Myers v. Town of Colmar Manor, Civil No. PJM 18-1934

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Citation457 F.Supp.3d 480
Docket NumberCivil No. PJM 18-1934
Parties Judith MYERS, Plaintiff, v. TOWN OF COLMAR MANOR et al., Defendants.
Decision Date01 May 2020

457 F.Supp.3d 480

Judith MYERS, Plaintiff,
TOWN OF COLMAR MANOR et al., Defendants.

Civil No. PJM 18-1934

United States District Court, D. Maryland.

Signed May 1, 2020
Filed May 4, 2020

457 F.Supp.3d 483

David A. Branch, Louise Ryder, Pro Hac Vice, Law Office of David A. Branch & Associates PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Jason Lee Levine, Matthew Douglas Peter, Local Government Insurance Trust, Hanover, MD, for Defendants.



Judith Myers started working for the Town of Colmar Manor, Maryland, in 2001, first as a temporary employee, then as a full-time administrative assistant and, beginning in 2009, as the Office Manager. In the latter capacity Myers supervised the performance of the Town's approximately ten full- and part-time staff, prepared and submitted grant proposals, and handled event logistics on behalf of the Town's Mayor. See ECF Nos. 39-4 and 39-14. During her tenure with the Town, Myers received

457 F.Supp.3d 484

largely positive performance reviews. See ECF No. 45-2.

In 2014, Sadara Barrow was elected Mayor of the Town. Although Barrow did not directly supervise Myers – that was the responsibility of the Town's Clerk-Treasurer – Barrow, as Mayor, was ultimately responsible for the entire staff of the Town, including Myers.1 By most accounts, Barrow and Myers did not get along. See generally ECF No. 45-8. Both before and after Barrow's election, Myers openly questioned whether Barrow was qualified to be Mayor. See ECF No. 45-6, pp. 75-76. For her part, Barrow accused Myers of intentionally failing to secure event tickets or to make hotel reservations for her and of excluding her from at least one staff meeting. See ECF No. 45-8. In 2017, more generally, Barrow accused Myers of using her position as Office Manager to impede Barrow's efforts to implement her vision for the Town. See ECF No. 39-11. Accordingly, on May 19, 2017, at Barrow's direction, the Clerk-Treasurer presented Myers with a letter terminating her employment. Id.

Nearly a year later, on March 20, 2018, the Town held a hearing to discuss Town Ordinance 02-2018, which would increase the Mayor's salary by $25,000 annually.2 In what comprises the heart of Myers's claim, she submits that Barrow defamed her twice during that meeting. The Court focuses on that event.3

Barrow began the meeting by asking for a motion to open a "public hearing on [the] incoming Mayor's salary."4 Town of Colmar Manor, Town of Colmar Manor Public Hearing – March 20, 2018 , YouTube (Mar. 21, 2018), (at 0:00:09 seconds into the recording) (hereinafter "YouTube").5 She sat at a table at the front of the room, flanked by four Councilmembers. All were wearing the same dark red blazers and were identified by nameplates. See id. at 0:06:39. In a scenario familiar to municipalities across the country, the officials sat facing unidentified citizens sitting in rows of chairs facing the officials. Id. After explaining the details of the proposed ordinance, including the feature that, if enacted, "the Mayor shall be paid [an additional annual stipend] so long as the Mayor performs the services of a town administrator," id. at 0:03:53, the Town's leaders entertained a series of questions and comments from constituents, beginning with a "vehement protest" of the proposed ordinance by a former Mayor, id. at 0:14:50.

457 F.Supp.3d 485

Over an hour into the hearing, an attendee identified as Ms. Lee asked Mayor Barrow: "What was the reason that we let go of our administrative person?" Barrow, in what appears to have been a reserved tone, responded: "Competence ... Incompetence." Id. at 1:07:07). Then, approximately a half hour later, when an unidentified male attendee asked Barrow about the procedures for alerting the Town to maintenance issues, Barrow, after describing the Town's online work order system and noting the challenges she faced modernizing the Town, stated:

I want to say that when I first came in here as Mayor – and for any employee that is still here, know that they are still here because they have made some improvement – but this place was like the inmates running the asylum. There was no – no one was oversight [sic] to anything that was happening here ... It was a very very frustrating scenario here. I try not to be unkind, but the previous administration did not look into what was happening from an administrative point in this Town.

Id. at 1:39:42.

Although Barrow did not mention Myers by name, there is no question that her comments referred, at least in part, to Myers. See ECF No. 45-8, p. 27.

Barrow was deeply offended by Barrow's remarks and claims that, since the hearing, she has been unable to find employment with nearby municipalities and that residents of Colmar Manor "clam up" when they see her. ECF No. 46-2, p. 92.

The matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 39. Following oral argument, the Court, on the record, granted Defendants’ Motion as it pertained to Myers's claims of race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000, et seq., and age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 63a. See ECF No. 54. Only Myers's claim for defamation remains. Id.

For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 39, as it pertains to Myers's defamation claim.6


A. Summary Judgment

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the Court will grant summary judgment if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court draws all justifiable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586–87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 247–48, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

457 F.Supp.3d 486

B. Defamation

The meaning of "defamation" in law differs from the manner in which the term is used in common parlance. Indeed, "[n]ot every statement that casts an unfavorable or unappealing light ... constitutes an actionable claim of defamation." Shulman v. Rosenberg , Case No. 24-C-16-001867, 2017 WL 5172642 * 11 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2017). In the legal sense, a defamatory statement is one that "tends to expose a person to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule, thereby discouraging others in the community from having a good opinion of, or associating with, that person." Gohari v. Darvish , 363 Md. 42, 767 A.2d 321, 327 (2001). To establish a claim of defamation in Maryland "a plaintiff must establish four elements: (1) that the defendant made a defamatory statement to a third person, (2) that the statement was false, (3) that the defendant was legally at fault in making the statement, and (4) that the plaintiff thereby suffered harm." Offen v. Brenner , 402 Md. 191, 935 A.2d 719, 723-24 (2007) (citing Smith v. Danielczyk , 400 Md. 98, 928 A.2d 795, 805 (2007) ); see also Baltimore Sports & Social Club, Inc. v. Sport & Social, LLC , 228 F. Supp. 3d 544, 549-50 (D. Md. 2017).


In Maryland, as in most jurisdictions, a defendant may in certain situations assert privilege as a defense to a defamation action. See Hosmane v. Seley-Radtke , 227 Md.App. 11, 132 A.3d 348, 356 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2016). Privileges pertain to circumstances where the defendant "is acting in furtherance of some interest of social importance" deemed to outweigh a plaintiff's reputational interest. Gohari , 767 A.2d at 328 (quoting Prosser and Keeton on Torts § 114, 815 (5th ed. 1984)); Seley-Radtke v. Hosmane , 450 Md. 468, 149 A.3d 573, 575 (2016). For example, a privilege may apply to statements made between people who are part of a common enterprise, such as a manager's assessment of an employee, see id. at 329-30, or they may extend to one's opinion of matters of public interest, including the description of crime within the community, see Shulman at * 15.

There are two general categories of privilege: absolute and conditional (the latter sometimes referred to as qualified privilege). Gohari , 767 A.2d at 327-28 ; see also Offen, 935 A.2d at 724 ("Depending upon the circumstances, a defendant in a defamation suit may assert a conditional or absolute privilege"). An absolute privilege provides complete immunity "regardless of the purpose or motive of the defendant, or the reasonableness of his conduct." Gohari ,...

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