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Mobley v. Guilford Co. Probation

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 20, 2017

GUILFORD CO. PROBATION, et al., Defendants.


          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.


         “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 . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         As to the first of these grounds, “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.

         As to the second ground, 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]

         The third ground for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) generally applies to situations in which doctrines established by the United States Constitution or at common law immunize governments and/or government personnel from liability for damages. See, e.g., Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984) (discussing sovereign immunity of states and state officials under the Eleventh Amendment); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967) (describing interrelationship between 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and common-law immunity doctrines); cf. Allen v. Burke, 690 F.2d 376, 379 (4th Cir. 1982) (noting that, even where “damages are theoretically available under [certain] statutes . . ., in some cases, immunity doctrines and special defenses, available only to public officials, preclude or severely limit the damage remedy” (internal quotation marks omitted)).


         Asserting jurisdiction pursuant to “42 U.S.C. § 1983” (Docket Entry 2 at 1), Plaintiff initiated this action against three defendants: (1) “B. Henderson, Probation Officer” (“Officer Henderson”), (2) “R. Stone, Probation Officer” (“Officer Stone, ” and collectively with Officer Henderson, the “Officer Defendants”), and (3) “Guilford Co. Probation” (collectively with Officer Defendants, the “Defendants”) (id. at 1-2). The Complaint's statement of claim states in its entirety:

While being [i]nvalidly [i]ncarcerated and held in captivity since October 31, 2013 and it [was] discovered [that] there w[as] no due process in my [r]egards. On December 6, 2013 the Guilford Co. Probation Department issued a complaint for Felony Probation Violation dated 12-18-12 and [s]erved 1-8-13 for an offense 10-31-12 along with the [i]ncompetence of the Court Services Bureau these Probation offense[s] were to justify this lengthy confinement with no merit. These charges were also dismissed on February 4, 2014 by a Superior Court Judge in chambers.

(Id. at 2.) The Complaint further requests $10 million in punitive damages for Plaintiff's “Invalid Felony Probation Violation.” (Id. at 3.)[2]


         I. Guilford Co. Probation

         As an initial matter, Guilford Co. Probation does not qualify as a “person” subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In that regard, to state a claim for relief under Section 1983, Plaintiff must assert “that [he was] deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law.” American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999).[3] “Buildings and correctional institutions, like sheriff's departments and police departments, are not usually considered legal entities subject to suit.” Evans v. City of Sumter, S.C., Civ. Action No. 3:07-2688, 2008 WL 4177225, at *3 (D.S.C. Sept. 3, 2008) (concluding that “the [Sumter City Police Department] is not a ‘person' subject to suit under § 1983”). In other words, Plaintiff must raise his Section 1983 claims “against a ‘person'” capable of committing a violation of his constitutional rights. Conley v. Ryan, 92 F.Supp.3d 502, 519 (S.D. W.Va. 2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Because Guilford Co. Probation does not qualify as a person amenable to suit under § 1983, the Court should dismiss any claims against Guilford Co. Probation with prejudice. See Anderson v. Dauphin ...

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