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Arora v. Daniels

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina

April 2, 2018

REUBEN DANIELS, JR., et. al, Defendants.


          Graham C. Mullen, United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon four Motions to Dismiss and a Motion to Strike Answer. The Motions are fully briefed and are ripe for decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Mr. Arora's Employment Before March 17, 2015

         According to the Complaint, Mr. Naresh Arora and Mrs. Sudha Arora (“Plaintiffs” or “the Aroras”) are originally from India. In 2014, Mr. Arora signed a one-year employment contract with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (“RCCC”) and began working as Chair of the Electronics Engineering Technology Program on August 11, 2014. Mrs. Arora was not employed by or a student enrolled at RCCC. Van Madray was Mr. Arora's direct supervisor at RCCC. Stephen M. Cathcart, [1] Nekita Eubanks, and Tina M. Haynes were employees of RCCC in the Human Resources Department during the relevant time period.

         Plaintiffs allege that in October 2014, Mr. Arora informed Madray in writing that he had been discriminated against by his peers and that Madray did not respond or attempt to address the situation. On January 8, 2015, Plaintiffs allege Madray changed Mr. Arora's course assignments in violation of RCCC policy in order to suit the needs of a white employee. In response, Mr. Arora filed a written discrimination complaint against Madray to Eubanks on January 12. After meeting with Mr. Arora on January 14, Eubanks stated that there was no merit to the discrimination complaint and did not provide any further response. Plaintiffs allege that Eubanks and Haynes then began to harass and discriminate against Mr. Arora by scheduling meetings without giving Mr. Arora time to prepare and setting them at times that conflicted with Mr. Arora's schedule.

         Plaintiffs also allege that Madray, Eubanks, and Haynes asked Mr. Arora to meet with them without providing him an agenda for the meeting in advance. Mr. Arora was allegedly asked to meet with them on January 9, 16, 20, and 29, and March 6, 2015, but he refused because he believed they were going to fire him.

         B. The March 17, 2015 Incident

         RCCC was closed from March 7 through March 15 for spring break. Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Arora notified Madray and Eubanks on March 16 that he would not come to work on March 16 and 17 due to sickness.

         Plaintiffs allege that after Mr. Arora was absent from work on March 16 and 17, 2015, Madray asked defendant-police officers Damian Josey, [2] Brett Wilhelm, [3] and Laura Smith (collectively, the “Officers”) to go to his house and check on his health. The Officers all were employed by the City of Kannapolis. Plaintiffs allege that this was a conspiracy between Madray and the Officers to kill Mr. Arora or otherwise deprive him of his liberty by having him civilly committed.

         The Officers went to the Aroras' apartment in Legacy Grand at Concord Apartments (“Legacy Apartments”). When Plaintiffs did not answer the door for the Officers, the Officers used flashlights to look in Plaintiffs' car and vandalized it in the process. The Officers also allegedly sexually harassed Mrs. Arora by “looking through open shutter windows of the apartment at night.” The Officers then obtained duplicate keys to Plaintiffs' apartment from Nancy Jenkins, the Legacy Apartments manager at the time, and entered the apartment. Mr. Arora locked himself in the bedroom, and the Officers told Mrs. Arora that they wanted to check on Mr. Arora because he had not come to work. When the Officers knocked on the bedroom door, Mr. Arora called 911, and the 911 operator confirmed that the Officers were there to check on him.

         The Officers then used the keys supplied by Jenkins to open the bedroom door, handcuffed Mr. Arora, and ordered him to lie face down. Josey allegedly used “racial slur words and f* word again and again” and told Mr. Arora he was under arrest. Josey began questioning Mr. Arora and Smith hit him in the leg repeatedly. Mr. Arora refused to respond to their questions. Smith and Wilhelm then began to search the entire apartment and questioned the Aroras about certain medicines or spices they found. Josey told Mr. Arora that if he did not answer the Officers' questions, he would have to go to the hospital. Josey and Wilhelm then called the 911 operator and told her that Mr. Arora was unconscious and needed an ambulance.

         Joseph Coyle and Karla Brown, Field Training Officers who worked for Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) of Cabarrus County then arrived at Plaintiffs' apartment with an ambulance, boarded Mr. Arora into the ambulance, and began driving him to the hospital. Inside the ambulance, Mr. Arora broke his silence and objected to the transport to the hospital. Coyle and Brown allegedly refused to let him out after repeated requests and prepared a report admitting that there was no emergency requiring Mr. Arora to be taken to the hospital.

         Once they arrived at Carolina Healthcare System NorthEast (“the Hospital”), Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Arora was guarded for at least half an hour by six security guards and Concord Police Officers, who did not allow him access to drinking water. Just after midnight, Dr. Melora T. Driver told Mr. Arora that she would have to run some diagnostic tests. Plaintiffs allege that the Officers and Coyle and Brown instructed Dr. Driver to manufacture a mental illness problem in order to send him to a mental institution. When Mr. Arora asked to leave, Dr. Driver released him.

