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Doe v. Wake County

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 2, 2019

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
WAKE COUNTY, ET AL., Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 5 September 2018.

          Appeal by Plaintiff from judgment entered 14 July 2017 by Judge R. Allen Baddour in Wake County Nos. 16 CVS 15483, 17 CVS 3821 Superior Court.

          John Locke Milholland IV, Attorney at Law PLLC, by J. Locke Milholland IV, for plaintiff-appellant.

          Deputy County Attorney Roger A. Askew, Senior Assistant County Attorney Mary Boyce Wells and Assistant County Attorney Brian K. Kettmer, for defendants-appellees Wake County, et al.

          MURPHY, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Jane Doe, brought claims against Wake County, Wake County Health Services ("WCHS"), and a number of individual WCHS employees for failing to take action to protect her from a dangerous and abusive household. The Wake County Superior Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims under North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), (4), (5), (6), the statute of limitations, and the prior pending action doctrine. After careful review, we affirm the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiff's claims.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in Wake County in 1996 to a mother who had previously been reported to WCHS for neglecting her first-born child. At birth, Plaintiff tested positive for cocaine, and her mother admitted to using cocaine during her pregnancy. Throughout Plaintiff's youth, WCHS received and investigated at least eight reports indicating her household was a potentially dangerous environment for a child. WCHS investigated the reports and, at various times, referred Plaintiff's mother for counseling, examined Plaintiff for signs of abuse, and provided in-home services to Plaintiff's family.[1]

         Plaintiff sued WCHS and its employees-identified as "John Doe 1, John Doe 2, . . . John Doe N"-in tort and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failing to remove her from the care of her mother at eight different points in time. In response, Defendants asserted a number of affirmative defenses and moved to dismiss the complaint on various grounds. Plaintiff moved for leave to amend her complaint to add parties and three days later filed a second complaint, which named Wake County, WCHS, and a number of WCHS employees in both their individual and official capacities. Defendants moved to dismiss this second complaint on the same grounds as the first and also raised the prior pending action doctrine. The trial court dismissed both of Plaintiff's complaints and denied her motion for leave to amend as futile. Plaintiff appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         "We review a trial court's decision to dismiss a complaint de novo." Robert K. Ward Living Trust ex rel. Schulz v. Peck, 229 N.C.App. 550, 552, 748 S.E.2d 606, 608 (2013). "Under a de novo review, the court considers the matter anew and freely substitutes its own judgment for that of the lower tribunal." Craig v. New Hanover Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 363 N.C. 334, 337, 678 S.E.2d 351, 354 (2009) (internal quotations omitted). The trial court dismissed Plaintiff's claims "pursuant to North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), [(4), (5), and (6)], the statute of limitations, and the prior pending action doctrine," but did not delineate which claims were being dismissed on which grounds. Nevertheless, we affirm both of the trial court's dismissal orders.

         A. 16 CVS 15483

         In her first complaint, Plaintiff alleged forty causes of action: thirty-two tort claims against Wake County, WCHS, and their employees (both in their official and individual capacities), and eight claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging constitutional violations. Additionally, Plaintiff moved to amend her complaint and the trial court denied her motion. In subsections 1 and 2 below, we address Plaintiff's tort claims. In subsections 3 and 4, we analyze her federal claims and motion to amend, respectively. In all four subsections, we affirm the trial court's decisions.

         1.Tort Claims against Wake County, WCHS, and Employees in ...


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