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Gross v. Morgan State Univ.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 19, 2018

MORGAN STATE UNIV. et al., Defendants



         I. Background

         Plaintiff Valedia Gross filed this pro se lawsuit alleging federal claims of employment discrimination and retaliation by Morgan State University, her former employer, and Joyce Brown, her former supervisor at Morgan State. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) She has also included a Maryland state law claim of negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, which appears to be directed only against Morgan State. (Id.) Defendants' counsel from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General filed an answer in which Defendants asserted sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution and also asserted the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over unexhausted claims in the complaint (Ans., ECF No. 7); the answer was filed the same day as Gross's motion for clerk's entry of default (ECF No. 9).

         Because the answer was filed after the deadline for responding to the complaint, the Court ordered Defendants to file a motion showing good cause for the belated filing and requesting leave of Court to late-file the answer, and the Defendants complied. (ECF Nos. 10, 11.) A few days later, Gross filed a motion to strike the answer and specifically requested the affirmative defenses be stricken on the ground that they were frivolous, that Defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity, and that she had exhausted her remedies. (ECF No. 12.) The Court found good cause for Defendants' delay in filing their answer and granted their motion to accept their answer as timely filed; consequently, the Court denied Gross's motion for clerk's entry of default. (ECF No. 14.) In denying Gross's motion to strike the answer, the Court stated, “EXCEPT the Court reserves ruling on the question of whether the Defendants' affirmative defenses should be stricken, and on this sole question the Defendants shall respond to the Motion on or before June 12, 2017.” (Id.) The same day as the entry of that order, the Court entered a scheduling order setting a discovery deadline and deadline for dispositive motions. (ECF No. 15.) Defendants never responded to the Court's order, however, so the Court granted the motion to strike the affirmative defenses. (ECF No. 17.)

         Before the discovery period ran its course, Gross filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 18.) Once again, Defendants missed the deadline to file their response to this motion and sought leave to late-file the response. (ECF Nos. 19, 20, 21.) The Court granted Defendants' request. (ECF No. 22.) In its denial of Gross's motion for summary judgment, the Court noted serious questions existed as to jurisdiction, that genuine disputes of material fact existed, and Gross had not shown she was entitled to summary judgment. (ECF No. 31.)

         Now pending before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss, for judgment on the pleadings, or for summary judgment (ECF No. 67), Gross's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 73), and Defendants' motion to strike Gross's motion for summary judgment as untimely (ECF No. 74). The motions have been briefed (ECF Nos. 70, 71, 76, 73, 79), and no hearing is required, Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). Defendants' motion, construed as a motion to dismiss with respect to Gross's exhausted claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and her unexhausted claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), will be granted due to Eleventh Amendment immunity; construed as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, it will be granted as to Gross's unexhausted federal claims; and construed as a motion for judgment on the pleadings for failure to state a claim for relief, it will be granted as to Gross's Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) claim. The Court will decline to exercise jurisdiction over Gross's state law claims, which will be dismissed without prejudice to refile in Maryland state courts. Both Gross's motion for summary judgment and Defendants' motion to strike Gross's motion for summary judgment are moot.

         II. Standard for Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1)

         The burden of proving subject-matter jurisdiction is on the plaintiff. A challenge to jurisdiction may be either facial, i.e., the complaint fails to allege facts upon which subject-matter jurisdiction can be based, or factual, i.e., jurisdictional allegations of the complaint are not true. Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). See also Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (same); Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Ry. Co., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (same). In the case of a factual challenge, it is permissible for a district court to “consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Richmond, Fredericksburg, 945 F.2d at 768 (citing Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219).

         III. Standard for Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is assessed under the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Walker v. Kelly, 589 F.3d 127, 139 (4th Cir. 2009). A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. As the Twombly opinion stated, “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. at 555. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' . . . Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         IV. Analysis

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         The Fourth Circuit has not definitively ruled “whether a dismissal on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds is a dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) or a dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1).” Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 525 (4th Cir. 2000). Indeed, the Supreme Court has “never held that [the Eleventh Amendment] is jurisdictional in the sense that it must be raised and decided by [a federal court] on its own motion.” Patsy v. Bd. of Regents of State of Fla., 457 U.S. 496, 515 (1982). See also Wisconsin Dep't of Corrs. v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 391-92 (1998) (noting that Supreme Court has not decided whether Eleventh Amendment immunity is issue of subject-matter jurisdiction). However, the federal courts' judicial authority granted by Article III is limited by the sovereignty of the States. Blatchford v. Native Vill. of Noatak & Circle Vill., 501 U.S. 775, 779 (1991). “The ‘entire judicial power granted by the Constitution does not embrace authority to entertain a suit brought by private parties against a state without consent given.' Such a suit cannot be entertained upon the ground that the controversy arises under the Constitution or laws of the United States.” State of Missouri v. Fiske, 290 U.S. 18, 26 (1933) (citation omitted). Despite the lack of clarity as to which subpart of Rule 12 is the correct basis for analyzing a claim of Eleventh Amendment immunity, this Court has favored analysis under Rule 12(b)(1) because, while the Eleventh Amendment cannot be considered a “true limit” on this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction, it nevertheless functions as “a block on the exercise of that jurisdiction, ” Biggs v. Meadows, 66 F.3d 56, 60 (4th Cir. 1995). See Verizon Maryland Inc. v. RCN Telecom Servs., Inc., 232 F.Supp.2d 539, 545-46 (D. Md. 2002) (analyzing sovereign immunity claim under Rule 12(b)(1)), aff'd in part, dismissed in part sub nom. Verizon Maryland, Inc. v. Glob. NAPS, Inc., 377 F.3d 355 (4th Cir. 2004). See also Marks v. Dann, Civ. No. DKC-13-0347, 2013 WL 8292331, at *7 n.2 (D. Md. July 24, 2013) (same), aff'd, 600 Fed.Appx. 81 (4th Cir. 2015).

         Unless a State has consented to the waiver of its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, or unless its Eleventh Amendment immunity has been abrogated by permissible congressional act to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, the State may not be sued in federal court by private parties, such as Gross. See College Sav. Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Exp. Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 670 (1999). This same proscription applies to suits against state agencies and state officials when the latter are acting in their official capacities. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-67 & n.14 (1985) (Eleventh Amendment bars suit ...

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