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Manga v. Knox

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 3, 2018

MARIA MANGA, Plaintiff,
v.
EDWARD KNOX, JR. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this employment discrimination case, the self-represented plaintiff, Maria Manga, has sued her former employer, the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA” or the “Agency”); the SBA's Administrator, Linda McMahon; and plaintiff's former supervisor, Edward Knox, Jr. ECF 5 (Amended Complaint); ECF 12 (Motion to Amend Caption). Plaintiff alleges that she suffered discrimination on the basis of her national origin (Cameroon); her race (Black); as well as retaliation. ECF 5. Suit is founded on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17. See ECF 1-1 (Civil Cover Sheet) at 2.[1]

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), defendants McMahon and the SBA moved to dismiss plaintiff's Amended Complaint, on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. ECF 23. The motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 23-1) (collectively, “McMahon Motion”), and one exhibit. Plaintiff opposes the McMahon Motion, and submitted numerous exhibits. ECF 27 (“First Opposition”). McMahon replied. ECF 32 (“McMahon Reply”). Knox also moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims as to him, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). ECF 30. His motion is supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 30-1 (collectively, “Knox Motion”).[2] Plaintiff did not respond to the Knox Motion.

         After the filing of the Knox Motion and the McMahon Motion, plaintiff submitted “Plaintiff's Privacy Act Complaint.” ECF 37 (“Privacy Act Complaint” or “PAC”). The Privacy Act Complaint alleges three new causes of action against the SBA, allegedly pursuant to the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a (“Privacy Act”), and the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (“FOIA”). Plaintiff did not provide a legal basis for the filing of these new claims within the existing suit, but I shall construe them as a supplement to the Amended Complaint.

         Defendants jointly moved to dismiss the Privacy Act Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. ECF 43. The motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 43-1) (collectively, “PAC Motion”) and two exhibits. Plaintiff opposes the PAC Motion, and submitted several more exhibits. ECF 49 (“Second Opposition”). Defendants replied. ECF 51 (“PAC Reply”).

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant all three motions.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[3]

         Plaintiff is “a female native born of Cameroon in Africa, and a Naturalized Citizen of the United States of America.” ECF 5 at 1. She alleges that she is “currently employed, at least [she] still believe[s] so, ” as a Business Opportunity Specialist at the SBA, where she began work in 1998. ECF 5 at 1. Despite this assertion, plaintiff also alleges that on November 2, 2016, she was terminated from her position. Id. at 9. Plaintiff formerly worked at the Washington, DC office of the SBA, but was transferred to the Baltimore field office in July 2014. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. According to plaintiff, she was transferred out of the DC office in retaliation for filing a complaint of discrimination against her former supervisor, Luz A. Hopewell. Id. ¶¶ 9-11.

         Plaintiff asserts that from her “first day in [the] Baltimore office, July 7, 2014, ” until October 4, 2015, plaintiff's working relationship with Knox, her supervisor in Baltimore, was strained. Id. ¶ 13. She alleges that Knox assigned and then withdrew projects from plaintiff without explanation, and that Knox “demoted” plaintiff, assigning her to perform clerical duties rather than more substantive work. Id. Knox allegedly promoted plaintiff's coworkers and gave them “cash rewards, ” but never promoted plaintiff or increased her salary. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         On one occasion, Knox requested a volunteer to lead a training program for the public. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff was the only person to volunteer. Id. As a result, Knox allegedly canceled the program. Id. Manga asserts, id.: “The reason Mr. Knox told me was my pronunciation of some English words was not standard American.”

         Plaintiff's alleged mistreatment by Knox “compounded [her] stress level, ” and she “collapsed near Mr. Knox's office on October 29, 2015.” Id. ¶ 15. According to plaintiff, Knox called her into his office as she was about to leave for the day, and “wanted to talk to [her] about [her] productivity.” Id. Plaintiff asked to postpone the conversation until the next day to avoid missing her train. Id. She alleges that Knox “firmly replied and threatened [her] that [she] sit to talk with him or he [would] write [her] up for insubordination.” Id. Plaintiff then collapsed and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Id. As a result, she maintains that she was unable to return to work for a period of time. ECF 5, ¶ 15. However, Manga alleges that “Mr. Knox's conclusions were that[ ] [she] lacked integrity and [she] was faking it or pretending.” Id.

