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Woodbury v. Stepping Stones Shelter, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 26, 2018

STEPPING STONES SHELTER, INC., et al., Defendants.



         Following a period of homelessness, Plaintiff Shera Woodbury, with the assistance of Montgomery County, Maryland (the “County”), spent several weeks living in Stepping Stones Shelter, Inc. (the “Shelter”), which provides “short-term temporary housing assistance” as “a stepping stone to permanent housing and rejoining the community.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 31, ECF No. 27; Consumer Rights & Code of Conduct, ECF No. 27-2. Believing that she was treated unfairly and discriminated against by the Shelter based on her disability, religion, and political views, and that the County failed to intervene promptly enough on her behalf, despite her requests, Ms. Woodbury filed suit against the Shelter and the County. Compl., ECF No. 1 (redacted); ECF No. 2 (unredacted). Defendants have moved to dismiss. ECF No. 28. Because Ms. Woodbury has been given the opportunity to supplement and amend her pleadings yet still fails to state a claim under federal law, her federal causes of action will be dismissed with prejudice, and the Court will decline to exercise jurisdiction over her state law claims.


         In the early months of 2017, Ms. Woodbury was homeless and pregnant, and the County “denied [her] help, ” only providing her with housing (in a hotel) after a doctor deemed it necessary due to the circumstances of her pregnancy. Am. Compl. ¶ 20.[1] After she gave birth, Ms. Woodbury, with the County's assistance, was provided short-term housing at the Shelter. Id. ¶¶ 2, 31; Consumer Rights & Code of Conduct. She signed the Shelter's “Consumer Rights and Code of Conduct” statement on May 3, 2017; it provided that “there are certain expectations for [the resident] while in shelter” to “ensure shelters are safe for everyone and that [the resident and the Shelter] to help [the resident] move as quickly as possible from emergency housing to a home.” Consumer Rights & Code of Conduct. Ms. Woodbury also signed the Shelter's Non-Discrimination Policy, which stated that the Shelter “provide[s] services to residents without regard to race, color, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or veteran status.” ECF No. 27-3. At the time, Woodbury's infant, who was placed in the Shelter with her, was ten days old and Woodbury was on medication following the infant's Cesarian-section birth, as well as for “stress related seizures.” Shelter Arrival Form 1-2, ECF No. 27-4.

         At the Shelter, Ms. Woodbury requested a first floor room because of her recent surgery, but the Shelter did not grant the request. Am. Compl. ¶ 9. Additionally, the Shelter “forc[ed] the plaintiff into house labor such as cleaning and cooking.” Id. ¶ 11. Within days, on May 9, 2017, Ms. Woodbury felt that the Shelter “failed to uphold the plaintiff[']s rights, ” and she complained to the Shelter and the County. Id. ¶ 3. She asserts that the County ignored this and other complaints she and a friend made on her behalf. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24.

         Ms. Woodbury alleges that the Shelter then “retaliated against the plaintiff by violating her rights she signed” by “voicing their dislikes” with regard to her “disability (epilepsy and post pregnancy), religion (Buddhist), [and] political views (Republican).” Id. ¶¶ 4-5. According to Ms. Woodbury, the Shelter initially allowed her to use a computer at the Shelter because she was a student and involved in a civil lawsuit but, in retaliation for her complaints, “those accommodations were taken from the plaintiff resulting in the plaintiff not being able to do homework or participate fully in the civil case.” Id. ¶ 8. She alleges that the Shelter “ma[de] jokes regarding [her] epilepsy and post surgery wounds and delivery of a newborn, ” id. ¶ 11, and that one staff member got “in the plaintiff['] face and . . . scream[ed] threats” and “antagonize[d] the plaintiff [about] her religious beliefs and political views, ” id. at 16. She claims that, as a result of “the stress that the plaintiff encountered from being treated differently due to having a disability by the defendants, ” and “bullying from the staff, ” she “had 6 seizures during the stay at Stepping Stones Shelter Inc.” Id. ¶¶ 9, 15. She also claims that another housemate physically threatened her the day she arrived. Id. ¶ 26.

