Sikes v. Ward et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Theodore D. Chuang on 12/6/2017. (c/m 12/7/2017 tds, Deputy Clerk)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
LINDSAY W. SIKES, JR.,
CARRIE M. WARD,
TAYYABA C. MONOTO,
RICHARD R. GOLDSMITH,
LUDEEN McCARTHY-GREEN and
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE
STATE OF MARYLAND BRIAN E. FROSH,
Civil Action No. TDC-16-4108
In 2014, eight Substitute Trustees instituted foreclosure proceedings in the Circuit Court
for Montgomery County, Maryland against the residence of Plaintiff Lindsay W. Sikes, Jr. After
the Circuit Court authorized a foreclosure sale, Sikes filed a motion to stay the sale and cancel
the foreclosure, which the Circuit Court denied without a hearing. The Maryland Court of
Special Appeals affirmed that decision. Proceeding pro se, Sikes has filed this action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which he alleges that the Substitute Trustees and Maryland Attorney
General Brian E. Frosh violated his due process rights. Sikes further asserts that the Substitute
Trustees violated Section 7-113(b) of the Real Property Article of the Maryland Code by
canceling his homeowner’s insurance.
Pending before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss, one filed by the Substitute
Trustees and the other by Attorney General Frosh. Having reviewed the pleadings and the briefs,
the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set
forth below, the Motions are GRANTED.
In May 2014, Defendants Carrie M. Ward, Howard Bierman, Jacob Geesing, Prima Lele,
Tayyaba C. Monoto, Joshua Coleman, Richard R. Goldsmith, and Ludeen McCarthy-Green
(collectively, the “Substitute Trustees”), in their capacity as Substitute Trustees filed a
foreclosure action in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland (“Circuit Court”) to
repossess and sell Sikes’s residence. On November 12, 2014, after an unsuccessful mediation
session, the Circuit Court authorized the scheduling of a foreclosure sale. On November 26,
2014, Sikes filed a motion, pursuant to Md. Rule 14-211, to stay the sale and dismiss the
foreclosure action. In the motion, Sikes argued that the Substitute Trustees could not foreclose
on his residence because they had failed to provide the original debt instrument to establish that
they had a valid lien on the property. On December 3, 2014, however, the foreclosure sale took
place, prior to any ruling by the Circuit Court on Sikes’s motion.
The Circuit Court ultimately denied the motion on February 9, 2015 and ratified the
foreclosure sale three days later. On appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Sikes
argued that he was improperly denied a hearing on the motion, as generally required by Md. Rule
14-211, and repeated his contention that the Substitute Trustees had not provided a copy of the
original debt instrument, a claim that the Substitute Trustees contended was “plainly false.”
Sikes v. Ward, No. 0027, 2016 WL 1394494, at *1–2 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 8, 2016). The
Court of Special Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision, concluding that Sikes was not
entitled to a hearing because he filed his motion 19 days late and that, since his motion was
untimely, it did not need to address his claim that the Substitute Trustees never provided the
original debt instrument. Id. at *3–4.
On December 28, 2016, Sikes filed suit in this Court against the Substitute Trustees. On
April 7, 2017, he filed an Amended Complaint to add Attorney General Frosh as a defendant. In
the Amended Complaint, Sikes alleges pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that because the Circuit
Court ruled on his motion without holding a hearing, his right to due process of law under the
Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and his right to a trial by jury under the
Maryland Constitution, were violated. He further asserts that the Substitute Trustees violated
Section 7-113(b) of the Real Property Article of the Maryland Code by canceling his
homeowner’s insurance. Finally, Sikes makes various disjointed statements that he has been
subjected to “false arrest[s] and unsubstantial protective orders” that appear unrelated to the
foreclosure proceeding. Am. Compl. at 3, ECF No. 29. From the various protective orders,
police records, and docket sheets that Sikes has attached to his Amended Complaint, it appears
that he has had a tempestuous romantic relationship with a woman not named as a defendant in
this action. In his Amended Complaint, Sikes requests an injunction against both her and the
State of Maryland to prohibit them from seeking additional protective orders against him without
first posting a substantial bond; the expungement of his arrest record; an injunction ordering the
State of Maryland or the Circuit Court to write letters to the three major credit bureaus to remove
negative reports about his credit; and $7 million in punitive damages from the State of Maryland
and the Circuit Court for the alleged false arrests and for “allowing” so many protective orders to
be filed against him. Am. Compl. at 3–4.
