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Robinson v. City of Hyattsville

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 2, 2018




         Plaintiff John Robinson, who is self-represented, brought this action against his former employer, the City of Hyattsville, Maryland; the Hyattsville City Administrator, Tracey Nicholson; and two supervisors at the Hyattsville Department of Public Works. Robinson alleges that these supervisors, Lesley Riddle and Mike Schmidl, engaged in a pattern of harassment against him, which ultimately resulted in his termination. Robinson has filed a Motion to Amend his Complaint in order to assert three constitutional claims. ECF No. 25. Also pending is Robinson's Motion to Extend Discovery. ECF No. 28.


         In his original Complaint, Robinson alleged that he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, and age, as well as unlawful retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (2012), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (2012). He also alleged violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Robinson later filed an Amended Complaint, which appeared to assert only the Title VII and ADEA claims.

         Defendants Nicholson, Riddle, and Schmidl ("the Individual Defendants") filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims asserted against them in the Amended Complaint on the basis that neither Title VII nor the ADEA gives rise to claims against individual supervisors. The Court granted that motion and informed Robinson that if he wanted to assert any other claims, including the constitutional claims asserted in his original Complaint, he would have to file a Motion to Amend the Complaint. Robinson then filed the pending Motion to Amend, seeking to re-assert the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment claims from his original Complaint, arguing that his right to due process of law was violated by his termination from public employment. He also seeks to assert a new claim for a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The Defendants oppose the Motion, arguing that Robinson's proposed amendments are futile.


         I. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), "[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within 21 days after serving it, or if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). "In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Rule 15 dictates that "[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Id. A proposed amendment, however, may be "denied on the ground of futility when the proposed amendment is clearly insufficient or frivolous on its face." Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 510 (4th Cir. 1986).

         II. Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Claims

         Robinson argues that he never intended to abandon the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment claims that he asserted in his original Complaint. Mot. to Amend at 1, ECF No. 25-1. He now seeks to re-assert those claims in a Second Amended Complaint. Although Robinson refers to these claims as "due process" claims, because the Fifth Amendment due process clause has been deemed to have an equal protection component, United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744, 774 (2013), the Court will liberally construe these pro se allegations as seeking to add both equal protection and due process claims.

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 makes liable "[e]very person" who, under color of state law, deprives an individual of constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). Such § 1983 claims may be asserted against public officials in their individual capacities only. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989). Because courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), the Court will construe Robinson's Motion as an attempt to bring his constitutional claims against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities under § 1983.

         Here, an equal protection claim against the Individual Defendants would presumably be based on the same allegations of race, color, age, and sex discrimination that underlie the Title VII and ADEA claims that are already part of the case. The Court will grant leave to amend to add such a claim. Because the Individual Defendants are state and local officials, only the Fourteenth Amendment, not the Fifth Amendment, applies. Where Robinson failed to comply with Local Rule 103.6, which requires litigants to attach a copy of their proposed amended pleading to any motion to amend, Robinson will be required to submit a Second Amended Complaint that includes all operative allegations and claims.

         As for due process, "[a] public employee who has been terminated may bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging deprivation of either a property interest in continued employment, or a liberty interest in his good reputation and employability, or both, without due process of law as provided by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Rogosin v. Mayor and City Council of Bait., 197 F.Supp.2d 345, 353 (D. Md. 2002). A property interest in public employment is created by state statute, local ordinance, or contract. Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 344 (1976); Board of Regents of State Colls, v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576-77 (1972) ("Property interests, of course, are not created by the Constitution. Rather they are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law-rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits."). A liberty interest in one's continued good name and employability arises when a state employer "impose[s] on [the plaintiff] a stigma or other disability that foreclose[s] his freedom to take advantage of other employment opportunities." Roth, 408 U.S. at 573. "For '(w)here a person's good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and an opportunity to be heard are essential.'" Id. (quoting Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 437(1971)).

         Robinson has alleged that he was a public employee, that he had an employment contract, and that the Individual Defendants breached that contract. These allegations are sufficient, at this stage, to show that Robinson is asserting a protected property interest in his public employment with the City of Hyattsville. The Court will therefore also allow him to amend ...

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