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Price v. Deal

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division

July 17, 2014

DIANE C. DEAL, individually, and in her official capacity as Clerk of Watauga County Court, MICHAEL VETRO, SR., JOSEPH THOMPSON, IV, AMANDA K. MOORE, CHRISTINA C. HUGHART, JAMES D. WILLIAMS, RANDY M. LEWIS, and JERRY D. LEWIS, Defendants.


RICHARD L. VOORHEES, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court upon multiple Rule 12 Motions filed by the Defendants. Defendant Diane C. Deal ("Deal") moves for dismissal based upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction and insufficiency of service of process/lack of personal jurisdiction with respect to the individual capacity claim. (Docs. 13, 14). Defendant Michael Vetro, Sr. ("Vetro"), moves for dismissal based upon the doctrine of judicial immunity. (Docs. 18, 19). Defendants Jerry D. Lewis ("J. Lewis"), Randy M. Lewis ("R. Lewis"), and James D. Williams ("Williams") jointly move for dismissal alleging lack of subject matter jurisdiction and insufficiency of service of process/lack of personal jurisdiction for purposes of individual capacity claims against Jerry and Randy Lewis. (Docs. 21, 22). Defendants Christina C. Hughart, Amanda K. Moore, and Joseph Thompson, IV, jointly move for judgment on the pleadings and likewise assert that subject matter jurisdiction does not exist. (Docs. 26, 27). While not always captioned as a "Response, " Plaintiff Price has responded to the abovereferenced motions.[1]

I. Nature of Case

This lawsuit stems from Plaintiff's dissatisfaction with the outcome of special proceedings that resulted in Plaintiff's vehicle being repossessed.

In June 2012, CitiFinancial filed suit against William Gerald Price ("Price"), an Ashe County resident, in the District Court Division of the General Court of Justice for Watauga County, North Carolina, alleging that Price had defaulted on his car loan. (Doc. 27/Exh. 1 See CitiFinancial Auto v. William Gerald Price, 12CVD401 (Watauga County) (the "Repossession Action"). In connection with the alleged default, CitiFinancial retained the law firm of Rogers, Townsend & Thomas, PC, to represent its interests.

According to the verified Complaint submitted in state court on CitiFinancial's behalf, Defendant CitiFinancial was the lender on Price's automobile loan. On December 26, 2007, Price and CitiFinancial executed a Retail Installment Sale or Credit Sale Contract to finance the purchase of a 2007 Toyota Camry, VIN 4T1BK46K87U555764. (Doc. 27/Exh. 1). Price applied for and obtained his car loan in the amount of $21, 852.51 via telephone. (Doc. 27/Exh. 3, Padilla Aff. ¶ 3). To secure the performance of the terms of the loan, Price granted CitiFinancial a purchase money security interest in his car. (Doc. 27/Exh. 1, ¶¶ 3, 4). CitiFinancial perfected its security interest by recording its lien on the Certificate of Title filed with the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. (Doc. 27/Exh. 1, ¶ 5). Accordingly, CitiFinancial held title to the vehicle pending satisfaction of the debt. (Repossession Action Complaint/Exh. 2). CitiFinancial alleged that Mr. Price defaulted under the payment provisions of the contract and, therefore, sought to recover all monies including principal, interest and attorneys' fees to which it was entitled to under the contract. (Doc. 27/Defs.' Mem. In Supp., 4-5/Exh. 1).[2] CitiFinancial, acting through counsel and holder of a limited power of attorney and servicer of the loan, Santander Consumer USA, Inc., asserted that Price had not made any payment since February 2012 and that the principal sum owed was $13, 706.70.[3] (Doc. 27/Padilla Aff, ¶ 8, Exh. 2 - Itemized Statement/Payment History; Repossession Action Summary Judgment Hr'g Tr. at 8, 10-11).

Notably, the Repossession Action Complaint alleged that "[u]pon information and belief, Defendant[Price] is a citizen and resident of Watauga County, North Carolina." (Doc. 27/Exh. 1, ¶ 2) (emphasis added). Likewise, the underlying Complaint alleged "[u]pon information and belief, the Property which is the subject of this civil action is located in Watauga County, North Carolina." (Id.)

As a result of the Repossession Action, an Order for Seizure in Claim and Delivery ("Claim and Delivery Order") (Amended) issued by Defendant Deal, in her capacity as Watauga County Clerk of Superior Court. (Compl., ¶ 39) (Exh., 105). The Claim and Delivery Order directed the Ashe County Sheriff's Department to take possession of Price's vehicle and deliver it to CitiFinancial Auto.[4]

On or about August 21, 2012, the Order issued by the Clerk of Court was sent to the Watauga County Sheriff's Department. (Compl., ¶ 24). The Sheriff's Department returned the Order to the Clerk of Court in Watauga County (Deal) because Price was living in Ashe County. (Compl., ¶ 25).

