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Gaines v. Anderson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 22, 2019

JUANITA GAINES, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF JOHN ANDERSON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On March 5, 2018, this Court issued an Order and accompanying Memorandum Opinion denying Defendant Sheriff John Anderson's (“Defendant” or “Anderson”) Motion to Dismiss. (ECF Nos. 16, 17.) Now pending before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (“Defendant's Motion”). (ECF No. 19.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (ECF No. 19) is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case have previously been addressed in two prior Memorandum Opinions of this Court. See Gaines v. Martin, No. JKB-12-1126, 2014 WL 1622316 (D. Md. Apr. 23, 2014) (“Gaines I”); Gaines v. Anderson, RDB-17-2755, 2018 WL 1156768 (D. Md. March 5, 2018) (“Gaines II”). A brief summary of the case follows, giving particular attention to its procedural posture. For purposes of reviewing Defendant's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, which petitions this Court to revise its prior Order and to grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. See Q Intern Courier Inc. v. Smoak, 441 F.3d 214, 216 (4th Cir. 2006). When a defendant moves to dismiss on the ground of res judicata, a court may also take judicial notice of facts from a prior judicial proceeding so long as the res judicata defense does not raise disputed issues of fact. Id. (citing Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 n.1 (4th Cir. 2000)).

         Gaines worked as a Deputy Sheriff with the Sheriff of Baltimore City from September 27, 2001 until June 22, 2012. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 18.) On July 9, 2010, she filed a Charge of Discrimination (“2010 Charge”) with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Anderson and Baltimore City, alleging that she was passed over for a promotion and denied overtime because she was female. (Id. at ¶ 18.) On February 4, 2011, Gaines arrived at work wearing dark pants, a white collared button-down shirt, a hooded jacket, and a vest. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Gaines alleges that she had worn these and similar clothes many times before, and that male colleagues with similar work assignments and wearing similar attire were not sent home. (Id. at ¶¶ 22, 24.) Nevertheless, Captain Donald Rheubottom called Gaines into his office, inspected her clothing, and sent her home for dress code violations. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Subsequently, Gaines updated her Charge of Discrimination at the Baltimore EEOC office. (Id. at ¶ 36.) On February 8, 2011, Captain Rheubottom again sent home Gaines for purported dress code infractions. (Id. at ¶ 34.) That same day, she returned to the EEOC office in Baltimore to add allegations to her pending EEOC charge. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Gaines notified Captain Rheubottom and her co-workers that she had updated the charge. (Id.)

         Gaines alleges that she faced retaliation because of her EEOC Complaints. Following these incidents, Gaines was placed on a performance improvement plan on February 17, 2011 and placed on probationary status. (Id. at ¶ 38.) On August 8, 2011 Gaines was notified of formal internal affairs charges pending against her for unsatisfactory performance, conduct unbecoming a Sheriff's Deputy, failure to obey orders, unauthorized absence, and insubordination-all related to the events of February 4 and 8, 2011. (Id. at ¶ 39.)

         On April 12, 2012, after obtaining a right to sue letter related to her Charge, Gaines filed suit in this Court against the State of Maryland, Anderson, and three other individual defendants, alleging violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Fourteenth Amendment (“Gaines I”). (Id. at ¶ 42; Gaines I, 2014 WL 1622316, at *1.) The Complaint concerned Plaintiff's experiencing working as a Deputy Sheriff in the Special Operations Unit in 2008. Gaines I, 2014 WL 1622316, at *1. Within a week of filing her Complaint, on April 17, 2012, Gaines received notification of an internal Trial Board hearing date for the internal affairs charges pending against her. (Id. at ¶ 43.) On April 27, 2012 Gaines was found guilty of the charges against her by a panel of three officers appointed by Sheriff Anderson. (Id. at ¶ 44.) Even though the Trial Board only recommended a 30-day suspension, Sheriff Anderson terminated Gaines' employment on June 22, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 45.) Subsequently, Gaines filed a Second Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC (“2012 Charge”), asserting that she had faced retaliation in violation of Title VII. (Id. at 7.) Gaines also amended Count 2 of her Complaint to include an allegation that Defendants had retaliated against her by terminating her employment. Am. Compl. ¶ 48, Gaines v. Martin, No. JKB-12-1126, 2014 WL 1622316 (D. Md. Apr. 23, 2014).

