Taylor v. MGM Resorts Int'l

Decision Date27 July 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action DKC 21-3192
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland


Presently pending and ready for resolution in this pro se public accommodation case is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants MGM Resorts International, LLC, (“MGM Resorts”) and MGM National Harbor Casino (“MGM Casino”). (ECF No. 9). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual Background

The facts outlined here, which are set forth in the complaint and an accompanying exhibit, are construed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Saundra Taylor. Philips v Pitt Cnty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (holding that attached documents “integral to the complaint and authentic” may be considered on a motion to dismiss).

Ms. Taylor is an African American woman. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 3). She alleges that on November 1, 2021, the John Doe Defendant, who she knows only as a white, male table-game and floor supervisor at MGM Casino named Steve, “rudely interfered with [her] while she was shooting the dice . . . at the craps table.” (Id., ¶¶ 1, 5, 7). In response, Ms. Taylor said:

I saw you lurking; you was just waiting for me to say something to someone; as soon as I start[ed] talking to someone here you come; I am here to tell you no longer throw me off of my game as you used to; you no longer has that privilege anymore; I am no longer going to give you that privilege; if you wants to communicate with me I will appreciate it if you do it outside; will be glad to tell you where I live; and give you my address.

(Id., ¶ 7). Steve then “made a false statement [that Ms. Taylor] verbally threatened him to the Floor Supervisor, Manager on Duty (MOD), and Security.” (Id.). “Consequently, Security at [MGM Casino] debarred Ms. Taylor for 24-hours[.] (Id.). The Casino barred Ms. Taylor for another twenty-four hours for harassment after she returned the next day to contest her original penalty. (Id., ¶ 8). Ms. Taylor subsequently learned that she had an outstanding ban on entering the MGM Casino based on a June 2017 poker incident. (Id., ¶ 9). Defendants did not respond to her requests to have that ban rescinded. (Id.).

II. Procedural Background

Ms. Taylor alleges that she filed a complaint with the Maryland Gaming Commission in November 2021. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 6). Around the same time, she filed a civil rights complaint with the State of Maryland Commission on Civil Rights which was closed the next month. (Id.). Then, Ms. Taylor, without legal representation, filed this suit against MGM Reports, MGM Casino, and John Doe Defendant. (ECF No. 1, at 1). She asserts claims for: (1) defamation per se, (2) race and color discrimination under Title II of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a, and Maryland Code, State Government § 20-304, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), (4) negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, and (5) negligent failure to train. (See generally id.). She seeks injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees. (Id., ¶ 58). Defendants moved to dismiss, Ms. Taylor opposed, and Defendants replied. (ECF Nos. 9, 11, 14).

III. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). [T]he district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable factual inferences in plaintiff's favor.” Mays v. Sprinkle, 992 F.3d 295, 299 (4th Cir. 2021). A plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.] A Rule 8(a)(2) “showing” still requires more than “a blanket assertion[] of entitlement to relief,” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007), or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action[.] Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Mays, 992 F.3d at 299-300 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663).

Unrepresented parties' pleadings are liberally construed and held to a less strict standard than those drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Liberal construction means that courts will read the pleadings to state a valid claim to the extent that it is possible to do so from the facts available; it “does not mean overlooking the pleading requirements[.] See Bing v. Bravo Sys., LLC, 959 F.3d 605, 618 (4th Cir. 2020) (citation omitted); Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). Where an unrepresented plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed, courts should provide “notice of the deficiencies” so that the plaintiff can “use[] the opportunity to amend effectively.” See Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012).

IV. Analysis
A. Defamation Per Se

In Maryland, the elements of a claim for defamation per se are: (1) the defendant made a defamatory statement to a third person (a requirement known as publication); (2) the statement was false; (3) the defendant was legally at fault in making the statement; and (4) the plaintiff thereby suffered harm.” See Doe v. Johns Hopkins Health Sys. Corp., 274 F.Supp.3d 355, 365 (D.Md. 2017) (citing Gohari v. Darvish, 767 A.2d 321, 327 (Md. 2001)) (resolving summary judgment motion).

