Doe v. Community College of Baltimore County

Citation595 F.Supp.3d 392
Decision Date13 January 2022
Docket NumberCivil No. ELH-21-180
Parties Student DOE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COMMUNITY COLLEGE OF BALTIMORE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)

595 F.Supp.3d 392

Student DOE, et al., Plaintiffs,

Civil No. ELH-21-180

United States District Court, D. Maryland.

Signed January 13, 2022
Filed March 30, 2022

595 F.Supp.3d 398

David Charles Marks Ledyard, Ledyar4-1 at 5.14d Law LLC, Baltimore, MD, for Plaintiffs.

Andrea Danielle Smith, Baltimore County Office of Law, Towson, MD, for Defendants Community College of Baltimore County, Board of Trustees Community College Baltimore County, Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk Campus, Maryland Baltimore County, Sandra L. Kurtinitis, Melissa L. Hopp, Penny Milsom, Carol Sullivan, Jean Ashby, Michael Venn, Mary Walkins, Douglas Webster.


Ellen L. Hollander, United States District Judge

In this sex discrimination case, the plaintiffs, proceeding under the pseudonyms Student Doe as well as Mother Doe and Father Doe, in their individual and representative capacities, filed suit against a host of defendants, asserting multiple

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claims. See ECF 11 (the "Complaint"); ECF 1-1 at 2-39 (same).1 In particular, they have sued the Community College of Baltimore County, d/b/a CCBC ("CCBC"); the Board of Trustees of the Community College of Baltimore County, d/b/a CCBC (the "Board" or the "Trustees"); the Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk Campus, d/b/a CCBC-Dundalk ("CCBC-Dundalk") (collectively, the "CCBC Defendants"); Baltimore County (the "County"); the State of Maryland (the "State"); and the Maryland Higher Education Commission (the "Commission"). In addition, the Complaint names eight individuals as defendants: Sandra Kurtinits, Ph.D., the President of CCBC; Melissa Hopp, the Vice President of Administrative Services for CCBC; Penny Milsom, CCBC's Executive Director of Human Resources; Carol Sullivan, Ph.D., Dean of CCBC-Dundalk; Jean Ashby, Dean of the School of Mathematics and Science at CCBC; Michael Venn, Assistant Dean of Mathematics at CCBC; Mary Walkins, a professor at CCBC and coordinator for the School of Mathematics & Science for CCBC-Dundalk; and Douglas Webster, a member of the CCBC faculty (collectively, the "Individual Defendants").2 The Complaint is supported by one exhibit. See ECF 11 at 39-51.

In sum, plaintiffs allege that while Student Doe was enrolled at CCBC-Dundalk, she was sexually harassed by her math professor, defendant Webster. At the time, Student Doe was 17 years old. ECF 11, ¶ 24.

In the proverbial "kitchen sink" approach, the suit contains eleven counts. Plaintiffs assert claims for negligence (Count I); negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention (Count II); gross negligence (Count III); violations of Maryland's anti-discrimination law, Md. Code (2021 Repl. Vol.), §§ 20-301, 20-304, 20-801, and 20-901 of the State Government Article ("S.G.") (Count IV); breach of contract (Count V); quantum meruit (Count VI); unjust enrichment (Count VII); detrimental reliance (Count VIII); breach of fiduciary duty (Count IX); intentional infliction of emotional distress, alleged as to the Individual Defendants (Count X); and violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681, et seq. ("Title IX") (Count XI). Plaintiffs seek both compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees, interest, and costs. ECF 11 at 37.

Defendants have moved to dismiss Counts I through IX of the Complaint (ECF 24), pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 24-1 (collectively, the "Motion"). They have also filed one exhibit, which includes a copy of a photograph of Webster, filed under seal. See ECF 25.3 Defendants

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do not seek dismissal of Counts X or XI.

Plaintiffs oppose the Motion. See ECF 32 (the "Opposition"). Notably, they concede that Counts V through IX are barred by limitations and thus subject to dismissal. Id. at 11. Defendants have replied. ECF 35 (the "Reply").4

No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Background5

Student Doe began to attend the Dundalk Campus of CCBC in the fall of 2017, when she was seventeen years of age. ECF 11, ¶¶ 24, 72-74. She enrolled in a math course taught by Webster. Id. ¶ 75. At the time, Webster was 61 years old. Id. ¶ 77.6

Plaintiffs assert that Webster was "hired by CCBC despite his disturbing criminal background, including the harassment and stalking of a bartender in Charles County, Maryland in 2011." ECF 11, ¶ 25.7 According to plaintiffs, defendants violated their own protocols by failing to conduct a background check on Webster, which would have revealed his criminal history. Id. ¶¶ 26, 61, 62.