The Substitute Trustees are seeking dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) on the grounds that they are not state actors subject to § 1983, that Sikes’s claims are
barred by res judicata or, in the alternative, by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and that the
Amended Complaint otherwise fails to assert a cognizable claim against them. Attorney General
Frosh seeks dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on the basis
of Eleventh Amendment immunity, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and Sikes’s failure to plead
any facts relating to Frosh.
The Substitute Trustees seek dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). To defeat a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for
relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded
allow “the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. Although courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally,
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not
suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the
factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of
Comm’rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). Courts may also “consider
documents attached to the complaint” if “they are integral to the complaint and authentic.” Sec’y
of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation, Inc., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007). When
considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion based on res judicata, the courts may “take judicial notice of
facts from a prior judicial proceeding” when the defendant’s assertion of res judicata “raises no
disputed issue of fact.” Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 n.1 (4th Cir. 2000).
Attorney General Frosh seeks dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)
and 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(1) allows a defendant to move for dismissal when it believes that the
plaintiff has failed to carry its burden to show that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Evans v.
B.F. Perkins Co., Div. of Standex Int’l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). Where, as here,
the defendant argues that the facts as pleaded are insufficient to establish subject matter
jurisdiction, “the Court must accept the allegations as true and construe them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiffs.” Beckham v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 569 F. Supp. 2d 542, 547
(D. Md. 2008).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has not definitively stated
whether motions to dismiss based on Eleventh Amendment immunity are properly considered
under Rule 12(b)(1) or Rule 12(b)(6). See Andrews, 201 F.3d at 525 n.2 (noting the lack of
clarity in Fourth Circuit cases regarding whether motions to dismiss based on Eleventh
Amendment immunity should be considered under Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6)).
Fulcrum Int’l, Inc. v. Prince George Ctr. I, Inc., 503 F. App’x 193, 194 (4th Cir. 2012) (per
curiam) (“Assertions of governmental immunity are properly addressed under Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(1), which permits the assertion of the defense of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter
of a claim for relief.”) with Hutto v. S.C. Ret. Sys., 773 F.3d 536, 545 (4th Cir. 2014) (“[W]e
have often affirmed Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss on the basis of Eleventh Amendment
immunity.”). This distinction does not matter in this case, as there is no dispute regarding the
accuracy of the pleaded allegations, and the Court has limited its consideration to the Amended
Complaint and the exhibits attached to it. See Beckham, 569 F. Supp. 2d at 547.
The Substitute Trustees
The Substitute Trustees seek dismissal of Sikes’s § 1983 due process claim against them
because they are not state actors and because the doctrine of res judicata precludes Sikes’s due
process claim. They further assert that Sikes has otherwise failed to plead facts that state a
plausible claim for relief.
First, Sikes’s § 1983 claim that the denial of a hearing violated his constitutional right to
due process of law necessarily fails because the Substitute Trustees were not state actors during
the foreclosure proceeding. Section 1983 protects individuals from deprivation of their rights
under the Constitution and laws of the United States by persons acting “under color of law.” 42
U.S.C. § 1983; Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310–11 (4th Cir. 2001) (holding that
§ 1983 claims are viable only against defendants acting under color of state law). “Like the
state-action requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment, the under-color-of-state-law element of
§ 1983 excludes from its reach ‘merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or
wrongful.’” American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999) (quoting Blum v.
Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1002 (1982)). Because the Substitute Trustees are private parties who
are unaffiliated with any federal, state, or local government entity and who were not acting on
behalf of any government, § 1983 does not apply to their conduct. See Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 50;
see also Sheard v. Bank of America, N.A., No. PJM 10–2963, 2011 WL 3158035, at *2–3 (D.
Md. July 25, 2011) (holding that a former homeowner could not assert a § 1983 claim against a
bank in a foreclosure action because the bank was not acting under color of state law, but rather
was seeking to enforce a private contract between the parties). Thus, the § 1983 claim against
the Substitute Trustees must be dismissed.
Second, the claims under § 1983 and the Maryland Constitution arising from the Circuit
Court’s failure to hold a hearing are also barred by res judicata.
Also known as claim
preclusion, res judicata is a legal doctrine that promotes judicial efficiency and the finality of
decisions. In re Microsoft Corp Antitrust Litigation, 335 F.3d 322, 325 (4th Cir. 2004). Under
the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits in an earlier decision precludes the
parties from relitigating issues that were raised or could have been raised during that action.
Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 354 (4th Cir. 2004). This doctrine applies when there
is: (1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior lawsuit; (2) an identity of the cause of action in
both the earlier and later suits; and (3) an identity of the parties or their privies in the two suits.
Id. at 354–55.
