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Lucas v. Moore Transport of Tulsa, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 24, 2018

SIGNOR LUCAS, Jr. Plaintiff,
v.
MOORE TRANSPORT OF TULSA, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Signor Lucas, Jr., proceeding pro se, initiated this action against his prior employer, Defendant Moore Transport of Tulsa, LLC[1] alleging wrongful termination and defamation. Initially filed in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, this case was removed by the Defendant to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. (ECF No. 1.) Defendant subsequently filed the now-pending Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         Mr. Lucas worked as a driver for Moore Transport from September 2013 to March 31, 2015, when Moore Transport terminated his employment. (ECF No. 2 at 1.) Plaintiff filed suit on or about February 6, 2018. (Id.) His Complaint asserts two claims. First, he claims that Moore Transport wrongfully terminated his employment when it told him he was fired for driving “beyond the 14 hour limit, ” despite the fact that the “log” showed he “had only worked a little over 12 hours.” (Id. at 1.) Second, he alleges that Moore Transport has defamed him by continuing to report “that [he] had an accident in which [he] rear ended someone” even though Moore Transport has no evidence of such an accident “while [he] was working for them.” (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff contends that this reporting has “cause[d] permanent damage to [his] reputation.” (Id.) As a result, Plaintiff seeks to recover over $80, 000 in damages for back pay, vacation pay, unemployment, “down payment lost, ” and lost wages, plus $1, 500, 000 in punitive damages. (Id. at 1.)

         The Defendant removed the action to this Court on March 27, 2018 (ECF No. 1), and subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, has filed a Response (ECF No. 16) and has - without leave - filed a Surreply (ECF No. 18).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         As a general matter, when a litigant proceeds pro se, their filings should be “liberally construed” and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted).

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). 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.” Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009).

         The sufficiency of a complaint is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Nevertheless, “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3. “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 complaint therefore cannot rely upon “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and courts are “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The court also need not accept “unwarranted” or “unreasonable” inferences, conclusions, or arguments. Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). “Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Furthermore, “[w]here a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Determining whether a plaintiff has stated a plausible claim is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) “generally cannot reach the merits of an affirmative defense, such as the defense that the plaintiff's claim is time-barred, ” unless “facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint.” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long Term Disability Plan, 533 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009).

         DISCUSSION

         Sitting in diversity jurisdiction, this Court must look to the choice of law rules of the forum state, Maryland, to identify the governing substantive law. See Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941); ITCO Corp. v. Michelin Tire Corp., Commercial Div., 722 F.2d 42, 49 n. 11 (4th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1215, 105 S.Ct. 1191, 84 L.Ed.2d 337 (1985). “For tort claims, Maryland generally adheres to the lex loci delicti commissi, or place of harm, principle to determine the applicable state's substantive law.” Ground Zero Museum Workshop v. Wilson, 813 F.Supp.2d 678, 696 (D. Md. 2011) (citing Hauch v. Connor, 295 Md. 120, 123-24, 453 A.2d 1207 (1983)). Where the events occur in multiple states, Maryland courts “apply the law of the State where the injury - the last event required to constitute the tort - occurred.” Lab. Corp. of Am. v. Hood, 395 Md. 608, 615, 911 A.2d 841 (2006) (citing cases). In this case, the parties do not dispute that Maryland law governs both claims.

         I. Wrongful Termination

         Under Maryland law, an employment relationship that is not governed by an employment contract is “at-will, ” which means that either the employer or employee may terminate it at any time, for almost any reason or for no reason at all. Adler v. Am. Standard Corp., 432 A.2d 464, 467 (Md. 1981); Page v. Carolina Coach Co., 667 F.2d 1156, 1158 (4th Cir. 1982) (applying Maryland law). Even when an employment contract does exist, the relationship is presumptively at-will when the contract is silent as to the length of time the contract will exist. Adler, 432 A.2d at 467; see also Porterfield v. Mascari II, Inc.,823 A.2d 590, 601-02 (Md. 2003).[3] Maryland law recognizes wrongful termination, or wrongful discharge, as a common law exception to the at-will doctrine. The Maryland Court of Appeals has held that “to establish wrongful discharge, [1] the employee must be discharged, [2] the basis for the employee's ...


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