United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
RAY C. BIGGS, Plaintiff,
NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY and ERIK A. HOOKS, in His official capacity as Secretary for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Defendants.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on defendants' motion to
dismiss. [DE 20]. Plaintiff has responded, defendant has
replied, and the matter is ripe for ruling. A hearing was
held before the undersigned on January 4, 2018 at Raleigh,
North Carolina. For the following reasons, defendants'
motion to dismiss is denied.
Ray C. Biggs, has been employed by the Department of Public
Safety ("DPS") and its predecessor, the Department
of Corrections, since 1991. He began as a correctional
officer before being promoted to correctional sergeant and
then correctional lieutenant. In 2012, he was promoted to
correctional captain at Bertie Correctional Institution. As
captain, plaintiff served as the officer-in-charge at Bertie
Correctional and was responsible for overseeing its normal
operation. Bertie Correctional was understaffed.
demoted later that year, disciplined after an altercation
between inmates and staff. When resolving the altercation,
Biggs sought a written statement from certain inmates who
claimed correctional officers had assaulted them. After being
searched, the inmates were handcuffed and escorted across a
hallway in order to write the statements. So that they could
write, they were handcuffed in front, instead of the back.
Three months later, DPS demoted Biggs from correctional
captain to correctional officer, finding that by handcuffing
the inmates as he did, he violated DPS policy.
then filed an internal grievance challenging the demotion,
which was upheld on February 14, 2013. Plaintiff learned no
other staff were disciplined, including white prison staff
who had also been found to violate the policy. On March 15,
2013, plaintiff filed a petition with the Office of
Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), arguing DPS lacked
just cause to demote him. After a hearing, the OAH affirmed
the demotion on July 11, 2014, finding there was just cause.
Plaintiff then filed the instant suit against DPS and its
Secretary, Erik Hooks, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981. Plaintiff alleges he was disciplined because he
is black. Defendants have now moved to dismiss plaintiffs
move to dismiss on the following bases: statute of
limitations, collateral estoppel, Eleventh Amendment and
common law sovereign immunity, and failure to state a
Statute of Limitations
first move to dismiss plaintiffs claims on the grounds that
they were brought after the statute of limitations period had
expired. There are two separate statute of limitations
questions. The first is what period applies; the second is
when that period began to run.
established a four-year statute of limitations when a cause
of action is pursuant to a civil rights statute enacted or
amended after December 1, 1990. 28 U.S.C. § 1658. Causes
of action that existed prior to that deadline retained the
catchall statute of limitations from state tort law, which in
North Carolina is three years. Goodman v. Lukens Steel
Co., 482 U.S. 656, 660-62 (1987); N.C. Gen. Stat.
§l-52(s). The Civil Rights Act of 1991 modified §
1981, but not § 1983. This means § 1981 actions
have a four year statute of limitations, but § 1983
actions only have three years.
has brought his suit against public defendants-the North
Carolina DPS and its secretary, Erik Hooks, in his official
capacity. § 1981 was amended in 1991 to outlaw racial
harassment related to the conditions of employment,
overruling Patterson v. McLean Credit Union. 42
U.S.C. § 1981(b); 491 U.S. 164, 171 (1989). When suing
state actors for violating § 1981, the remedy is through
§ 1983. Dennis v. Cnty. Of Fairfax, 55 F.3d
151, 156 (4th Cir. 1995); Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch.
Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 733 (1989). This is not permissive;
it is mandatory.
that does not change the character of the actual claim at
issue. § 1983 may be the mechanism, but § 1981
creates the underlying substantive right. Without §
1981, a plaintiff situated as here would have no case.
Therefore, the claim here arises under § 1981, which was
modified after the 1990 deadline. The four-year statute of
next question is when that period began to toll. Defendants,
in their motion, argue that it began at the time of plaintiff
s actual demotion, which occurred on November 26, 2012. A
cause of action accrues, when a plaintiff "possesses
sufficient facts about the harm done to him that reasonable
inquiry will reveal his cause ...