Defendants challenge nearly all elements of Ms. Taylor's claim. They first argue that Ms. Taylor has not alleged a defamatory statement. They assert two bases for this argument: (a) that the alleged statement does not fall within any of the per se categories of defamation, and (b) that the alleged statement asserts an opinion, not facts.

“A statement that is defamatory per se is one for which the ‘words themselves impute the defamatory character,' such that the plaintiff need not plead additional facts demonstrating their defamatory nature.” Johns Hopkins, 274 F.Supp.3d at 265 (quoting Metromedia, Inc. v. Hillman, 400 A.2d 1117, 1123 (Md. 1979)). Statements in which the words themselves impute defamation impute a: (1) criminal offense, (2) loathsome disease, (3) matter incompatible with one's business, and (4) serious sexual misconduct. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 570 (cited favorably in S. Volkswagen, Inc. v. Centrix Fin., LLC, 357 F.Supp.2d 837, 843 (D.Md. 2005)); see also Smith v. Danielczyk, 400 Md. 98, 115 (2007) (“Words that falsely impute criminal conduct to a plaintiff are defamatory.” (citation omitted)). Ms. Taylor adequately alleges that John Doe Defendant's statement accused her of a criminal offense - assault. Although the details are sparse, he allegedly reported that she “verbally threatened him.” At this early stage, that is enough. See KDSTI Slassie Tewahdo Church v. Ghebreamlak, No. 07-cv-0863-DKC, 2008 WL 11366449, at *4 (D.Md. July 17, 2008) (alleging statements asserting illegal presence in United States).

Defendants' assertion that this statement was an opinion, rather than a fact, fares no better. True, [i]f a statement ‘cannot reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts about an individual,' it cannot be the subject of a defamation suit.” Schnare v. Ziessow, 104 Fed.Appx. 847, 850-51 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 20 (1990)). But the statement here clearly asserts a fact-that Ms. Taylor threatened him-rather than an opinion-that Ms. Taylor was a threatening person.

Defendants argue second that Ms. Taylor has not pleaded publication because the statement was not published “outside MGM.” (ECF No. 9-2, at 7). They appear to concede, however, that “it is possible for intra-company communications to be defamatory.” (Id.). Defendants point to no case supporting their argument and, indeed, their concession appears accurately to state the law. Publication merely requires that “the defendant made a defamatory statement to a third person.” Harvey v. Cable News Network, Inc., 520 F.Supp.3d 693, 714 (D.Md. 2021) (citation omitted). Ms. Taylor alleges that John Doe Defendant made the statement to “the Floor Supervisor, Manager on Duty [], and Security.” (ECF No. 1, ¶ 7). The fact that they were also employees of MGM does not mean the statement was not published. She also alleges that other customers were present who told MGM employees that she had not threatened anyone. This implies that others might have overheard John Doe Defendant's allegedly defamatory remark.

Defendants argue third that John Doe Defendant's statement is not pleaded with enough specificity. “To satisfy federal pleading standards, a plaintiff must specifically allege each defamatory statement.” Doe v. Salisbury Univ. 123 F.Supp.3d 748, 757 (D.Md. 2015) (citation omitted). A complaint must “contain[ a] specific description of the content of the alleged statements, [and] when and how they were communicated.” Brown v. Ferguson Enters., Inc., No. 12-cv-1817-CCB, 2012 WL 6185310, at *3 (D.Md. Dec. 11, 2012). Ms. Taylor meets this requirement. She alleges with specificity the context for the communication - that it was an oral statement by John Doe Defendant to “the Floor Supervisor, Manager on Duty, and Security” on November 1, 2021, at the MGM Casino. She also specifically pleads the substance of the communication. While she does not provide precise details, she clearly provides the...

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