         Additionally, Ms. Woodbury claims that the Shelter “filed false claims against the plaintiff to Children Protective Service, stating the plaintiff sleeps with her newborn baby in a bed with a p[ie]ce of ply wood [sic] separating the baby from the plaintiff” and that she “verbally abused her newborn baby, ” causing “Child Protective Service [to come] to the shelter to speak with the plaintiff regarding these allegations.” Id. ¶ 12. She views this as “defamation of character.” Id. And, she alleges that the Shelter gave her expired baby formula, which caused her baby to have to spend three days in the pediatric intensive care unit. Id. ¶ 29.

         Ms. Woodbury, who is proceeding without counsel, filed suit in this Court against the Shelter and the County on June 22, 2017. ECF Nos. 1, 2. She alleged only generally that she was “discriminated against due to having a disability” and “retaliated against for complaining about issues, ” and that her “contract was breached by defendants, ” who “used defamation of character mechanisms towards plaintiffs.”[2] Compl. 6. Accordingly, I ordered her to supplement her Complaint, ECF No. 6, which she did on July 20, 2017, ECF No. 7. She alleged:

Montgomery County (defendant) is forcing Plaintiff to leave the state of Maryland and refuses to help Plaintiffs after Stepping Stones Shelter Inc. retaliated against Plaintiff by forcing them to leave. Montgomery County is not accommodating Plaintiff due to disability and post partum [sic] depression. Plaintiff [A.C.R.] is going to have to be on a prescribed formula for at least a year due to the formula that she received from defendants. Having a total of 6 seizures, which would lead to other results [sic].

Supp. 7. Ms. Woodbury claimed that the baby formula was moldy and expired; the bathroom had mold; the staff discriminated against her based on her disability, harassed her, and invaded her privacy; she “was kicked out of the shelter program, ” and the County “did nothing to help plaintiffs” after Ms. Woodbury complained about these events. Id. at 9.

         The County and the Shelter sought leave to file motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim; the Shelter also asserted that Ms. Woodbury lacked standing to bring a claim for injunctive relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101- 12213. ECF Nos. 14, 19, 20. I held a conference call on October 12, 2017 regarding Defendants' proposed motions. ECF No. 18. I gave Ms. Woodbury the opportunity to amend her Complaint to address the alleged deficiencies, after which Defendants could file a consolidated motion to dismiss if they believed that the deficiencies persisted in the amended pleading. Id.; Ltr. Order, ECF No. 19.

         Ms. Woodbury filed an Amended Complaint, adding factual details to the events that allegedly occurred before she filed suit, as well as details to the allegations she made in her Supplement with regard to events that occurred after she filed suit. Am. Compl., ECF No. 27. For example, on June 26, 2017, two days after the staff member screamed in her face, the Shelter “accused the plaintiff of being a racist” and informed her that she had one day “to exit the shelter program . . . due to a claim that the plaintiff physically detained 2 toddlers to barricade them in the kitchen, ” which Plaintiff insists she did not do. Id. ¶¶ 13-15. Ms. Woodbury asserts that the agreement that she signed with the Shelter provided for “a two week notice to vacate.” Id. ¶ 17. She alleges that the Shelter's Board of Directors met with the Shelter staff three days before she was asked to leave. Id. ¶ 25.

         Thereafter, the County informed Ms. Woodbury that it “would put her and her newborn in a hotel room for 30 days only, ” during which time she had to find housing or “give up rights to her child or move out of the state of Maryland.” Id. ¶ 18. She alleges that the new case manager the County assigned to her “pressured the plaintiff every week to relocated out of the state of Maryland” and “insisted the plaintiff get a job.” Id. ¶ 19.

         As best I can discern, Ms. Woodbury's claims in her Amended Complaint are that the Shelter was negligent in giving her baby expired baby formula; discriminated against her based on her disability, religion, and political views, in violation of the agreement she signed with the Shelter; discriminated against her based on her disability, in violation of the ADA; and defamed her “reputation and character.” Id. ¶¶ 2-4, 30, 31. As for Montgomery County, she acknowledges that it “helped the plaintiff by referring her to a housing program and paid for the hotel room for [her] and the baby, ” but complains that “it took a legal suit to get that assistance.” I ...

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