On or around October 1, 2012, Plaintiff received a phone call from "the head County Sheriff of Ashe County, " Defendant James Williams, that the Sheriff's Department of Ashe County received notification from Defendant Diane Deal, Clerk of Court, Watauga County, to repossess Price's 2007 Toyota Camry. (Compl., ¶ 39). Price immediately objected and argued that Watauga County had no venue or jurisdiction over the matter. (Compl., itit 39-40). Price alleges that Deal was indifferent to his complaint concerning "lack of territorial jurisdiction." (Compl., ¶¶ 21-22).

Plaintiff Price was directed to appear in court for proceedings on October 15, 2012, before The Honorable Judge Theodore W. McEntire, in the North Carolina General Court of Justice, Civil Division, Watauga County.[5] See 12CVD401 (Compl., ¶ 26). The purpose of the October 15, 2012 hearing was to provide opportunity for the parties to be heard on the merits of CitiFinancial's summary judgment motion. Judge McEntire declined to grant summary judgment. (10/15/12 Hr'g Tr. 46-61, 67). Plaintiff's Complaint alleged that the Clerk's decision granting summary judgment in favor of CitiFinancial was "reversed" by Judge McEntire. (Compl., ¶¶ 27-28).

Pursuant to court order, the parties to the Repossession Action were directed to attend non-binding arbitration. See N.C. GEN. STAT. § 7A-37.1; Rules 5 & 6 of the Rules for Court-Ordered Arbitration. The Notice of Arbitration Hearing ("Notice"), which was issued prior to October 15th hearing before Judge McEntire, set the arbitration hearing date as October 16, 2012. (Doc. 19/Exh. A). The Notice designated Defendant Michael Vetro, Sr. ("Vetro") as the appointed arbitrator. (Doc. 19/Exh. A).

On October 16, 2012, the arbitration hearing convened with Defendant Vetro presiding over the proceedings. Plaintiff did not attend. According to Plaintiff, he was under the impression that the arbitration hearing would not be necessary in light of an oral ruling issued from the bench the day prior denying CitiFinancial's motion for summary judgment. (Compl., ¶ 32; Doc. 19/Exh. D). In Price's absence, Defendant Vetro issued an Arbitration Award and Judgment in favor of CitiFinancial. (Doc. 19/Exh. B).

Approximately ten days later, on or around October 26, 2012, Price's car, a 2007 Toyota Camry, was removed from his home located at 300 Bronze Turkey Lane, Creston, North Carolina by Defendants J. Lewis and R. Lewis. (Compl., ¶¶ 41-43).

On November 7, 2012, Price filed a "Motion to Set Aside Arbitration Award." (Doc. 19/Exh. C). In his motion, Price explained the bases for his confusion about his need to attend and participate in the arbitration. In short, Price considered arbitration and trial to be mutually exclusive and interpreted the trial court's decision that the case would proceed to trial (as opposed to being decided as a matter of law at summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56), to mean that the arbitration hearing was cancelled. On November 15, 2012, Chief Judge Alexander Lyerly granted Price's motion and entered an "Order Setting Aside Arbitration Award and Judgment." (Id./Exh. E). Chief Judge Lyerly noted in the Order that Price "failed to appear for [the] hearing due to the fact that the case was ordered to be set for trial in District Court." (Def.'s Mem. In Supp., 3). Beyond successfully seeking to set aside the Arbitration Award in favor of CitiFinancial, Plaintiff did not pursue any additional relief in the state court.

Price commenced litigation in this federal district court on May 30, 2013 with the filing of his "COMPLAINT FOR MONEY DAMAGES AND DEPRIVATION OF RIGHTS UNDER 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988." (Doc. 1/Compl.). Price identified his first four causes of action as violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and labeled each as "Disparaging the protections of the Federal and State[ls Constitution" (COUNTs I-IV). Price also asserted a § 1983 claim based upon an alleged unreasonable seizure of Plaintiff's property (COUNT V). In Plaintiff's own words, his lawsuit was brought against:

"State Officials acting under color of STATE Law and other Parties related to the unlawful taking pursuant to the 5th amendment, of Plaintiff's 2007 Toyota Camry for civil rights violations involving, grand theft, criminal trespass, and Lack of territorial jurisdiction, and the unlawful taking of private property, for public use, without just compensation."

(Compl., 2). Within the body of his Complaint, Plaintiff further alleges criminal conspiracy and treason, claiming that Defendants "act[ed] in concert under the color of North Carolina Law and outside the scope of their jurisdiction and authority" to his detriment, "violated clearly established law, " and constitutional rights protected by the "4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 14th Amendments."[6] (Compl., 2-3). Price brings suit against Defendants in their individual and official capacities. In addition, Price requests a jury trial and seeks damages against each Defendant in the amount of $1, 500, 000, plus punitive damages, attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, "all costs and disbursements of this action, " "the right to amend [his] complaint as warranted by further evidence and fact finding, " and a declaratory judgment requiring "all Defendants to have separate counsel, in order to avoid any conflict of interest." (Compl., 14-16).

Notwithstanding the characterization of his claims, the essence of Price's federal lawsuit is that the Repossession Action was a "bogus" or "sham" proceeding and that the events leading to the repossession of his vehicle were orchestrated by the Defendant group (in conspiratorial fashion) for that purpose. Price takes issue with the lawfulness of the Repossession Action itself, as well as the ...

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