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Meredith v. Stein

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

May 2, 2018

JONATHAN R. MEREDITH Plaintiff,
v.
JOSHUA STEIN, Attorney General of the State of North Carolina, in his official capacity, BOB SCHURMEIER, Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, in his official capacity, and MICHAEL D. WATERS, District Attorney of Franklin County, North Carolina, in his official capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER

          TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss [DE 14] and motion to stay discovery and other pretrial proceedings. [DE 21]. The matters have been fully briefed and are ripe for ruling. A hearing was held before the undersigned in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on April 10, 2018. For the following reasons, both motions are denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jonathan Meredith was convicted in Washington State of "Communication with a Minor for Immoral Purposes" in 2004. He then moved to North Carolina. According to plaintiff, when establishing residency here, the Person County Sheriffs office informed him he did not need to register as a sex offender. The standard for whether an individual convicted of an out-of-state sex offense must register as a sex offender in North Carolina is whether the offense was substantially similar to an offense under North Carolina law that would require registration. N.C. G.S. § 14-208.6(4)(b)-(c). The determination is made by individual sheriffs deputies in the potential registrant's county of residency. That information is then provided to the SBI official who maintains the list of registrants. Registered sex offenders face significant restrictions in going about their daily lives. E.g., N.C. G.S. § 14-208.18(a)(3) (Those registered cannot go to libraries, arcades, amusement parks, recreation parks, and swimming pools). Failure to register when required to by law is a felony, and there is no procedure to challenge being required to register. N.C. G.S. § 14-208.11(a).

         Thirteen years after plaintiff moved to North Carolina, the Wake County Sheriffs office, where he now lived, informed him he did in fact need to register. After registering, plaintiff filed this lawsuit, claiming that the mechanism by which those convicted of out-of-state sex offenses are placed on the North Carolina registry violates his procedural due process rights. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. A few months later, plaintiff was removed from the sex offender registry. Defendants have now moved to dismiss plaintiffs complaint.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants have moved to dismiss on three grounds, pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1), (2) and (6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[1] They argue the case is moot, there is no personal jurisdiction over the defendants, and that plaintiff has failed to state a claim.

         I. Mootness

         Defendants have first moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that plaintiff lacks standing because the case is moot. Mootness and standing are related, yet distinct concepts. Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw, 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000). A case is moot when there is no longer a case or controversy to be resolved by the court. Already, LLC v. Nike, /«c, 568 U.S. 85, 91 (2013).

         Defendants argue that since plaintiff is no longer on the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry, the case has been mooted. But "voluntary cessation of a challenged practice does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice." City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289 (1982). If it did, a defendant could freely engage in unconstitutional activity, as long as he took temporary breaks whenever a lawsuit was filed. Id. at 289 n.10; Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 189. Because of this concern, a case is only mooted when "subsequent events ma[k]e it absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior [can] not reasonably be expected to recur." United States v. Concentrated Phosphate Export Assn., 393 U.S. 199, 203 (1968). A defendant claiming its voluntary action makes a case moot bears a "formidable burden" in demonstrating this. Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 189.

         According to defendants, this case is moot because plaintiff was removed from the registry. The removal happened after the instant suit was filed, and defendants have not explained why plaintiff was removed. They have provided nothing to indicate that plaintiff could not be required to register again in the future, either by the Sheriff of the county in which he currently resides or another county to which he could move in the future. For these reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss on the grounds of mootness is denied.

         II. Personal Jurisdiction

         Next, defendants have moved to dismiss on the grounds that plaintiff lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendants. A plaintiff bears the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that there is 12(b)(2) jurisdiction. Myla ...


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