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Thompson v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 1, 2019

MARILYN THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLLAR TREE STORES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge.

         On December 18, 2014, Plaintiff Marilyn Thompson tripped over boxes in a store owned by Defendant Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. (“Dollar Tree”), allegedly causing her severe and permanent injuries. On October 12, [1] 2017, she filed a complaint against Dollar Tree in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, and Dollar Tree removed the case to this Court on December 18, 2017. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on February 15, 2018, adding Defendant American Greetings Corporations (“American Greetings”).[2] Am. Compl., ECF No. 17.

         Before the Court is American Greetings' Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 31.[3] Because the claim against American Greetings does not relate back to the original complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), I will grant American Greetings' Motion, treated as a Motion to Dismiss.

         Background

         Thompson filed suit against Dollar Tree on October 12, 2017, claiming that, on December 18, 2014, she tripped over boxes that “Defendant failed to remove from the floor of the aisle” in its Largo, Maryland store. Compl. ¶¶ 6-7, 9. Dollar Tree removed the case to this Court on December 18, 2017. ECF No. 1. During a Fed.R.Civ.P. 16 conference call on January 22, 2018, Thompson sought leave to amend her pleading to add American Greetings as a defendant, and I permitted her to do so. ECF No. 16. She filed her Amended Complaint on February 15, 2018, naming both Dollar Tree and American Greetings as Defendants and alleging that on December 18, 2014 “one of the shopping aisles at [Dollar Tree's Largo, Maryland store] had boxes that Defendant Dollar Tree and/or Defendant American Greetings failed to remove from the floor of the aisle, creating a tripping hazard” that caused her to trip and fall. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8, 10. She served American Greetings on March 22, 2018. ECF No. 22.

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for “the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose “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.” Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, 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), and must state “a plausible claim for relief, ” as “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663.

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, “[t]he court may consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as documents attached to the motion to dismiss, if they are integral to the complaint and their authenticity is not disputed.” Sposato v. First Mariner Bank, No. CCB-12- 1569, 2013 WL 1308582, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2013); see also CACI Int'l v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 566 F.3d 150, 154 (4th Cir. 2009). However, if the Court considers matters outside the pleadings, the Court must treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. Highland Consulting Grp., Inc., No. RDB-12-318, 2013 WL 139194, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 10, 2013). Because American Greetings' Motion can be resolved on the pleadings alone, I will treat it as a Motion to Dismiss.

         Discussion

         It is undisputed that Thompson's cause of action accrued on December 18, 2014, the date of the alleged injury. The parties agree that she had until December 18, 2017 to file suit against any defendant. Def.'s Mem. 2 (“Maryland's three-year statute of limitations for Plaintiff's claims ran on December 18, 2017.”); Pl.'s Opp'n 5 (“Maryland law on a statute of limitations issue applies in a diversity action.”); see also Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101 (three-year statute of limitations for a negligence action). Plaintiff filed a timely lawsuit against Dollar Tree on October 12, 2017, and Dollar Tree removed the case to this Court on December 18, 2017. Thompson then filed her Amended Complaint, adding Defendant American Greetings, on February 15, 2018, almost two months after the statute of limitations had expired. Am. Compl. 1. Of course, under both federal and Maryland law, if an amendment “relates back to the date of the original pleading, ” then it also is timely. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c); see Nam v. Montgomery Cty., 732 A.2d 356, 364 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1999) (“Maryland recognizes the doctrine of ‘relating back.'”). Therefore, the issue before the Court is whether the claim against American Greetings “relates back” to the date of the initial Complaint.

         Preliminarily, the parties dispute whether federal or Maryland law applies. American Greetings analyzes the issue under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c). Def.'s Mem. 4. Thompson argues that Maryland law applies, stating that “[f]ederal law ‘governs the relation back of amendments and controls' only in the fact [sic] of conflicting and less generous state law.” Pl.'s Opp'n 5 (quoting Federal Leasing Co. v. Amperif, 840 F.Supp. 1068, 1071 (D. Md. 1993)). In Thompson's view, Maryland law is more generous, as “a plaintiff need only show that[] ‘ . . . the operative factual situation remains essentially the same . . . .'” Id. (quoting Gardner v. State, 549 A.2d 1171, 1178 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1988) (emphasis removed)). It is true that, under Maryland law, “[t]he doctrine of relation back provides that if the factual situation remains essentially the same after the amendment as it was before it, the doctrine of relation back applies and the amended cause of action is not barred by limitations.” Nam, 732 A.2d at 364. Thus, “if an amendment merely corrects the name of an original party, as opposed to adding a new party, the doctrine is applicable.” Id. But, under Maryland law, “if a new defendant is added, the doctrine of relation back does not apply.” Id.

         This law is less generous than Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c). See Youmans v. Douron, Inc., 65 A.3d 185, 194-95 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2013) (“The Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure, unlike the Federal Rules, lack an express provision governing the relation back of amendments to prior pleadings. But Maryland courts do, nonetheless, recognize and apply such a precept, though it is narrower in scope than its federal counterpart.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Indeed, in Federal Leasing Co., which Thompson cites, this Court applied federal procedural law, not Maryland procedural law, for that very reason. 840 F.Supp. at 1071-72 & n.5. Thus, the federal rule applies. See id.

         In particular, Rule 15(c)(1)(C) applies because the amendment introduces a new party. SeeKrupski v. Costa Crociere S. p. A., 560 U.S. 538, 544-46 (2010) (applying Rule 15(c)(1)(C) where plaintiff “moved to amend her complaint to add Costa Crociere as a defendant, ” not change the defendant from ...


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