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Dias v. State of Maryland Judiciary

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 12, 2018

LINDA DIAS, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND JUDICIARY et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this employment discrimination case, self-represented plaintiff Linda Dias has filed suit against her employer, the State of Maryland Judiciary (“Maryland Judiciary”), as well as her supervisors, Tamara Chester, Kris Donaghy, Camille Blake, Kathleen Snowden, and Elaine Allen. ECF 1 (“Complaint”). Plaintiff seeks monetary damages for alleged violations of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.

         Plaintiff filed the Complaint on November 7, 2017. ECF 1. On December 1, 2017, this Court ordered plaintiff to supplement her Complaint, as it provided so few details that the Court was unable to discern whether plaintiff had a plausible claim. ECF 2. Plaintiff did not file an amended complaint, but instead filed “supplemental information, ” consisting of eight three-ring binders filled with documents marked as “exhibits.” ECF 3.[1] Thereafter, the Court provided plaintiff with another opportunity to supplement her Complaint. See ECF 4 (Memorandum); ECF 5 (Order). Plaintiff subsequently filed an Amended Complaint. ECF 6.

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF 9), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 9-1) (collectively, the “Motion”). Plaintiff opposes the Motion (ECF 17, “Opposition”), and has submitted an exhibit. Defendants have not filed a reply, and the time do so has expired. See Local Rule 105.2.a.

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

         I. Background[2]

         Plaintiff alleged that she had been employed as a “Drug Court Liaison” for the District Court of Maryland for “approximately four years” when she was informed by her supervisor, Kathleen Snowden, on February 5, 2016, that she “would be required to sit in the Courtroom for Drug Court every Tuesday and Thursday for 8 hours and or the duration of Drug Court.” ECF 6, ¶ 1. Plaintiff informed Snowden that she could not sit in Drug Court for a prolonged period of time because doing so would be “physically impossible, ” as plaintiff suffers from “debilitating migraines.” Id.[3] Because of her “debilitating migraines, ” plaintiff asserts that she must “avoid bright lights which include sunlight, loud noise and avoid heat.” Id. ¶ 6.

         Thereafter, plaintiff asserts that she received a “demotion in duties, ” and that her “Drug Court liaison” replacement “was never instructed to sit in the Courtroom for Drug Court, other than Holidays . . . [and] has not sat in Drug Court in over 120 days.” Id. ¶ 1. Further, plaintiff claims that on February 29, 2016, Ms. Blake “instructed” plaintiff to sit with a co-worker “under a bright fluorescent bulb” for “four hours.” Id. ¶ 6.

         According to plaintiff, on March 11, 2016, plaintiff's neurologist completed an “ADA Request form, ” which gave instructions on how to make her office “ADA accommodating.” ECF 6, ¶ 5. Plaintiff's doctor added “clarification” to the instructions on March 29, 2016. ECF 6, ¶ 5. Plaintiff submitted two exhibits in support of this contention, styled “Exhibit I” and “Exhibit J, ” which appear to be doctor's notes requesting “that Ms. Dias have access to a fan and that she be able to have frequent water breaks, at least every 2 hours while working.” ECF 3.

         Plaintiff contends that on February 8, 2016, she filed a complaint with the “Office of Fair Practice” as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). ECF 6, ¶ 2. Plaintiff did not attach these complaints to her suit.

         On March 16, 2016, plaintiff received a letter from Warren Hedges, a Fair Practices Officer for the Maryland Judiciary. See ECF 3, “Exhibit E” (Letter dated March 16, 2016, from Warren Hedges to plaintiff); ECF 6, ¶ 3. The letter stated, ECF 3 (italics omitted):

After reviewing the facts and circumstances gathered from the inquiry, the Fair Practices Department has concluded that there is probable cause to believe that a violation of the Judiciary's ADA Policy occurred. Specifically, managers in the District Court of Anne Arundel County did not treat your verbal statements on or around February 5 as a request for a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the ADA Policy.

         Plaintiff claims that shortly after she received the letter, her “work station was changed from an area that was ADA accommodating to an area that was not ADA accommodating by Ms. Blake at the direction of Tamara Chester.” ECF 6, ¶ 3. On March 29, 2016, plaintiff “was placed on emergency medical leave of absence for 33 days . . . and subsequently placed on another FMLA.” Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff submitted two exhibits which appear to be doctor's notes seeking plaintiff's excusal from work for several periods in March and April of 2016. See ECF 3, “Exhibit F, ” “Exhibit G.” Additionally, plaintiff submitted a document titled “Designation Notice (Family and Medical Leave Act), ” which indicates that she was granted FMLA leave for those same periods. See ECF 3, “Exhibit H.”

         Plaintiff alleges that she “remains seated at a work station that remains ADA non compliant” because her “seat is in front of windows with blinds open with direct sunlight.” ECF 6, ¶ 8. Along with her Complaint, plaintiff attached dozens of photographs of the window, each of them labeled with a date between November 2016 and November 2017. See ECF 3, “Exhibits K-A-81.” Additionally, plaintiff claims that her seat is “near a co worker” who “uses a breathing machine that produces a loud grinding sound that intensives [sic] migraines.” ECF 6, ¶ 9. Plaintiff asserts that on various dates, all individually named defendants walked by while plaintiff's co-worker was using the “breathing machine” and made “no mention to [plaintiff] about noise.” Id. ¶¶ 10-14.

         On November 7, 2017, plaintiff filed this suit, alleging violations of Title I of the ADA, for failure to accommodate. ECF 1. Plaintiff asserts that she “has not been reasonably accommodated for 397 days” (ECF 6, ¶ 19), and the “recommendations that were provided by [her] Neurologist would not cause any undue hardship.” ECF 6, ¶ 20.

         II. Standard of Review

         As noted, the defendants have moved to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). However, defendants contend that plaintiff's claim is barred by sovereign immunity. The Fourth Circuit recently reiterated that the defense of sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional bar, stating that “‘sovereign immunity deprives federal courts of jurisdiction to hear claims, and a court finding that a party is entitled to sovereign immunity must dismiss the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.'” Cunningham v. Gen. Dynamics Info. Tech., Inc., 888 F.3d 640, 649 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Ackerson v. Bean Dredging LLC, 589 F.3d 196, 207 (5th Cir. 2009)). Therefore, defendants should have brought the Motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         The standards of review for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) are relevant to resolving this Motion.

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Defendants raise a defense of sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. See ECF 9-1. Sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional bar. As noted, it “‘deprives federal courts of jurisdiction to hear claims, and a court finding that a party is entitled to sovereign immunity must dismiss the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.'” Cunningham v. Gen. Dynamics Info. Tech., Inc., 888 F.3d at 649 (quoting Ackerson, 589 F.3d at 207).

         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). “When a defendant makes a facial challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, ‘the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded the same ...


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