         Subsequently, Defendants moved to dismiss Gaines' Amended Complaint. In their Memorandum in support of this Motion, Defendants acknowledged that Count 2 of the Complaint contained an allegation that Plaintiff's employment was terminated in retaliation for, inter alia, filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. (Def.'s Mem. Mot. to Dismiss 4, ECF No. 31-3). Defendants argued, however, that Count 2 must be dismissed because she had failed to file a charge of discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”) before filing her 2012 Charge. (Id. at 8-9.) They further contended that Gaines had failed to state a claim for retaliation in Count 2, focusing solely on paragraphs 29 through 35 of the Amended Complaint, which did not contain her allegation that she had been fired in retaliation for filing an EEOC Charge. (Id. at 31.)

         In response, Gaines informed Defendants and this Court that the 2010 Charge-not the 2012 Charge-formed the basis for her claims. She explained that the 2012 Charge was an “additional retaliation charge filed by Plaintiff” concerning her employment termination. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp. 3, ECF No. 36.) Defendants did not challenge Gaines' apparent attempt to separate claims arising from her employment termination from Gaines I.

         Judge James K. Bredar of this Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims. Gaines I, 2014 WL 1622316, at *1. Informed by the parties' submissions, which indicated that Plaintiff's termination claim was not at issue, the Memorandum Opinion did not acknowledge that Gaines' employment had been terminated. See Id. at *1 (“Plaintiff is a deputy sheriff”) (emphasis added). This Court did not even reference the 2012 Charge, but instead merely observed that Gaines had exhausted her administrative remedies by filing her 2010 Charge. Id. at *3. Furthermore, the Memorandum Opinion's analysis of Count 2 made no reference to Gaines' allegation that she had been fired for filing a charge with the EEOC. Id. at *5.

         On March 31, 2017, the EEOC issued a cause determination addressing the 2012 Charge and found that the Sheriff's Office violated Title VII with regard to Gaines' discharge. (ECF No. 18, at ¶ 15.) Accordingly, Gaines filed the instant lawsuit (“Gaines II”). In this lawsuit, Gaines alleges that her employment at the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office was terminated in retaliation for pursuing an EEOC Charge. (Id. at ¶ 69.) Defendant moved to dismiss the claim, and for the first time since Gaines filed her 2012 Charge, he has objected that Plaintiff's claim is barred by res judicata. In her Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10), Gaines conceded that res judicata applied to her claims, but argued that an exception to that doctrine applied in this case because Defendant had acquiesced to Plaintiff's claim-splitting (i.e., he permitted Gaines to pursue her termination claim in a separate lawsuit). (Pl.'s Resp. Mem. 7, ECF No. 10.) On March 5, 2018, this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and accompanying Order denying Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, having determined that res judicata did not bar Plaintiff's claims. Subsequently, Defendant filed a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Denying Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 19.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Although Defendant has styled his Motion as a “Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Denying Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint” under Rule 59(e), the Order it seeks to alter or amend was an interlocutory order denying a Motion to Dismiss rather than a Judgment. As such, his Motion is more appropriately styled as a motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order under Rule 54(b). Cezair v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., DKC-13-2928, 2014 WL 4955535, at *1 (D. Md. Sept. 30, 2014) (explaining that a motion to amend an order denying a motion to dismiss is more properly brought under Rule 54(b)). Under Rule 54(b), district courts have discretion to reconsider rulings on interlocutory motions at any time before the entry of Judgment. U.S. Tobacco Coop., Inc. v. Big South Wholesale of Virginia, LLC, 899 F.3d 236, 256 (4th Cir. 2018). The standards governing motions filed pursuant to Rules 54 and 59 closely resemble one another. Id. at 257 (quoting Carlson v. Boston Sci. Corp., 856 F.3d 320, ...


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