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Woods v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 9, 2019




         Plaintiff Silvester Woods, pro se, filed this action stemming from the events surrounding his brief employment with and termination by Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”). Am. Compl., ECF No. 19. Defendant WMATA moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. ECF No. 20. Defendant Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689 moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 22.[1] Because this Court lacks jurisdiction over many of the claims in the Amended Complaint and because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for those over which this Court does have jurisdiction, Defendants' Motions are GRANTED. Accordingly, given that Plaintiff already had the opportunity to amend, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         On July 10, 2018, Plaintiff Silvester Woods, an African American male, accepted an offer of employment with Defendant WMATA as a Student MetroBus Operator, a full-time paid trainee position. ECF No. 19-3 at 4.[3] This position was covered by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with Defendant ATU, Local 689. Id. at 2-3. In addition to several other conditions of employment, the collective bargaining agreement required Woods to complete a probationary period before receiving a final offer letter and allowed for WMATA to “discipline or discharge [Woods] without right of appeal” during that period. Id. at 2. This was not Woods's first employment as a bus operator; he possessed a Commercial Driver's License and previously worked for First Transit, Inc. as a Bus Operator for 10 years. Am. Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 19. Currently, he works as a Bus Operator for Fairfax Connector. Id. ¶ 8.

         On July 23, 2018, Woods began his training as a Student Metro Bus Operator at WMATA's Carmen Turner Facility. Id. ¶ 6. During training, Woods tried to follow Instructor Louis Rucker's directions, but Rucker would challenge his operator experience and give him unclear directions, trying to confuse him. Id. ¶ 12. Moreover, Woods and Rucker “did not agree on how work should be done.” EEOC Charge at 3, ECF No. 19-5. When Rucker yelled at another employee and made them cry, Woods chose not to speak up and correct Rucker in fear of losing his job but did report the incident to the Director of Bus Training, Dylan Wolfe, who told Woods to accept the instructor's behavior “in order to keep his job.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. Not only would Rucker yell at the other employee, he also “would insult, degrade, and verbally attack” Woods, attempting to intimidate him. Id. ¶ 12. Woods's issues with Rucker continued, leading Woods to explain to Rucker that he could be “sued if his attacks were malicious and intentional.” Id. ¶ 13.

         These issues came to a climax on August 3, 2018. While on the bus training, Rucker reported that Woods refused to operate the bus, got out of the operator's seat, and told Rucker to “Do it your dam self.” ECF No. 19-2 at 2. Woods then took out his cell phone and began using it before Rucker reminded him of WMATA's Electronic Device Policy prohibiting such conduct. Id. Then, when the bus returned to the training facility, Woods exited the bus prior to being released but was stopped by Rucker and another instructor. Id. Woods was then directed to wait in the Administrative Office to meet with management. Id. There, Director Wolfe and Anthony Dawson, Supervisor of Bus Training, met with Woods regarding the incident and Woods admitted to the conduct reported by Rucker but noted he was talking to himself and not being disrespectful or discourteous. Id.; ECF No. 19-4 at 3. Citing Woods for “unprofessional conduct unbecoming of a Professional Bus Operator while in Bus Training and violating WMATA's Electronic Device Policy, ” WMATA terminated Woods effective August 3, 2018. ECF No. 19-2 at 2-3. While his separation paperwork was being compiled, Woods informed Wolfe and Dawson that he was a certified paralegal. ECF No. 19-4 at 3.

         Woods then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. ECF No. 19-5 at 3. The EEOC declined to prosecute and issued Woods a “Right to Sue” letter on August 14, 2018. Id. at 2. On August 27, 2018, Woods contacted ATU Local 689 requesting it to file a Title VII grievance on his behalf, a request which was denied. ECF No. 19-4 at 2-4; Am. Compl. ¶ 22.

         Woods filed this lawsuit on November 13, 2018, followed by an Amended Complaint on January 10, 2019. ECF Nos. 1, 19. In accordance with this Court's Letter Order setting deadlines for further motions, ECF No. 17, WMATA filed its Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on January 29, 2019, ECF No. 20, and the ATU filed its Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on February 5, 2019, ECF No. 22.


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) challenges a court's authority to entertain a suit on grounds of subject matter jurisdiction. The burden of establishing the court's subject matter jurisdiction rests with the plaintiff. See Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). The district court should grant the motion “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, Inc. v. Mayor & City of Council of Balt., 855 F.3d 247, 251 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Evans, 166 F.3d at 647).

         Alternatively, a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 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, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176754, *10-*11 (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.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To survive a motion to dismiss, 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Where, as here, the plaintiff has filed a pleading without the aid of counsel, the court must construe the pleading liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94)2007) (per curiam); White v. White, 886. F.2d 721, 722-23 (4th Cir. 1989). Liberal construction, though, does not mean a court may overlook a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. “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.” Id.

         “Generally, when a defendant moves to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), courts are limited to considering the sufficiency of allegations set forth in the complaint and the ‘documents attached or incorporated into the complaint.'” Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics Int'l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 448 (4th Cir. 2011). Where, as here, a plaintiff has attached exhibits to the complaint, these exhibits are considered part of the pleading. See Fayetteville Inv'rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991); Bryant v. Wash. Mut. Bank, 524 F.Supp.2d 753, 757 n.4 (W.D. Va. 2007), aff'd, 282 Fed.Appx. 260 (4th Cir. 2008).

         Lastly, “'[t]he determination whether to dismiss with or without prejudice under Rule 12(b)(6) is within the discretion of the district court.'” Weigel v. Maryland, 950 F.Supp.2d 811, 825-26 (D. Md. 2013) (quoting 180S, Inc. v. Gordini U.S.A., Inc., 602 F.Supp.2d 635, 638-39 (D. Md. 2009)). Generally, the plaintiff should be afforded the opportunity to amend, see id., or dismissal should be without prejudice. See Adams v. Sw. Va. Reg'l Jail Auth., 524 F. A'ppx 899, 900 (4th Cir. 2013) (“Where no opportunity is given to amend the complaint, the dismissal should generally be without prejudice.”).


         A. WMATA's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to 12(b)(1) (Counts 1-3, 5, 7-9)

         Woods asserts numerous claims against WMATA stemming from the short course of events leading to his termination. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-31. Specifically, these claims can be construed as: breach of contract (Count 1); the at-will employment contract is void, unconscionable, and unenforceable (Count 2); the contract violated public policy (Count 3); WMATA's cell phone policy violates Fourteenth Amendment Due Process (Count 5); “unprofessional conduct contrasted to misconduct by the plaintiff” (Count 7); conspiracy (Count 8); and intentional infliction of emotional distress and damages (Count 9). WMATA asserts immunity from these claims pursuant to the WMATA Compact and the Eleventh Amendment.

         The Eleventh Amendment bars suit in federal court against an unconsenting state and any governmental units that are arms of the state unless Congress abrogates that immunity. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 755-57 (1999). To properly abrogate a state's immunity, Congress must unequivocally declare such an intent. See Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55 (1996). WMATA, a quasi-governmental entity created by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact, which is codified in section 10-204 of Maryland's Transportation ...

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