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Casero v. McNulty

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 21, 2019

ROBERT A. CASERO, JR., ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN S. MCNULTY, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Stephanie A. Gallagher, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Robert A. Casero, Jr., and Catherine Mary Hattenburg (“the Caseros”) filed a two-count Complaint against Defendants John S. McNulty and Carolyn McNulty (“the McNultys”) seeking a declaratory judgment to resolve a boundary dispute between the parties, and compensatory, special, and punitive damages for slander of title. ECF 2. On August 11, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, ECF 5, along with a Memorandum of Law, ECF 5-2 (collectively, “the Motion”). Plaintiffs opposed, ECF 6 (“the Opposition”), and Defendants replied, ECF 7 (“the Reply”). On July 19, 2018, the Court stayed this case and denied the Motion without prejudice. ECF 9. On October 15, 2019, upon the parties' request, the Court lifted the stay and reinstated the Motion. ECF 26. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is granted.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In ruling on the Motion, the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the Complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. E.g., E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). The Caseros and the McNultys are neighbors on Salt Lake Road along the Mason Dixon Line at the border of Harford County, Maryland and York County, Pennsylvania. ECF 2, ¶¶ 2, 5. The McNultys' property lies within York County, Pennsylvania. Id. ¶ 5. The southern border of the McNultys' property is the Mason Dixon Line, which is also the southern border of York County, Pennsylvania. Id. ¶¶ 5, 25-26. The Caseros' property lies within Harford County, Maryland. Id. ¶¶ 2, 26. Though “the northern border on the Caseros' deed does not call to the Mason Dixon Line, the previous deeds of prior owners of the Caseros' parcel of land called to the Mason Dixon Line.” Id. ¶ 22. Thus, the northern border of the Caseros' property is the Mason Dixon Line, which is also the northern border of Harford County, Maryland. Id. ¶ 22.

         At the center of the dispute is the Mason Dixon Line's location in relation to Salt Lake Road. Salt Lake Road runs east to west, parallel to the northern border of the Caseros' property and to the southern border of the McNultys' property. ECF 2-5. The Caseros allege that the Mason Dixon Line (and therefore the northern border of their property) runs in and through the center of Salt Lake Road. ECF 2, ¶¶ 20-22. According to the Complaint, the McNultys believe that the Mason Dixon Line (and thus the southern border of their property) “extends south of Salt Lake Road.” Id. ¶ 21. Based on this boundary dispute, the Caseros seek a declaratory judgment under section 14-111 of the Maryland Real Property Code. Id. ¶¶ 2-25 (Count One).

         The Caseros also seek compensatory, special, and punitive damages for slander of title. Id. ¶¶ 26-34. The Caseros allege that before the McNultys filed suit against the Caseros in 2016 (“the Underlying Suit” or “Case No. 16-2426”), the McNultys employed three different surveyors to determine their property boundary, all of which concluded that the Mason Dixon Line runs in and through Salt Lake Road. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. Despite this, “the McNultys filed suit in an effort to exercise dominion over land south of Salt Lake Road, ” and this suit “has created a cloud on the Caseros' title.” Id. ¶ 30.

         The Underlying Suit that the Caseros reference is McNulty v. Casero, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. filed June 28, 2016). In that case, initially before Judge J. Frederick Motz, the McNultys filed suit against the Caseros for compensatory, punitive, and special damages, as well as a declaratory judgment seeking to resolve the boundary dispute. Amended Complaint, McNulty, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. Nov. 2, 2016), ECF 10. The McNultys alleged that the southern boundary of their property, which was “coterminous with” the Mason Dixon Line, lies approximately ten feet south of Salt Lake Road. Id. ¶¶ 13-15, 23. The McNultys alleged that on two separate occasions, the Caseros entered onto that strip of land (ten feet south of Salt Lake Road) and destroyed a fence on that land. Id. ¶¶ 18-21. The McNultys further alleged that the Caseros built a driveway “that crosses the McNulty Property without [the McNultys'] permission.” Id. ¶ 22. Finally, the McNultys alleged that the Caseros executed a “Confirmatory Deed, ” which stated in part that the northern boundary of their property was “the southerly side of . . . the Mason Dixon Line, ” measured as running in and through Salt Lake Road. Id. ¶ 32. The McNultys, bringing thirteen total claims for relief, sought a declaratory judgment to resolve the boundary dispute, an action to quiet title, and an order ejecting the Caseros from the disputed property and requiring them to remove their driveway. Id. ¶¶ 41-70. The McNultys also sought compensatory, special, and punitive damages in tort, including one allegation of slander of title. Id. ¶¶ 71-127.

         The McNultys initially filed their Complaint against the Caseros in the Underlying Suit on June 28, 2016. Complaint, McNulty, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. June 28, 2016), ECF 1. On September 3, 2016, the parties submitted a Joint Status Report requesting a scheduling conference and, in relevant part, requested “that the Court allow for an early motion for summary judgment, prior to discovery, ” but indicated the McNultys' desire to file an Amended Complaint. Joint Status Report, McNulty, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. Sept. 30, 2016), ECF 7, ¶¶ 4-5. The Court thereafter held a scheduling conference and issued a Scheduling Order setting both a November 2, 2016 deadline for the McNultys to amend their Complaint, and a November 16, 2016 deadline for the Caseros to file either a “motion to dismiss or an answer and motion for summary judgment.” Scheduling Order, McNulty, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. Oct. 26, 2016), ECF 7, ¶¶ 4-5.

         On January 5, 2017, Judge Motz issued a Memorandum Opinion in the Underlying Case (“the Opinion”) granting the McNultys' Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, and denying the Caseros' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, “on the issue of liability.” Memorandum, McNulty, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. Jan. 5, 2017), ECF 22-1 at 1. The Caseros filed their Complaint in the instant case against the McNultys in the Circuit Court for Harford County, Maryland, five months later, on June 28, 2017. ECF 2. The McNultys removed the case to this Court on August 4, 2017. ECF 1. The Caseros then moved for leave to file a counterclaim in the Underlying Case on August 16, 2017. Motion for Leave to File a Counterclaim, McNulty, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. Aug. 16, 2017), ECF 45. Judge Motz denied this motion. Order, McNulty, No. SAG-16-2426 (D. Md. Sept. 25, 2017), ECF 54.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A defendant is permitted to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions.'”); see also Willner v. Dimon, 849 F.3d 93, 112 (4th Cir. 2017). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Id. at 556 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015). However, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those ...


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