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Baskins v. Mack

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 28, 2017

SIR WALTER MACK (Union Baptist Church), Defendant.


          Thomas D. Schroeder, United States District Judge

         This employment discrimination case is before the court on the motions of Sir Walter Mack, Jr., [1] and Union Baptist Church to dismiss the complaint, as amended, on various grounds. (Docs. 15, 16.) Plaintiff Eugene Baskins, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, has responded (Doc. 24), and Mack and Union Baptist Church have filed replies (Docs. 25, 26.) For the reasons set forth below, Baskins' claim for age discrimination against Mack in his individual capacity will be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. There remains a serious question as to the court's subject matter jurisdiction over Baskins' remaining claims. Because the deficiencies are subject to possible correction and to avoid the potential of piecemeal rulings, Baskins shall have twenty-one days within which to file either an amended complaint or the appropriate documentation to support the court's jurisdiction, or the amended complaint will be dismissed without prejudice. In the meantime, the court defers ruling on other grounds for dismissal raised.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 19, 2016, Baskins filed a complaint using the court's pro se form for a civil rights complaint. (Doc. 2.) He sued “Sir Walter Mack (Union Baptist Church)” in his or its individual and official capacities, alleging he was fired “based on age discrimination” and “on refusing to increase a key employee benefits” because he was “part-time.” (Doc. 2 at 4.) Baskins attached a copy of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) right-to-sue letter, dated September 30, 2016, and addressed to him. (Id. at 7.) The letter stated that the EEOC closed its file on EEOC charge no. 435-2015-00352 because “the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.” (Id.) However, the letter does not reference any of the relevant laws, conduct at issue, or any other information regarding the underlying charge.[2]Apart from attaching the right-to-sue letter to his complaint, Baskins made no reference to the EEOC charge.

         Baskins filed an amended complaint on March 15, 2017, naming Mack, Carles Boyd, and Monica Covington as Defendants in the caption, but naming only Mack in the body of the form complaint. (Doc. 5.) In his amended complaint, Baskins made no reference to the EEOC charge and failed to state against whom the charge was brought. Because Baskins proceeds as a pauper, the Magistrate Judge reviewed the complaint and authorized its filing as to “Sir Walter Mack (Union Baptist Church)” only, even though the court observed that “[a] substantial question remains about the legal sufficiency of the factual matter” alleged in it. Summons was issued on March 16, 2017, as to “Sir Walter Mack (Union Baptist Church)” (Doc. 8) and served that same date (Doc. 11).[3] This court adopted the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation to dismiss Boyd and Covington as Defendants. (Doc. 14.)

         The amended complaint, viewed in the light most favorable to Baskins, alleges that he worked as a custodian for Union Baptist Church from June 2011 until he was terminated on March 13, 2014.[4]Three days into his work he was told he would be paid $8.75 an hour, but “three months in the job” the “financial department” informed him that he would earn $7.25 an hour. (Doc. 5 at 2.) This was confirmed in July 2011. (Id.) Baskins refused to sign any documentation in July 2011 that confirmed his salary. (Id.)

         According to Baskins, he had more experience and qualifications than church employees Roger Martin (who was paid $10 an hour) and Jay Collins, but was paid less. (Id.) He also alleges that there “was a lot of intimidation, hostile work environment, and harassment in the workplace. The discrimination that they inflicted was from Ms. Monica Covington, Mr. Carles Boyd and Sir Walter Mack.” (Id.)

         On March 13, 2014, church officials gave Baskins “some papers to read saying that [he] would work according to what they wrote.” (Id. at 3.) Baskins did not agree with the papers and refused to sign a letter that was part of the papers. (Id.) Carles told Baskins that if he didn't sign the letter he would be fired. (Id.) Baskins took his paycheck and, as he proceeded to leave, was terminated. (Id.)

         Baskins alleges he is over 40 years of age and had over 40 years of experience. (Id. at 4.) He also alleges, “Yes they judged me by my age and less pay and comment on my age.” (Id.; Doc. 2 at 4 (“This case deals with an employee firing another employee based on age discrimination.”).) While Baskins failed to provide a legal or jurisdictional basis for his claims, his complaint may be liberally construed to allege a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (“ADEA”), and wrongful discharge in violation of North Carolina public policy, N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 143.422.1 to 143.422.3.

         Defendant Mack moves to dismiss the amended complaint on four grounds: (1) there is no individual liability under the ADEA or public policy exception for wrongful discharge under State law; (2) the amended complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6); (3) Baskins' claims are time-barred; and (4) this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claims. (Doc. 19.) Union Baptist Church, to the extent the amended complaint is construed to name it as a Defendant, moves to dismiss on similar grounds: (1) failure to state a claim; (2) failure to name a proper Defendant; (3) statute of limitations; and (4) lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 20.) Baskins has filed a three-page handwritten response; it does not address any of the arguments raised by Defendants but makes a reference to having “filed a (EPA) Equal Pay Act back pay” claim. (Doc. 24 at 3.) Mack and Union Baptist Church reply that Baskins should not be permitted to raise new facts and claims not alleged in his complaint. (Docs. 25, 26.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A court must consider its subject matter jurisdiction as a “threshold matter” prior to addressing the merits of the case. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998); Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 480 (4th Cir. 2005). “The plaintiff has the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a Div. of Standex Int'l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)). “When a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), ‘the district court is to regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.'” Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co., 945 F.2d at 768). “The district court should grant the Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss ‘only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.'” Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co., 945 F.2d at 768).

         “When reviewing a pro se complaint, federal courts should examine carefully the plaintiff's factual allegations, no matter how inartfully pleaded, to determine whether they could provide a basis for relief. In addition, in order to determine whether the claim of a pro se plaintiff can withstand a motion to dismiss, it is appropriate to look beyond the face of the complaint to allegations made in any additional materials filed by the plaintiff.” Armstrong v. Rolm A. Siemans Co., 129 F.3d 1258 (4th Cir. 1997) (per curiam) (citations omitted). However, the liberal construction of a pro se plaintiff's pleading does not require the court to ignore clear defects in pleading, Bustos v. Chamberlain, No. 3:09-1760-HMH-JRM, 2009 WL 2782238, at *2 (D.S.C. Aug. 27, 2009), or to “conjure up questions never squarely presented in the complaint, ” Brice v. Jenkins, 489 F.Supp.2d 538, 541 (E.D. Va. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Nor does it require that the court become an advocate for the unrepresented party. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         Mack and Union Baptist Church move to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because Baskins failed to cite a jurisdictional basis for his age discrimination claims. (Doc. 19 at 15-16; Doc. 20 at 12-13.) Federal question jurisdiction exists where an action arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Under the “well-pleaded complaint rule, ” a federal court may exercise federal jurisdiction “only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). The failure to reference a federal law in the complaint is not controlling. Club Comanche, Inc. v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 278 F.3d 250, 259 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing N. Am. Phillips Corp. v. Emery Air Freight Corp., 579 F.2d 229, 233 (2d Cir. 1978))); Davoodi v. Austin Indep. Sch. Dist., 755 F.3d 307, 310 (5th Cir. 2014) (holding that the attachment to the complaint of an EEOC charge alleging a federal claim gave rise to federal question jurisdiction (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c))). However, the plaintiff must set forth sufficient allegations to give rise to a federal ...

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