Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Littleton v. Smith

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 1, 2018

REBECCA LITTLETON, Plaintiff
v.
J. CHARLES SMITH III, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          James K. Bredar Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Rebecca Littleton originally brought this action against Frederick County (“the County”), [1] the State of Maryland (“the State”), and Frederick County State's Attorney J. Charles Smith III (“Defendant Smith”) in the Circuit Court for Frederick County on September 29, 2017. (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.) The case was removed to this Court and on February 28, 2018 the Court granted a motion to dismiss brought by the County and granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss brought by the State on behalf of itself and Defendant Smith. (See Order, ECF No. 35.) The upshot of the Court's February 28 order was that the County and the State were dismissed as parties to the action, and all but one claim against Defendant Smith were dismissed. The Court ordered Defendant Smith to answer this one remaining claim-a breach of contract claim-in the time allotted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a)(4). Defendant Smith did so (see Ans., ECF No. 37) but also brought a motion for reconsideration on March 7, 2018 (ECF No. 36). Plaintiff opposed the motion for reconsideration (ECF No. 38) and also brought a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint (ECF No. 39). Defendant Smith replied in support of his motion for reconsideration (ECF No. 41) and responded in opposition to Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend (ECF No. 42). The County, even though it had been dismissed as a party to this action, also responded in opposition to the motion for leave to amend (ECF No. 40), as Plaintiff sought to reassert claims against the County in her second amended complaint that had been dismissed. Plaintiff has not replied in support of her motion to amend and her time for doing so has expired.

         Defendant Smith's motion for reconsideration and Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend are therefore ripe. There is no need to hold a hearing to resolve either matter. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). The Court misapprehended the nature of Defendant Smith's legal argument and will therefore reconsider its decision of February 28, and dismiss the breach of contract claim against Defendant Smith, thus dismissing Plaintiff's amended complaint in its entirety, by accompanying order. The Court finds that Plaintiff's proposed amendments would be futile and therefore will deny Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint by accompanying order.

         I. Background

         The following facts are recited from the Court's memorandum opinion of February 28, 2018, which itself drew on Plaintiff's allegations in her first amended complaint:

In 2014, Plaintiff was working as a Victim Witness Coordinator at the Frederick County State's Attorney's office (“SAO”). That year, she supported “former State's Attorney Rolle” in his campaign for Circuit Court Judge. Defendant Smith, the current Frederick County State's Attorney, “chastised” Plaintiff for “expressing her support” for Rolle in the election.
Soon after being “chastised” Plaintiff sent emails using her work account. They covered two topics. First, Plaintiff vented some frustration about how Defendant Smith's religious stance on abortion had affected a child (presumably a victim, and presumably a victim Plaintiff worked with). The second topic of these emails was a more general frustration with Defendant Smith, including “disparaging comments about Defendant Smith in his capacity as State's Attorney.” As a result of an “internal investigation unrelated to Plaintiff, Defendant Smith became privy to Plaintiff's email correspondence.” [. . .]
On May 26, 2015, Plaintiff “was invited to a meeting in Defendant Smith's office, ” where she was shown a letter signed by Defendant Smith (“the May 26 letter”). This letter stated the following: Defendant Smith and others were notified by Human Resources of a complaint regarding “improper use of [SAO resources].” They then conducted an investigation, covering Plaintiff's use of work email and access to various specific databases. During this investigation, “it was discovered that [Plaintiff] engaged in numerous violations of the Frederick County Technology Use Policy and SAO protocol [including] misuse of information systems; a lack of trustworthiness, and pervasive conduct unbecoming the Office of the State's Attorney and Its employees.” The Letter informed Plaintiff that because of these issues, her “at-will employment [was] terminated.”
Plaintiff “vehemently denied the accusations, based primarily on the fact that she lacked any practical access whatsoever to any of the databases listed in Defendant Smith's letter, ” a state of affairs confirmed by Deputy State's Attorneys who were in the meeting. Plaintiff does not allege that she denied improperly using SAO resources, that she lacked trustworthiness, or that she engaged in behavior unbecoming of the SAO. Based on Plaintiff's corroborated denial regarding database use, however, Defendant Smith “reconsidered his decision to terminate Plaintiff.” Defendant Smith “also notified Plaintiff for the first time that he had read her ‘venting' emails with disparaging statements about him contained therein.”
At some point, Defendant Smith “disclos[ed] . . . the true rationale behind Plaintiff's termination.” [. . . .] [O]nce Plaintiff knew this “true rationale” she “knew that her employer-employee relationship with [the SAO] had been irreparably harmed.” Defendant Smith then made Plaintiff an offer, which she accepted. Under the terms of this deal “the SAO agreed to allow Plaintiff to resign her position in consideration of their agreement to provide a good letter of recommendation, sanitize her personnel file of all accusations regarding impropriety, and ensure that no future employers are aware of those inaccurate accusations contained in Defendant Smith's initial termination letter.”
After this meeting, County Human Resources Director Mitch Hose prepared a document that appears to be a boiler-plate human resources form, cataloging the nature of Plaintiff's departure from the SAO. Under “Termination Reasons” the space next to voluntary resignation is checked. It notes that Plaintiff accrued paid leave, and that Plaintiff is not eligible for rehire by the County. On the second page there are some scribbled notes that are largely unintelligible and appear to reference sick and annual leave. After resigning from the SAO, Plaintiff was unable to find work for two months. She lost her ability to begin collecting her County pension at 52, and now has to wait until the age of 65, and cannot reinvest in the County pension plan.
Ultimately, Plaintiff was able to find new employment in the Staff Judge Advocate's office on Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. This position required her to “fill[] out a questionnaire” so she could obtain security credentials. This questionnaire asked “During the last 5 years . . . did you leave any job by mutual agreement because of specific problems . . . ?” Plaintiff answered “no.” “During a routine background employment check . . . the State Defendants filled out [a form] indicating that Plaintiff ‘resigned after informed of possible discharge.'” Additionally, someone sent the May 26 Letter to her current employer.
In March 2016, after obtaining this information from the SAO, the Department of Defense (“DOD”) “issued a Statement of Reasons expressing concerns about Plaintiff's continuing eligibility for . . . credentials.” In June 2016, Defendant Smith sent an email to the DOD, stating that Plaintiff had used her work email for personal business but “did not personally or directly access any other databases or resources, or allow others to use her credentials for such access.”
On November 17, 2016 a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to determine Plaintiff's eligibility for credentials. Plaintiff does not allege that any of the Defendants were present, or performed any action at this hearing. DOD counsel did not mention Defendant Smith's June 2016 email, but Plaintiff had a copy. Upon learning of this email, the ALJ found that “Plaintiff had potentially misused her work email to conduct personal business, but that this instance of that conduct did not rise to the level of affecting Plaintiff's credentials.” Ultimately, the ALJ “ruled that Plaintiff did not deliberately falsify her declaration for federal employment” and that any improper conduct Plaintiff engaged in in the past should not prevent her from receiving her credentials. Plaintiff retained her credentials, and continues to work at Fort Detrick.

