United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL United States District Judge
administrators of Charles Herbert Flowers High School in
Prince George's County, Maryland brought this suit in
Maryland state court against the Prince George's County
Board of Education and its Department of Security Services,
alleging that the Defendants violated the administrators'
rights under federal and state law by secretly placing a
surveillance camera in the office of the school principal.
ECF No. 1-1. Defendants removed the action to this Court and
answered the Complaint. ECF Nos. 1, 5, 6. Presently pending
before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Partial
Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment. ECF No. 9. No. hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). For
the following reasons, Defendants' Motion for Partial
Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No. 9, will be treated as a
Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, and granted.
in this matter are Dr. Gorman Brown, Mar-c Holland, and Donna
Bussey. Brown has been the Principal of Charles Herbert
Flowers High School, located in Springdale, Maryland, since
July 2012. ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 4, 14, 16. Holland is an
educator who participated in a principal training program at
the school between July 1, 2017 and April 30, 2018.
Id. ¶¶ 37-40. Bussey serves as the
secretary to the school principal and supervises the
school's secretarial staff. Id. ¶¶
58-59, 62. In the course of their employment at the school,
Plaintiffs spend or have spent considerable time working in
the area known as the Principal's Suite, which includes
the principal's office as well as a restroom and shower.
Id. ¶¶ 19, 21, 39-42, 61-62. Brown and
other school staff regularly use the office suite for
sensitive meetings and conversations relating to students,
parents, and school faculty and staff. Id.
¶¶ 22-27, 39, 41, 61-63. Brown's minor children
have also used the suite for completing homework and as a
space to change their clothes for extracurricular activities,
as have members of the school's “Pom and Dance
Team, ” which is supervised by Bussey. Id.
¶¶ 19-20, 64-66. Brown and Holland have also
changed their clothes in the office suite. Id.
¶¶ 20, 43.
of her training program, Holland served in Brown's place
as the school's principal from January 1, 2018 to April
30, 2018. Id. ¶¶ 40-42. On the morning of
Friday, April 13, 2018, Holland and Bussey were contacted by
an assistant principal of the school who had accessed the
school's network of security cameras and discovered that
a camera labeled “Main Lobby” appeared to show
Holland at her desk in the principal's office.
Id. ¶¶ 46-48, 71. Unaware of such a
camera, Holland examined the office's ceiling and noticed
a device in a corner that resembled a smoke detector.
Id. ¶ 49. She then accessed the “Main
Lobby” camera from her computer and confirmed that it
was transmitting a live image of her. Id. Holland
immediately contacted Brown, who was also unaware of the
camera and came to the school to investigate. Id.
¶¶ 50-52. Examining the surveillance system,
Holland, Brown, and Bussey discovered that it had stored
video recordings from the principal's office camera since
2016, contrary to the thirty-day retention policy for all
other school cameras. Id. ¶¶ 54-56, 72.
filed a Complaint against the Prince George's County
Board of Education and the Department of Security Services in
the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland on
June 27, 2018. ECF No. 1-1. In brief, the Complaint alleges
that Defendants secretly installed the principal's office
camera, monitored the video feed, intentionally mislabeled
the camera in the school's surveillance management system
as “Main Lobby” to avoid detection, and
authorized indefinite storage of video captured by the
camera, violating the school's thirty-day security video
retention policy. Id. at 14-29. The Complaint
includes a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged
violations of Plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth, Fifth,
and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution (Count I),
Maryland common law claims of invasion of privacy (Count II)
and gross negligence (Count III), and a claim that Defendants
violated Plaintiffs' rights under Articles 24 and 26 of
the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count IV), as well as an
allegation labeled “Count V” that asserts that
Defendants are liable for the acts of their employees.
Id. Defendants removed the case to this Court on
September 4, 2018, and filed an Answer and an Amended Answer
on September 25, 2018. ECF Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6. Defendants filed
the now-pending Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings,
or in the Alternative, Motion for Partial Summary Judgment,
on October 29, 2018. ECF No. 9. Plaintiffs filed an
Opposition to the motion on November 26, 2018, ECF No. 14,
and Defendants filed a Reply on November 27, 2018. ECF No.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
have moved for partial judgment on the pleadings under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), or in the alternative,
for partial summary judgment under Rule 56. ECF No. 9.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) provides that if a Rule
12(c) motion presents matters outside the pleadings,
“the motion must be treated as one for summary
judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Because neither
Defendants nor Plaintiffs have submitted material beyond the
pleadings, the Court will evaluate Defendants' motion as
a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. See
Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery
County, 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011); see
also Alexia Burno-Whalen v. Maryland, No. GJH-15-564,
2016 WL 1259556, at *3 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2016).
to Rule 12(h)(2)(B), a defendant may assert that a complaint
“[f]ail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted” in a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the
pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(2)(B). In evaluating a Rule
12(c) motion, courts apply the same standard used for motions
brought under Rule 12(b)(6). Massey v. Ojaniit, 759
F.3d 343, 353 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Butler v. United
States, 702 F.3d 749, 751-52 (4th Cir. 2012)). To
survive a motion under that standard, “a 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Courts will dismiss complaints under
Rule 12(c) if “after accepting all well-pleaded
allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and
drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in
the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the
plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his
claim entitling him to relief.” Edwards v. City of
Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). This
Court's role is to test “the sufficiency of the
complaint, ” and not to “resolve the merits of
the plaintiff's claims or any disputes of fact.”
