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Barrett v. Board of Education of Johnston County, N.C.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division

April 9, 2014

TELETHIA BARRETT and G.B., Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. et al., Defendants

Decided: April 8, 2014.

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For Telethia Barrett, G. B., Plaintiffs: Robert C. Ekstrand, Ekstrand & Ekstrand, LLP, Durham, NC.

For Board of Education of Johnston County, NC, Defendant: Julia C. Ambrose, LEAD ATTORNEY, Patricia W. Goodson, Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, LLP, Raleigh, NC.

For Dr. Edward Croom, Shelly Marsh, Chris Godwin, Robin Herridge, Janet Lebo, Linda Edmundson, Christy Turner, Shelley Siegert, Anna Gardner, Defendants: Julia C. Ambrose, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, LLP, Raleigh, NC.

OPINION

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ORDER

TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the Court on defendant Board of Education of Johnston County's (" the Board" ) motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), (2), and (6) [DE 9], and the individual defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [DE 23]. The motions are ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, the defendant Board's motion to dismiss is GRANTED and the individual defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Telethia Barrett and her minor daughter G.B. bring this lawsuit against the Board and ten individual Board employees seeking injunctive relief and money damages for the Board's alleged discrimination against plaintiffs that took the form primarily of two letters banning Barrett, but not her daughter, from Board property throughout the district. The Complaint alleges 11 causes of action some of which are solely against the Board, some of which are solely against the individual defendants and some of which are against both the Board and the individual defendants.

Plaintiffs allege the following causes of action against Board: (1) a § 1983 action alleging discrimination in violation of Title VI and conspiracy to commit the same; (2) a § 1983 action alleging discrimination in violation of Title VI and conspiracy to commit the same; (3) entity liability under § 1983 and Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978); (4) conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1985; (5) conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1986; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress (" IIED" ); (7) violations of the North Carolina Constitution; and (8) punitive damages.

Plaintiffs allege the following causes of action against the following individual defendants: (1) a § 1983 claim of retaliation

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in violation of the First Amendment and conspiracy to commit the same against Croom, Marsh, Beamon, Godwin, Herridge, Lebo, Edmundson, Turner, Siegert, and Gardner; (2) a § 1983 claim of retaliation in violation of the First Amendment and conspiracy to commit the same against Croom, Marsh, Beamon, Godwin, Herridge, Lebo, Edmundson, Turner, Siegert, and Gardner; (3) supervisory violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Croom Marsh, Beamon, Godwin, Herridge, Lebo, and Edmundson; (4) conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 against Croom, Marsh, Beamon, Godwin, Herridge, Lebo, Edmundson, and Turner; (5) conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1986 against Croom, Marsh, Beamon, Godwin, Herridge, Lebo, Edmundson, and Turner; (6) IIED against Croom, Marsh, Beamon, Godwin, Herridge, Lebo, Edmundson, and Turner; and (7) punitive damages against Croom, Marsh, Beamon, Godwin, Herridge, Lebo, Edmundson, Turner, Siegert, and Gardner.

DISCUSSION

I. LEGAL STANDARDS.

Defendant Board challenges this Court's subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil procedure 12(b)(1). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction is appropriate when challenged bye the defendant. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936); Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). When the 12(b)(1) motion attacks the complaint as failing to state facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction may be based, the facts in the complaint are assumed to be true and the plaintiff is afforded the same protections he or she would receive under a 12(b)(6) motion. Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219. Governmental immunity is a jurisdictional defense. See, e.g., Medina v. United States, 259 F.3d 220, 223 (4th Cir. 2001) (potential governmental immunity " affects [] jurisdiction" ). When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Court " is to regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment." Richmond, F. & P. R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). " The [Court] should apply the standard applicable to a motion for summary judgment, under which the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts beyond the pleadings to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists" and " [t]he moving party should prevail only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law." Id.

All of the defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted challenges the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). When ruling on the motion, the Court " must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (citing Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Although complete and detailed factual allegations are not required, " a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Similarly, the Court need not accept as true a plaintiff's

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" unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Eastern Shore Mkts. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd., 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). The Court is " not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Accordingly, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must contain facts sufficient " to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and to satisfy the Court that the claim is " plausible on its face." Id. at 555, 570.

II. MINOR PLAINTIFF'S CAPACITY TO SUE.

All of the defendants have moved to dismiss all claims brought on behalf of the minor plaintiff, G.B. on the grounds that she has not been appointed a guardian ad litem and therefore lacks the capacity to sue. However, on February 19, 2014, Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones entered an order granting plaintiff's motion to appoint a guardian ad litem and appointing Joseph Barrett, the father of the minor plaintiff, as her guardian ad litem. [DE 33]. Defendants complain that the motion for the appointment of guardian ad litem occurred too late to properly comply with North Carolina law. However, that argument should have been used in a memorandum opposing the motion to appoint, and now it is made too late as the Court has appointed a guardian ad litem for the minor plaintiff. Accordingly, this Court finds that the minor plaintiff does have capacity to sue and any argument to the contrary fails defendants.

III. DEFENDANT BOARD'S MOTION TO DISMISS.

A. Section 1983 Claims.

Plaintiffs bring two claims against the Board under Section 1983 for racial discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[1] and one claim of entity liability under Section 1983 and Monell. In the first cause of action, plaintiffs contend that the Board " discriminated against plaintiffs because of their race" by (1) " [t]reating Ms. Barrett differently than Caucasian parents" by imposing the October 2010 First Ban and agreeing with its Superintendent and unidentified " managing employees" " not to respond to Ms. Barrett's appeal of the Board's [2010] ban," (2) retaliating against plaintiffs " because of Ms. Barrett's advocacy on behalf of African-American students" with respect to " the Board's programs for gifted students" and " for filing a successful complaint with" the United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (" OCR" ); and (3) refusing to enroll G.B. in the Board's academically and intellectually gifted (" AIG" ) programs without application and re-testing. The third cause of action asserts that the Board discriminated against plaintiffs by ...


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