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Davis v. Lewis

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

March 26, 2018

STEPHANIE LEWIS, individually and in her official capacity as the Director of Brunswick County's Operation Services Department, BRYAN HOLLIS, individually and in his official capacity as the plaintiff's direct supervisor, ANN HARDY, individually and in her official capacity as County Manager for Brunswick County, North Carolina, and BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, Defendants.


          MALCOIM J. HOWARD, Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss all claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, [DE #20]. Plaintiff has responded, [DE #36], and defendants have replied, [DE #40] . This matter is ripe for adjudication.


         The complaint alleges the following facts. Plaintiff was a fifty-seven year old African-American male resident of the Town of Bolivia, Brunswick County, North Carolina, at all times relevant to the complaint. [DE #1 at ¶13]. Plaintiff alleges Defendants Lewis, Hollis, and Hardy were acting as supervisory personnel on behalf of Brunswick County Government's Operation Services Department ("the department"), and under color of state law. Id. at ¶37. Plaintiff alleges violations of his constitutional rights as well as violations of state law surrounding his being selected for drug testing, his subsequent termination and defendants' decision not to rehire him.

         Plaintiff began working with Brunswick County's ("the County") department as an Equipment Operator II in 1988. Id. at ¶ 29. Plaintiff worked with the County's department as an Equipment Operator II for the next eighteen years. Id. At all times relevant to the complaint, plaintiff's supervisors consistently rated his job performance as "meets or exceeds standards." Id. at ¶15. In fact, plaintiff received a 2% merit-based pay raise approximately two weeks before his termination. Id. at ¶¶15, 32.

         Several years prior to the events surrounding plaintiff's 2014 termination, on January 10, 2011, plaintiff was charged with Driving While Impaired ("DWI"), and as a result, he was demoted to a Maintenance Assistant I and had his salary cut by $3, 500.00. Id. at 40. In a meeting held on January 21, 2011, between Defendant Lewis and plaintiff, Defendant Lewis assured plaintiff that his Equipment Operator II position would remain open for thirty days, in order to provide plaintiff the opportunity to have his Commercial Driver's License ("CDL") reinstated.[1] Id. Eventually, plaintiff was found not guilty of the DWI; however, in a letter from Defendant Lewis dated March 2, 2011, nine days beyond the February 21, 2011 deadline imposed by Defendant Lewis for plaintiff to have his CDL reinstated, Defendant Lewis informed plaintiff he had advertised and hired a white male to fill plaintiff's position. Id. Defendant Lewis refused to restore plaintiff to his previous position or salary. Id.

         At some time between 2011 and 2014, plaintiff was reinstated to the position of Equipment Operator II, as that was the position he held when he was terminated. Id. at ¶14. On an unspecified date in 2014, plaintiff was tested for drug use. After plaintiff allegedly tested positive for a controlled substance, plaintiff was terminated on August 15, 2014, by Defendant Lewis, the department's director, for "... Failure in Job-Related Personal Conduct in accordance with Brunswick County Personnel Manual Section II, Policy No. 250, § 11.1.3, 'use or possession of illegal narcotics or habit forming drugs.'" Id. at ¶16. The County claimed plaintiff violated the aforementioned policy by allegedly "testing positive for an illegal substance." Id. Plaintiff alleges the County "relied exclusively on Mr. Davis' alleged positive' drug screening test as the sole basis for terminating [plaintiff's] employment." Id. at ¶17.

         Following plaintiff s termination, plaintiff applied for the position of Equipment Operator II with the department and was denied placement on the following four separate occasions: September 24, 2014; January 25, 2015; June 7, 2015; and finally on September 22, 2015. Id. at ¶33. Defendant Hollis, who had been plaintiff's supervisor, rejected all of plaintiff's applications for the open Equipment Operator II positions, and plaintiff was not given an interview for any of the four open Equipment Operator II positions for which he alleges he was highly qualified. Id. at ¶¶34 and 35. Eventually, Defendants Hollis and Lewis, with Defendant Hardy's approval, selected all white males to fill all four of the open Equipment Operator II positions, who were allegedly objectively less qualified than plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶32, 35, and 39.

