and threatening behavior.” FAC ¶ 65. This letter referred to Article (5) of a long-standing Collective Bargaining Agreement between MTA and Local 1300, which states:

UNION business shall not be conducted on MTA property, or on MTA's paid time without the permission of a department head or a representative authorized by him/her. However, it is understood that every effort shall be made to cooperate with such UNION representative when and if such permission is sought for the purpose of legitimate UNION business.
The UNION further agrees that its officers, while on leave of absence, shall comply with all MTA regulations pertaining to entry into any part of the MTA's premises, vehicles or other MTA property.

Def.'s Mot. Exs. C, M, ECF Nos. 29-4, 29-14.

         When McClure tried to attend grievance hearings held on MTA business property on March 31, April 26, May 4, and May 11 (which included hearings conducted by Holland-Brown), he was told to leave and in two instances escorted off the premises by the police.[5] Id. ¶¶ 80-98. However, on June 1, 2017 - one month after Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint in this action - the Defendants notified McClure that Holland-Brown had retired so that the requirement for him to ask permission to enter the MTA facilities would no longer be in effect. Williams Decl. ¶ 16, ECF No. 29-2 (“On this date, I notified David McClure and Local 1300 by letter that prior permission from me or Deputy Administrator Tollini to enter nonpublic MTA property was no longer required”). However, McClure's ability “to open the doors of locked offices and facilities” was not reinstated. Id.

         The second set of alleged reprisals applies to McClure as well as to “other Local 1300 officers.” Id. at ¶ 4. Specifically, whereas McClure had access to “all” areas of MTA property where Local 1300 members work by use of his identification card, his open access privileges have now been revoked. Id. McClure now has the “same access as any other non-employee of MTA-that is, less access even than a rank-and-file member of Local 1300.” Id. ¶ 123. Plaintiffs fear that the access ability of other full-time Local 1300 officers will also be revoked or reduced by Defendants. Id. ¶¶ 4, 124. However, they do not allege that the access privileges of other full-time Local 1300 officers have actually been revoked or reduced.

         Plaintiffs argue that certain actions taken by Defendants support their contention of retaliatory intent. For example, in May 2017, Local 1300 requested that eight of its members be granted leave from MTA to conduct union business. Id. ¶ 129. MTA originally granted that request, but then rescinded it after the members on leave distributed a leaflet that was critical of the MTA and its officers. Id. ¶¶ 129-133. Plaintiffs allege that since that time, the MTA has refused routine requests for union leave by Local 1300. Id. ¶ 134.[6]


         Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative a motion for summary judgment, and have submitted materials in addition to the Complaint regarding these motions. The Court has not excluded these materials from consideration.

         When “matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the [12(b)(6)] motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Laughlin v. Metro. Washington Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 260- 61 (4th Cir. 1998). Because the Court has relied upon supplemental affidavits and documents filed outside of the pleadings, it will treat the pending motion as a motion for summary judgment.

         A motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and supporting documents “show[] that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         The well-established principles pertinent to summary judgment motions can be distilled to a simple statement: the Court may look at the evidence presented in regard to a motion for summary judgment through the non-movant's rose-colored glasses, but must view it realistically. After so doing, the essential question is whether a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict for the non-movant or whether the movant would, at trial, be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). Thus, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, “the party opposing the motion must present evidence of specific facts from which the finder of fact could reasonably find for him or her.” Mackey v. Shalala, 43 F.Supp.2d 559, 564 (D. Md. 1999) (emphasis added).

         When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must bear in mind that the “summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed ‘to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive ...

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