(Mem. 2-6, ECF No. 34 (citations and footnotes omitted).)

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiff brought a lawsuit in Maryland state court that was later removed to this Court, after which she amended her complaint. In her amended complaint, Plaintiff brought four claims against three defendants: she brought what the Court construed as a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Smith and the County; a negligence claim against the State only; what the Court construed as a negligence claim against Defendant Smith only; and a breach of contract claim against the County, the State, and Defendant Smith. All defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint in early December of 2017.[2] The Court granted the majority of the Defendants' requested relief in an Order signed February 28, 2018. Specifically, the Court dismissed all claims against the County and all claims against the State, and explicitly dismissed them as parties to this action. The Court dismissed the First Amendment retaliation and negligence claims against Smith. It denied the State's motion to dismiss in part, however, and ordered Smith to answer Count Four, Plaintiff's breach of contract claim.

         The Court will discuss its reasoning behind the February 28 order in greater detail below, but will quickly lay out the basics of its opinion here. The County was dismissed because Plaintiff did not allege that the County had engaged in any actions relevant to her case (Defendant Smith, as a State's Attorney, worked for the State). The State was dismissed because Plaintiff had failed to satisfy the statutory requirements necessary to overcome the State's sovereign immunity. Specifically, Plaintiff had failed to comply with the requirements of the Maryland Tort Claims Act (requirements that are necessary to bring a tort claim against the State), and had failed to allege the presence of a written contract, which is necessary to bring a contract claim against the State. The Court dismissed Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Smith on the ground of qualified immunity. Plaintiff had failed to allege facts demonstrating that Defendant Smith violated Plaintiff's clearly established right to engage in protected speech. The Court dismissed Plaintiff's negligence claim against Defendant Smith because Defendant Smith was entitled to immunity under Maryland law unless Plaintiff plausibly alleged facts that constituted gross negligence or malice, which she did not do.

         The Court did not dismiss Plaintiff's breach of contract claim against Defendant Smith. The State had argued that Plaintiff had never alleged Defendant Smith himself entered into a contract, but it appeared to the Court that the State had misread Plaintiff's complaint; she did allege that Defendant Smith himself had entered the alleged contract. (See Mem. at 21-22.) For that reason (and because the State incorrectly asserted the statute of frauds as a defense and because no immunity appeared to apply to Defendant Smith's individual actions) the Court denied the State's motion to dismiss in part and ordered Defendant Smith to answer Plaintiff's breach of contract claim.

         On March 7, 2018, Defendant Smith moved for reconsideration of the Court's opinion. Plaintiff moved for leave to file a second amended complaint on March 27. The County, no longer a party to this case, responded in opposition to the motion for leave to amend on April 2, 2018. Defendant Smith replied in support of his motion to reconsider on April 6, and responded in opposition to Plaintiff's motion to amend on April 9. Plaintiff did not reply in support of her motion to amend, and her time for doing so has expired. Therefore, Defendant Smith's motion for reconsideration and Plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint are ripe for review.

         II. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.