United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. Russell, III United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Stanley Steemer
International, Inc.'s (“Stanley Steemer”)
Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Failure to State a Claim
Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted (ECF No. 13) and Defendant
Liberty Mutual Group Inc.'s (“Liberty
Mutual”) Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (ECF No.
14). The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is
necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For
the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant
Defendants' Motions and grant Plaintiff Charline
Whitfield leave to amend the Complaint for the limited
purpose of amending her breach of contract claim against
Liberty Mutual as detailed below.
unspecified date, Whitfield obtained a homeowner's
insurance policy (the “Policy”) through Liberty
Mutual. (Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 1-3; Liberty Mutual's
Mot. Dismiss Compl. [“Liberty Mutual's Mot.”]
Ex. 2 [“Policy”], ECF No. 14-2). The Policy
covered “losses caused by water that overflowed from a
sump pump, including but not limited to mold
remediation.” (Compl. ¶ 9; see Policy at
22, 33-34). Whitfield owns the home covered under the Policy,
located at 5604 Gwynndale Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland.
(Compl. ¶ 8). Plaintiff Curtis Nelson has lived with
Whitfield in her home since November 28, 2014.
(Id.). Whitfield and Nelson invested time, money,
and effort into finishing the basement in Whitfield's
home, creating “their own private day spa of sorts,
” complete with a Jacuzzi. (Id. ¶ 29).
April 6, 2017, heavy rainfall caused the sump pump in
Whitfield's basement to overflow. (Id. ¶
10). The same day, Whitfield alerted Liberty Mutual to the
water damage and “requested immediate
assistance.” (Id. ¶ 11). Liberty Mutual
instructed Stanley Steemer to “extract the water from
the basement and dry the area, ” and it did so that
night. (Id.). On April 7, 2017, Defendant
Roto-Rooter Services Company (“Roto-Rooter”)
“attempted to install a new sump pump” in the
home but installed it in such a way that it did not function
properly. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13).
5, 2017, heavy rainfall again caused water to overflow from
the sump pump and flood the basement. (Id. ¶
15). The flooding was “extensive” and resulted in
“substantial property damage and mold growth.”
(Id. ¶ 16). Nelson first noticed the flooding
three days later, on May 8, 2017, and contacted Liberty
Mutual. (Id. ¶ 17). On or about May 23, 2017,
Liberty Mutual instructed Stanley Steemer to investigate mold
growth in the basement. (Id. ¶ 23). The next
day, Stanley Steemer inspected the basement and confirmed
that there was “extensive mold growth throughout the
entire basement.” (Id. ¶ 24).
Steemer began mold remediation efforts at the end of May
2017, which lasted until approximately September 7, 2017.
(Id. ¶¶ 28, 31). The remediation efforts
were “very invasive.” (Id. ¶ 28).
Stanley Steemer “set up fans that ran [twenty-four]
hours each day” and “workers constantly walked in
and out of the house randomly several days per week”
during the remediation process. (Id.). As a result
of the second flood, Plaintiffs sustained approximately $15,
374.00 in property damage, paid $648.00 for a third-party to
remove damaged property from the house, and spent
approximately $35, 000.00 to fully restore the basement to
its former state. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27, 35-36).
23, 2018, Plaintiffs filed suit against Liberty Mutual,
Stanley Steemer, and Roto-Rooter in the Circuit Court for
Baltimore County, Maryland, (ECF No. 1-3), alleging:
negligence against Liberty Mutual, Stanley Steemer, and
Roto-Rooter (Count I); and breach of contract against Liberty
Mutual (Count II). (Compl. ¶¶ 37-43). Plaintiffs
seek money damages and attorney's fees and costs.
(Id. at 11). Liberty Mutual removed the case to this
Court on July 10, 2018. (ECF No. 1).
24, 2018, Stanley Steemer filed its Motion to Dismiss the
Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can
Be Granted. (ECF No. 13). Plaintiffs filed an Opposition on July
31, 2018. (ECF No. 15). Stanley Steemer filed a Reply on
August 13, 2018. (ECF No. 17).
26, 2018, Liberty Mutual filed its Motion to Dismiss the
Complaint. (ECF No. 14). Plaintiffs filed an Opposition on
August 9, 2018. (ECF No. 16). Liberty Mutual filed a Reply on
August 23, 2018. (ECF No. 23).
Standard of Review
purpose of a motion made under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) is to “test[ ] the sufficiency of a
complaint, ” not to “resolve contests surrounding
the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of
defenses.” King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206,
214 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Edwards v. City of
Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). A
complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially
plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to
forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the
complaint must allege enough facts to establish each element.
Goss v. Bank of America, N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445,
449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684
F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff'd sub nom.,
Goss v. Bank of America, NA, 546 Fed.Appx. 165 (4th
considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must examine the
complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the
complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v.
Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of
Comm'rs, 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing
Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). But,
the court need not accept unsupported or conclusory factual
allegations devoid of any reference to actual events,
United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844,
847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions couched as factual
allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Steemer and Liberty Mutual contend that Plaintiffs fail to
state negligence claims against them. Liberty Mutual also
maintains that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for breach of
contract. Plaintiffs counter that they have adequately pled
both their negligence and breach of contract claims. The
Court addresses Plaintiffs' claims in turn.
Maryland law,  to state a claim for negligence, the
plaintiffs must allege: (1) “a duty owed by the
defendant[s] to the plaintiff”; (2) “a breach of
that duty”; and (3) “injury proximately resulting
from that breach.” Shilling v. Thomas, No.
PWG-16-2696, 2017 WL 1035854, at *6 (D.Md. Mar. 16, 2017)
(alteration in original) (quoting Barclay v.
Briscoe, 47 A.3d 560, 574 (Md. 2012)). Without a duty,
“there can be no negligence.” Id.
(quoting Premium of America, LLC v. Sanchez, 73 A.3d
343, 354 (Md.Ct.Spec.App. 2013)). As a result, “when
analyzing a negligence action it is customary to begin with
whether a legally cognizable duty exists.” I ...