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Hussy v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 24, 2018

DOUGLASS HUSSY
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF BALTIMORE CITY, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

          The plaintiff, Douglass Hussy, asserts seven claims-intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"); defamation; wrongful discharge; wrongful termination; malicious prosecution; civil conspiracy; violation of the 14th Amendment; and breach of contract-against four defendants-Housing Authority of Baltimore City ("HABC"); Carla M. Walton, Chief of Human Resources of HABC;[1] Lynette Cooper; and Housing Authority Risk Retention Group ("HARRG")[2] -related to an allegation that Hussy committed sexual misconduct while serving as a maintenance worker in Baltimore public housing that resulted in, among other things, the termination of his employment and two criminal indictments. The defendants have moved for dismissal of Hussy's claim, or for summary judgment.[3] For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         Background

         Hussy was hired by HABC as a maintenance worker in April 2005. (Id. at ¶ 13). Hussy was promoted to a maintenance mechanic in 2006, and was moved to the Govans Manor property in 2013. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16). He alleges that throughout his employment he received consistently positive performance evaluations, (id at ¶¶ 17-18), and maintained membership in the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO), until he was fired, (rat at ¶ 14).

         On September 29, 2015, the Baltimore Sun reported that women living in Baltimore public housing had sued the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), and two maintenance workers, claiming that maintenance men at the City's Gilmor Homes property were demanding sexual favors in return for repairs. (Compl. at ¶ 20). The day after the Sun reported on the lawsuit filed by women in Gilmor Homes, Lynette Cooper, a resident at the city's Govans Manor property, filed a complaint alleging that Hussy "repeatedly asked [her] inappropriate questions about her undergarments." (Id. at ¶ 22). HABC launched an investigation into Hussy's conduct, (id. at ¶ 23), which was hindered by Cooper's failure to appear for an interview with HABC's internal investigations unit, (id. at ¶ 24). The investigation concluded in October 2015, and recommended that no action be taken against Hussy, (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25, 29). HABC fired Hussy on October 23, 2015, anyway, (id. at ¶ 32), and Hussy was eventually barred from all future employment with HUD or HABC, (id. at ¶ 38).

         Then Hussy's legal troubles began. A few weeks after he was fired, on November 13, 2015, Hussy was added as a party to the civil suit arising from the alleged misconduct at the Gilmor Homes property. (Id. at ¶ 39). Hussy claims that he was never notified of this, and still was not consulted when HABC settled the case on his behalf in January 2016. (Id. at ¶¶ 39, 47- 48). On November 18, 2015, Hussy's first criminal trial, founded on Cooper's allegations, began-though on the first day of trial the government entered a nolle prosequi, allegedly because Cooper did not wish to participate in the trial and failed to attend. (Id. at ¶ 40). In June 2016, Hussy was indicted by a grand jury on the basis of Cooper's allegations. (Id. at ¶ 51). This time one criminal charge was dismissed before the trial began in March 2017, and Hussy successfully moved for judgment of acquittal after the state rested its case and Cooper again failed to attend the trial. (Id. at ¶ 58)1 These proceedings drew considerable media attention. (Id. at ¶53).

         Hussy alleges that the defendants breached two contractual obligations during his legal battles. First, he alleges that the Master Agreement between HABC and AFL-CIO was violated because the agreement required that HABC give employees 24-hour notice before their discharge, which Hussy did not receive. (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 33).[4] He also alleges that the Housing Authority Risk Retention Group, (HARRG), denied coverage of his legal fees, claiming that his commercial liability insurance did not cover allegations concerning sexual misconduct. (Id. at ¶ 35).

         Hussy filed suit in state court on August 18, 2017, claiming that HABC, Walton, HARRG, and Cooper committed several violations of state and federal law. The case was removed to federal court in September 2017. (Compl, ECF No. 2) The defendants now move for dismissal or for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 5, 6). For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.[5]

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "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) (emphases added). "A dispute is genuine if 'a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012)). "A fact is material if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam), and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Bait. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         Analysis

         Hussy asserts seven claims-IIED; defamation; wrongful discharge; wrongful termination; malicious prosecution; civil conspiracy; violation of the 14th Amendment; and breach of contract-against the defendants. Because Hussy fails to support his claims with anything more than bare allegations, and failed to meet threshold requirements for suing HABC and its employees, the defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted as to each claim.

