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Crowder v. North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts

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

March 19, 2019

SHERRY CROWDER, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTH CAROLINA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, etal., Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES C. DEVER, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On May 29, 2018, Sherry Crowder ("Crowder" or "plaintiff') filed a complaint against the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts ("NCAOC"), Judge N. Hunt Gwyn ("Judge Gwyn"), Judge Christopher W. Bragg ("Judge Bragg"), J.R. Rowell ("Rowell"), and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"; collectively, "defendants"), alleging that defendants violated Title VH of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VH") [D.E. 1]. On July 25, 2018, the EEOC moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim [D.E. 14] and filed a memorandum in support [D.E. 15]. On August 15, 2018, Crowder responded in opposition [D.E. 18]. On August 22, 2018, the EEOC replied [D.E. 20]. On July 26, 2018, NCAOC, Judge Gwyn, Judge Bragg, and Rowell moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim [D.E. 16] and filed a memorandum in support [D.E. 17]. On August 16, 2018, Crowder responded in opposition [D.E. 19]. As explained below, the court grants the motions to dismiss.

         I.

         On January 1, 1993, Crowder became a magistrate in Judicial District 20-B. See Compl. [D.E. 1] ¶ 11. She served as a magistrate for six consecutive terms from 1993 until 2016. See id. In 2010, Judge Bragg, who was the Chief District Court Judge of Judicial District 20-B, appointed Crowder as Chief Magistrate. See id ¶ 12. In 2011, Judge Gwyn became the Chief District Court Judge of Judicial District 20-B and reappointed Crowder as Chief Magistrate. See Id. ¶ 13. On December 31, 2016, Crowder's term as Chief Magistrate ended. See id.

         On July 28, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that Virginia's marriage laws were unconstitutional to the extent that the laws "prevent[ed] same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit[ed] Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples' lawful out-of-state marriages." Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352, 384 (4th Cir. 2014). Federal district courts in North Carolina then applied that holding to North Carolina's marriage laws. See Fisher-Borne v. Smith. 14 F.Supp.3d 695, 697-98 (M.D. N.C. 2014); Gen. Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Resinger, 12 F.Supp.3d 790, 791-92 (W.D. N.C. 2014). Because North Carolina law empowers magistrates to perform marriages, on October 13 and 14, 2014, NCAOC issued guidance to magistrates concerning these decisions. See Compl. ¶¶ 16-18.

         In 2014, Gayle Myrick ("Myrick") was a magistrate in Union County. See Id. ¶ 19. When Myrick received NCAOC's guidance, she felt that compliance would violate her First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. See Id. ¶ 20. Thus, Myrick sought an accommodation from Judge Gwyn, her supervisor, to avoid participation as a magistrate in a same-sex marriage. See Id. ¶ 21. When Myrick did not receive any accommodation, she resigned. See Id. ¶¶ 21-22.

         Myrick then filed a charge with EEOC that alleged that the events leading to her resignation constituted religious discrimination in violation of federal law. See Id. ¶ 23. The EEOC determined that the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991 ("GERA"), not Title VJI, applied to Myrick and, following the procedures in GERA, appointed an Administrative Law Judge ("ALT') to adjudicate her claim. See Id. ¶ 24. After investigation, the ALT found that Judge Gwyn, Judge Bragg, and NCAOC discriminated against Myrick based on her religion, and the parties eventually resolved the matter. See id ¶¶ 25-28.

         Crowder testified as part of the ALJ's investigation into Myrick's religious discrimination claim. See Id. ¶ 30. Crowder did not believe that her testimony would jeopardize her renomination to a new term as Chief Magistrate. See Id. Crowder testified that, in her opinion, the Union County magistrates' office could have accommodated Myrick's request for an accommodation for at least a few months. See Id. ¶ 31. Crowder alleges that the ALT relied on Crowder's testimony to find that Judge Gwyn, Judge Bragg, and NCAOC had engaged in religious discrimination. See id.

         Crowder alleges that her testimony caused Judges Gwyn and Bragg to retaliate against her by not renominating her for a new term as Chief Magistrate. See Id. ¶ 33. Crowder alleges that, within a few weeks of her testimony, Judge Gwyn, Judge Bragg, and Rowell began to collect information concerning Crowder to justify their decision not to reappoint her to a new term. See Id. ¶ 34. For example, on September 30, 2016, Judge Gwyn met with law enforcement officers to gather information concerning Crowder. See Id. ¶ 36. Judge Gwyn, Judge Bragg, and Rowell allegedly learned of several complaints against Crowder. See Id. ¶¶ 35-37. Although the alleged conduct described in the complaints predated Crowder's testimony in the Myrick investigation, defendants did not address the complaints before December 15, 2016. See Id. ¶ 35.

         On December 15, 2016, Judge Gwyn, Judge Bragg, and Rowell informed Crowder that Rowell would not renominate her for a new term. See Id. ¶ 39. They did not explain the decision. See id. During Crowder's time as magistrate, all eligible magistrates who did not resign or retire had bee nrenominated. See Id. ¶ 40. Thus, Crowder had expected to serve a new term because she was 55-years-old and did not plan to retire. See Id. ¶¶ 41, 43. A 24-year-old white woman whose mother works with Rowell replaced Crowder. See Id. ¶ 42. Crowder is African-American. See Id. ¶ 43.

         On July 15, 2016, as part of the Myrick investigation, Judge Gwyn testified that Myrick, Crowder, and another magistrate came into his office and that either Myrick or the other magistrate stated that "in Union County there are some parts of those federal laws that we don't follow, quite like they do in other places." Id. ¶ 32. Judge Gwyn was surprised that magistrates under his supervision felt that way. See Id. On September 7, 2016, Judge Gwyn testified that this statement caused him concern over whether the magistrates under his supervision would disregard other controversial areas of federal law, such as the Fourth Amendment's probable cause requirement for search warrants. See Id. Judge Gwyn also could not remember if Crowder had chastised Myrick for not coming to her before seeking an accommodation. See Id. Crowder testified that she did not say that magistrates in Union County do not always follow federal law and that she personally would follow federal law to the best of her abilities. See id, Crowder did not remember anyone making that statement during the meeting with Judge Gwyn and also did not remember scolding Myrick for not coming to her before seeking an accommodation. See id.

         II.

         A.

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests subject-matter jurisdiction, which is the court's "statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (emphasis omitted); seeHolloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood. Inc.. 669 F.3d 448, 453 (4th Cir. 2012); Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ.,411 F.3d 474, 479-80 (4th Cir. 2005). A federal court "must determine that it has subject-matter jurisdiction over the case before it can pass on the merits of that case." Constantine, 41 lF.3d at 479-80. As the party invoking federal jurisdiction, Crowder bears the burden of establishing that this court has subject-matter jurisdiction in this action. See. e.g., Steel Co.. 523 U.S. at 104; Evans v. B.F. Pairing Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999); Richmond. Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. v. United States., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings. See, ...


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