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Thaler v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 19, 2018

MATTHEW K. THALER, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Matthew Thaler (“Thaler” or “Plaintiff”) originally brought this action against Defendant Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (“Campaign” or “Defendant”) and the Maryland State Police, stemming from his removal from a campaign rally in April of 2016 for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff subsequently filed an Amended Complaint, dropping the Maryland State Police as a defendant. (ECF No. 26.) Accordingly, the Maryland State Police's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10) is MOOT. Currently pending is Defendant Campaign's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.[1](ECF No. 28.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendant Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 28) is GRANTED and Plaintiff Thaler's claims are DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         When reviewing a Motion to Dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (2011). On April 20, 2016, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (“Campaign”) held a ticketed campaign rally for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 26 at ¶ 5.) The tickets for the event, however, were free. (ECF No. 29-1 at 3.) Thaler received a ticket for the rally. (ECF No. 26 at ¶ 5.)[2] The ticket stated “no posters, banners, or signs, ” “professional cameras with a detachable lens” or “tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, or GoPros.” (Id. at ¶ 8.) Thaler did not bring any of these items into the event, and he did not “at any time during the event, raise his voice, use obscene language, disrupt the peace or engage in any harassing or unlawful conduct.” (Id. at ¶ 9.) Nonetheless, he claims he was excluded from the rally. (Id. at ¶ 9.4.) Specifically, he asserts that he was told to leave, and when he did not, someone associated with the Campaign told a police officer that he was trespassing and ordered the officer to search his person and remove him from the rally. (Id. at ¶ 10.) The officer subsequently searched, arrested, and detained Thaler. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Thaler claims that the officer used more force than necessary to remove him, causing “a disgraceful and embarrassing scene, ” “roughly escorting Mr. Thaler from the premises, ” and “caus[ing] bruising on Mr. Thaler's body. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The officer also issued Thaler a criminal citation for trespass under Md. Code, Crim. Law § 6-403.[3] (Id. at ¶ 12.)

         On June 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County against both Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. and the Maryland State Police. (ECF No. 2.) Maryland State Police removed the case to this Court.[4] (ECF No. 1.) After the Campaign filed a Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 21, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, ECF No. 26. The Amended Complaint alleges claims for breach of contract (Count I), false imprisonment and arrest (Count II), battery (Count III), and detrimental reliance (Count IV). The Campaign subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 28.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) 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.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). While a complaint need not include “detailed factual allegations, ” it 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.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff cannot rely on bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         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); Hall v. DirectTV, LLC, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017). However, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from those facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “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, 566 U.S. 937 (2012).

         ANALYSIS

         The Complaint alleges two contract law claims, breach of contract (Count I) and detrimental reliance (Count IV), and two tort claims, false imprisonment and arrest (Count II) and battery (Count III). Accordingly, this Court will analyze both contract claims before proceeding to Plaintiff's tort claims.

         I. Contract Claims

         A. Breach of Contract (Count I)

         Thaler claims that his ticket to the campaign rally was a contract between the Campaign and him, and that the Campaign breached that contract by removing him from the rally without cause. Further, he asserts that Defendant violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. “To state a claim for breach of contract, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed him a contractual obligation and that the defendant breached that obligation.” Belyakov v. Med. Sci. & Computing, 86 F.Supp.3d 430, 437 (D. Md. 2015) (citing Taylor v. NationsBank, N.A., 365 Md. 166, 776 A.2d 645, 651 (2001)). Forming a contract “requires mutual assent (offer and acceptance), an agreement definite in its terms, and sufficient consideration.” CTI/DC, Inc. v. Selective Ins. Co. of America, 392 F.3d 114, 123 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Peer v. First Federal Sav. And Loan Ass'n. of Cumberland, 273 Md. 610, 331 A.2d 299, 301 (1975)).

         Thaler does not indicate how he received the ticket. Accordingly, he does not plead how he was “offered” the opportunity to attend the rally. This alone is fatal to the existence of a contract. See Steinberg v. United States, 90 Fed.Cl. 435, 446 (2009) (finding the plaintiff's ambiguity as to who offered him a ticket to a presidential inauguration was one reason for dismissal of his breach of contract claim). Second, there was no bargained-for consideration. As Thaler did not pay for the ticket, he also does not plead consideration through a bargained-for benefit or detriment. He argues that “in return for Mr. Thaler waiving his right not to show up to the campaign rally, . . . Trump promised Mr. Thaler that he could attend the event, subject to ejection for cause, and would be treated with dignity and respect.” (ECF No. 29-1 at 4) (emphasis added). The Plaintiff conjectures that the “size of the crowd” would constitute valuable consideration to establish ...


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