United States District Court, D. Maryland
ALTON W. SMITH, Plaintiff,
STATE OF MARYLAND, ET AL, Defendants Count Title
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. GARBIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court has before it Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, In
the Alternative for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 18],
Plaintiff's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No.
21], Defendants' Motion for Leave to Supplement Their
Motion To Dismiss Or, In the Alternative, For Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 26], and the materials submitted relating
thereto. The Court has held a hearing and has had the benefit
of arguments of counsel.
sides 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 shall be treated as one for summary
judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56.”
Laughlin v. Metro. Washington Airports Auth., 149
F.3d 253, 260- 61 (4th Cir. 1998); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).
Because the Court has relied on supplemental affidavits and
documents filed outside of the pleadings, it will treat the
pending motions as motions for summary judgment.
his college teaching contract was not renewed in 2016,
Plaintiff Alton W. Smith (“Smith” or
“Plaintiff”) brought an action against his former
employer, Baltimore City Community College
(“BCCC”),  the State of Maryland, and three
Individual Defendants: Tonja L. Ringgold
(“Ringgold”), Enyinnaya Iweha
(“Iweha”), and Cynthia Webb
asserts claims in Seven Counts:
Breach of Contract (All Defendants)
Interference with Economic Relationship (Iweha
Interference with Economic Relationship (Webb only)
Interference with Economic Relationship (Ringgold
Conspiracy to Interfere with Economic Relationship
(Iweha, Webb, and Ringgold)
Deprivation of Property Without Due Process under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (All Defendants)
Deprivation of Property Without Due Process under
Maryland Declaration of Rights, Art. 24 (All
was an associate professor at BCCC who taught electronics
courses from 2005 to 2011 and business courses from 2011
until 2016. Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 2.
August 2015, Smith and BCCC entered into a 3-year teaching
contract (“Contract”) which required yearly
renewal and ran from August 15, 2015 to June 2, 2018.
Id. ¶ 6. Under the Contract, he must carry a
semester teaching load of 15 Teaching Assignment Units
(“TAUs”). Id. ¶ 7. His rights and
duties as a faculty member were listed in his Contract and in
the BCCC Faculty Handbook
Academic Program and Course Changes at BCCC
2005 to 2013, Plaintiff taught classes in the Electronic
Technology and Telecommunications Program
(“ETP”). Def.'s Mem. at 2, ECF No.
2009, BCCC notified faculty members that it will eliminate
some academic programs for the long term, and in 2011,
BCCC's Board of Trustees approved the elimination of 14
programs, including ETP. Def.'s Mem. at 2-3, ECF No.
18-1. Faculty in the ETP program, including Smith, could
teach other classes for which they were qualified or could
take graduate courses paid for by BCCC to obtain necessary
qualifications to teach other programs. Iweha Aff. ¶ 3,
ECF No. 18-10.
the ETP program was eliminated, Plaintiff was not qualified
to teach in other discipline-specific programs (except for
introductory business courses), and refused the offer to
pursue education that would have given him the necessary
qualifications. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. Nevertheless,
BCCC allowed him to teach-out the remaining ETP students and
to teach introductory (but not discipline-specific) courses
in the business program. Id. ¶ 5; Webb Aff.
¶ 12, ECF No. 18-12.
2013, BCCC created a new program in
“Robotics/Mechatronics, ” and “paid for 
Smith to attend training classes that introduced him to the
equipment that would be used in the program.”
Def.'s Mem. at 4, ECF No. 18-1. Smith took those
equipment introduction courses but declined to obtain the
requisite graduate degree that would qualify him to actually
teach robotics courses to students. Id. at 5.
Ultimately, BCCC rejected Smith's application for a
teaching position in the program and hired an individual who
had a PhD in Electronics and Mechanical Engineering.
Id.; Iweha Aff. ¶ 6, ECF No. 18-10. Following
the denial of his application, Plaintiff filed an EEO
complaint against Iweha. Smith Aff. ¶ 5, ECF No. 22-2.
On April 11, 2014, the investigation was closed on the basis
that the discrimination allegations were
unsubstantiated. Pl.'s Cross Mot. Ex. 2d, ECF No. 22-6.
2013, in response to state legislative action, BCCC reduced
the number of classes that were deemed “required”
to receive a degree for many of its programs, and downgraded
certain “required” courses to
“electives.” Def.'s Mem. at 5, ECF No. 18-1;
Ringgold Aff. ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 18-11. Some of
Plaintiff's courses were eliminated due to these
decisions and subsequent declining enrollment. Def.'s
Mem. at 5, ECF No. 18-1; Ringgold Aff. ¶ 8, ECF No.
Events Leading Up to Termination
November 2015, Smith was supervised by Defendants Webb and
Iweha. Compl. ¶¶ 12-13. As a result of the changes
in academic programs and courses, supra, Plaintiff
was left with teaching only 6 TAUs for the 2016 Spring
Semester (i.e., two sections of an introductory
business course) instead of the required 15 TAUs required by
Iweha Aff. ¶ 9, ECF No. 18-10; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3,
ECF No. 18-5.
early 2016, Defendants Webb and Iweha met with Plaintiff to
discuss alternative options for qualifying TAUs, but
Plaintiff did not offer viable suggestions as to how he could
meet his required TAUs for the semester. Iweha Aff. ¶ 10, ECF
No. 18-10; Webb Aff. ¶¶ 22-23, ECF No. 18-12.
