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Shumate v. Twin Tier Hospitality

August 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court are defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 15) and motion for summary judgment (Doc. 24). Having been fully briefed, the matter is ripe for disposition.


A. Factual Background

The instant action arises from an incident that occurred on or about Wednesday, July 12, 2006, at the Clarion Hotel on Meadow Avenue in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 10)(hereinafter "Amend. Comp.") at ¶ 24). Plaintiffs Eric Davis, his fiancé Natasha Shumate, and their minor child Naera Shumate were in the Scranton area visiting family and looking at property. (Id. at ¶ 25). Each plaintiff is African-American. (Id. at ¶ 24).

Seeking overnight accommodations, plaintiffs went to the Clarion Hotel. (Id.) When they arrived, Eric Davis "went inside the Clarion Hotel and inquired about room availability for himself, his fiancé, and his minor child. [Natasha] Shumate stayed outside in the car with [their] daughter." (Id. at ¶ 27). Davis spoke with the front desk clerk, Defendant Lisa Pierce, who told him that there were no rooms available and directed him to the nearby Comfort Suites on Montage Mountain Road in Moosic, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 28). Plaintiffs took Pierce's suggestion and proceeded to the Comfort Suites. (Id. at ¶ 29). There were no rooms available at the Comfort Suites, but the clerk there told Davis she knew the Clarion Hotel had rooms available and suggested plaintiffs seek accommodations there. (Id.) Davis asked her to call to confirm that information since plaintiffs had just come from the Clarion. (Id.) The clerk called and confirmed that there were fifty-two rooms available at the Clarion Hotel. (Id. at ¶ 30).

Plaintiffs returned to the Clarion Hotel, again seeking overnight accommodations. (Id. at ¶ 31). Plaintiffs' amended complaint (Doc. 10) and affidavits later submitted with the plaintiffs' answer (Doc. 27) to defendants' statement of facts supporting summary judgment (Doc. 26) provide slightly different chronological accounts of the events following plaintiffs' return to the Clarion Hotel. Compare (Amend. Comp. at ¶¶ 31-34), with (Affidavit of Eric Davis (Doc. 27, Attachment A)(hereinafter "Davis Affidavit") at ¶¶ 14-16), and (Affidavit of Natasha Shumate (Doc. 27, Attachment B)(hereinafter "Shumate Affidavit") at ¶¶ 12-14).

According to plaintiffs' amended complaint, Davis entered the Clarion Hotel first. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-33). When he entered, a new clerk, Ms. Demarese "Dee" Dinardo, was at the front desk. (Id. at ¶ 32). Davis asked to speak with the clerk who had been at the desk previously but was told she -- Pierce -- was no longer there. (Id. at ¶ 32). Davis then told Dinardo that he would like to rent a room and she acknowledged that rooms were available. (Id.) After Dinardo confirmed that rooms were in fact available, Pierce -- who was still at the hotel -- appeared from a back room and "[a]t this same time, [Natasha] Shumate and the couple's minor daughter, Naera Shumate entered the Clarion Hotel[.]" (Id. at ¶¶ 32-33). Plaintiffs assert that "[d]uring this same time frame," three white males entered the Clarion Hotel, asked to rent a room, and were provided one without hesitation by the staff. (Id. at ¶ 34).

While the amended complaint asserts that Davis entered the Clarion first, the affidavits submitted by Eric Davis and Natasha Shumate each state that all three plaintiffs entered the Clarion Hotel together and that Natasha and Naera Shumate were present for the dialogue between Davis and Dinardo and that Natasha and Naera witnessed the three white males enter, request a room, and receive one without hesitation. (Davis Affidavit at ¶¶ 14-16); (Shumate Affidavit at ¶¶ 12-14).

