Burns v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth.

Decision Date18 September 2020
Docket NumberCivil Case No. SAG-20-1991
Citation488 F.Supp.3d 210
Parties Eric J. BURNS, Plaintiff, v. WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Robert C. Davis, Jr., Davis and Davis LLP, Annapolis, MD, for Plaintiff.

James Douglas Cuthbertson, Janice Lynn Cole, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Stephanie A. Gallagher, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Eric J. Burns ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland against Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"), seeking tort and contract damages for injuries he suffered during an attack by fellow passengers on a WMATA-operated Metro train. ECF 2. WMATA removed the case to this Court, ECF 1, and filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Failure to State a Claim ("the Motion"), ECF 8. This Court has considered the Motion, along with Plaintiff's Opposition, ECF 11, and WMATA's Reply, ECF 13. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

These facts are derived from Plaintiff's Complaint, and are taken as true for purposes of adjudicating this Motion. Plaintiff is a resident of Cheverly, Maryland. ECF 2 ¶ 1. On April 20, 2017, Plaintiff was traveling home on an WMATA-operated Orange Line train. Id. ¶ 4. At the Capitol South Station in Washington, DC, a group of juveniles attacked and severely beat Plaintiff, while stealing his headphones and his cell phone. Id. The juveniles disembarked at the Capitol South station, leaving Plaintiff bleeding and beaten on the floor of the rail car. Id. Plaintiff suffered severe physical injuries, including partial permanent facial paralysis

, in addition to economic losses and emotional distress. Id. ¶¶ 7, 21.

The juveniles who attacked Plaintiff had previously attacked and robbed other WMATA train riders. Id. ¶ 5. In fact, WMATA had prohibited individuals within the group from using WMATA trains. Id. However, on April 20, 2017, WMATA did not prevent the juveniles from riding the Orange Line train. Id. Plaintiff alleges that there was insufficient security present on his train and in the Metro Station to prevent or stop the attack, or to apprehend the perpetrators. Id. ¶ 6.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

WMATA has now filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Initially, WMATA challenges "whether the court has the competence or authority to hear the case" under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), citing its sovereign immunity. When a defendant challenges subject-matter jurisdiction in that manner, the court is to regard the pleadings "as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings...." Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co. , 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States , 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) ). Furthermore, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction. Id. Sovereign immunity acts as a limiting principle on the jurisdiction of federal courts because "[t]he United States, as sovereign, is ‘immune from suit save as it consents to be sued ... and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain suit.’ " Hercules, Inc. v. United States , 516 U.S. 417, 422, 116 S.Ct. 981, 134 L.Ed.2d 47 (1996) (quoting United States v. Testan , 424 U.S. 392, 399, 96 S.Ct. 948, 47 L.Ed.2d 114 (1976) ).

In the alternative, WMATA argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). ECF 24. A defendant is permitted to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a 12(b)(6) motion. 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). Such a 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, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (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, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 684, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (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, 127 S.Ct. 1955. 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 , 574 U.S. 10, 135 S. Ct. 346, 346, 190 L.Ed.2d 309 (2014) (per curiam).

Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ; 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, 127 S.Ct. 1955. 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, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (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, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (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 allegations allow the court to reasonably infer" that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without a Name v. Virginia , 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied , 566 U.S. 937, 132 S.Ct. 1960, 182 L.Ed.2d 772 (2012).

Courts generally do not "resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses" through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro , 178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Republican Party v. Martin , 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) ). However, "in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6)." Goodman v. Praxair, Inc. , 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long Term Disability Plan , 553 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009). Because Rule 12(b)(6) "is intended [only] to test the legal adequacy of the complaint," Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Forst , 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993), "[t]his principle only applies ... if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of the complaint,’ " Goodman , 494 F.3d at 464 (emphasis omitted) (quoting Forst , 4 F.3d at 250 ).

III. ANALYSIS
A. Removal

Although the propriety of removal was not raised in WMATA's Motion, and although Plaintiff did not file a motion to remand within 30 days as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), Plaintiff's Opposition contends that this case was improperly removed to this Court. Plaintiff's contention is unavailing. The District of Columbia, the State of Maryland, and the Commonwealth of Virginia created WMATA pursuant to an interstate compact ("the WMATA Compact"), which received Congressional approval. See, e.g. , Smith v. WMATA , 290 F.3d 201, 206 (4th Cir. 2002). The WMATA Compact is codified in the laws of all three signatory jurisdictions. See, e.g. , D.C. Code § 9-1107.1; Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 10-204. WMATA's removal of this case relied, not on more customary diversity or federal question jurisdiction, but on the original jurisdiction explicitly afforded the federal courts by the WMATA Compact, which provides:

The United States District Courts shall have original jurisdiction, concurrent with the courts of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, of all actions brought by or against [WMATA] and to enforce subpoenas issued under this title. Any such action initiated in a State or District of Columbia court shall be removable to the appropriate United States District Court in the manner provided by Act of June 25, 1948, as amended ( 28 U.S.C. § 1446 ).

WMATA Compact, Public Law 89-774, ¶ 81, approved by Congress on November 6, 1966, as amended, and codified at Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 10-204(81). Thus, this Court unequivocally has jurisdiction over this case, because it is a case...

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