         I. Local Government Tort Claims Act

         As a threshold matter, HABC and Walton argue that Hussy's claims have not met the requirements under the Local Government Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA"). The LGTCA opens local governments to "liability] for any judgment against its employee[s] for damages resulting from tortious acts or omissions committed by the employee[s] within the scope of employment with the local government." Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-303(b)(1). The Act defines "local government" broadly, including all "[h]ousing authorities created under Division II of the Housing and Community Development Article." Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-301(d)(15). HABC is one such housing authority. Mitchell v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City, 26 A.3d 1012, 1020 (Md.App. 2011).

         This waiver of immunity, however, comes with conditions. The Act caps money damages for any individual claim at $400, 000, and damages across all claims arising from the same occurrence at $800, 000, Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-303(a)(1), and bars the recovery of punitive damages, Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-303(c)(1). The Act also requires a plaintiff to give the local government or its employee notice of his claim within one year of the plaintiffs injury. Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-304(b)(1). Still, a court "may entertain [a] suit even though the required notice was not given" if the plaintiff moves the court to excuse its mistake for good cause, and still then only if the defendant has not "affirmatively show[n] that its defense has been prejudiced by lack of required notice." Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-3 04(d).

         Maryland courts also excuse failure to strictly comply with the technical aspects of the LGTCA notice requirement if the plaintiff shows substantial compliance by: (1) making "some effort to provide the requisite notice; (2).... "in fact give[s] some kind of notice; (3) the notice provides ... requisite and timely notice of facts and circumstances giving rise to the claim; and (4) the notice fulfills the LGTCA notice requirement's purpose"-"to apprise [the] local government of its possible liability at a time when [the local government] could conduct its own investigations, i.e., while the evidence was still fresh and the recollection of the witnesses was undiminished by time, sufficient to ascertain the character and extent of the injury and [the local government's] responsibility in connection with it." Ellis v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City, 82 A.3d 161, 342-43 (Md. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Faulk v. Ewing, 808 A.2d 1262, 1272 (Md. 2002) (finding the LGTCA may be satisfied "[w]here the purpose of the notice requirements is fulfilled, but not necessarily in a manner technically compliant with all of the terms of the statute").

         HABC and Walton claim that all seven of Hussy's claims-IIED; defamation; wrongful discharge; wrongful termination; malicious prosecution; civil conspiracy; and breach of contract-are deficient because Hussy failed to notify them of his intent to sue within one year of the injuries he alleges. Although they do not dispute that Hussy sent notice of his claims to HABC on April 21, 2017, [6] they insist the letter was not received by HABC until July 25, 2017. (ECF No. 6, Ex. 2). And that is a problem because the injuries Hussy alleges occurred more than one year before the letter was received, and almost all of them occurred one year before the letter was sent: (1) the injury from Cooper's allegations was suffered in September 2015; (2) the injuries from his termination and the alleged start of the civil conspiracy were suffered in October and November of 2015; (3) the injury from the start of his first criminal trial was suffered in November 2015; (4) the injury from the civil settlement was suffered in February 2016; and (5) the injury from his second indictment was suffered in June 2016.[7] Thus, in the defendants' view, they should be granted summary judgment on each of Hussy's claims.

         The defendants are correct that any claim against HABC or Walton that relies on Cooper's allegedly false statements, Hussy's termination, the civil settlement, or his first criminal trial are deficient because Hussy failed to fulfill the notice requirement of the LGTCA.[8]Hussy has not provided good cause for the delay in notifying the defendants of his claims, and considering a letter filed months too late as "substantial compliance" would undermine the LGTCA's purpose which is to provide the local government with timely notice of potential liability.[9] As a result, the HABC's and Walton's motion for summary judgment will be granted as to Hussy's claims for wrongful termination and civil conspiracy[10] because notice of the . injuries on which they rely occurred outside the one year Hussy had to provide the defendants with notice.

