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West v. Buncombe County

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

September 3, 2014

NATHANIEL G. WEST, Plaintiff,
v.
BUNCOMBE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES, ABIGAIL OWOLABI, AMANDA STONE AND VANESSA HILL, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER

DAVID S. CAYER, Magistrate Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on "Defendant Amanda Stone's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), " Doc. 6, filed June 3, 2014, and "Defendants Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Child Protective Services, Abigail Owolabi and Vanessa Hill's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), " Doc. 11, filed June 30, 2014, and the parties' associated briefs and exhibits, Docs. 13-15.

This matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and these Motions are now ripe for consideration.

Having fully considered the arguments, the record, and the applicable authority, the undersigned respectfully recommends that Defendants' Motions to Dismiss be granted, as discussed below.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Accepting the allegations of the pro se Complaint, Doc. 1, as true, Plaintiff purports to assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendants failed to notify him about felony child abuse being committed upon his biological son.[1] Plaintiff alleges that the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services ("BCHHS"), Child Protective Services ("BCCPS") and the director, Amanda Stone, violated federal law by failing to notify him of twelve child protective service cases over a fifteen year period involving his son. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Owolabi and Hill, social workers at BCHHS, failed to notify him when the child's mother admitted to felony child abuse. Plaintiff fails to identify how Defendants' purported inaction violated his constitutional rights.

On June 3, 2014, Defendant Stone filed her Motion to Dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to support a Section 1983 claim against her in her official or individual capacity. On June 30, 2014, Defendants BCHHS, BCCPS, Owolabi and Hill filed their Motion to Dismiss also arguing that Plaintiff had failed to allege sufficient facts to support a Section 1983 claim against them.

Defendants' Motions have been briefed as set forth above and are ripe for determination.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). The plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Id. at 563. A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss will survive if it contains enough facts to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

In Iqbal, the Supreme Court articulated a two-step process for determining whether a complaint meets this plausibility standard. First, the court identifies allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (allegation that government officials adopted challenged policy "because of" its adverse effects on protected group was conclusory and not assumed to be true). Although the pleading requirements stated in "Rule 8 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] mark[] a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era... it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678-79.

Second, to the extent there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their truth and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint contains sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief "will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. "Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief, '" and therefore should be dismissed. Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). In other words, if after taking the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true, a lawful alternative explanation appears a "more likely" cause of the complained of behavior, the claim for relief is not plausible. Id.

The Court is mindful of the latitude extended to the pleadings of pro se litigants. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (courts should "[c]onstru[e] [a pro se ] petitioner's inartful pleading liberally"). However, courts cannot act as the pro se plaintiff's advocate or develop claims which the plaintiff failed to raise clearly on the face of his complaint. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1152 (4th Cir. 1978) (recognizing that district courts are not expected to assume the role of advocate for the pro se plaintiff). See also Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). As a result, even a pro se plaintiff's claim for relief "requires more than labels and conclusions...." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Like plaintiffs who are represented by counsel, a pro se plaintiff must still "allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of ...


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