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Gardner v. Maryland Mass Transit Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 11, 2018

MARSHA GARDNER, Plaintiff
v.
MARYLAND MASS TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          James K. Bredar, Chief Judge.

         On March 27, 2017, Plaintiff brought this action against the Maryland Mass. Transit Administration (“MMTA”), the State of Maryland (“the State”), Elmer Coppage, [1] Roland Carroll, and Lattice Lee in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. (Notice of Removal p. 2 ¶ 1, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint on February 2, 2018. (Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 22.) All Defendants removed by consent on February 6, 2018. At the time the case was removed, several motions were ripe and pending before the Circuit Court. Defendant Lee had moved to dismiss Plaintiff's original complaint on September 15, 2017 (ECF No. 6) and to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint on November 30, 2017 (ECF No. 16), Plaintiff had moved to stay proceedings on December 29, 2017 (ECF No. 19) and again on February 2, 2018 (ECF No. 23).

         After removal to this Court, the State, MMTA, Mr. Coppage and Mr. Carroll (“the Defendants”)[2] filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's second amended complaint. (Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 30.) Plaintiff responded in opposition to the Defendants' motion to dismiss on March 23, 2018 (ECF No. 38), and the Defendants responded in opposition to Plaintiff's second motion to stay on the same day (ECF No. 37). The Defendants replied in support of their motion to dismiss on April 6 (ECF No. 39) and Plaintiff replied in support of her second motion to stay on the same day (ECF No. 40). Therefore, the Defendants' motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's motions to stay are ripe. The Court will deny as moot Plaintiff's first motion to stay because it requests the same relief as Plaintiff's second motion to stay. The Court will dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and dismiss her other federal cause of action because she fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. As Plaintiff's other claims are state law claims and the parties are not diverse, the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims, will remand the case to the Circuit Court, and will decline to rule on Defendant Lee's pending motions to dismiss.

         I. Background[3]

         Plaintiff worked for the MMTA originally as a bus driver and then as an instructor. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 7-8.) She started experiencing hostility at work in 2015, after she became certified as a union instructor. (Id. ¶ 10.) She experienced sexually charged and unwelcome behavior from several of her colleagues and supervisors, including Mr. Carroll, who she worked with as an instructor, Mr. Coppage, who was Mr. Carroll's supervisor, and Ms. Lee, who was Mr. Coppage's secretary. (See Id. ¶¶ 10, 12-13, 21, 23, 27.) Plaintiff complained of this behavior to Mr. Coppage, but the email that she sent was “mysteriously deleted” from her account. (Id. ¶ 17.) Mr. Coppage then stopped assigning candidates for Plaintiff to train, and he never satisfactorily dealt with Plaintiff's complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 29.) He “falsely wr[ote] [Plaintiff] up for ‘reluctance to facilitate'” for demonstrating “favoritism among candidates, and [for] other patently bogus claims and charges.” (Id. ¶ 32.) In March of 2016, Ms. Lee “falsely accused [Plaintiff] of making advances towards her husband, who had been a trainee, ” and Ms. Lee spread these “unfounded rumors about Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Ultimately, Plaintiff was demoted and sent back to being a bus operator (a position with lower pay) on March 27, 2016. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on January 20, 2017, alleging retaliation. (Charge of Discrimination, Second Am. Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 22-1.) Two months later, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the MMTA, the State, Mr. Coppage, Mr. Carroll, and Ms. Lee in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. (Compl., ECF No. 2; see Notice of Removal p. 2 ¶ 1 (stating that the lawsuit was first filed on March 27, 2017).) Plaintiff brought four state law causes of action in her original complaint.

         There was fairly significant activity in the state court prior to removal. (See Notice of Removal ¶ 2 (detailing what the State, the MMTA, Coppage, and Carroll have been served with in state court).) In fact, almost a year of state court litigation passed before the case was removed to this Court. Several motions were filed, including two motions to dismiss by Defendant Lee and two motions to stay brought by Plaintiff. Plaintiff amended her complaint (for a second time) on February 2, 2018, and added two state law causes of action as well as two federal law causes of action. Even though she had not received a notice of right to sue (a “right-to-sue letter”) from the EEOC, she asserted a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3. Plaintiff alleged that at the time she filed her second amended complaint, at least 180 days had passed since she filed her charge of discrimination. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 38.) She does not allege that she ever requested a right-to-sue letter. She asserts in her opposition to the Defendants' motion to dismiss, and in her motions to stay, that the EEOC is still processing her complaint. Her second amended complaint also included a second federal claim, for retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

         The Defendants, with the consent of Ms. Lee, removed the case to this Court after Plaintiff added these two federal claims, asserting federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. None of the parties in this action are diverse: they are all citizens of Maryland. Having set forth the factual and procedural history of this case, the Court will now turn to the disposition of the Defendants' motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's second motion to stay.

         II. Standard

         The burden of proving subject-matter jurisdiction is on the plaintiff. Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). Where, as here, the Defendants have raised 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 & Potomac R. Co. v. U.S., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219); see Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219 (explaining difference between facial and factual challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction).

         “The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint.” Brown v. Rapid Response Delivery, Inc., 226 F.Supp.3d 507, 510 (D. Md. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court will accept all plausible factual allegations by the Plaintiff as true. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011). But, that “tenet . . . is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Furthermore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action . . . do not suffice.” Id.

         The Court has discretion whether to grant a motion to stay. “[T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes [sic] on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants. How this can best be done calls for the exercise of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.” Landis v. North Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1936).

         III. Analysis

         The Court will first explain why Plaintiff's federal law claims will be dismissed and why it will not stay the case, and then turn to why it will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims, and therefore why the Court will remand the case to state court. Plaintiff has brought two federal claims in her second amended complaint. The first is a Title VII claim, but the Court will dismiss that claim for ...


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