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Lewis v. Antwerpen Hyundai of Clarksville

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 5, 2018

RACQUEL LEWIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
ANTWERPEN HYUNDAI OF CLARKSVILLE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett, United States District Judge

          Plaintiff, Racquel Lewis (“Plaintiff” or “Lewis”) brings this pro se action against Defendants Antwerpen Hyundai, Inc. t/a/ Antwerpen Hyundai of Clarksville (“Antwerpen Hyundai” or the “Corporate Defendant”), Michael Antwerpen, Akbar Ali, Fares Hassan, Zil Chauhdry, Ryan ___, and Ed ___ [1] (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”), alleging that the Defendants discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). Currently pending before this Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.[2] (ECF No. 16.) Despite receiving a Rule 12/56 Notice of the Defendants' Motion on August 9, 2018, the Plaintiff has not filed a response. (ECF No. 17.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED and the Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court “accept[s] as true all well-pleaded facts in a complaint and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing SD3, LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., 801 F.3d 412, 422 (4th Cir. 2015)). Further, as a pro se Plaintiff, this Court has “liberally construed” Lewis' Pleadings and held them to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Alley v. Yadkin County Sheriff Dept., No. 17-1249, 698 Fed.Appx. 141, 2017 WL 4415771 (4th Cir. Oct. 5, 2017). Plaintiff alleges that she began working for the Defendant Antwerpen Hyundai of Clarksville (“Antwerpen Hyundai”) as a sales person in March of 2017. (ECF No. 5 at 8.) Previously, she had worked for Antwerpen Nissan of Owings Mills. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that she was fired from the Owings Mills location in February of 2017 allegedly after she “spoke back” to a General Manager. (Id. at 13.) Although Plaintiff does not set forth a clear depiction of the facts in her Complaint, Amended Complaint, or Second Amended Complaint, [3] she appears to allege that she was discriminated and retaliated against on the basis of her gender while an employee of Antwerpen Hyundai.

         Lewis' clearest allegation of discrimination is that she was denied the opportunity to work part-time while a male employee was permitted to work part-time. She alleges that she requested to work part-time twice in April of 2017 and both requests were denied. (ECF No. 5. at 8.) This was despite the fact that she “worked very hard, ” came “in on days off, ” and “pushed to stay” at work when she was sick. (Id.) Subsequently in June of 2017, a male employee, Lasannah Tweh, began working at Hyundai Antwerpen and was permitted to work part-time. (Id.)

         The rest of the Plaintiff's Pleadings list miscellaneous “other events” that occurred from January of 2017-before she began working at the Clarksville location-through August of 2017. She describes computer problems, Defendant Zil ignoring her requests for time off and other assistance, other negative interactions with co-workers, being given “fake leads” and “some of [her] leads [being] taken away, ” having her customers assigned to other sales persons, and overhearing co-workers discussing her divorce and her other personal matters. She also alleges that she had foreign applications downloaded onto her cell phone which could be used to access the other applications on her phone. Finally, she alleges that she had a tracking system installed on her car. In response to this alleged discrimination, in June of 2017 Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

         In August of 2017, the Plaintiff was terminated, allegedly after she accidentally sent her sales manager text messages that were not intended for him. (ECF No. 5 at 12.) Sometime thereafter, she requested a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC regarding her Charge of Discrimination, which she received on February 18, 2018. (ECF No. 9.) On May 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed a pro se Complaint for Employment Discrimination in this Court against the Defendants, alleging that they discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). (ECF No. 1.) Without ever serving any of the Defendants with a Summons or copy of the Complaint, she subsequently filed an Amended Complaint on May 29, 2018 and a Second Amended Complaint on June 4, 2018. (ECF Nos. 5, 9.) Over a month after she filed the Second Amended Complaint, Summons were issued on July 5, 2018. (ECF No. 14.)

         On August 9, 2018, the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, contending that all of the Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because she lacks standing to bring them due to her actions in a bankruptcy proceeding.[4] The Motion also argues that even if the Plaintiff had standing, dismissal of all of her claims is warranted because she failed to properly serve any of the Defendants under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Finally, even if the Plaintiff had standing and properly served the Defendants, the Motion to Dismiss argues that there is no individual liability under Title VII as to her claims against the Individual Defendants, she failed to properly exhaust her Title VII retaliation claim, and she failed to state a claim for discrimination under Title VII. On the day the Defendants filed their Motion, the Clerk of this Court issued the Plaintiff a “Rule 12/56 Letter” indicating that a failure to respond could result in the dismissal of her claims. (ECF No. 17.) After almost three months, Lewis has still not filed a responsive pleading.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW I. Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1)

         When a defendant moves to dismiss a plaintiff's claim for lack of standing, courts commonly address the motion under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Taubman Realty Group Ltd. Partnership v. Mineta, 420 F.3d 475 (4th Cir. 2003) (analyzing a claim of lack of standing as a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction); see also Nicholas v. Green Tree Servicing, LLC, 173 F.Supp.3d 250 (D. Md. 2016) (same). Similarly, a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies is also governed by Rule 12(b)(1). Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003); Clarke v. DynCorp Intern. LLC, 962 F.Supp.2d 781, 786 (D. Md. 2013).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges a court's authority to hear the matter brought by a complaint. See Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). This challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed either as a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations 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). A plaintiff carries the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999).

         II. Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5)

         A motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process is permitted by Federal Rule 12(b)(5). “Once service has been contested, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the validity of service pursuant to Rule 4.” Parker v. Am. Brokers Conduit, 179 F.Supp.3d 509, 515 (D. Md. 2016) (citing O'Meara v. Waters, 464 F.Supp.2d 474, 476 (D. Md. 2006)). While generally failure to strictly comply with Rule 4 may not invalidate service of process if service of process gives the defendant actual notice of the pending action, the plain requirements for the means of effecting service of process may not be ignored. Armco, Inc. v. Penrod-Stauffer Bldg. Sys., Inc., 733 F.2d 1087, 1089 (4th Cir. 1984); Aryes v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 129 F.Supp.3d 249, 260 (D. Md. 2015).

         III. Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). Rule 12(b)(6) 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). The 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). While a complaint need not include “detailed factual allegations, ” it must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). 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); Hall v. DIRECTV, LLC, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017). However, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from those facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         ANALYSIS

         In their Motion to Dismiss, the Defendants raise several arguments for the dismissal of Plaintiff's claims. As explained below, all of the Plaintiff's claims are dismissed first because she lacks standing to bring them due to her actions in a bankruptcy proceeding.

         Even if the Plaintiff had standing, however, dismissal of all of her claims is also warranted because she failed to properly serve any of the Defendants under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Finally, even if the Plaintiff had standing or had properly served the Defendants, there is no individual liability under Title VII as to her claims against the Individual Defendants, she failed to properly exhaust her Title VII retaliation claim, and she failed to state a claim for discrimination under Title VII.

         I. Grounds for Dismissal of all of the ...


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