United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MAURICE A. WILLIAMS, et al, Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al, Defendants. JULIA R. PEARCE Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al, Defendants.
J. HAZEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiffs have sued Defendant United
States of America alleging that the United States was
negligent in failing to maintain the painted white lane line
(or “fog line”) on the right-hand side of a
stretch of the Baltimore-Washington (“BW”)
Parkway, and that the negligence caused an accident that
occurred on February 1, 2015, in which Rick G. Warrick was
killed and his fiancée, Julia R. Pearce, was injured.
On October 16, 2017, the Government filed the now- pending
Motion to Dismiss or, Alternatively, for Summary Judgment.
ECF No. 18. The Court held a hearing regarding the
Motion on May 17, 2018. ECF No. 26. For the following
reasons, the Government's Motion is denied.
allege that on February 1, 2015, shortly after 9:00 PM, Julia
Pearce was driving her car northbound on the BW Parkway with
Rick Warrick riding in the front seat and his two minor
children in the back seat. Id. ¶¶ 15-16.
Her car got a flat tire, so Pearce pulled over to the
right-hand shoulder of the road, parked the car, got out, and
held a flashlight while Warrick attempted to fix the tire.
Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiffs allege that in the
“several hundred yards” leading up to where
Pearce parked her car, the “curb lane and shoulder were
badly deteriorated, rendering the solid white paint line . .
. almost entirely invisible.” Id. ¶ 19.
While they were outside the car, Warrick and Pearce were
struck from behind by a car driven by Earl Teeter, who drove
away from the scene. Id. ¶¶ 20, 24. Teeter
was later found guilty of Unsafe Operation and Failure to
Immediately Stop Vehicle at Scene of Accident Involving
Death. Id. ¶ 25. Teeter testified at his
criminal trial and attributed the crash to the fact that the
white road lines disappeared and he was unable to see where
the road ended and the shoulder began. Id. ¶
26. The road had rumble strips on the shoulder, which he
attempted to use to stay on the road, but without the lines
he did not realize he was far enough over the shoulder to hit
Pearce and Warrick. Id. In response to Teeter's
argument that the lack of lane lines caused the crash,
Teeter's trial judge, Judge DiGirolamo, reasoned that:
The fact that there were no lines on the road in my opinion
means that Mr. Teeter should have had a more heightened sense
of duty of care. You are driving down the road, if there is
no lane markings, you have to be extra careful of what is
happening around you…[I]t is undisputed that Mr.
Warrick and Ms. Pearce were there to be seen. And the driver
has a duty to see what is there to be seen.
ECF No. 18-1 at 8.
April 24, 2017, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint, pursuant to
the Federal Tort Claims Act, against the United States of
America and John Doe individuals and entities. ECF No.
1.Their Complaint alleges that the Government
failed to properly maintain a portion of the BW Parkway
running between Maryland Routes 197 and 198, that the
Government's negligence caused the death of Rick Warrick
and injury to Julia Pearce, and asserts claims of Wrongful
Death, id. at 7 (Count I), and pain and suffering
pursuant to the Maryland Survival Act, Md. Code Ann. Cts. and
Jud. Proc. § 6-401, id. at 8 (Count II).
October 16, 2017, the Government filed the now-pending Motion
to Dismiss or, Alternatively, for Summary Judgment. ECF No.
18. The Government argues that the Court should dismiss the
case or grant judgment in its favor because the United
States's decision regarding how to maintain the BW
Parkway falls under the “discretionary function
exception” of the FTCA and they are therefore immune
from suit; and, even if the Government is not immune from
suit, the negligence-based claims still fail because the
United States did not have a duty to protect the public from
criminal acts of a third party and, even if they did have a
duty, the lack of white lines was not a proximate cause of
the accident. ECF No. 18. The Court held a hearing regarding
the Motion on May 17, 2018.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds'
of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause
of action's elements will not do.”)).
purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) “is to test the sufficiency of
a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the
facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of
defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville,
464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6), 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 and internal
quotation marks omitted). The Court need not, however, accept
unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles
County Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989),
legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Papasan
v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory
factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events.
United Black Firefighters of Norfolk v. Hirst, 604
F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).
Motion is styled as a Motion to Dismiss or, Alternatively,
for Summary Judgment. If the Court considers materials
outside the pleadings, as the Court does here, the Court must
treat a motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). When the Court treats a motion to dismiss
as a motion for summary judgment, “[a]ll parties must
be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material
that is pertinent to the motion.” Id. When the
moving party styles its motion as a “Motion to Dismiss,
or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, ” as is
the case here, and attaches additional materials to its
motion, the nonmoving party is, of course, aware that
materials outside the pleadings are before the Court, and the
Court can treat the motion as one for summary judgment.
See Laughlin v. Metropolitan Wash. Airports Auth.,
149 F.3d 253, 260-61 (4th Cir. 1998). Further, the Court is
not prohibited from granting a motion for summary judgment
before the commencement of discovery. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(a) (stating that the court “shall grant
summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact” without distinguishing
judgment is appropriate if “materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . .,
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials,
” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), show that there is “no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary
judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine
dispute exists as to material facts. Pulliam Inv. Co. v.
Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). If
the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to
the nonmoving party to identify specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322-23. A material fact is one that “might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.” Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d
179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute of
material fact is only “genuine” if sufficient
evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists for the trier of
fact to return a verdict for that party. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248. However, the nonmoving party “cannot
create a genuine issue of material fact through mere
speculation or the building of one inference upon
another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214
(4th Cir. 1986). When ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be
believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in
his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government
and its agencies from suit.” F.D.I.C. v.
Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). The FTCA confers
jurisdiction on the district courts to hear claims “for
. . . personal injury or death caused by the negligent or
wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government
while acting within the scope of his office or employment,
under circumstances where the United States, if a private
person, would be liable to the claimant . . . .” 28
U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). The FTCA thus serves as a waiver of
the Government's sovereign immunity. See Welch v.
United States, 409 F.3d 646, 651 (4th Cir. 2005). A
motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity is a challenge
to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. “[W]hen
a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction via a Rule
12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the district 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.” In re KBR,
Inc., Burn Pit Lit., 744 F.3d 326, 333 (4th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Velasco v. Gov't of Indon., 370 F.3d
392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004)); see also Williams v. United
States, 50 F.3d 299, 304 (4th Cir.1995) (noting that
“the court may consider the evidence beyond the scope
of the pleadings to ...