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Davis v. Skipwith

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 16, 2018

APRIL M. DAVIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CAROLYN SKIPWITH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Timothy J. Sullivan, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 102 & 103) and the Plaintiffs' motion to remand (ECF No. 104) and motion for default judgment (ECF No. 105).[1] Having considered the submissions of the parties, I find that a hearing is unnecessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' “Partial Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment” (ECF No. 102) will be granted, and the Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 103), motion to remand (ECF No. 104), and motion for default judgment (ECF No. 105) will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from an incident that occurred on October 18, 2015, when James D. Golladay (“Mr. Golladay”), a disabled individual using a wheelchair, was picked up at his residence by Carolyn Skipwith (“Skipwith”), who was driving a transport van for Transdev Services, Inc. (“Transdev”). (ECF No. 48.) Plaintiffs allege that while the transport van was on the way to its destination, Skipwith negligently slammed on the brakes. (Id. ¶ 6.) As a result of the sudden deceleration, Mr. Golladay was thrown from his wheelchair to the floor, which caused him to sustain a leg fracture and other injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) He died on October 26, 2015, because of complications stemming from his injuries. (Id.)

         On June 13, 2016, the Plaintiffs, April M. Davis, Helen K. Usual, and James D. Golladay, Jr., having been appointed the personal representatives of the Estate of Mr. Golladay, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland (“Circuit Court”) against Skipwith and Transdev. (ECF No. 2). On September 8, 2016, WMATA filed a motion to intervene (ECF No. 6), which the Circuit Court granted on November 1, 2016 (ECF No. 15). On November 10, 2016, WMATA removed the case to this Court pursuant to Md. Code, Transp. § 10-204(81), which provides that federal district courts have original jurisdiction over actions against WMATA and that any such action initiated in a state court in Maryland, Virginia, or the District of Columbia may be removed to federal court. (ECF No. 1.)

         After the case was removed to this Court, on March 30, 2017, Judge Messitte held a motions hearing. (ECF No. 43.) During the hearing, the Court considered the issue of Skipwith and Transdev's agency in the context of Plaintiffs' motion to remand (ECF No. 26). Plaintiffs argued that because Skipwith and Transdev were not agents of WMATA, WMATA had no basis to remove the case under the WMATA Compact, and that the Court therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Court denied the motion without prejudice in order to allow the parties to engage in discovery and to present their arguments in motions for summary judgment after the completion of discovery (ECF No. 60 at 37-39). See Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982) (explaining how courts evaluate disputes regarding the existence of subject matter jurisdiction). After the hearing, Judge Messitte granted Plaintiffs leave to file their Second Amended Complaint, and entered a scheduling order so that the parties could engage in full discovery. (ECF Nos. 43 & 44.)

         The parties have now completed discovery and raise the same issues previously considered by Judge Messitte. Plaintiffs argue that because Skipwith and Transdev were not WMATA's agents, the case must be remanded to the Circuit Court because this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. WMATA argues that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction, and that the claims against Skipwith and Transdev should be dismissed with prejudice, with WMATA to remain as the sole defendant.

         Ordinarily, the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction rests on the party asserting jurisdiction. Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219. Similarly, the burden to show the propriety of removal rests on the party invoking removal jurisdiction. Gables Residential Servs., Inc. v. Harris, No. JKB-16-1904, 2016 WL 3997313, at *1-2 (D. Md. July 26, 2016). Accordingly, as the party that removed the case to this Court, and as the party asserting that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction, the burden rests on WMATA to show that removal was proper and that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.

         Where “jurisdictional facts are so intertwined with the facts upon which the ultimate issues on the merits must be resolved, the entire factual dispute is appropriately resolved only by a proceeding on the merits.” U.S. ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 348 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); see also Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (recommending that disputed jurisdictional facts that are intertwined with the merits should only be resolved “after appropriate discovery, ” and through the “application of a Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56(c) standard, ” rather than the “less-stringent Rule 12(b)(1) standard”). In light of the Fourth Circuit's guidance in Vuyyuru and Kerns, the Court will apply the more rigorous Rule 56 standard, rather than the less-stringent standard of Rule 12(b)(1), to resolve the disputes regarding the Court's subject matter jurisdiction.

         II. DISCUSSION

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [opposing party's] position” is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 252.

         The facts themselves, and the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008). A party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleading but instead must, by affidavit or other evidentiary showing, set out specific facts showing a genuine dispute for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Supporting and opposing affidavits are to be made on personal knowledge, contain such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and show affirmatively the competence of the affiant to testify to the matters stated in the affidavit. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         A. Agency

         “WMATA was established by an interstate compact among Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to provide a regional system of transportation for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.” Delon Hampton & Assocs., Chartered v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 943 F.2d 355, 357 (4th Cir. 1991). In Maryland, the compact is codified at Md. Code, Transp. § 10-204 (“WMATA Compact”). The signatories to the compact conferred upon WMATA each of their respective sovereign immunities, including the immunity from suit in federal court afforded to Maryland under the Eleventh Amendment. Fulcrum Int'l, Inc. v. Prince George Ctr. I, Inc., 503 Fed.Appx. 193, 194-95 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Watters v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 295 F.3d 36, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). Pursuant to Section 80 of the WMATA Compact, however, WMATA has waived its immunity in certain circumstances:

The Authority shall be liable for its . . . its torts and those of its . . . employees and agents committed in the conduct of any proprietary function, in accordance with the law of the applicable signatory (including rules on conflict of laws), but shall not be liable for any torts occurring in the performance of a governmental function. The exclusive remedy for such . . . torts for ...

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