Following both Dinardo's confirmation of the fact that there were rooms available at the Clarion and Natasha and Naera Shumate's entry into the Clarion Hotel, a confrontation occurred between Pierce and Davis, which Natasha and Naera Shumate witnessed. (Amend. Comp. at ¶¶ 33-36); (Davis Affidavit at ¶ 18); (Shumate Affidavit at ¶¶ 15-16). According to plaintiffs' complaint, [u]pon seeing Defendant Lisa Pierce appear, Mr. Davis stated, he had just called and as back to obtain a hotel room. Mr. Davis stated to Lisa Pierce, "Why did you tell me there was no room?", to which Lisa Pierce replied, "There was a cancellation." Mr. Davis replied, "You had [fifty-two] cancellations?" to which Lisa Pierce replied, " I don't have to explain anything to you. Get out of my hotel." Mr. Davis then asked, "Did you say there were suddenly no rooms available because I was black?", to which Lisa Pierce replied, "Yes." (Amend. Comp. at ¶ 35).

The account of the verbal exchange between Davis and Pierce provided in the complaint is consistent with the account given by Davis and Shumate in their affidavits. See (Davis Affidavit at ¶ 17); (Shumate Affidavit at ¶ 15). The affidavits also state explicitly that all three plaintiffs were present for and heard the confrontation between Davis and Pierce. See (Davis Affidavit at ¶ 17) ("This entire exchange was done in the presence of, and was seen, heard, witnesse[d], and experienced by myself, my fiancé Natasha Shumate, and my minor daughter Naera Shumate.")

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs Eric Davis, Natasha Shumate, and Naera Shumate each assert three claims against defendants. (Amend. Comp. At ¶¶ 54-66). Each plaintiff asserts (1) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of a contract, (2) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 2000a for racial discrimination in the provision of public accommodations, and (3) for intentional infliction of emotion distress ("IIED"). (Id.)

Defendants Twin Tier Hospitality, LLC ("Twin Tier"), Scranton Hospitality, LLC, and Lisa Pierce moved for dismissal (Doc. 15) and Defendant Choice Hotels International, Inc. ("Choice Hotels") moved for summary judgment (Doc. 24) on Natasha and Naera Shumate's claims under section 1981 and section 2000a. Defendants argue that Natasha and Naera Shumate never attempted to enter into a contract with defendants nor attempted to avail themselves of the full benefits and enjoyment of defendants' public accommodations and, therefore, no violation of section 1981 or section 2000a could have occurred. See (Defendants' Brief Supporting Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15)(hereinafter "Def's. MTD Brf.") at 7-11); (Defendant's Brief Supporting Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24)(hereinafter "Def's. MSJ Brf.") at 6-10); (Defendants' Reply Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 23) (hereinafter "Def's. MTD Reply Brf.") at 2-4); (Defendant's Reply Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 30)(hereinafter "Def's. MSJ Reply Brf.") at 2-3).

Additionally, Twin Tier, Scranton Hospitality, and Lisa Pierce moved for dismissal and Choice Hotels moved for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants challenge plaintiffs' IIED claims with three alternative arguments. First, defendants contend that plaintiffs' IIED claims arise from the same factual circumstances as plaintiffs' statutory discrimination claims and therefore the IIED claims are preempted by the statutory claims. See (Def's. MTD Brf. at 13-14); (Def's. MSJ Brf. at 12-13); (Def's. MTD Reply Brf. at 4-5); (Def's. MSJ Reply Brf. at 4-5). Second, defendants argue that all three IIED claims fail because the challenged conduct was not "extreme and outrageous" and plaintiffs, therefore, cannot establish the necessary elements of the tort. See (Def's. MTD Brf. at 14-16); (Def's. MSJ Brf. at 13-15); (Def's. MTD Reply Brf. at 5); (Def's. MSJ Reply Brf. at 5). Third, defendants argue that even if defendants' conduct was extreme and outrageous, Natasha and Naera Shumate's IIED claims fail because neither experienced any such conduct by defendants. See (Def's. MTD Brf. at 16-17); (Def's. MSJ Brf. at 15-16); (Def's. MTD Reply Brf. at 5); (Def's. MSJ Reply Brf. at 5).


Because plaintiff brings his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000a, we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) ("In any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.").


A. Motion to Dismiss

When a defendant files a motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), this court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." McTernan v. City of York, 564 F.3d 636, 646 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n. 7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

A plaintiff's complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). The Supreme Court has confirmed that although FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) does not require " 'detailed factual allegations'," it does require plaintiff to plead sufficient facts to " 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests[.]' " Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Neither mere "labels and conclusions" nor "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" are sufficient to withstand a motion under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). A valid pleading under "[Rule 8] requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3). As a threshold matter, the plain statement of the facts forming the grounds of the plaintiff's complaint must "possess enough heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.' " Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (alteration in original). In order to state a valid claim and survive a motion to dismiss, the "complaint's 'factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.' " Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3).

In addition to the facts pled in the complaint, the court may also consider "matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The court does not have to accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)).

B. Motion for Summary Judgment

Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the 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 v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.


A. Natasha and Naera Shumate's Claims Asserted Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981

Plaintiffs Natasha and Naera Shumate assert that "the actions of the Defendants constitutes a deprivation of [their right] to make and enforcecontracts" in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Amend. Comp. at ¶ 57). Seeking either dismissal or summary judgment on Natasha and Naera Shumate's Section 1981 claims, defendants assert that "it is self-evident that if Natasha and Naera did not each attempt to enter into a contract to rent a room for themselves, then Defendants cannot have denied any such attempt." (Def's. MTD Brf. at 8); (Def's. MSJ Brf. at 7).

To state and sustain a claim under Section 1981, the plaintiffs must allege and prove (1) that the plaintiff is a member of a racial minority, (2) an intent to discriminate on the basis of race by the defendants, and (3) discrimination concerning one or more of the activities enumerated in the statute, which includes the right to make and enforce contracts. Brown v. Philip Morris, Inc., 250 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2001). Defendants argue that Eric Davis was the only plaintiff who attempted to enter a contract with the Clarion Hotel and as a result, Natasha and Naera Shumate have failed to allege and demonstrate facts supporting the third element of a Section 1981 claim -- discrimination concerning one or more of the activities enumerated in the statute. (Def's. MTD Brf. at 6-8); (Def's. MSJ Brf. at 7-8).

1. Plaintiffs' Agency Argument

Natasha and Naera Shumate argue that they attempted to enter into a contract with the Clarion Hotel through Eric Davis, who they assert was acting as their agent for the purpose of obtaining a room at the hotel. The particular issue raised by the plaintiffs' agency argument is whether a principal -- Natasha and Naera Shumate respectively -- may bring a Section 1981 claim for a defendant's discrimination against their agent.

The United States Supreme Court discussed the issue of agency and standing to bring a Section 1981 claim in Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 475 (2006). The substance of "McDonald's complaint was that Domino's had broken its contracts with JWM [-- negotiated by McDonald, acting as JWM's agent --] because of racial animus toward McDonald, and that the breach had harmed McDonald personally[, as the sole shareholder in JWM.]" Id. at 473. McDonald argued by analogy that "[i]f Domino's refused to deal with the salesman for a pepperoni manufacturer because the salesman was black, that would violate the Section 1981 right of the salesman to make a contract on behalf of his principal." Id. The Court rejected this and found that McDonald could not state a claim under Section 1981. Id. The Court held that "[t]he right to 'make contracts' guaranteed by the statute wasnot the insignificant right to act as an agent for someone else's contracting -- any more than it was the insignificant right to act as amanuensis in writing out the agreement[.]" Id. Clarifying its position that one who was simply an agent lacked standing to bring a section 1981 claim, the Court stated that "[w]hen the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was drafted, it was well known that '[i]n general a mere agent, who has no beneficial interest in a contract which he has made on behalf of his principal, cannot support an action thereon.'" Id. (internal citations omitted).

The mere existence of a parent-child relationship does not imply or automatically create any type of agency relationship between the two individuals, Recreational Development Associates, Inc. v. Miller, 66 Pa. D. & C.2d 138, 140-41 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1974), minors have the power to form valid contracts under PA law. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Duncan, 972 F.2d 523, 526 (3d Cir. 1992).

Pennsylvania follows the general Restatement rule with respect to contracts of a minor. Contracts of a minor, other than contracts for necessities, are voidable by the minor, not void. This means that a minor can render a contract a nullity by disaffirming it at any point up until a reasonable time after the minor attains his or her majority. It does not mean a contract with a minor is a nullity prior to any such disaffirmance. Campbell v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 307 Pa. 365, 161 A. 310 (1932); Simmons v. Parkette National Gymnastic Training Center, 670 F.Supp. 140 (E.D. Pa.1987) (applying Restatement of Contracts 2nd §§ 7 and 4 in Pennsylvania diversity case); Capetola v. Orlando, 463 F.Supp. 498 (E.D. Pa.1978).

Duncan, 972 F.2d at 526

Individuals, minors included, have the "capacity to act as principal in a relationship of agency as defined in [Restatement (Third) of Agency] § 1.01 if, at the time the agent takes action, the individual would have capacity if acting in person." See Vine v. State Employees' Retirement Board, 956 A.2d 1088, 1096 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2008) (quoting Restatement (Third) of Agency § 3.04 (2006). The appointment of an agent by a minor is not void, but merely voidable. Feagles v. Sullivan, 32 Pa. D. & C. 47, 53 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1938) ((cited in 33 PENNSYLVANIA LAW ENCYCLOPEDIA, MINORS § 3 (2007) ("A minor's formal warrant of attorney is absolutely void, and cannot be ratified. This rule does not extend to the mere appointment of an agent, which is voidable, not void.")); see Pankas v. Bell, 198 A.2d 312. 313 (Pa. 1964) ("[I]t is hornbook law that, generally, save as to necessaries, the contract of a minor is voidable."). A minor may enter, as the principal, into an agency agreement with another, but "the actual agency agreement may be repudiated by the minor without any liability" within a reasonable period after the minor comes of age, as "may any contracts made for him by the agent." Feagles, 32 Pa. D. & C. at 53.

Plaintiffs' complaint and supporting affidavits assert that Eric Davis was acting both on his own behalf and also as an agent for Natasha and Naera Shumate. See (Amend Comp. at ¶ 27); (Davis Affidavit at ¶¶ 6-9); (Shumate Affidavit at ¶¶ 5-8). The Domino's Pizza Court explained that "Section 1981 offers relief when racial discrimination blocks the creation of a contractual relationship... [or] impairs an existing contractual relationship, so long as the plaintiff has or would have rights under the existing or proposed contractual relationship." 546 U.S. at 476 (emphasis added). If agency relationships existed and Davis was acting on behalf of Natasha and Naera Shumate, then Natasha and Neara Shumate would have had rights under the proposed contractual relationship with the Clarion Hotel and would, therefore, have standing to assert a Section 1981 claim.

While plaintiffs' amended complaint contains sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that Davis was acting as an agent for Natasha and Naera Shumate and thereby avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), the existence and scope of an agency relationship between Eric Davis and Natasha and or Naera Shumate remains a question of material fact for the jury. Hahnemann Hosp. v. Golo Slipper Co., 5 A.2d 605, 607-08 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1939). In Pennsylvania, "the general rule may be stated that where the authority of an agent is to be implied from conduct of the parties, or established by witnesses, the fact and scope of the agency are for the jury." Id. This general rule applies where, as here, there is sufficient material "on the record, if believed, to establish the fact of agency and the authority of the agent." Id. at 608.

Defendants contend that [plaintiffs'] agency argument... could be relevant only if Mr. Davis sought to enter into contracts in the names of the other Plaintiffs (as their agent), but... there is no evidence that Mr. Davis sough to enter into three separate contracts for three separate rooms (perhaps one for each Plaintiff) or even three separate contracts for the rental of one room. Because there is no evidence that Natasha or Naera even attempted to enter into a contract, that attempt cannot possibly have been denied and there can have been no violation of Section 1981. ...

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