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Howard v. McCready

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 28, 2017

Redmond Howard
v.
Daryl McCready, et al.

          MEMORANDUM TO PARTIES RE

         Dear Parties:

         Pending before the Court are Defendants Daryl McCready, Bryan Matthew Lloyd, and Mark Aaron Thomas' (collectively, the “Sonrise Defendants”) and Defendants Michael Duane Rittenhouse and Jared Mylon Rittenhouse's (collectively, the “Rittenhouses”) Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF Nos. 11, 12).[1] The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant the Motions.

         On February 10, 2017, Plaintiff Redmond Howard, proceeding pro se, commenced suit against the Sonrise Defendants, alleging violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). (ECF No. 1). Howard filed an Amended Complaint on March 29, 2017. (ECF No. 3). On May 2, 2017, Howard filed a Second Amended Complaint, which added the Rittenhouses as defendants. (ECF No. 5).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint, ” not to “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         Pro se pleadings, however, are liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)); accord Brown v. N.C. Dep't of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 722 (4th Cir. 2010). Pro se complaints are entitled to special care to determine whether any possible set of facts would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9-10 (1980). Nonetheless, “[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. for Balt., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985)).

         Defendants contend that Howard's Second Amended Complaint fails to state a claim for two principal reasons.[2] First, Howard fails to allege that any of the Defendants is a state actor, which is required to bring a civil rights claim under § 1983. Second, assuming Howard intended to bring a claim under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. (2012), the ADA expressly exempts religious organizations.[3] Howard has not alleged that any of the Defendants are otherwise required to comply with the ADA.

         Section 1983 Claim

         “Section 1983 ‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). To prevail on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of constitutional rights or federal law and that the alleged violation was committed by a “person” acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citation omitted). “[T]he under-color-of-state-law element of § 1983 excludes from its reach merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrongful.”[4] Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1002 (1982)).

         Here, the Second Amended Complaint is devoid of allegations that any of Defendants acted under the color of state law. Construing Howard's pleading liberally, sometime in 2016 he apparently attended church services at Sonrise Church, at which the Sonrise Defendants are “lead pastors.” (Second Am. Compl. at 1, ECF No. 5).[5] Howard's Second Amended Complaint implies, but does not expressly state, that the Rittenhouses are affiliated with a different church, 3CUSA. (See id. at 1). Howard claims that the Sonrise Defendants have “not accommodated nor treated properly” persons with disabilities. (Id. at 3). Howard alleges that Jared Rittenhouse told Howard, “I treat those with disabilities as if they don't, ” and that Michael Rittenhouse “threatened” Howard. (Id.). Further, Howard states that Defendants engaged in “[d]isability, harassment, and retaliation” forms of discrimination. (Id. at 1). Howard fails to allege, however, that any of Defendants' conduct implicated the state. Thus, the Court concludes that Howard has failed to state a § 1983 claim.

         ADA Claim

         Title III of the ADA applies to public accommodations and services that private entities operate. See 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. Title III prohibits disability-based discrimination by “any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). But the ADA expressly exempts from its requirements “religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations, including places of worship.” 42 U.S.C. § 12187. Here, Howard alleges that the Sonrise Defendants are pastors at Sonrise Church-a place of worship and religious organization. Similarly, Howard implies that the Rittenhouses are affiliated with 3CUSA-another place of worship and religious organization. Finally, Howard does not allege that either the Sonrise Defendants or the Rittenhouses own, lease, or operate a place of public accommodation. See 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7) (defining “public accommodation”). Thus, the Court concludes that Howard fails to state an ADA claim. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendants' Motions to Dismiss.

         Based on the foregoing reasons, the Sonrise Defendants' Motion to Strike and Seal ECF Nos. 1-2, 5-2, and 5-3 (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED. The Court directs the Clerk to STRIKE and SEAL ECF Nos. 1-2, 5-2, and 5-3. The Sonrise Defendants' and the Rittenhouses' Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF Nos. 11, 12) are GRANTED. The Complaint is DISMISSED. Howard's Motion for a More Definite Statement (ECF No. 22), Motion for Failure to Properly Support or Address a Fact (ECF No. 29), and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 32) are DENIED AS MOOT.

         Despite the informal nature of this memorandum, it shall constitute an Order of this Court, and the Clerk is directed to docket it accordingly, CLOSE this case, ...


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