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Brown v. Wake County Government

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

July 12, 2017

CYNTHIA NARRELL BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
WAKE COUNTY GOVERNMENT, and JIM HARTMAN, County Manager Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES C. DEVER III Chief United States District Judge.

         On September 23, 2016, Cynthia Narrell Brown ("Brown" or "plaintiff'), a pro se plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis [D.E. 1, 3], filed a complaint against the Wake County Government ("Wake County") and County Manager Jim Hartman ("Hartman") (collectively, "defendants") claiming violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 ("Title VII") [D.E. 4]. On December 7, 2016, defendants moved to dismiss Brown's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim [D.E. 17] and filed a supporting memorandum [D.E. 18]. On December 8, 2016, the court notified Brown about the motion to dismiss, the consequences of failing to respond, and the response deadline [D.E. 19]. The letter was returned as undeliverable [D.E. 20], and Brown never responded. As explained below, the court grants defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I.

         In December 2000, Brown began working as a human services technician for Wake County. Compl. [D.E. 4] 4; [D.E. 17-2] 3. In 2011, Brown filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Wake County. Compl. at 3. On unspecified dates, unspecified persons defamed Brown, disciplined her with "unjust suspensions" and "write-ups, " treated her differently than Hispanic coworkers, and denied her educational opportunities granted to others. Id. at 4.[1] On or about September 21, 2015, Brown returned from leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654. Id. at 4-5. When Brown returned from FMLA leave, Safa Hamad, "WIC Program Manager, " fired Brown "for unacceptable conduct by demonstrating disrespectful treatment toward staff and unsatisfactory job performance for not following work rules." Id. at 5; [D.E. 17-2] 3. Brown "den[ies] both accusations and believe[s]" those reasons were pretextual and that defendants really fired her in retaliation for her 2011 EEOC charge. Compl. 5; [D.E. 17-2] 3.

         On March 18, 2016, the EEOC notified Wake County that Brown had filed a charge of discrimination against Wake County and that the EEOC would forward Brown's "perfected charge" when received. [D.E. 17-1]. On April 6, 2016, Brown filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, claiming retaliatory discharge and discrimination on the basis of color, race, religion, and national origin. [D.E. 17-2] 3. On April 21, 2016, the EEOC notified Wake County about Brown's April 6, 2016 EEOC charge and enclosed a copy of the charge. [D.E. 17-2].

         E.

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) tests subject-matter jurisdiction, which is "the court's statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (emphasis omitted); see Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood. Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 453 (4th Cir. 2012). "[T]he party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing its existence." Steel Co., 523 U.S. at 104; see, e.g., Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. See, e.g., Richmond. Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). However, if a defendant "contend[s] that a complaint simply fails to allege facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction can be based, " then "all the facts alleged in the complaint are assumed to be true and the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded the same procedural protection as he would receive under a Rule 12(b)(6) consideration." Adams v. Rain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982); see Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192-93 (4th Cir. 2009). Thus, "when a defendant asserts that the complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to support subject matter jurisdiction, " a court must "assume the trathfulness of the facts alleged" in the complaint and any attached materials. Kerns, 585 F.3d at 193; see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). Here, defendants dispute the factual basis for subject-matter jurisdiction.

         A district court has jurisdiction to consider an employee's Title VII claims only to the extent the employee included those claims in a timely EEOC charge. See, e.g., Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009); Webb v. N.C. Dep't of Crime Control & Pub. Safety. Alcohol Law Enft Div., 658 F.Supp.2d 700, 707-09 (E.D. N.C. 2009). "Even after a plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies, the administrative framework plays a substantial role in focusing the formal litigation it precedes." Chacko v. Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d 505, 509 (4th Cir. 2005). The EEOC charge's content determines the scope of a plaintiffs right to maintain a Title VII claim in court. See id; Hentosh v. Old Dominion Univ., 767 F.3d 413, 416 (4th Cir. 2014); Webb. 658 F.Supp.2d at 707-08. This court lacks jurisdiction over Title VII claims that exceed the scope of the EEOC charge. See, e.g., Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Indus., Inc., 711 F.3d 401, 407-09 (4th Cir. 2013); Jones, 551 F.3d at 300; Chacko, 429 F.3d at 509-10.

         "Only those discrimination claims stated in the initial charge, those reasonably related to the original complaint, and those developed by reasonable investigation of the original complaint may be maintained in a subsequent Title VII lawsuit." Jones, 551 F.3d at 300 (quotation omitted); see Sydnor v. Fairfax cty.., Va., 681 F.3d 591, 594 (4th Cir. 2012); Chacko, 429 F.3d at 509-10. "Thus, factual allegations made in formal litigation must correspond to those set forth in the administrative charge." Bonds v. Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 379 (4th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). For example, "a claim in formal litigation will generally be barred if the EEOC charge alleges discrimination on one basis, such as race, and the formal litigation claim alleges discrimination on a separate basis, such as sex." Jones, 551 F.3d at 300; see Chacko, 429 F.3d at 509-10. Nonetheless, because laypersons often initiate the EEOC administrative process, courts construe EEOC charges liberally, See Sydnor, 681 F.3d at 594; Chacko, 429 F.3d at 509.

         Brown filed an EEOC charge at some time before the EEOC sent Wake County the March 18, 2016 letter, although the EEOC charge stated that it was not a "perfected charge." Defendants concede they do not know any distinction between a perfected EEOC charge and an unperfected EEOC charge. Defendants also concede that Brown filed an EEOC charge, although not a "perfected" charge, before March 18, 2016, which was 179 days after Wake County terminated Brown's employment.

         The record does not include what claims Brown included in her unperfected EEOC charge. The April 21, 2016 EEOC charge included Brown's claims for retaliatory discharge and discrimination, but not her hostile work environment claim. Because the record is unclear concerning Brown's unperfected EEOC charge, the court declines to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on untimely filing. Thus, the court denies defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         III.

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the complaint's legal and factual sufficiency. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-80, 684 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-63 (2007); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). To withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a pleading "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation omitted); see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302. In considering the motion, the court must construe the facts and reasonable inferences "in the light most favorable to the [nonmoving party]." Massey v. Qjaniit 759 F.3d 343, 347, 352-53 (4th Cir. 2014) (quotation omitted); see Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013). A court need not accept as true a complaint's legal conclusions, "unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302 (quotation omitted); see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. Rather, a plaintiffs allegations must "nudge[ ] [her] claims, " Twombly. 550 U.S. at 570, beyond the realm of "mere possibility" into "plausib[iliry]." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court considers the pleadings and any materials "attached or incorporated into the complaint." E.I, du Pont de Nemours & Co., 637 F.3d at 448; see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c); Thompson v. Greene,427 F.3d 263, 268 (4th Cir. 2005); accord Erickson v. Pardus.551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam). A court also may take judicial notice of public records without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Fed.R.Evid. 201(d); Tellabs. Inc. v. Makor ...


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