A federal court must give preclusive effect to a Maryland court judgment provided that a
Maryland court would have done so had the second action been brought before it. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1738 (2012); San Remo Hotel v. Cty. of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323, 336 (2005). Since
Maryland courts utilize the same res judicata elements as federal courts, the analysis of Sikes’s
claim is the same as if his earlier claims had been brought in federal court. See Anne Arundel
Cty. Bd. of Ed. v. Norville, 887 A.2d 1029, 1037–38 (Md. 2005).
All three of the requirements for res judicata are met here. The Maryland Court of
Special Appeals provided a final judgment on the merits when it held that Sikes was not entitled
to a hearing on his motion to stay the foreclosure sale. Sikes, 2016 WL 1394494, at *3–4. There
is an identity of parties, because the litigants are the same in both actions: Sikes and the
Substitute Trustees. Finally, there is an identity between the two suits because they “‘arise out of
the same transaction or series of transactions or the same core of operative facts.’” Pueschel,
369 F.3d at 355 (quoting In re Varat Enters., Inc., 81 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1996)).
Although Sikes did not necessarily assert the specific § 1983 and Maryland constitutional claims
he asserts here, res judicata bars claims that could have been raised during the earlier action.
Pueschel, 369 F.3d at 354. Where Sikes’s federal and state constitutional claims are rooted in
the same failure to hold a hearing that Sikes challenged in state court, res judicata bars the
claims in this Court.
As for Sikes’s other claim, Sikes fails to state a plausible basis for relief against the
Substitute Trustees. Sikes asserts that the Substitute Trustees violated Section 7-113(b) of the
Real Property Article of the Maryland Code by canceling his homeowner’s insurance. See Md.
Code Ann. Real Prop. § 7-113(b)(1)(iii) (2012).
Section 7-113(b) provides that “a party
claiming the right to possession may not take possession or threaten to take possession of
residential property from” an owner, former owner, tenant or other “protected resident” by
locking the resident out of the property, willfully diminishing services to the protected resident,
or “[t]aking any other action that deprives the protected resident of actual possession,” except
through lawful process as outlined by the statute. Id. The statute thus protects homeowners and
tenants from illegal foreclosures and evictions. Sikes, however, has failed to plead sufficient
facts demonstrating that the Substitute Trustees used the cancellation of homeowner’s insurance
as a tactic to deprive him of possession of his residence. He has not shown how the cancellation
effectively deprived him of possession of the residence in the way that locking him out or cutting
off utility services would have done so. Moreover, Sikes attached to the Amended Complaint a
statement showing that his policy was canceled in October or November 2015, almost a year
after the foreclosure sale occurred in December 2014 and over seven months after the sale was
ratified in February 2015. He therefore had no legal ownership of the property or right to reside
there at the time of the cancellation. Accordingly, Sikes has not stated a plausible claim for
relief under Section 7-113(b).
Because the Court finds that Sikes’s claims against the Substitute Trustees must be
dismissed for the foregoing reasons, the Court need not and does not address the Substitute
Trustees’ remaining argument that his claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Attorney General Frosh
In the Amended Complaint, Sikes has added Attorney General Frosh as a defendant.
Sikes asserts that the Attorney General is the “proper person” to represent the State of Maryland
and the Circuit Court. Pl.’s Mem. Opp’n Mot. Dismiss at 2, ECF No. 54. It therefore appears
that his claim is against Attorney General Frosh in his official capacity. At the same time, Sikes
asserts in the Amended Complaint that he wants to join the State of Maryland and the Circuit
Court as defendants and seeks relief, in the form of injunctive relief and monetary damages,
Whether Sikes’s claim against Attorney General Frosh is construed as a suit against the
Attorney General in his official capacity, or as a claim against the State of Maryland or the
Circuit Court, makes no difference. Suits against state officials in their official capacities are the
equivalent of suits against the state itself. See Will v. Mich. Dep’t of Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71
(1989) (“[A] suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the
official but rather is a suit against the official’s office. As such it is no different from a suit
against the State itself.”) (internal citation omitted); see also Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464,
471–72 (1985) (stating that a judgment against a public servant “in his official capacity” imposes
liability on the entity represented). Such claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the
United States Constitution.
The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit in federal court against a state or against state
officials when “the state is the real, substantial party in interest.” Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp.
v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100–02 (1984). Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to protect
state agents and state instrumentalities from suit, including the Maryland state courts. LeeThomas v. Prince George’s Cty. Pub. Sch., 666 F.3d 244, 248 (4th Cir. 2012); Madison v. Wheat,
No. GJH-16-1542, 2016 WL 3546223, at *2 (D. Md. June 23, 2016) (stating that the Circuit
Court for Montgomery County, Maryland is a state entity immune from suit under the Eleventh
Amendment); Lemon v. Howard Cty. Cir. Ct., No. JFM-15-3164, 2015 WL 7012724, at *1 (D.