Webb gave Plaintiff a “Poor” performance
evaluation for the 2015-2016 academic school year, based on
the low TAUs and her evaluation of his work. Webb Aff. ¶
25, ECF No. 18-12.
and Smith met on March 10, 2016 to review his 2015- 2016
evaluation. The evaluation included a statement that his
“contract will not be renewed for the fall 2016
semester.” Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 9, ECF No.
Plaintiff saw the evaluation, became angry, and was escorted
out by security because Webb felt threatened by his presence
in her office. Webb Aff. ¶ 26, ECF No. 18-12. When
security arrived, Smith “signed the evaluation”
and took it with him. It was later retrieved and
“placed in his mailbox.” Id.
March 16, 2016, Smith wrote a follow-up letter to challenge
the 2015-2016 evaluation, to which Webb responded.
See Def.'s Mot. Exs. 6 and 7, ECF Nos. 18-8 and
18-9. Webb revised a portion of his 2015-2016 evaluation in
response to his letter “but the overall rating remained
unchanged.” Webb Aff. ¶ 27, ECF No. 18-12.
2, 2016, Defendant Ringgold sent Plaintiff a formal
termination letter stating that his teaching contract would
not be renewed because of poor performance, discontinuation
of the electronics program, and his failure to qualify to
teach any discipline-specific business courses. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2,
ECF No. 18-4. The effective date of termination was stated to
be June 5, 2016. Id. However, due to an address
change, Smith did not receive this letter until September 7,
2016. Smith Aff. ¶ 23, ECF No. 22-2.
9, 2016, Plaintiff received a letter from the Maryland
Department of Budget & Management advising him that his
health insurance was terminated and advising him about his
right to COBRA benefits. Smith Aff. ¶ 21, ECF No. 22-2;
Pl.'s Cross Mot. Ex. 2m, ECF No. 22-15. Although this
June 9 letter is not in the record, Plaintiff's lawyer
wrote a letter to the President of BCCC on June 30, 2016,
referring to the June 9 letter and stating that her client
had not voluntarily been terminated from his position:
“Mr. Smith has received a letter dated June 9, 2016
from the Maryland Department of Budget & Management
advising him of his right to COBRA benefits due to loss of
health insurance effective June 16, 2016 resulting from his
separation from the State of Maryland employment. Mr. Smith
has not voluntarily separated from employment.”
Pl.'s Cross Mot. Ex. 2m, ECF No. 22-15.
received no reply to his attorney's June 30 letter, Smith
contacted a human resources specialist at BCCC in early July
to confirm the dates of his employment at the College. Rutah
Aff. ¶ 2, ECF No. 18-14. The human resources specialist
stated that Smith had been employed with BCCC from September
2005 to June 2016 and confirmed that Smith had health
insurance coverage during that period. Rutah Aff. ¶ 2,
ECF No. 18-14. This conversation was memorialized in writing
by human resources on July 5, 2016. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4,
ECF No. 18-6.
September 8, 2016, a day after he received the June 2 formal
termination letter, Plaintiff requested a grievance hearing.
Def.'s Mot. Ex. 13, ECF No. 18-15. On November 18, 2016,
he presented a statement at a “Level 2” grievance
hearing conducted by Defendant Ringgold. Ringgold Aff. ¶
14, ECF No. 18-11. In this “hearing, ”
Smith's attorney was not allowed to participate and Smith
was not allowed to call witnesses. Smith Aff. ¶ 24, ECF
No. 22-2. Instead, Smith simply read a pre-prepared
statement. Id. Defendant Ringgold considered the
statement and upheld the termination decision. Ringgold Aff.
¶ 14, ECF No. 18-11. Plaintiff's requests for a
“Level 3” hearing and a meeting with the BCCC
president were denied. Smith Aff. ¶ 26, ECF No. 22-2.
and Defendants seek summary judgment by the instant
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.
well-established principles pertinent to summary judgment
motions can be distilled to a simple statement: [t]he 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).
evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must bear
in mind that the “[s]ummary 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 determination of every action.'”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 1).
Breach of Contract (Count I)
argue that the breach of contract claim should be dismissed
as to the Individual Defendants because it does not state a
valid claim and that it is barred against all Defendants by
employment contract at issue is between “the Board of
Trustees of the Baltimore City Community College” and
Plaintiff. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3, ECF No. 18-5. Thus, the
Individual Defendants, who are not parties to the contract,
owed no individual contractual obligation to Plaintiff.
Taylor v. NationsBank, N.A., 365 Md. 166, 175, 776
A.2d 645, 651 (2001) (“To prevail in an action for
breach of contract, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant
owed the plaintiff a contractual obligation . . .”).
Timing and Sovereign Immunity
Maryland, sovereign immunity against breach of contract
claims against the state government is waived only if the
claims are brought “within 1 year after the later of:
(1) the date on which the claim arose; or (2) the completion
of the contract that gives rise to the claim.” Md. Code
Ann., State Gov't § 12-202. Section § 12-202
functions as a “condition precedent” for bringing
a contract claim against Maryland and/or its officers.
Magnetti v. Univ. of Maryland, 402 Md. 548, 564
Complaint was filed in state court on August 23, 2017.
Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claim arose on June
5, 2016, the date of his effective termination by the June 2
letter. Def.'s Resp. at 3, ECF No. 24. Plaintiff counters
that any breach did not occur until the June 2 termination
letter was received on September 7, 2016. Pl.'s Mem. at
10, ECF No. 22.
breach of contract claim is based upon the termination of
Plaintiff's employment without proper notice and
procedures. Compl. ¶¶ 21-23. The alleged breach -
if there was one -occurred on June 5, 2016, the date of
effective termination. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2, ECF No. 18-4.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's breach of contract ...