Drager v. PLIVA USA, Inc., 741 F.3d 470, 474 (4th
Cir. 2014) (citing Butler, 702 F.3d at 752). As
such, the Court will assume all well-pleaded factual
allegations in the complaint to be true. See Belmora LLC
v. Bayer Consumer Care AG, 819 F.3d 697, 702 (4th Cir.
schools in Maryland are organized by county, and each
county's public school system is managed by a county
board of education. Md. Code Ann., Educ. §§ 3-103,
4-101, 4-108. In this action, Plaintiffs have named as
defendants the Prince George's County Board of Education
and the “Department of Security Services.” ECF
No. 1-1. The Complaint asserts that the latter is a
government entity that carries out security functions for the
Prince George's County school system. Id. ¶
5-6. Defendants deny these allegations in their Answer. ECF
No. 6 ¶ 2. In the pending motion, Defendants instead
assert that the Department of Security Services is not a
legal entity, but merely a component of the county school
system that is managed by the Defendant Board of Education.
ECF No. 9-1 at 6. Plaintiffs have not contested this
description. In fact, Plaintiffs' memorandum opposing the
pending motion repeatedly refers to Defendants as a single
unit. See ECF No. 14-1 at 3, 5. Moreover, the
Complaint alleges that Department of Security Services
employees “are also employees of Defendant
Board.” ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 6. For purposes of the
pending motion, therefore, the Court will treat Defendants as
a single entity and proceed as though the Prince George's
County Board of Education is the sole
defendant. See Wiley v. Wegmans Food
Markets, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-235, 2014 WL 7359717, at *1
n.1 (E.D.V.A. Dec. 24, 2014).
pending motion seeks the dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 9. § 1983
establishes a cause of action against any
“person” who deprives another of federal rights
under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also
City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd.,
526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). In Monell v. Department of
Social Services of the City of New York, the Supreme
Court held that municipalities and other local government
units are “persons” within the meaning of the
statute. 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Relying on
Monell, Plaintiffs claim that county boards of
education should be treated as municipalities or local
government units and therefore as persons. ECF No. 14-1 at
2-5. Plaintiffs' position is contrary to settled law.
in this District have repeatedly and consistently explained
that Maryland county boards of education do not qualify as
“persons” within the meaning of the statute and
therefore cannot be sued under § 1983. See,
e.g., Schiffbauer v. Schmidt, 95 F.Supp.3d 846,
851-52 (D. Md. 2015); Dennis v. Bd. of Educ. of Talbot
Cty., 21 F.Supp.3d 497, 501-02 (D. Md. 2014); Mayo
v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's Cty., 797
F.Supp.2d 685, 689 (D. Md. 2011); J.G. ex rel. Gusman v.
Prince George's Cty. Bd. of Educ., No. PWG-16-1008,
2017 WL 930130, at *4 (D. Md. Mar. 8, 2017). As the Supreme
Court concluded in Will v. Michigan Department of State
Police, states and their agencies are not
“persons” under § 1983. 491 U.S. 58, 71
(1989) (affirming dismissal on this ground of the
plaintiff's suit against the Michigan Department of State
Police and its director). And the Maryland Court of Appeals
“ha[s] long considered county school boards to be State
agencies rather than independent, local bodies.”
Board of Educ. of Baltimore Cty. v. Zimmer-Rubert,
973 A.2d 233, 236 (Md. 2009); see also Beka Indus., Inc.
v. Worcester Cty. Bd. of Educ., 18 A.3d 890, 900 (Md.
2011); Chesapeake Charter, Inc. v. Anne Arundel Cty. Bd.
of Educ., 747 A.2d 625, 628-29 (Md. 2000) (collecting
cases and explaining the reasoning for this conclusion).
Count I of the Complaint therefore fails to state a viable
§ 1983 claim and accordingly Defendants' motion for
partial judgment on the pleadings is granted and Count I is
disposed of Plaintiffs' only federal claim, the Court
lacks jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims unless
it exercises supplemental jurisdiction. “[U]nder the
authority of 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), authorizing a federal
court to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, a
district court has inherent power to dismiss the case or, in
cases removed from State court, to remand, provided the
conditions set forth in § 1367(c) for declining to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction have been met.”
Hinson v. Norwest Fin. S.C., Inc., 239 F.3d 611, 617
(4th Cir. 2001). § 1367(c)(3) provides that a district
court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction if it
has “dismissed all claims over which it has original
jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Having
disposed of the only such claim in this suit, the Court will
decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction ...