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Spellman v. The School Board of City of Chesapeake

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

January 7, 2020

DANNETTA G. SPELLMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SCHOOL BOARD OF THE CITY OF CHESAPEAKE, VIRGINIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM FINAL ORDER

          REBECCA BEACH SMITH SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"), and accompanying Brief in Support, filed on April 23, 2019. ECF Nos. 40, 41.[1]Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition on May 8, 2019, ECF No. 42.[2]Defendant filed a Reply on May 16, 2019. ECF No. 49.

         On May 17, 2019, this court referred the Motion to United States Magistrate Judge Lawrence R. Leonard, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, if necessary, and to submit to the undersigned district judge proposed findings of fact, if applicable, and recommendations for the disposition of the Motion. ECF No. 52. The Magistrate Judge held a hearing on the Motion on August 15, 2019. ECF No. 57. The Magistrate Judge then ordered Plaintiff and Defendant to submit additional evidence, ECF No. 58, which they did on August 23, 2019, and August 30, 2019, respectively. ECF Nos. 59, 60.

         The Magistrate Judge filed the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on October 15, 2019. ECF No. 61. The Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendant's Motion be granted and Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed with prejudice. R&R at 1. By copy of the R&R, the parties were advised of their right to file written objections to the findings and recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. See id. at 30-31. On October 29, 2019, Plaintiff filed Objections to the R&R, ECF No. 62, and Defendant filed a Response on November 12, 2019, ECF No. 64. Plaintiff requested a hearing on her Objections. ECF No. 63.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Rule 72 (b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court, having reviewed the record in its entirety, shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the R&R to which a party has "properly objected." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to him with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Objections, however, "must be made with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground of the objection." Scott v. Virginia Port Auth., No. 2:17CV176, 2018 WL 1508592 at *2 (E.D. Va. Mar. 27, 2018) (Jackson, J.) (citation omitted). "General or conclusory objections are the equivalent of a waiver." Id. Thus, absent a specific, proper objection, the court only reviews for clear error. See Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see also, e.g., United States Underwriters Ins. Co. v. ITG Dev. Grp., LLC, 294 F.Supp.3d 18, 23 (E.D.N.Y. 2018) ("The clear error standard also applies when a party makes only conclusory or general objections."). The court is not required to hold a hearing on the Motion. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); E.D. Va. Civ. R. 7 (J) .

         II. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff makes three specific objections to the R&R. The court addresses each in turn.[3]

         A. Hoik, Ward, and Hahn Affidavits

         Plaintiff argues that the R&R wrongly excluded affidavits from Glenn Hoik, Patricia Ward, and Theresa Hahn. Objs. at 3. The Magistrate Judge, however, correctly held that the Hoik, Ward, and Hahn affidavits are inadmissible under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[4] See R&R at 6 n.3. Rule 56 requires that an affidavit be made "on personal knowledge [and] set out facts that would be admissible in evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (4). The affidavits do not meet either requirement. While the affidavits state that the affiants were treated differently than Plaintiff, they do not contain any basis for their assertions that this treatment was because of discrimination. Instead, the affidavits simply claim, without any support, that Plaintiff was treated differently because of her race and age. See, e.g., Hoik Aff. ¶ 4, ECF No. 45-3 ("Spellman and I were subject to the identical policies and procedures as colleagues, but Pinello discriminated against Spellman by applying those policies and procedures in a harsh and discriminatory manner against Spellman without just cause or good reason."); id. ¶ 8 ("I have no doubt in my mind that Pinello treated Spellman differently than she treated us as Spellman's Caucasian co-coworkers because of Pinello's discriminatory bias against Spellman."). As such, they are inadmissible. See, e.g., Crouse v. Wal-Mart Stores E., Inc., No. 1:01CV00079, 2002 WL 1046714 at *4 (W.D. Va. May 23, 2002) ("Under Rule 56, affidavits based merely upon personal belief are inadmissible.").

         Furthermore, even if admissible, the unsupported allegations of differential treatment do not create a genuine issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment.[5] See Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) ("Unsupported speculation is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion."); Ahmed v. Schnatter, No. CIV. S 00-2160, 2001 WL 1924523 at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 8, 2001), aff'd, 8 Fed.Appx. 229 (4th Cir. 2001) ("All that plaintiff brings forward are his subjective beliefs, and those of members of his family, that he was discriminated against . . . but he has failed to submit any opposing material sufficient to generate a triable issue under applicable case law . . . . ") . Accordingly, the objection based on the affidavits is OVERRULED.

         B. Arlene Lee's Belief of Discrimination

         Plaintiff objects to the R&R's conclusion that Arlene Lee's statements regarding whether Plaintiff experienced discrimination are inadmissible and irrelevant. Objs. at 6; see R&R at 6 n.5. Plaintiff and Defendant dispute whether Ms. Lee believed that Plaintiff was subject to discrimination. See Am. Br. in Opp. at 25, ECF No. 45. But whether or not Ms. Lee, a lay witness, believed that Defendant discriminated against ...


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