United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Bredar, Chief Judge.
Cavin Clayton filed suit in state court against his former
employer, Enterprise SI Corporation d/b/a Healthcare MDM
Inc.,  and Enterprise SI's owner, Gregory T.
Fairnak, alleging defamation for allegedly false statements
made by Defendants in conjunction with Clayton's
application for increased government security clearance.
(Compl., ECF No. 1-2.) Defendants subsequently removed the
case based on diversity jurisdiction. (Notice of Removal, ECF
No. 1.) Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss for failure
to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). (Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 9.) No. hearing is required.
See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons
set forth below, Defendants' Motion will be granted.
to the Complaint, Plaintiff Clayton is an independent
contractor who provides services under contract to various
federal agencies. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Clayton was employed
with Defendants through his corporate entity “[f]or
some time, ” but, in August 2016, Defendants informed
him that “his services would no longer be
required.” (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) He now
competes with Defendants for government contracts.
(Id. ¶ 7.)
after parting ways with Defendants, Clayton applied for
increased security clearance from the federal government,
which involved gathering information from previous companies
with which he'd worked, including Enterprise SI.
(Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) In mid-December 2016,
Defendant Fairnak and/or other agents of Defendant Enterprise
SI returned a form to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
(OPM) stating that Clayton had been “fired . . . for
cause.” (Id. ¶ 12.) According to Clayton,
the statement was false (id. ¶ 12), and
Defendants made it either knowing it was false or
negligently, with “the intent to harm [Clayton's]
chances” of obtaining federal contracts. (Id.
to the Complaint, Defendants' statement to OPM harmed
“his standing and reputation within his professional
community, ” caused him “mental anguish and
personal humiliation, ” and made it
“significantly more difficult” for him to
“obtain necessary federal government security
clearance now and in the future.” (Id.
¶¶ 17-18.) He seeks, inter alia, compensatory and
punitive damages. (Id. at 3-4.)
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) (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In
analyzing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), courts “accept the well-pled
allegations of the complaint as true, . . . constru[ing] the
facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v.
United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997).
Nevertheless, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “A pleading that
offers ‘labels and conclusions' or . . .
‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further
factual enhancement'” will not suffice.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in original)
(citation omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555, 557). The Court must be able to infer “more than
the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at
raise multiple grounds for dismissal, including that
Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege the basic
elements of a defamation claim under Maryland law, that
Plaintiff's claim is barred by the statute of
limitations, and that Defendants are protected by an absolute
or qualified privilege. (Mot. Dismiss Mem. Supp. at 2-7, ECF
No. 9-1.) The Court need not reach questions of limitations
or privilege, because the Court agrees that Plaintiff's
Complaint does not contain sufficient factual allegations
that, if true, would support a more than speculative right to
relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
state a claim for defamation under Maryland law, a plaintiff
must allege (1) that “the defendant made a defamatory
statement to a third person, ” (2) that “the
statement was false, ” (3) that “the defendant
was legally at fault in making the statement, ” and (4)
that “the plaintiff suffered harm.”
Lindenmuth v. McCreer, 165 A.3d 544, 552 (Md. Ct.
Spec. App. 2017). Failure to plausibly allege any one of
these elements warrants dismissal. Although the Court
concludes that Plaintiff cleared the first hurdle by alleging
a potentially defamatory statement, he failed to allege more
than speculative harm under the fourth element.
Defamation Per Se and Defamation Per Quod
defamatory statement is one that “tends to expose a
person to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule, ”
and that “discourage[es] others in the community from
having a good opinion of, or from associating or dealing
with, that person.” Id. (quoting Batson v.
Shiflett, 602 A.2d 1191, 1210 (Md. 1992)). Maryland law
distinguishes between statements that are defamatory per se
and defamatory per quod. Indep. Newspapers, Inc. v.
Brodie, 966 A.2d 432, 448 (Md. 2009). “Where the
words themselves impute the defamatory character, ”
without the necessity of innuendo or inferences drawn from
context, a statement is defamatory per se. Id.
(quoting Metromedia, Inc. v. Hillman, 400 A.2d 1117,
1123 (Md. 1979)). By contrast, defamation per quod requires
“extrinsic facts . . . in order to establish the
defamatory character of the words” through context or
innuendo. Id. (quoting Metromedia, Inc.,
400 A.2d at 1123). To survive a motion to dismiss in a
defamation per quod case, the complaint must allege such
extrinsic facts. Id. Defamation per quod also
requires allegations of special damages. See Metromedia,
Inc., 400 A.2d at 1119 (quoting M & S Furniture
Sales Co., Inc. v. Edward J. De Bartolo Corp., 241 A.2d
126, 128 (Md. 1968)). Whether a statement is defamatory per
se or per quod is a question of law. Shapiro v.
Massengill, 661 A.2d 202, 217 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1995).
asserts that Defendants' statement to OPM that they had
terminated him “for cause” was defamation per se,
because it is the kind of statement that “may impair or
hurt [one's] trade or livelyhood [sic]” and may
“adversely affect [a plaintiff's] fitness for the
proper conduct of business.” (Opp'n Br. at 4-5, ECF
No. 12 (quoting Shapiro, 661 A.2d at 218).) However,
the very case Plaintiff ...