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Goulette v. Wilson

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

February 4, 2019

Arthur Jay Goulette, Plaintiff,
Dr. Vincent P. Wilson & Dr. Paula Smith, Defendants.


          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Arthur Jay Goulette, a state inmate[1] proceeding pro se, has brought claims against Defendants Dr. Vincent P. Wilson and Dr. Paula Smith under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is currently before the court on Smith's motion for judgment on the pleadings. D.E. 64. After reviewing the parties' submissions, the undersigned recommends that the district court deny Smith's motion without prejudice.

         I. Background

         In February 2017, Goulette filed a motion for preliminary injunction, raising concerns about his medical care. D.E. 1. In response to a deficiency order, Goulette later filed a form complaint, and then sought to amend his complaint several times after that. D.E. 4, 5, 11, 16, 17. Several months later the court denied Goulette's motion for a preliminary injunction, dismissed several parties and claims from the action, and directed Goulette to file a single amended complaint. D.E. 23.

         Goulette filed an amended complaint as directed. D.E. 25. In general, Goulette's amended complaint alleges that defendants neglected his back and neck pain from 2012 until 2017. Am. Compl. at 6-7, D.E. 25. In October 2017, the court conducted a thorough frivolity review and dismissed all of Goulette's claims, except for his allegations that Wilson and Smith were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. D.E. 28 at 8.

         Although the court allowed Goulette's claims against Wilson and Smith to proceed, it questioned whether Goulette exhausted his administrative remedies. Id. Accordingly, the court invited the defendants to raise failure to exhaust as an affirmative defense. Id.

         Wilson moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim in February 2018. D.E. 37. The court denied Wilson's motion to dismiss, again reiterating that Goulette plausibly alleged deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Order at 4, D.E. 56.[2] The order also granted Goulette leave to supplement his existing claims, see D.E. 55, but denied leave to raise any additional causes of action. Id. at 4-6.

         In June 2018, Smith filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and answer, arguing that Goulette's claims are time-barred. D.E. 64. After Goulette responded, the court referred the motion to the undersigned for entry of a memorandum and recommendation.

         II. Discussion

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to move for judgment on the pleadings “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A Rule 12(c) motion is designed to dispose of cases when the material facts are not in dispute. Thus, the court can decide the case on its merits by considering the pleadings along with any materials referenced in and attached to the pleadings. See Id. 10(c), 12(c). In addition, a court may consider “documents incorporated into the [pleadings] by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); see Thompson v. Greene, 427 F.3d 263, 268 (4th Cir. 2005); Fayetteville Inv'rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991).

         The same standard of review applied to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) also applies to a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). See Burbach Broad. Co. of Del. v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002). In analyzing a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, a court must determine whether the complaint is legally and factually sufficient. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-80 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563-70 (2007); Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd, 132 S.Ct. 1327 (2012); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008); Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam). The court will accept the complaint's factual allegations as true, but will not accept the complaint's legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-80; Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302. Similarly, a court “need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302 (quotation omitted). Lastly, while the court liberally construes pro se complaints, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), it does not act as the inmate's advocate, and will not develop statutory and constitutional claims the inmate failed to raise on the face of his complaint. See Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         Smith argues that Goulette's claims against her are time barred. She asserts that his injuries were the result of a slip and fall that occurred in August 2012 and that Goulette did not file his complaint until February 2017. Def. Mem. at 2, D.E. 63.

         There is no federal statute of limitations for actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Instead, the analogous state statute of limitations applies. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007). The state statute of limitations for personal injury actions governs claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Id. North Carolina has a three-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-52(5); see Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 181 (4th Cir. 1996). Although federal courts borrow the state limitations period for § 1983 claims, the time a claim accrues is a question of federal law. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388; Brooks, 85 F.3d at 181. A claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action. Owens v. Baltimore City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 389 (4th Cir. 2014). Finally, “[w]hen a state statute [of limitations] is borrowed . . . the federal court will also borrow the state rules on tolling.” Shook ex rel Shook v. Gaston Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 882 F.2d 119, 121 (4th Cir. 1989); see Bd. of Regents v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478, 483-85 (1980); Bonneau v. Centennial Sch. Dist. No. 28J, 666 F.3d 577, 580 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Smith's motion should be denied. The court disagrees with Smith's assessment of Goulette's claim. His claim is not just that he suffered an injury from an August 2012 slip and fall. Rather, Goulette claims Smith engaged in an ongoing pattern of deliberate indifference by failing to treat serious injuries that arose from that accident. See Am. Compl. at 6-7, D.E. ...

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