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Gibbs v. Waffle House Store Number 1919

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

April 29, 2015

SHAMONI GIBBS, Administrator of the Estate of William C. Gibbs, III, Plaintiff,
v.
WAFFLE HOUSE STORE Number 1919, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

TERRENCE W. BOYLE, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on defendants Lenoir County's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Waffle House Store Number 1919's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(4) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [DE 16, 19]. Plaintiff has not responded and the time frame within which to do so has elapsed. Accordingly, the motions are ripe for ruling. For the reasons stated herein, both defendants' motions to dismiss are GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

This action stems from the fatal shooting of William Gibbs that occurred outside of a Waffle House restaurant in Kinston, North Carolina on or about November 25, 2013. Plaintiff alleges that Lenoir County Sheriff's Department Deputies Joseph Heck and William Aaron Shambeau, "off duty officers, " were hired by Waffle House to provide security in August 2013. While at Waffle House on November 25, 2013, they heard gunfire. Both deputies ran to the parking lot with their guns drawn, where they saw Mr. Gibbs with a firearm. They instructed him to drop his gun and raise his arms. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Gibbs complied, after which Deputies Heck and Shambeau shot Mr. Gibbs multiple times, resulting in his death. An unknown male who initiated the gunfight allegedly fled the scene.

Plaintiff filed suit in Wayne County Superior Court on November 20, 2014, setting forth civil and constitutional claims arising under state law and federal claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 relating to Mr. Gibbs's death. Plaintiff named as defendants Waffle House Store Number 1919 (Waffle House), Lenoir County, the Lenoir County Sheriff (the Sheriff), and Deputies Joseph Heck and William Aaron Shambeau (the deputies).

Defendants removed the case to federal court on January 7, 2015, based upon the allegations of a federal cause of action. Lenoir County and Waffle House have filed motions to dismiss, while the remaining defendants have filed answers denying wrongdoing and liability.

DISCUSSION

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). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), 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, 94 (2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). However, "[t]hreadbare 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 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Similarly, a court need not accept as true a plaintiff's "unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Eastern Shore Mkts., Inc., v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd., 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).

I. LENOIR COUNTY

A local government is liable under § 1983 only for its policies or customs that cause constitutional injury. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). It follows, therefore, that "[a] county may only be held liable for acts for which the county has final policymaking authority." Little v. Smith, 114 F.Supp.2d 437, 446 (W.D. N.C. 2000). Whether a county has final policymaking authority in a specific area is a question of state law. City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 124 (1988).

In North Carolina, sheriffs are substantially independent from county governments. Parker v. Bladen County, 583 F.Supp.2d 736, 739 (E.D. N.C. 2008). Sheriffs are directly elected and are not employed by the Board of County Commissioners. Id. Each elected sheriff "has the exclusive right to hire, discharge, and supervise the employees in his office." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-103(1). Each sheriff may not delegate this authority to another person or entity. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 162-24. It is clear, therefore, that the Sheriff himself, not the county within which he works, has final policymaking authority over hiring, supervising, and discharging personnel in the sheriff's office. Parker, 583 F.Supp.2d at 739 (citations omitted); Little, 114 F.Supp.2d at 446; Clark v. Burke County, 450 S.E.2d 747, 749 (N.C. Ct. App. 1994). Under North Carolina law, a sheriff's deputy "is an employee of the sheriff, not the county." Clarke, 450 S.E.2d at 749.

Plaintiff alleges that Lenoir County failed to adequately train and supervise the deputies who shot Mr. Gibbs and negligently implemented policies and customs enabling employees to engage in such behavior, thereby violating plaintiff's constitutional rights. As these allegations are employment and training related, they constitute personnel decisions over which the Sheriff, not Lenoir County, has exclusive authority. Little, 114 F.Supp.2d at 446; Clark, 450 S.E.2d at 749. Any injury resulting from the deputies' actions cannot lead to liability on any of plaintiff's claims for Lenoir County. Accordingly, Lenoir County must be dismissed from this action as plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as to that defendant.

II. WAFFLE HOUSE

Against Waffle House, plaintiff alleges a § 1983 claim for failure to train (Count Six), state law claims for failure to train and supervise (Count One) and negligent supervision (Count Three) and ...


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