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Doe v. Board of Trustees of St. Mary's College of Maryland

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

November 20, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF ST. MARY'S COLLEGE OF MARYLAND, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Or, In the Alternative For Summary Judgment (“Defendant's Motion”) (ECF No. 13). The Court has reviewed Defendant's Motion and the opposition and reply thereto. No hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons that follow, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. The Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), Defendant contends the claims should be dismissed due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendant also asserts the right to similar relief pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) due to Plaintiff's failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Under either prong, the Court will accept the facts as asserted in the Complaint as true, but relevant Supreme Court caselaw requires more. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) makes clear that the complaint must contain more than “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” without “further factual enhancement.” Moreover, Ashcroft v Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) states that the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face'.” Last, in ruling upon the motion to dismiss, the Court can consider documents attached to the Complaint, particularly a verified complaint like the one that is pled here. See Philips v. Pitt County Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).

         II. Defendant's Claim of Sovereign Immunity Prevails Over the Breach of Contract Claim Alleged in Count I.

         The parties agree that Defendant is entitled to assert the defense of sovereign immunity because it is an arm of the state government. Sovereign immunity can be waived, and the Maryland statute sets forth the parameters of when said waiver can occur.

[T]he State, its officers, and its units may not raise the defense of sovereign immunity in a contract action, . . . based on a written contract that an official or employee executed for the State . . . while the official or employee was acting within the scope of the authority of the official or employee.

Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §12-201(a)(LexisNexis 2014). The question here is whether Defendant has waived immunity consistent with the method permitted by the statute. The Court finds no waiver of immunity has occurred.

         The clear language of Stern v Bd. of Regents, 380 Md. 691, 846 A.2d 996 (2004) requires far more than policy guidelines set forth in booklets, forms or manuals to be necessary to create a “written contract” as contemplated by the statute. “There must be a signature from a duly authorized person empowered to execute the contract in question.” Id. at 1014. See also, Keerikkattii v. Hrabowski, Civ. A. No. WMN-13-2016, 2013 WL 5368744, at *8 (D. Md. Sept. 23, 2013). Nor will “performance” serve as a substitute for a “written contract.” The clear words of the statute do not allow for such a construction.

         Plaintiff has not identified a “written contract” signed by an authorized official or employee of the State. Of the three items attached to Plaintiff's verified complaint, none satisfy the standard. Said items being: 1) St. Mary's College of Maryland Policy Against Sexual Misconduct (the “Policy”)(ECF No. 4-1); 2) St. Mary's College of Maryland Procedures to Resolve Complaints of Sexual Misconduct against a Student (the “Procedures Manual”) (ECF 4-2); and 3) St. Mary's College of Maryland Anti-Harassment Statement (the “Anti-Harassment Statement”) (ECF 4-3).

         As the resolution of the immunity question is dispositive, there is no need to address the related question regarding the timeliness of the filing of suit and the limitations period. Accordingly, the breach of contract claim must fall. Defendant's Motion as to Count I is GRANTED.

         III. There is No Factual Support In The Complaint For Plaintiff's Title IX Claim Set Forth in Count II.

         Title IX protects citizens against discrimination in education when institutions receive federal funding. The statute provides that “[n]o person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. . . .” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) (2017). There is no dispute that Defendant is subject to the requirements of Title IX.

         Plaintiff contends in the Complaint, ¶ 63, that Defendant engaged in “selective enforcement” and reached “an erroneous outcome.” The Complaint goes on to assert that Defendant treated Plaintiff unfairly because of his sex and violated basis due process protections. Despite hurling numerous allegations from ¶63-71, they all are mere conclusory statements devoid of factual content based on alleged misdeeds of Defendant.

         The elements of a Title IX “erroneous outcome” claim are:

(1) showing that Plaintiff was subjected to a procedurally flawed or otherwise ...

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