Md. Nov. 12, 2015) (holding that the Circuit Court for Howard County, Maryland is an arm of
the state and protected from suit by the Eleventh Amendment). Such a suit is barred “regardless
of whether it seeks damages or injunctive relief.” Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 102. There are three
exceptions to this limitation: (1) Congress may abrogate the State’s sovereign immunity; (2)
suits for “prospective injunctive relief against state officials acting in violation of federal law”
are permitted, pursuant to Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908); and (3) the State may waive its
sovereign immunity. Lee-Thomas, 666 F.3d at 249 (quoting Frew ex rel. Frew v. Hawkins, 540
U.S. 431, 437 (2004)).
None of these exceptions apply.
Congress did not abrogate the states’ sovereign
immunity when it enacted § 1983. Dyer v. Md. State Bd. of Educ., 187 F. Supp. 3d 599, 611 &
n.16 (D. Md. 2016). Maryland has not waived it sovereign immunity for claims brought in
federal court. Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t § 12–104(a) (2015); Dyer, 187 F. Supp. 3d at 611.
Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment bars Sikes’s damages claims against the State of
Maryland, the Circuit Court, and Attorney General Frosh and also bars his claims for injunctive
relief unless they fall within the Ex Parte Young exception.
Under this limited exception, a federal court may issue prospective, injunctive relief
against a state official to prevent ongoing violations of federal law, such as when the state officer
is enforcing, or threatening to enforce, an allegedly unconstitutional state law. See Ex Parte
Young, 209 U.S. at 155–60; Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 102; McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393,
399 (4th Cir. 2010). The exception is limited to claims against a state official and thus would be
unavailable in a claim against the State of Maryland itself, or the Circuit Court. See Mua v.
Maryland, No. ELH-16-01435, 2017 WL 633392, at *10 (D. Md. Feb. 15, 2017) (concluding
that seeking injunctive relief against the State of Maryland, which is not a state official, does not
meet the Ex Parte Young exception). The Ex Parte Young exception also requires the defendant
state official to have a “special relation” to the challenged state action. McBurney, 616 F.3d at
399. “This ‘special relation’ requirement ensures that the appropriate party is before the federal
court, so as not to interfere with the lawful discretion of state officials” and requires a showing of
“proximity to and responsibility for the challenged state action.”
S.C. Wildlife Fed’n v.
Limehouse, 549 F.3d 324, 332–33 (4th Cir. 2008). “General authority to enforce the laws of the
state” is insufficient. Id. at 333 (quoting Waste Mgmt. Holdings, Inc. v. Gilmore, 252 F.3d
316,331 (4th Cir. 2001)).
Here, there is no ongoing or imminent federal constitutional violation arising from the
foreclosure proceeding that would warrant prospective injunctive relief. Moreover, the “special
relation” requirement has not been met. Attorney General Frosh has neither proximity to nor
responsibility for the enforcement of Maryland’s foreclosure laws. Nor does he have a special
relation to Sikes’s vague claims unrelated to the foreclosure proceedings, such as his requests for
a bar on future protective orders, letters to credit bureaus seeking removal of negative reports
about his credit, and expungement of his arrest record. Thus, where no valid exception to the
Eleventh Amendment has been established, any official capacity claim against Frosh must be
dismissed. See, e.g., McBurney, 616 F.3d at 399–400 (dismissing a suit against the Virginia
Attorney General because he lacked a special relation to enforcement of the Virginia Freedom of
Information Act); see also Harris v. Bailey, 675 F.2d 614, 617 (4th Cir. 1982) (affirming the
dismissal of the Virginia Attorney General as a defendant because the plaintiff sought relief that
would be provided by local officials).
Finally, even if Sikes's claims against Attorney General Frosh were construed as claims
against him in his personal capacity, they would still be subject to dismissal. Although Eleventh
Amendment immunity does not extend to
claims against state officials sued in their
personal capacities, Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 30-31 (1991), Sikes has failed to allege any
facts showing that Attorney General Frosh personally acted to violate his due process rights.
Any personal capacity claims against Attorney General Frosh must therefore be dismissed as
Having concluded that the claims against Attorney General Frosh and any potential
claims against the State of Maryland or the Circuit Court must be dismissed, the Court need not
address Attorney General Frosh's claim that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Sikes's suit.
For the foregoing reasons, both the Substitute Trustees' Motion to Dismiss and Attorney
General Frosh's Motion to Dismiss are GRANTED. A separate Order shall issue.
Date: December 6,2017
United States District Judge
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