         When plaintiff met with defendants concerning their refusal to hire him for any of the four open positions as Equipment Operator II, he was told that he had improperly filled out all four of his job applications. Id. at ¶38.

         On October 9, 2014, plaintiff met with Defendant Hardy, the County Manager, to discuss his occupational "blacklisting" by the department and their discriminatory employment practices. Id. at ¶41. During the October 9, 2014 meeting, Defendant Hardy reviewed plaintiff's personnel file and informed him that he was well qualified for an Equipment Operator II position and was eligible for rehire.[2] Id. at ¶42. However, plaintiff alleges Defendant Hardy failed to investigate or take any corrective measures in response to plaintiff's raising his concerns to her.


         I. Standard of Review

          A federal district court confronted with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should view the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). The intent of Rule 12(b) (6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b) (6) motion “'does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.'" Id. (quoting Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007) .

         "[A] complaint need not 'make a case' against a defendant or 'forecast evidence sufficient to prove an element' of the claim." Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 349 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides "for simplicity in pleading that intends to give little more than notice to the defendant of the plaintiff's claims and that defers until after discovery any challenge to those claims insofar as they rely on facts." Teachers' Ret. Sys. of La. v. Hunter, 477 F.3d 162, 170 (4th Cir. 2007) . A complaint is generally sufficient if its "'allegations are detailed and informative enough to enable the defendant to respond.'" Chao, 415 F.3d at 349 (quoting 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1215 at 193 (3d ed. 2004)) (citing Hodgson v. Virginia Baptist Hosp., Inc., 482 F.2d 821, 824 (4th Cir. 1973)). Thus, a complaint satisfies the Rules if it gives "fair notice" of the claim and "the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554-55 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

         II. 42 U.S.C. § 1981 Claim[3] and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim

         Section 1983 does not itself confer substantive rights upon a plaintiff. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144, n.3 (1979)). It only allows recovery for plaintiffs who are denied federal civil rights by someone "acting under the color of state law." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Therefore, the first step in a § 1983 action is to identify the underlying right at issue. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 394, aff'd by Cty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998).

         Plaintiff alleges violations of his rights under the First[4], Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

         A. Fourth Amendment Claim

         Plaintiff alleges his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated when he was subjected to a warrantless search, absent individualized suspicion, in the form of a drug test.

         The Fourth Amendment provides

[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no [w]arrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by [o]ath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. Const, amend. IV. A urine drug test is a search. Skinner v. Ry. Labor Execs. Ass'n, 489 U.S. 602, 617 (1989). Whether a search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment is determined by balancing the intrusion upon the individual's Fourth Amendment interests and a legitimate governmental interest. Id. at 619 (quoting Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654 (1979); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 574 (1976)).

         The reasonableness of a warrantless search, absent individualized suspicion, is determined by conducting the above balancing test and finding the privacy interests implicated by the search are minimal and the important governmental interest furthered by the intrusion upon the individual's privacy would be jeopardized by the requirement of individualized suspicion. Id. at 624.

         Plaintiff alleges he was selected for a drug test in violation of the Fourth Amendment, without justification and prior to establishing drug testing guidelines or procedural safeguards, while also alleging the department implemented a drug testing program that failed to comply with the North Carolina Controlled Substances Examination Regulation Act ("CSERA"). [DE #1 ¶58].

         Although defendants contend plaintiff is a commercial driver's license holder subject to regulations which allow for testing such employees randomly without individualized suspicion, defendants have failed to show how the County implemented these regulations and how such policies demonstrate the governmental interest required by the balancing test set forth above. Therefore, finding inadequate support for defendants' arguments in their brief, defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim is hereby DENIED.

         B. Fourteenth Amendment Claims

         Plaintiff alleges violations of his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process ...

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