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Mobley v. Guilford County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 20, 2017

JASON DARNELL MOBLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
GUILFORD COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER, AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge

         This case comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Docket Entry 1) in conjunction with his pro se Complaint (Docket Entry 2). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiff's instant Application for the limited purpose of recommending dismissal of this action as frivolous and for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The federal in forma pauperis statute, first enacted in 1892 [and now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915], is intended to guarantee that no citizen shall be denied access to the courts solely because his poverty makes it impossible for him to pay or secure the costs.” Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951, 953 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Dispensing with filing fees, however, [is] not without its problems. . . . In particular, litigants suing in forma pauperis d[o] not need to balance the prospects of successfully obtaining relief against the administrative costs of bringing suit.” Nagy v. FMC Butner, 376 F.3d 252, 255 (4th Cir. 2004). To address this concern, the in forma pauperis statute provides that “the [C]ourt shall dismiss the case at any time if the [C]ourt determines . . . the action . . . is frivolous . . . [or] fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         “[A] complaint, containing as it does both factual allegations and legal conclusions, is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). “The word ‘frivolous' is inherently elastic and not susceptible to categorical definition. . . . The term's capaciousness directs lower courts to conduct a flexible analysis, in light of the totality of the circumstances, of all factors bearing upon the frivolity of a claim.” Nagy, 376 F.3d at 256-57 (some internal quotation marks omitted). In determining frivolousness, the Court may “apply common sense.” Nasim, 64 F.3d at 954.

         Additionally, a plaintiff “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), when the complaint does not “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) (emphasis added) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. In other words, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.[1]

         INTRODUCTION

         Asserting jurisdiction pursuant to “42 U.S.C. § 1983” (Docket Entry 2 at 1), Plaintiff initiated this action against the Court Services Bureau, Greensboro Detention Center, Legal Process Division, Greensboro Detention Infirmary (collectively, the “Jail Defendants”), Sheriff BJ Barnes (“Sheriff Barnes”), and Guilford County Sheriff's Office (collectively with Jail Defendants and Sheriff Barnes, the “Defendants”) (id. at 1-2). The Complaint's statement of claim states in its entirety:

On October 31, 2013[, Plaintiff] was arrested and falsely accused of the possess[ion] of marijuana with the intent to sell and drug paraphernalia. On that date[, Plaintiff] was finger printed and booked on these allegations. This imprisonment lasted five (5) months and ten (10) days. [Plaintiff] was denied a Speedy Due Process based upon the [i]ncompetence of the Court Services Bureau scheduling an Attorney who was not a Court-Appointed Attorney. By the time this error had been remedied and [Plaintiff's] case assigned to a current Court-Appointed Attorney with a calendar date, this duration of confinement continued. On February 4, 2014[, ] Court-Appointed Attorney, Michah Huggins met behind closed Quarts [sic] in a Superior Judge[']s chambers and all charges were dismissed. During this confinement[, Plaintiff] was housed in 3B6. This accommodation also was infected with a bacterial infection which [Plaintiff] became contaminated with. [Plaintiff] was given a[n] antibiotic cream and placed into isolation. Since coming in contact with this unknown bacteria [Plaintiff's] body has exacerbated into full multiple sclerosis.

(Id. at 2-3.) The Complaint further requests $10 million in punitive damages for Plaintiff's “[i]nvalid [i]ncarceration” (id. at 4).

         Plaintiff attached to the Court's “Pro se [Non-prisoner] Complaint Form” (id. at 1) the following documents: “Guilford County Court Information” (id. at 5-6), verifications of Plaintiff's charges for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and felony possession with intent to sell/distribute marijuana (id. at 7-9), [2] a one-page statement elaborating upon Plaintiff's claims and injuries (id. at 10), and several letters that Plaintiff wrote to various individuals regarding his underlying state-court criminal case and the appointment of counsel issue in that case (id. at 11-15). The undersigned Magistrate Judge has considered the Complaint in conjunction with each of these filings for purposes of this Section 1915(e)(2) review. See, e.g., Anderson v. Miller, Civ. Action No. 0:08-743, 2008 WL 5100845, at *1 n.2, *4 (D.S.C. Dec. 2, 2008) (construing the plaintiff's pro se complaint and attached documents together when deciding whether the action failed to state a claim for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)).

         DISCUSSION

         Construed liberally, Plaintiff's filings appear to raise three Section 1983 claims: (i) “Speedy Due Process” violation (i.e., delay in receiving a court-appointed attorney), (ii) false arrest, and (iii) “bacterial infection.” (Docket Entry 2 at 2-3.) However, for the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's claims qualify as frivolous against Jail Defendants and the Guilford County Sheriff's Office, and his filings fail to state a claim for relief against Sheriff Barnes.

         I. Jail Defendants and the Guilford County Sheriff's Office

         As an initial matter, Jail Defendants consist of various divisions within the Guilford County Sheriff's Office. (See Guilford County Sheriff's Office, Court Services Bureau, http://www.gcsonc.com/command/court-services-bureau (last visited Apr. 19, 2017) (stating that the Court Services Bureau operates the detention centers within the Guilford County Sheriff's Office); Guilford County Sheriff's Office, Detention Centers, http://www.gcsonc.com/detention-centers (last visited Apr. 19, 2017) (noting that the “Guilford County Sheriff's Office is responsible for the care and custody of inmates incarcerated at . . . [the] Greensboro Detention Center, ” including “[h]ealthcare [s]ervices”); Guilford County Sheriff's Office, Legal Process, http://www.gcsonc.com/legal-division (last visited Apr. 19, 2017) (stating that the “Guilford County Sheriff's Office Legal Process Division consists of the Warrant Squad, Civil Process Section and Records Section”). The Guilford County Sheriff's Office, however, does not qualify as a legal entity capable of being sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         “State law dictates whether a governmental agency has the capacity to be sued in federal court. Avery v. Burke, 660 F.2d 111, 113-14 (4th Cir. 1981). There is no North Carolina statute authorizing suit against a county's sheriff's department.” Efird v. Riley, 342 F.Supp.2d 413, 419-20 (M.D. N.C. 2004); see also Parker v. Bladen Cty., 583 F.Supp.2d 736, 740 (E.D. N.C. 2008) (dismissing Section 1983 claims against the Bladen County Sheriff's Department because it “lacks legal capacity to be sued, ” as no North Carolina “statute authoriz[es] suit against a North Carolina county's sheriff's department” (citing Efird, 342 F.Supp.2d at 420)). Therefore, the Guilford County Sheriff's Office and Jail Defendants - as various divisions within the Guilford County Sheriff's Office - “[are] not amenable to suit under § 1983.” Bettis v. Madison Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, No. 1:10-CV-69, 2012 WL 161250, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Jan. 19, 2012) (observing that the plaintiff “fail[ed] to present any authority indicating that the [county's sheriff's office] is an entity with the capacity to be sued”)); see also Landry v. North Carolina, No. 3:10-CV-585, 2011 WL 3682788, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Aug. 23, 2011) (dismissing claims against the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office because “[t]here is no statute in North Carolina that authorizes suit against a county's sheriff's department”); cf. Efird, 342 F.Supp.2d at 420 (concluding that “the sheriff, rather than the department or associated county, may be held liable for . . . violations within the department”).[3]

         Under these circumstances, Plaintiff's claims against Jail Defendants and the Guilford County Sheriff's Office fail in such obvious fashion as to qualify as frivolous. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

         II. ...


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