United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Loretta C. Biggs United States District Judge.
Margaret Elizabeth Lawson Darling, appearing pro se,
brings this action against the above-named Defendants
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,  alleging violations of the
United States Constitution, as well as various state law
claims. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, declaratory
relief, and damages. Before the Court are: (i) a Motion to
Dismiss filed by Defendants Reginald Mills and Andrew Fair,
(ECF No. 12); and (ii) a Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of
Defendants Falls, Fox, Thomas, Williams, and McDowell, (ECF
No. 19). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants
allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint arise out of a
domestic violence proceeding in state court, initiated by
Jason Allan Sawyer (“Sawyer”),  against
Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that during these proceedings,
which occurred between February 2013 and May 2013, District
Court Judges Linda Falls and Angela Fox, Magistrates A. G.
Thomas, J. A. Williams, and B. McDowell, and Greensboro
Police Officers Reginald Mills and Andrew Fair, violated her
constitutional rights by engaging in the following acts: (i)
entering two Domestic Violence Protection Orders
(“DVPOs”) against Plaintiff; (ii) issuing five
arrest warrants for Plaintiff; (iii) executing four actual
arrests of Plaintiff; (iv) detaining Plaintiff in jail for
over 30 hours; (v) issuing a misdemeanor criminal summons for
Plaintiff; (vi) filing eight criminal charges against
Plaintiff; and (vii) providing Plaintiff's personal
information to Sawyer. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 8, 21-31.)
Ultimately, the state court proceeding was “disposed of
in [Plaintiff's] favor.”(Id. ¶ 7.)
Reginald Mills and Andrew Fair (collectively, “Police
Defendants”) move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint
pursuant to Rules 12(b)(5) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 12 at 1.) District Court Judges
Linda Falls and Angela Fox, and Magistrates A. G. Thomas, J.
A. Williams, and B. McDowell (collectively, “Judicial
Defendants”) move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint
pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1), (2), (5), and (6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 19 at 1, 2.) Further, the
Judicial Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims
based on absolute judicial immunity and Eleventh Amendment
immunity. (Id. at 2.) Because the Court will grant
the Police Defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6) and grant the Judicial Defendants' motion to
dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), the Court need not
address the remaining arguments for dismissal.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Rule 12(b)(1), a party may seek dismissal based on the
court's “lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Subject matter
jurisdiction is a threshold issue that relates to the
court's power to hear a case and must be decided before a
determination on the merits of the case. Constantine v.
Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 441 F.3d
474, 479- 80 (4th Cir. 2005). A motion under Rule 12(b)(1)
raises the question of “whether [the plaintiff] has a
right to be in the district court at all and whether the
court has the power to hear and dispose of [the]
claim.” Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood,
Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012). The burden of
proving subject matter jurisdiction rests with the Plaintiff.
McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S.
178, 189 (1936); Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219
(4th Cir. 1982). When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to
dismiss, the court should grant the motion “only if the
material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the
moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of
law.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R.
Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure “challenges the legal sufficiency of a
complaint, ” including whether it meets the pleading
standard of Rule 8(a)(2). Francis v. Giacomelli, 588
F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). Rule 8(a)(2) requires a
complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,
” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), thereby “giv[ing] the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).
complaint may fail to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted in two ways: first, by failing to state a valid legal
cause of action, i.e., a cognizable claim, see
Holloway, 669 F.3d at 452; or second, by failing to
allege sufficient facts to support a legal cause of action,
see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716
F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)
is appropriate only when the complaint “lacks a
cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a
cognizable legal theory.” Capital Associated
Indus., Inc. v. Cooper, 129 F.Supp.3d 281, 300 (M.D.
N.C. 2015) (quoting Brown v. Target, Inc., No.
ELH-14-00950, 2015 WL 2452617, at *9 (D. Md. May 20, 2015)).
In other words, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, 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).
Police Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant
alleges that Defendant Mills, a Greensboro police officer, is
liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her Fourth
Amendment rights. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 39.) Specifically,
Plaintiff argues that Defendant Mills conducted an
“unreasonable search under the color of law, ”
(ECF No. 18 at 8), when he used her license plate number to
obtain “identifying personal information” from
the DMV database which he then provided to Sawyer (ECF No. 1
¶¶ 21, 39). Defendant Mills argues that his
actions, as alleged by Plaintiff, do not implicate the Fourth
Amendment, and should therefore be dismissed. (ECF No. 13 at
6.) The Court agrees with Defendant Mills.
Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides
that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. The Supreme Court has held that “the
Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.” Katz
v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967). Accordingly,
a search under the Fourth Amendment occurs when the
government invades a person's “constitutionally
protected reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Id. at 360-61. (Harlan, J., concurring).
examining a Fourth Amendment unreasonable search claim, the
Court must first determine whether there is a reasonable
expectation of privacy in the area searched, and if so,
whether the search is reasonable. See United States v.
Rusher, 966 F.2d 868, 873-74 (4th Cir. 1992). Courts
have held that there is “no reasonable expectation of
privacy with respect to [a] vehicle's license plate
number.” United States v. White, No.
1:98CR332-1, 1999 WL 1939263, at *3 (M.D. N.C. Jan. 14,
1999); see, e.g., United States v.
Diaz-Castaneda, 494 F.3d 1146, 1151 (9th Cir. 2007)
(agreeing “that people do not have a subjective
expectation of privacy in their license plates, and that even
if they did, this expectation would not be one that society
is prepared to recognize as reasonable”); United
States v. Ellison, 462 F.3d 557, 561 (6th Cir. 2006)
(holding that a “motorist has no reasonable expectation
of privacy in the information contained on his license plate
under the Fourth Amendment”); see also United
States v. George, 971 F.2d 1113, 1120 (4th Cir. 1992)
(finding that “one does not have a reasonable
expectation of privacy in the visible exterior parts of an
automobile that travels the public roads and
Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that Defendant Mills
provided a third party (Sawyer) with “identifying
personal information that he obtained after running my
vehicle tag . . . through the DMV database” while on
duty. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 21.) However, because Plaintiff has
no reasonable expectation of privacy in the information on
her license plate, Defendant Mills' actions do not
constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment. Thus,
Plaintiff has failed to allege a cognizable claim for relief
under the Fourth Amendment, and the Court will grant
Defendant Mills' motion to dismiss this claim.
Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim against Defendant
also alleges that Defendant Mills violated her rights under
the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 39.) While the
Complaint does not, on its face, specify the nature of
Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim, Plaintiff argues
in her Response brief that her procedural due process rights
were violated by Defendant Mills when he “[ran] a tag
on behalf of and provid[ed] a citizen with identifying
information about the driver.” (ECF No. 18 at 11.)
Defendant Mills argues, in part, that Plaintiff's claim
under the Fourteenth Amendment should be dismissed because
her allegation is “insufficient to invoke the
Fourteenth Amendment.” (ECF No. 22 at 6-7.)
the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,
state actors shall not deprive any person of life, liberty,
or property without due process of law. U.S. Const. Amend.
XIV, § 1. To state a claim for relief for a violation of
procedural due process, Plaintiff must show: “(1) a
cognizable ‘liberty' or ‘property'
interest; (2) the deprivation of that interest by ‘some
form of state action'; and (3) that the procedures
employed were constitutionally inadequate. Iota Xi
Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. Patterson, 566 F.3d
138, 145 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Stone v. Univ. of Md.
Med. Sys. Corp., 855 F.2d 167, 172 (4th Cir. 1988)).
“If no ‘life, liberty, or property' interest
within the meaning of the Constitution is in issue, then
there can be no deprivation of constitutional due
process.” Mills v. Holmes, 95 F.Supp.3d 924,
931 (E.D. Va. 2015); see Bd. of Regents of State Colls.
v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569 (1972) (“The
requirements of procedural due process apply only to the
deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth
Amendment's protection of liberty and property.”).
Mills argues that, rather than articulating a specific
property or liberty interest allegedly violated,
“Plaintiff appears to take the phrase ‘procedural
due process' at its literal meaning, ” (ECF No. 22
at 6). The Court agrees. Plaintiff seemingly argues that by
providing Sawyer with information obtained from the DMV
database, Officer Mills permitted Sawyer to circumvent the
proper procedure for obtaining such information.
(See ECF No. 18 at 10-11.) However,
“[p]rocedural protections, standing alone, even if
clearly mandated by state law, do not create a liberty
interest in either the procedures themselves or the
substantive result they purportedly protect.”
Holmes v. Cooper,872 F.Supp. 298, 302 (W.D. Va.
1995) (citing Stewart v. Bailey,7 F.3d 384, 392
(4th Cir. 1993)). Therefore, to state a plausible claim for
deprivation of procedural due process, Plaintiff must allege
facts to show more than a deprivation of state-prescribed
process; rather, she must show that she was deprived of a
constitutionally protected interest. An examination of the
Complaint, however, reveals that it is devoid of specific
factual allegations concerning the nature of the liberty or
property interest violated as a result of Defendant
Mills' actions. Rather, the Complaint contains only
conclusory statements alleging that Defendant Mills'
actions violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Such legal
conclusions, without the articulation of a protected liberty
or property interest, do not suffice to state a plausible
claim for relief sufficient to survive a motion to ...