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Hemingway v. Columbus County Sheriff's Office

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

March 20, 2018

DAVID KADEEM HEMINGWAY, Plaintiff,
v.
COLUMBUS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; RENE TREVINO, detective; and LEWIS HATCHER, sheriff, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on defendants' motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (DE 13, DE 18). The issues raised have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the court grants defendants' motions.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         On October 21, 2016, plaintiff, a pretrial detainee incarcerated in Columbus County detention center during the relevant period, filed this civil rights action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting claims based on “Laws involving: Miranda, false imprisonment, detainment and arrest, fraudulent evidence.” (Complaint (DE 1) at 5). Additionally, plaintiff appears to be asserting violations of his right to a speedy trial and right to face his accuser. (See id.; DE 25). On May 17, 2017, the court completed its frivolity review and ordered that the case proceed. (DE 8). On June 15, 2017, defendant Columbus County Sheriff's Office (“Sheriff's Office”) filed the instant motion to dismiss, arguing the Sheriff's Office is not an entity capable of being sued. On June 19, 2017, all defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that defendants cannot be liable for the claims asserted by plaintiff and that plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine established by Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) (“Younger doctrine”). Plaintiff filed a response to defendants' motions on July 3, 2017, to which all defendants replied on July 6, 2017.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

         The relevant facts alleged in the complaint are as follows. In June 2013, plaintiff was arrested by the Fair Bluff Police Department pursuant to an arrest warrant on charges of “burglary, safe cracking, possession [of a] firearm, [possession of a] firearm by a felon[], conspiracy, [and] larceny.” (Complaint (DE 1) at 6). Plaintiff disputes these charges and the “false imprisonment” he has been subject to following his arrest. (Id.). Plaintiff additionally appears to allege that his right to a speedy trial and right to face his accuser has been violated in that the victims have been subpoenaed six times and have been a “no show, ” and plaintiff's case has been ongoing for 16 months. (Id. at 6-7; DE 25 at 2). Plaintiff further alleges defendant Rene Trevino (“Trevino”) was involved in fabricating evidence or lied to plaintiff concerning said evidence. (Complaint (DE 1) at 7; DE 25 at 2). Plaintiff alleges that he has been “wrongfully arrested for a crime [he] did not do [and] lost time from [his] family because of this situation more than 23 months altogether now, ” and additionally submits complaints concerning the amount of bail that has been set. (DE 25 at 2).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) determines only whether a claim is stated; “it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). A claim is stated if the complaint contains “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) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In evaluating whether a claim is stated, “[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” but does not consider “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). In other words, this plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to articulate facts, that, when accepted as true, demonstrate that the plaintiff has stated a claim that makes it plausible he is entitled to relief. See Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         B. Analysis

         1. Claims Against Defendant Sheriff's Office

         Defendant Sheriff's Office is not a legal entity capable of being sued. State law determines whether a state governmental agency has the capacity to be sued. Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(3) (“Capacity to sue or be sued is determined . . . by the law of the state where the court is located.”). In the instant case, there is no North Carolina statute authorizing suits against sheriff's departments. Cf. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 58-76-5 (authorizing suits against sheriffs). This court has repeatedly found that sheriff's departments lack capacity to be sued in North Carolina. See, e.g., Dillon v. Mills, No. 4:16-CV-00003-FL, 2016 WL 3102015, at *2 (E.D. N.C. June 2, 2016) (citing Parker v. Bladen County, 583 F.Supp.2d 736 (E.D. N.C. 2008)) (“District courts in North Carolina have found that sheriff departments do not have capacity to be sued.”); McCallister v. Lee, No. 7:13-CV-154-FL, 2014 WL 3700337, at *1 (E.D. N.C. July 24, 2014), aff'd, 585 F. App'x 56 (4th Cir. 2014) (“Under North Carolina law, [the Onslow County Sheriff's Department] is not an independent legal entity with the capacity to sue and be sued.”).

         Defendant Sheriff Office lacks the capacity to be sued under North Carolina law, and therefore defendant Sheriff Office's motion to dismiss is granted, and plaintiff's ...


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