         Cabarrus County EMS billed Plaintiffs $394.04 for the ambulance, which it attempted to collect multiple times. On May 30, 2016, notice was sent by Tonya Ligon of Cabarrus County EMS that if the bill remained unpaid the amount owed would be offset by Mr. Arora's state tax refund. On September 26, 2016, the North Carolina Department of Revenue sent Mr. Arora a letter stating that $380.45 had been paid to Cabarrus County EMS from the Aroras' state income tax withholding.

         C. Mr. Arora's Employment After March 17, 2015

         Plaintiffs allege that the March 17, 2015 incident caused traumatic shock and resulted in “grave, long lasting serious mental health and physical health problems.” As a result, Mr. Arora was forced to take sick leave for medical treatment. Although the Complaint is unclear on exactly which dates the letters were sent, Plaintiffs allege that Haynes and Eubanks sent three Written Warnings to Mr. Arora by mail and email between April 20 and 29, 2015 for failing to show up to work. (See Compl. at 14-15, 26-27)

         On April 29, 2015, Mr. Arora filed objections to the Written Warnings. On May 6, 2015, Mr. Arora applied for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). On May 8, 2015, Eubanks approved five weeks of FMLA leave, through June 12, 2015. On June 15, 2015, Mr. Arora requested an additional five weeks of leave. Haynes replied on June 25, 2015, stating that the request was denied because Mr. Arora had exhausted the entire twelve weeks of statutory leave. The letter from Haynes further stated that “With no additional leaves available to you, your employment ends effective immediately.”

         D. Mr. Arora's EEOC Charge

         Plaintiffs further allege that Mr. Arora filed or attempted to file charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Defendants Madray and RCCC several times and that these charges were improperly dismissed.

         First, Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Arora submitted an intake questionnaire to the EEOC on January 14, 2015, and was told that the alleged facts do not rise to the level that the EEOC would investigate. Second, on January 7, 2016, Mr. Arora filed a new EEOC intake questionnaire, and a charge of discrimination form was issued by the EEOC. On August 1, 2016, the EEOC sent a letter stating that the charge was dismissed because it was filed more than 180 days from the last alleged discriminatory action. The letter contained a notice of the 90-day period to file a lawsuit. Third, on November 7, 2016, Mr. Arora filed another EEOC charge. This charge was also dismissed as untimely on November 23, 2016 by the EEOC. Mr. Arora was notified of the dismissal through a letter sent by Reuben Daniels, Jr., Director of the Charlotte office of the EEOC. And fourth, Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Arora corrected the errors from previous forms and submitted an amended EEOC Form 5 on January 27, 2017.

         E. Plaintiffs' Complaint

         Plaintiffs filed this Complaint on March 17, 2017, alleging seven counts against Daniels, the EEOC, Madray, Cathcart, Eubanks, Haynes, Josey, RCCC, Jenkins, Legacy Apartments, Wilhelm, Smith, City of Kannapolis, Coyle, Brown, Ligon, County of Cabarrus, 911 Operators of Cabarrus County, County of Cabarrus, Driver, Carolina Healthcare System Northeast, and John/ Jane Does 1-100.

         Four groups of Defendants have filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), 12(b)(5), and 12(b)(6), as discussed below. Plaintiff has also filed a motion to strike portions of the answers filed by Defendants City of Kannapolis, Josey, Smith, Wilhelm, County of Cabarrus, and Tonya Ligon.


         When faced with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court must first determine whether the defendant is alleging a lack of jurisdiction based on the face of the Complaint or as a factual matter. Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). Different standards of review apply to the two scenarios. Id. “[W]hen a defendant asserts that the complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to support subject matter jurisdiction, the trial court must apply a standard patterned on Rule 12(b)(6) and assume the truthfulness of the facts alleged.” Id. at 193. But, “when the defendant challenges the veracity of the facts underpinning subject matter jurisdiction, the trial court may go beyond the complaint, conduct evidentiary proceedings, and resolve the disputed jurisdictional facts.” Id. Plaintiffs bear 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).

         With respect to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5) for insufficient service of process, “the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the validity of service pursuant to Rule 4.” O'Meara v. Waters, 464 F.Supp.2d 474, 476 (D. Md. 2006). This is because “[b]efore a federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant, the procedural requirement of service of summons must be satisfied.” Omni Capital Int'l, Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., Ltd., 484 U.S. 97, 104 (1987). “When there is actual notice, every technical violation of the rule or failure of strict compliance may not invalidate the service of process. But the rules are there to be followed, and plain requirements for the means of effecting service of process may not be ignored.” Armco, Inc. v. Penrod-Stauffer Bldg. Sys., Inc., 733 F.2d 1087, 1089 (4th Cir. 1984).

