United States District Court, D. Maryland
ROBINETTE DAVIS ROSS, Executrix of the Estate of William Bradford Ross, III, Plaintiff,
LINDA CRAKES LINDLEY, et al., Defendants.
TIMOTHY J. SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed
by Plaintiff William Bradford Ross, III
(“Ross”) (ECF No. 41) and Defendants Linda Crakes
Lindley (“Lindley”) and RE/MAX 100 (collectively,
“Defendants”) (ECF No. 40). Having considered the
submissions of the parties (ECF Nos. 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 &
45), I find that a hearing is unnecessary. See Loc.
R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Ross's motion
(ECF No. 41) will be denied and Defendants' motion (ECF
No. 40) will be granted.
filed his Complaint (ECF No. 1) against Defendants on January
13, 2017. On February 23, 2017, Defendants filed a
counterclaim against Ross. (ECF No. 9.) On March 17, 2017,
this case was referred to me for all proceedings, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 301.4. (ECF No. 15.)
Ross filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 34) on May 30, 2017,
and Defendants filed an amended answer and counterclaim
thereafter (ECF No. 35).
Amended Complaint contains three counts: breach of contract
(Count I), constructive fraud (Count II), and negligence
(Count III). Defendants' counterclaim is for breach of
contract (Count I) and contractual attorneys'
fees/indemnification (Count II).
the Court's jurisdiction over this case is based on
diversity, the Court must apply the choice of law rules of
Maryland. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co.,
313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941). Maryland adheres to the lex
loci delicti rule to determine the applicable law in
tort actions. Philip Morris Inc. v. Angeletti, 358
Md. 689, 744 (2000). Under this rule, the “substantive
tort law of the state where the wrong occurs governs.”
Hauch v. Connor, 295 Md. 120, 123 (1983). For
contract actions, Maryland follows the principle of lex
loci contractus, applying the law of the jurisdiction
where the alleged contract was made. The parties agree that
Maryland substantive law applies to all of the claims at
otherwise specified, the following facts are not in dispute.
Additional facts, some of which are in dispute, will be
discussed later in this opinion. This case arises from
Ross's agreement to lease his property to non-party
Kendall Williford (“Williford”). The property,
located at 11932 Maiden Point Farm Road, Newburg, Maryland
20664 (“property”) comprises about 122 acres and
contains five separate residences (the Main House, the
Cottage House, the Tenant House, the Pool House, and the Gate
House). Before leasing the property to Williford, Ross met
with Harold Mertz (“Mertz”) to discuss a listing
agreement for the property. (ECF No. 40-1 at 56.) Later, Ross
entered into three separate agreements (“Brokerage
Agreements”) with RE/MAX 100, which granted Defendants
the right to offer for lease the Main House, the Cottage
House, and the Pool House. Notably, none of the Brokerage
Agreements granted Defendants the right to offer for lease
the entire property. The Brokerage Agreements were unrelated
to the listing agreement that Ross purportedly entered into
March 2014, Defendants received an application from
individuals seeking to rent the Main House. Lindley, who is
associated with RE/MAX 100, obtained credit reports for the
prospective tenants and no agreement for the rental of the
Main House was reached. In July 2014, Lindley received an
application for an individual to rent the Pool House. Lindley
transmitted the application to Ross, noting that it was
incomplete and warning Ross of the risks associated with
renting to a tenant without complete information. Ross
subsequently entered into a lease agreement with this tenant.
In July and August 2014, without the assistance of
Defendants, Ross located tenants to occupy the Gate House,
the Cottage House, and the Tenant House, and negotiated lease
agreements with those tenants.
August 2014, Ross negotiated the terms of a lease agreement
with Williford. During the negotiations, Ross was assisted by
Mertz, who assured Ross that Williford “was a very
responsible person, ” that Mertz had known Williford
for “quite a while, ” that Williford paid his
rent on time, and that that Ross “could rely on
[Williford].” (See ECF No. 40-1 at 50.) Based
on Mertz's representations, as well as Ross's own
intuition about Williford, Ross decided to lease the property
to him. Williford submitted an Application for Tenancy to
Lindley, wherein he indicated a monthly income in excess of
$10, 000 and assets including $7, 500 in a bank account. At
Ross's instruction, Lindley memorialized the terms of the
lease agreement that Ross and Williford had discussed.
essential terms of the Williford Residential Dwelling Lease
(“Williford Lease” or “Lease”) were
that Williford would pay Ross monthly rent in the amount of
$7, 200.00, and in exchange, Williford would receive a lease
for the entire property, including the “five homes, out
buildings, stable, & land” situated thereon, for a
period of five years. (ECF No. 40-1 at 1.) Williford, Ross,
and Ross's son signed the lease agreement. (Id.
at 53; see also ECF No. 45 at 12.) Besides verifying
Williford's employment history with Mertz, Defendants did
not conduct a background investigation or credit check of
ultimately violated the terms of the Lease by failing to pay
rent and failing to maintain the property, which resulted in
financial hardship for Ross. Ultimately, Ross's property,
which had been in his family for at least two generations,
was foreclosed upon.
brought this case to recover for his losses. He alleges that
Defendants breached a contract that they had entered into
with him by failing to conduct a proper background
investigation of Williford. He also alleges that Defendants
withheld adverse information about Williford from him, and
that this amounted to a constructive fraud. Finally, he
alleges that RE/MAX 100 was negligent in failing to supervise
Lindley and that both Defendants were negligent in failing to
conduct a proper background investigation of Williford before
Ross signed the lease agreement. In their counterclaim,
Defendants allege that Ross agreed to pay a commission to
Defendants. Because Ross has not paid the full balance due on
the commission, Defendants allege that Ross is liable for
breach of contract.
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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 burden is on the moving party to
demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material
fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable
jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the
motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented
and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However,
the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the [opposing party's] position” is
insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
Id. at 252.
faced with cross-motions for summary judgment, [courts]
consider each motion separately on its own merits to
determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as
a matter of law.” Bacon v. City of Richmond,
475 F.3d 633, 636-37 (4th Cir. 2007). “The court must
deny both motions if it finds that there is a genuine dispute
of material fact, but if there is no genuine issue and one or
the other party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law,
the court will render judgment.” Sky Angel U.S.,
LLC v. Discovery Commc'ns., LLC, 95 F.Supp.3d 860,
869 (D. Md. 2015) (internal citation and quotation marks
omitted). The facts themselves, and the inferences to be
drawn from the underlying facts, must be viewed in the light
most favorable to the opposing party. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Iko v.
Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008). A party may
not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleading
but instead must, by affidavit or other evidentiary showing,
set out specific facts showing a genuine dispute for ...