Specifically, plaintiffs claim that Webster was previously charged with criminal harassment, trespassing on private property, stalking, and two counts of "Damaging/Tampering with Motor Vehicle Without Owner Consent ...." Id. ¶ 47. On September 30, 2011, Webster "pled guilty to one count of Harassment in violation of Maryland Code, Criminal, § 3-803, in the Circuit Court for Charles County, Maryland." Id. ¶ 27. And, on October 7, 2011, he was sentenced to 90 days’ imprisonment, with all but time served suspended. Id. ¶ 49.

In addition, Webster was placed on a five-year term of probation, which was terminated "sometime in 2016." Id. ¶¶ 49, 57. At the outset of Webster's probation, he wrote two letters to the State judge in Charles County, in which he reasserted his innocence and requested termination of his probation. Id. ¶¶ 50-53. After Webster's probation expired, he "applied for a teaching position" at CCBC "as a faculty member in the School of Mathematics and Science." Id. ¶ 59.

According to the Complaint, the information relating to Webster's prior conviction is "publicly available and easily accessible" via the "online database of Maryland court cases ...." Id. ¶ 63. Moreover, plaintiffs contend that CCBC could have submitted a "request for details of [Webster's] conviction under the Maryland Public Information Act ... to the Circuit Court for Charles County, the Charles County State's Attorney's Office, or the Charles County Sheriff's Office ...." Id. ¶ 64.

Further, plaintiffs assert: "CCBC, its employees, agents, and/or servants ... stood in loco parentis with many of its students, some of whom were under the

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age of eighteen years old and required their parent or guardian's authority and/or permission to attend." ECF 11, ¶ 67. Therefore, they allege that defendants’ failure to run a background check on Webster "placed [CCBC's] ‘young women,’ particularly underage women, at risk by putting them in a classroom under the authority of Defendant Webster." Id. ¶ 68. Further, the Complaint asserts that fault lies with defendants Kurtinitis, Hopp, Milsom, Sullivan, Ashby, Venn, and Walkins because they "all participated in the hiring, training, and supervision" of Webster. Id. ¶ 111.

Plaintiffs allege that, "[o]n the last day of class for the Fall 2017 semester, Defendant Webster handed Student Doe a packet of documents folded into an envelope." Id. ¶ 78. The front of the envelope reflected "Student Doe's address in Baltimore County" as well as Webster's "return address in Fallston, Maryland." Id. ¶ 79. And, a "Post-It Note was attached to the envelope in Defendant Webster's handwriting," which advised Student Doe to wait between two and three hours before opening the envelope, as it had "the potential to be disruptive." Id. ¶ 80.

The envelope contained various letters, poems, and notes that Webster had written to Student Doe between October 22, 2017 and December 12, 2017. See id. ¶¶ 81-88.8 Their contents are reproduced in full in the Complaint. See id. In short, the "letters, poems, stories, and notes exhibit an intense sexual obsession over Student Doe that Defendant Webster hesitantly, yet boldly, reveals over the course of three months." Id. ¶ 89. In particular, "Defendant Webster reference[d] dangerous and troubling behavior such as admittedly violating Student Doe's privacy and accessing her home address ... and creating a Facebook account to access her information online." ECF 11, ¶ 92; see id. ¶¶ 82, 84, 86. Moreover, according to the Complaint, the letters indicate that Webster "wanted to act on his feelings with Student Doe when she was sick and again, when she was alone with him making up an exam after class." Id. ¶ 93; see id. ¶¶ 84, 87.

And, of particular import here, Webster indicated in a letter dated October 22, 2017, that he told "his boss" of his feelings for Student Doe, "who threatened termination." Id. at 15, ¶ 83. But, "[a]fter going back & forth," Webster averred that his boss "accept[ed] that [he] ha[d] no desire to interfere with [Student Doe's] education." Id.

Further, the Complaint asserts that defendants Ashby, Venn, and Walkins "were all aware of Defendant Webster's feelings for Student Doe at the beginning of the semester, all possessed the authority to transfer Student Doe into another classroom, discipline Defendant Webster (including termination), recommend Defendant Webster for discipline...

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