         When faced with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and . . . view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). The Court “assume[s] the[] veracity” of these factual allegations, and “determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). However, the court “need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. LLP, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must include within his complaint “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         Finally, the Fourth Circuit requires district courts to construe pro se complaints liberally to ensure that valid claims do not fail for lack of legal specificity. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Ensuring that form does not trump substance also requires courts to “look beyond the face of the complaint to allegations made in any additional materials filed by the plaintiff” to determine whether a pro se plaintiff can survive a motion to dismiss. Garrett v. Elko, 120 F.3d 261, * 1 (4th Cir. 1997) (per curiam table decision) (referencing Gordon, 574 F.2d at 1149-51). However, this liberal construction need not extend to outright advocacy for the pro se plaintiff. Gordon, 574 F.2d at 1151. Pro se plaintiffs, with the assistance of the district court's lenient eye, must still do more than a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Like plaintiffs who are represented by counsel, a pro se plaintiff must still “allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [the] claim.” Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003). In light of Twombly and Bass, conclusory statements with insufficient factual allegations, even when asserted by pro se plaintiffs, will simply not suffice.


         A) Motion to Dismiss: RCCC Defendants

         Defendants Madray, Cathcart, Eubanks, Haynes, and RCCC (collectively, the “RCCC Defendants”) jointly filed a partial motion to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(2). (Doc. No. 22).

         As an initial matter, Plaintiffs requested in their response that the Court strike this motion as procedurally improper and sanction the attorney representing the RCCC Defendants because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not provide for a “partial motion to dismiss.” Plaintiffs also allege that the filing of this motion amounts to wire fraud and mail fraud. The Court finds that this motion is properly before the Court and that no sanctions are warranted. By styling the motion as a “partial motion to dismiss, ” the RCCC Defendants are merely filing a motion to dismiss with respect to some of the claims contained in the Complaint. Further, the arguments contained in the partial motion to dismiss are in no way frivolous or an obstruction of justice.

         Accordingly, the Court denies this request to strike and for sanctions and turns to the merits of the partial motion to dismiss.

         1) Title VII Claim (Second Count)

         Although Plaintiffs do not identify it as a separate count, the Complaint in passing states under the Second Count that Mr. Arora's termination violated Title VII. (Compl., ¶ 123). The RCCC Defendants initially moved for the Court to dismiss this claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In their response, Plaintiffs stated that they “had not alleged Title VII claim.” (Doc. No. 28, at 4).

         Accordingly, to the extent that the Complaint contains an allegation of a violation of Title VII against the RCCC Defendants, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have abandoned the claim and it must therefore be dismissed.

         2) Employment-Related Procedural Due Process Claim (Second Count)

         The RCCC Defendants next move to dismiss the employment-related procedural due process claims filed against them under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         The Fourteenth Amendment, in relevant part, provides that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const. Amend. XIV, § 1. Congress, through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, created a private cause of action for individuals who have been deprived of their rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States to seek relief against state actors. In order to succeed on a § 1983 due process claim, a public employee must show (1) “that he has a constitutionally protected ‘liberty' or ‘property' interest, ” and (2) “that he has been ‘deprived' of that protected interest by some form of ‘state action.'” Stone v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 855 F.2d 167, 172 (4th Cir. 1988).

         Here, Plaintiffs appear to allege that Mr. Arora had a property interest in the RCCC Defendants following proper procedure with respect to the scheduling of meetings and the Written Warnings he received. Plaintiffs provide no legal authority supporting this claim as it pertains to the meeting requests and letters themselves, and the Court finds none. Thus, to the extent that the Complaint alleges a violation of procedural due process in the meetings and letters, such a claim must be dismissed. Plaintiffs also, however, allege a procedural due process claim with respect to the termination of Mr. Arora's employment with RCCC. This must be discussed in more depth.

         First, Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Arora had a property interest in his continued employment with RCCC. The Complaint alleges that Mr. Arora was a “Permanent (Covered) Civil Service Employee” who “could not be terminated without cause.” (Compl., at 2-3). Further, as alleged, the contract stated that Mr. Arora's position was for a one-year term which would not have expired until August 2015. Thus, assuming the allegations of the Complaint to be true, there is “no question” that Mr. Arora had a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued employment with RCCC, at least through the duration of his contracted term of employment. See Stone, 855 F.2d at 172.

         Plaintiffs also allege that Mr. Arora had a liberty interest that was violated by his termination. The Supreme Court has held that interests of liberty may be implicated where a charge is made against an employee “that might seriously damage his standing and associations in his community” or that might impose on an employee “a stigma or other disability that foreclose[s] his freedom to take advantage of other employment opportunities.” Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 573 (1972). However, Plaintiffs have not alleged any facts supporting such a deprivation arising from Mr. Arora's termination. Thus, as the Supreme Court stated in Roth, while some employment cases might implicate a liberty interest, “this is not such a case.” Id.

         Second, Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Arora was deprived of his property rights by state actors (the RCCC Defendants) without due process. The RCCC Defendants contend, however, that the fact that Mr. Arora received due process before his termination is clear from the face of the Complaint. The Complaint alleges that Madray, Eubanks, and Haynes attempted to meet with Mr. Arora on multiple occasions between January and March, 2015, and sent him three Written Warning letters during his period of ...

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