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Sewell v. Pritchard

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 22, 2017

STARSHA M. SEWELL, M.ED., Plaintiff,



         Pro se Plaintiff Starsha Sewell has sued Mark Pritchard of the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland (“RTA”) and Judge John P. Davey of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, alleging that she was fired from a job as a Bus Operator with RTA for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons. Sewell includes Judge Davey in her Complaint (ECF No. 1) because he was the state court judge who issued an order requiring her to pay child support through the Maryland Child Support Enforcement Agency which was then forwarded to the RTA for garnishment. On June 1, 2017, the Court dismissed the claim against Judge Davey as barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. ECF No. 3. On July 10, 2017, Pritchard filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 9. In his Motion, Prichard also asks for an injunction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a)(2000), restricting Sewell from filing vexatious submissions or additional lawsuits in any way relating to the matters addressed in her Complaint.


         Sewell began her at-will employment with the RTA as a bus driver on January 22, 2017. On or about February 13, 2017, RTA received an order from the Prince George's County Office of Child Support directing RTA to withhold certain amounts from Sewell's pay to cover current and past due child support. Complaint at 2, ECF No. 1. Sewell also received a copy of the Order and, on the evening of February 13, 2017, she sent an email to RTA's Chief Financial Officer Suzanne Brown, RTA Operations Administrator Cindy Gibson and Judge Davey. Id.; Exhibit A, ECF No. 8-2. She indicated that the subject of the email was “Unlawful Wage Garnishment Attempt- Civil Rights Complaint of Discrimination Will Be Filed if Enforced.” Exhibit A, ECF No. 8-2.

         In the text of Sewell's email, she accused Judge Davey, who had presided over a domestic relations matter involving custody of her children, of violating the rights of a “United States Treasury Whistle-blower” and of engaging in human trafficking. Id. She also accused Judge Davey and two social workers, whom she personally named in the email, of slandering her. Id. She further accused the Child Support Enforcement Division of the “Department of Human Resources” of conspiring with the Maryland Mortgage Task Force to engage in racketeering. Id. Finally, she asked the attorney copied on the email to add her to a lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”), alleging that Judge Davey served on its Board of Directors. Id. Sewell attached documents to the email which included, among other things, an order issued by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on September 17, 2012, remanding a domestic relations case to state court. Id.

         The following morning Sewell was notified that she was being placed on unpaid administrative leave pending the RTA's review of her email. Exhibit 2A, ECF No. 1-3. On February 17, Mark Pritchard, RTA's General Manager, sent Sewell a letter notifying her of RTA's decision to terminate her employment. Exhibit 5, ECF No. 1-9. The letter set forth RTA's conclusions that Sewell had violated two provisions of the Employee Handbook, Section 11.1 that states that “threats, harassment, [and] intimidation” are prohibited, and Section 11.2 prohibiting discourteous or inappropriate behavior towards other employees. Id.

         On February 15, 2017, prior to her termination, Sewell had filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex and retaliation. Exhibit 4, ECF No. 1-8. Eight days later, on February 23, 2017, RTA received notice of the EEOC Charge. ECF No. 8-1 at 8. The proceeding was administratively closed by the EEOC on February 27, 2017. Id.

         On February 27, 2017, Sewell filed yet another Charge of Discrimination with the Howard County Office of Human Relations (the “HCOHR Charge”), which was co-filed with the Baltimore office of the EEOC. In the HCOHR Charge, Sewell alleged that she was terminated in retaliation for filing the District of Columbia Charge of Discrimination. Sewell has not indicated whether she received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC as to this second Charge.

         On May 24, 2017, Sewell filed the present Complaint against Pritchard and Davey. Although her Complaint is difficult to decipher, she appears to allege that she was terminated in retaliation for her February 13, 2017 email and her February 15, 2017 EEOC filing. On June 1, 2017, this Court issued an Order dismissing the claim against Davey as barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. Sewell then filed a “Motion to Stay Barring of Claims Against Judge Davey” (ECF No. 4), which the Court interpreted as a Motion to Reconsider its June 1, 2017 Order dismissing Davey from the case. The Court denied that Motion on June 7. On June 8, 2017, Sewell filed a Rule 62(b)(3) Motion To Stay of Proceeding to Enforce a Judgment of Court, which the Court interprets as a second Motion to Reconsider its June 1, 2017 Order. ECF No. 7.

         On July 7, 2017, Prichard filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 9. Sewell responded with a Motion for Default Judgment of Plaintiff's Rule 62(b) Motion to Stay, which the Court interprets as a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 10.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) prescribes “liberal pleading standards, ” requiring only that a plaintiff submit a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he or she] is entitled to relief.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2007). But this standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although a court will accept factual allegations as true, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. Indeed, the court need not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Associates Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). In the end, the complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to apprise a defendant of “what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         While federal courts are obliged to liberally construe a pro se litigant's claims in applying the above analysis, this requirement “does not transform the court into an advocate.” United States v. Wilson, 699 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The Fourth Circuit has noted that “[w]hile pro se complaints may ‘represent the work of an untutored hand requiring special judicial solicitude, ' a district court is not required to recognize ‘obscure or extravagant claims defying the most concerted efforts to unravel them.'” Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1088 (1986)). Accordingly, although the facts alleged in a pro se plaintiff's complaint must ordinarily be taken as true, bare conclusory statements “are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 391 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. ...

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