United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.
This case comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge on Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Docket Entry 18) and Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Docket Entries 10, 15, 26). For the reasons that follow, the undersigned Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court deny Plaintiffs' instant Motion and grant Defendants' Motions to Dismiss as to all federal-law claims. In addition, the undersigned Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court remand this action to state court for further proceedings on any state-law claims, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).
In their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs, Mr. Ardeal Roseboro and Mrs. Dianne Roseboro, allege they suffered severe emotional distress and constitutional deprivations as a result of the actions directed by Defendants City of Winston-Salem ("City"), Forsyth County ("County"), Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board of Education ("School Board"), Art Paschal ("Paschal"), Paul Puryear ("Puryear"), and Donald Martin ("Martin") toward their grandson, Mr. Victorious Rone. (Docket Entry 8.) Plaintiffs previously stated that, from 2007 through 2011, Mr. Rone attended R.J. Reynolds High School, and that, during the spring of 2008, Mr. Rone received a two-day suspension for allegedly threatening other students. (Docket Entry 5, ¶¶ 8, 13.) Plaintiffs have claimed that, after Mr. Rone served his two-day suspension and returned to school, the school suspended him again for making new threats within the school. (Id. ¶ 11.) According to Plaintiffs, this suspension resulted in Mr. Rone's placement into an in-school suspension status for the remainder of the school year. (Id. ¶ 12.)
Before returning to R.J. Reynolds High School for the 2008-2009 school year, Mr. Rone reportedly learned that the school had assigned him to R.J. Reynolds's Alternative Learning Center. (Id. ¶ 13.) Placement in the Alternative Learning Center allegedly isolated Mr. Rone and prevented him from socializing, working, or spending time with any of the other students at R.J. Reynolds High School. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiffs further have alleged that Mr. Rone spent the rest of his high school career in the Alternative Learning Center. (Id. ¶ 13.)
The original Complaint, filed by Mr. Roseboro pro se in Forsyth County Superior Court, asserted five claims for relief against Defendants School Board, Paschal, Puryear, and Martin - without providing any statutory or case citations to make clear the legal basis for such claims. (Id. ¶¶ 18-22.) Said pleading claimed that Mr. Roseboro suffered emotional distress, loss of due process, and unequal protection of the law as a result of his and Mr. Rone's race and gender. (Id.) Two weeks after the filing of the original Complaint, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint eliminating many factual allegations, joining Mrs. Roseboro as a Plaintiff, and adding Defendants City and County. (Docket Entry 8.) Defendants then removed this action on the basis that Plaintiffs' claims sound partly under federal law. (Docket Entry 1 at 2.) Plaintiffs opposed removal and filed their instant Motion claiming that any reference to race and due process in their Amended Complaint invoked only the North Carolina Constitution as opposed to the United States Constitution, and that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. (Docket Entry 18, ¶¶ 3(c) & (d).) Defendants have all moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Docket Entries 10, 15, 26.)
At the outset, Plaintiffs' instant Motion challenges whether this Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction. (Docket Entry 18 ¶ 3(d).) Because subject matter jurisdiction represents a threshold issue, this Memorandum Opinion addresses that matter first. See United States v. Wilson , 699 F.3d 789, 793 (4th Cir. 2012) (holding that courts must decide subject matter jurisdiction before other issues). In order to determine whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction, the undersigned Magistrate Judge must first construe the Amended Complaint to determine what claims Plaintiffs have actually pled. Only if this Court has subject matter jurisdiction can the Court evaluate Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. See id.
A. Construing the Complaint
i. The Claims
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure command that pleadings be "construed so as to do justice, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e), and courts must construe pro se filings liberally, Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). A case from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit persuasively articulates the proper method for construing a complaint lacking clear identification of the legal bases for any claims. Morales-Vallellanes v. Potter , 339 F.3d 9, 14-15 (1st Cir. 2003). The plaintiff in that case filed an amended complaint against his employer containing four counts of relief without any statutory or other identifying citations. Id. at 14. The First Circuit found it unclear whether the counts arose under the anti-discrimination clause in the plaintiff's collective bargaining agreement or under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Id . In order to fulfill the mandate of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(e), the First Circuit broadly construed the complaint as alleging causes of action under both the collective bargaining agreement and Title VII. Id. at 15.
Similarly, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint lacks citation to any statutory or other authority to demonstrate the legal bases for their claims. The Amended Complaint mentions emotional distress, unequal treatment because of race, and violations of due process. (See Docket Entry 8, ¶¶ 12-21.) One could read the Amended Complaint to raise claims under the common law of North Carolina, the North Carolina Constitution, the United States Constitution, or a combination thereof. With Erickson, Morales-Vallellanes, and Rule 8(e) in mind, the Court should construe the Amended Complaint as raising claims for: (1) negligent infliction of emotional distress under North Carolina law (id. ¶¶ 10-21); (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress under North Carolina law (id.); (3) violations of procedural due process under the North Carolina Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 19 (id. ¶ 16); (4) violations of equal protection under the North Carolina Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 19 (id. ¶¶ 17-19); (5) violations of procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (id. ¶ 16); and (6) violations of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (id. ¶¶ 17-19). Having established the contours of the Amended Complaint, the undersigned Magistrate Judge must determine whether this Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction.
ii. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
"The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. "[I]n 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...." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). To determine whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction after a removal petition, the Court must analyze the operative complaint when removal occurred. See Pinney v. Nokia, Inc. , 402 F.3d 430, 443 (4th Cir. 2005); see also Hook v. Morrison Milling Co. , 38 F.3d 776, 780 (5th Cir. 1994) ("[A] post-removal ...