         In January 2016, defendants allegedly placed plaintiff on leave with no pay. Id. at 9. And, on November 2, 2016, plaintiff alleges that she was finally terminated. Id. According to plaintiff, “this is all because [plaintiff is] different from [Knox] and others like him. Most importantly, because [plaintiff] [has] filed or [has] a history of filing a complaint.” Id.

         Following her termination, plaintiff alleges that she “could not get a job because of lack of training.” ECF 37 at 2. According to plaintiff, she has requested “her files” from a Human Resources Representative at the SBA, to which she “requires access due to pending federal employment.” Id. However, “no documents have been released.” Plaintiff asserts that she has applied for a total of 102 jobs but has been rejected “due to Bad Credit report.” Id. Her bad credit has purportedly prevented her from getting jobs that require a security clearance. Id. at 3. Plaintiff also alleges that as a result of being unemployed, she has suffered “mental distress, emotional trauma, embarrassment, humiliation, and lost or jeopardized present or future financial opportunities.” Id.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A challenge to a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction is reviewed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See Demetres v. East West Const., Inc., 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir. 2015); see also Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999).

         A test of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed “in one of two ways”: either a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations pleaded in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “‘that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.'” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted); accord Durden v. United States, 736 F.3d 296, 300 (4th Cir. 2013). A factual challenge can also assert that facts outside the four corners of the complaint preclude the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction. Id.

         Defendants bring a factual challenge because they argue that plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under Title VII. ECF 23-1 at 5-7. Defendants contend that the failure to exhaust deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction as to these claims. Id

         In considering a factual challenge, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. In that circumstance, the court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also United States ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 347-48 (4th Cir. 2009) (“Unless ‘the jurisdictional facts are intertwined with the facts central to the merits of the dispute,' the district court may . . . resolve the jurisdictional facts in dispute by considering evidence . . . such as affidavits.”) (Citation omitted).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd, 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

         Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That rule provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' ..... (citation omitted)); see also Willner v. Dimon, 849 F.3d 93, 112 (4th Cir. 2017). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., ___U.S.___, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotations omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 943 (2011). But, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 566 U.S. 937 (2012).

         Courts generally do not “‘resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses'” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards, 178 F.3d at 243 (citation omitted). The purpose of the rule is to ensure that defendants are “given adequate notice of the nature of a claim” made against them. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (2007). But, “in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc); see also U.S ex rel Oberg v. Penn. Higher Educ. Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 148 (4th Cir. 2014); Pressley v. Tupperware Long Term Disability Plan, 533 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009). However, because Rule 12(b)(6) “is intended [only] to test the legal adequacy of the complaint, ” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993), “[t]his principle only applies . . . if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of the complaint.'” Goodman, 494 F.3d at 464 (quoting Forst, 4 F.3d at 250) (emphasis added in Goodman).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint in connection with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court ordinarily “may not consider any documents that are outside of the complaint, or not expressly incorporated therein . . . .” Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013); see Bosiger, 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, without converting a motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment, a court may properly consider documents expressly incorporated into the complaint or attached to the motion to dismiss, “‘so long as they are integral to the complaint by reference and authentic.'” U.S. ex rel. Oberg, 745 F.3d at 136 (quoting Philips v. Pitt Cty. Memorial Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009)); see Six v. Generations Federal Credit Union, 891 F.3d 508, 512 (4th Cir. 2018); Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015); Anand v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 754 F.3d 195, 198 (4th Cir. 2014); Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004). To be “integral” a document must be one “that by its ‘very existence, and not the mere information it contains, gives rise to the legal rights asserted.'” Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, 794 F.Supp.2d 602, 611 (D. Md. 2011) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes.”).

         However, “before treating the contents of an attached or incorporated document as true, the district court should consider the nature of the document and why the plaintiff attached it.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 167 (citing N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of S. Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 455 (7th Cir. 1998)). “When the plaintiff attaches or incorporates a document upon which his claim is based, or when the complaint otherwise shows that the plaintiff has adopted the contents of the document, crediting the document over conflicting allegations in the complaint is proper.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 167. Conversely, “where the plaintiff ...


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