         Hussy's claims related to injuries arising from his second criminal indictment, however, will survive, because HABC and Walton were put on notice of this injury within one year of its happening (June 2016), so long as the court treats the operative date of notice as the day the letter was sent (April 21, 2017) rather than the day it was received (July 25, 2017).[11] And there is good reason to do so in this case. First, it is undisputed that Hussy sent the letter before the deadline and that the delay in HABC receiving it three months later was not attributable to Hussy. Second, neither HABC nor Walton has alleged that they were prejudiced by the late notice. As a result, Hussy's claims for IIED and malicious prosecution survive only insofar as they may be supported by injuries related to Hussy's second criminal indictment.

         II. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         Hussy first claims that the defendants, except HARRG, are liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED)-Cooper by falsely accusing him of sexual misconduct, and HABC and Walton for participating in his second criminal proceeding. (Compl. at ¶¶ 62, 65). Because Hussy has not alleged extreme and outrageous conduct, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted as to this claim.

         To prove IIED in Maryland a plaintiff must allege that the defendants' conduct was (1) intentional or reckless; (2) extreme and outrageous; and (3) causally connected to the emotional distress alleged; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress. Figueiredo-Torres v. Nickel, 584 A.2d 69, 74-75 (Md. 1991). Maryland has been "clear that liability for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress should be imposed sparingly." Caldor, Inc. v. Bowden, 625 A.2d 959, 963 (Md. 1993). As of 2010, the Maryland Court of Appeals had only recognized the existence of a sufficient IIED claim four times. Lasater v. Guttmann, 5 A.3d 79, 90 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2010); see also Doe v. Salisbury University, 123 F.Supp.3d 748, 759 (D. Md. 2015).

         No doubt, a false accusation, particularly a false accusation of sexual misconduct, can have terrible costs. But the tort of IIED exists only to remedy the most outrageous and intolerable behavior. Thus, the Maryland high court has permitted an IIED claim to proceed where a psychologist, counseling a plaintiff on his marital problems, began an affair with the plaintiffs wife, Figueiredo-Torres, 584 A.2d at 75-77, and where a plaintiff alleged that the defendant's sole purpose in subjecting her to a psychological examination "was to harass the [p]laintiff into abandoning her claim, or into committing suicide, " Young v. Hartford Ace. & Indem. Co, 492 A.2d 1270, 1277-78 (Md. 1985).

         Maryland courts have rejected IIED claims in equally instructive ways. In Mines v. French, 852 A.2d 1047 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2004), for example, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed dismissal of an IIED claim pressed by a plaintiff who alleged that a police officer, after pulling her over, approached her car with his gun raised, "grabbed her and threw her up against the side of [her car] and, after slamming her head into the side of the truck, while laughing, " told the plaintiff "that it must have really hurt when her face hit the side of the" car because of recent surgery she had on her jaw. 852 A.2d at 1052-53 (internal quotation marks omitted). The officer then "pulled [the plaintiffs] crippled left arm up behind her back and handcuffed her hands so tightly that" the plaintiff "suffered lacerations on her wrists and hands." Id. at 1053. The court held that "[a]lthough such behavior, if true, was inappropriate, it is not tantamount to "atrocious [] and utterly intolerable behavior that goes beyond all possible bounds of decency." Id. at 1060 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Here, Hussy alleges that Cooper falsely accused him of sexual misconduct, and as a result he suffered "severe emotional distress and depression."[12] But Hussy has not alleged that he was in a special relationship with the defendants, as was present in Figueiredo, nor is there any indication that Cooper intended her conduct to result in harm approaching the seriousness of suicide, as in Young, much less indication that the other defendants intended to cause emotional distress. According to the complaint, Hussy has certainly suffered, and Cooper's alleged conduct is worthy of condemnation, but her ...


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