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Mobley v. Foster

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 20, 2017

ANGELA C. FOSTER, 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 under “42 U.S.C. § 1983, ” Plaintiff initiated this action against eight defendants: (1) “Amanda Fields, Deputy County Attorney” (“Defendant Fields”), (2) “Banita Baker, Guilford Co. Dept. of Social Services” (“Defendant Baker”), (3) “Donna Michelle Wright, Attorney Advocate” (“Defendant Wright”), (4) “Carole Smith, Guardian ad Litem” (“Defendant Smith”), (5) “Angelique Hamlet, Guardian ad Litem Supervisor” (“Defendant Hamlet”), (6) “Robert Stone, Probation Officer” (“Defendant Stone, ” and collectively with Defendant Fields, Defendant Baker, Defendant Wright, Defendant Smith, and Defendant Hamlet, the “Trial Defendants”), (7) “Judge Angela C. Foster” (“Judge Foster, ” and collectively with Trial Defendants, the “State Defendants”), and (8) “Guilford County General Court of Justice.” (Docket Entry 2 at 1-2.) The Complaint's statement of claim section states in its entirety:

Due to my [f]alse [a]rrest on Oct. 31, 2013[, ] I was unable to appear in [the] General Court of Justice before [Judge Foster], Juvenile Session[, for] a hearing [on] Nov. 1, 2013[, in a] matter regarding my minor daughter R.R.S. This invalid incarceration and invalid [f]elony [p]robation [v]iolation gave credence [sic] that strip[ped] me of my daughter and my [p]arental [r]ights. The Juvenile Session used all measure of false allegations to defame and stigmatize me as an unfit father. The Juvenile Session assumed my guilt an[d] used it[s] merit [to] terminat[e] my Parental Right. My child was placed in foster care and adopted out as chattel. This disparaging action never acknowledged [that] all charges were dismissed [on] February 4, 2014.

(Id. at 2.) The Complaint further requests (1) the return of Plaintiff's child, (2) that “all defamation of [Plaintiff's] character [be] restored, ” and (3) $10 million in “[p]unitive [d]amages for the [t]ermination of [Plaintiff's] parental [r]ights.” (Id. at 3.)

         Plaintiff attached to the Complaint an “Order on Pretrial Hearing” (id. at 4-6 (the “Hearing Order”)) and the first page of an “Order Terminating Parental Rights” (id. at 7 (the “Termination Order, ” and collectively with the Hearing Order, the “Orders”)) entered in his underlying state-court parental rights case.[2] The Hearing Order indicates that the state court held a hearing on February 11, 2014, but did not take action on the parental rights termination petition; instead, the state court continued the case. (See id. at 4-5.) The Termination Order reflects that: (1) the Guilford County Department of Social Services moved to terminate Plaintiff's parental rights (id. at 7 (the “Motion to Terminate”)), (2) Trial Defendants, as well as Plaintiff and his attorney, appeared at an adjudicatory hearing on the Motion to Terminate during “the May 16, 2014 Juvenile Session of the Guilford County District Court, ” at which Defendant Baker testified (id.), and (3) the state court granted the Motion to Terminate (see id. (entitled an “Order Terminating Parental Rights”); accord id. at 2 (documenting that the juvenile session “terminat[ed] [Plaintiff's] [p]arental [r]ight”)).


         “Section 1983 provides a federal statutory remedy for deprivations of rights secured by the United States Constitution and federal statutes, ” Clear Sky Car Wash, LLC v. City of Chesapeake, Va., 910 F.Supp.2d 861, 888-89 (E.D. Va. 2012) (citing Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009)), and provides, in pertinent part, that

[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable[, ]

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, “[t]o state a claim for relief in an action brought under § 1983, [a litigant] must establish 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 ...

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