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Brooks v. Coble Settlement

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 27, 2015

WILMA LYNN BUIE BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
COBLE SETTLEMENT, OLD VINEYARD BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, NURSEFINDERS, WORKPLACE OPTIONS, PIEDMONT COMMUNITY SERVICES, and THE INDEPENDENT ORDER OF FORESTERS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES A. BEATY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the respective Motions to Dismiss[1] filed by Defendants Workplace Options [Doc. #5], Piedmont Community Services [Doc. #10], and Old Vineyard Behavioral Health [Doc. #20][2] (collectively "Defendants"). In her Complaint, Plaintiff Wilma Lynn Buie Brooks ("Plaintiff") asserted various claims of employment discrimination and retaliation against each of these Defendants. Each Defendant's respective Motion to Dismiss argues that Plaintiff's claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant Workplace Options also argues that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to properly serve process according to Rule 12(b)(5). As discussed below, this Court will dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint as to these three Defendants because this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Title VII claims and Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 or § 1983 against Defendant Piedmont.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the instant matter on April 2, 2014. The Complaint began with a general statement alleging claims of "retaliation and Indian Trust Theft" against all Defendants "based on EEOC right to sue' (Probable Cause) [letter]... and federal laws against discrimination with employment, contracting, and the administration of federal tax laws." (Compl. [Doc. #1], at 2.) In the body of her Complaint, Plaintiff asserted various employment discrimination and retaliation claims, arising out of a failure to hire or failure to interview, against Defendants Workplace Options, Piedmont Community Services ("Piedmont"), and Old Vineyard Behavioral Health ("Old Vineyard"). Although Plaintiff alluded to trust theft and has named the Coble Settlement as a defendant, she never asserts specific claims against the Coble Settlement, nor does she ever explain how any of the other named defendants relate to the Coble Settlement or any trust theft issues. At best, based on Plaintiff's later filings, Plaintiff may have been attempting to claim Defendants retaliated against her in response to her Coble Settlement and Indian Trust filings.

Plaintiff included as the last page of her Complaint a copy of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") right-to-sue letter. (Compl. [Doc. #1], at 11.) The letter is dated January 7, 2014, [3] and is addressed to Plaintiff. The letter explained that the EEOC closed its file on charge number XXX-XXXX-XXXXX because "the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes." (Id.) The letter fails to identify the relevant laws, the conduct at issue, or any other information about the underlying charge's contents. At the very bottom of the letter, there is an indication that a "Paralegal/HR Analyst" with "UHS of Delaware, INC., a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, " was copied on the letter. Plaintiff did not assert a claim against UHS of Delaware or Universal Health Services ("UHS").

II. LEGAL STANDARDS[4]

A. Pro Se Plaintiff's Pleadings

When evaluating a pro se plaintiff's pleadings, a court should liberally construe the plaintiff's allegations and hold the pro se plaintiff "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 2081 (2007) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 292, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)). Nonetheless, the Court "may not be an advocate for a pro se plaintiff and must hold the complaint to certain minimal pleading standards." Hongan Lai v. Dep't of Justice, No. 5:13cv00033, 2013 WL 3923506, at *3 (W.D. Va. July 29, 2013) (citing Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985); Switzer v. Town of Stanley, No. 5:10cv00128, 2010 WL 4961912, at *2-3 (W.D. Va. Dec. 1, 2010); Holsey v. Collins, 90 F.R.D. 122, 128 (D.Md. 1981)).

B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under Rule 12(b)(1)

Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is a "threshold matter" that a court must consider prior to reaching the merits of the matter. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 1012, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998); Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Astellas Pharma, Inc., 471 F.3d 544, 548 (4th Cir. 2006). The Fourth Circuit has repeatedly explained that "federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and are empowered to act only in those specific instances authorized by Congress." Garraghty v. Va. Ret. Sys., 200 Fed.Appx. 209, 211 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Goldsmith v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 845 F.2d 61, 63 (4th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks omitted)). A court should dismiss an action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) when the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the action. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction. Richmond, F. & P. R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

A defendant may attack subject matter jurisdiction (1) facially, by arguing that the complaint fails to allege facts to support subject matter jurisdiction, or (2) factually, by arguing that the jurisdictional facts alleged are untrue. Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). "[W]hen a defendant asserts that the complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to support subject matter jurisdiction, the trial court must apply a standard patterned on Rule 12(b)(6) and assume the truthfulness of the facts alleged." Id. at 193. Moreover, even when not raised by the parties themselves, the court may raise concerns of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. Brickwood Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng'g Inc., 369 F.3d 385, 390 (4th Cir. 2004); United States v. White, 139 F.3d 998, 999-1000 (4th Cir. 1998); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); Sucampo, 471 F.3d at 548.

C. Failure to State a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6)

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Fourth Circuit instructs that "[w]e take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ' but we need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts.'" Spaulding v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 714 F.3d 769, 776 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000)). "Legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement fail to constitute well-pled facts, " and a court does not consider "unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments" when evaluating the legal sufficiency of a complaint on a 12(b)(6) motion. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). "[T]he complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to ...


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