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Jones v. Cathey

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

September 23, 2019

CASEY L. JONES, a/k/a STEPHANIE HESS, and TODD M. HESS, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNION COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, EDDIE CATHEY, in his official capacity and capacity as Sheriff of Union County, North Carolina, STEPHEN EASON, in his individual capacity and capacity as an employee of the United County Sheriff's Office, MENDEL MILES, in his individual capacity and capacity as an employee of the Union County Sheriff's Office, JOHN JULIAN ALDRIDGE, in his individual capacity and capacity as an employee of the Union County Sheriff's Office, JOHN DOES 1-4, in their individual capacities and capacities as employees of the Union County Sheriff's Office, DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE OF UNION COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, TREY ROBISON, in his individual capacity and capacity as District Attorney of Union County, North Carolina, and KERRI FREDHEIM, in her individual capacity and capacity as Assistant District Attorney of Union County, North Carolina Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION

          DAVID C. KEESLER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on the “Motion To Dismiss By Defendants Cathey, Eason, Miles, Aldridge, And Union County Sheriff's Office” (Document No. 5); and the “Motion To Dismiss On Behalf Of Defendants Robison, Fredheim, And District Attorney's Office Of Union County, North Carolina” (Document No. 9). These motions have been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b), and are now ripe for disposition. Having carefully considered the arguments, the record, and the applicable authority, the undersigned will respectfully recommend that the motions be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual

         Defendants have provided thorough summaries of Plaintiffs' factual allegations as set forth in the “Complaint” (Document No. 1). See (Document No. 6, pp. 2-6 and Document No. 10, pp. 2-10) (citing Document No. 1, pp. 7-33). It does not appear that Plaintiffs object to Defendants' summaries of the facts. (Document Nos. 12 and 13). As such, the undersigned will largely incorporate those summaries below.

         Plaintiff Casey L. Jones (“Jones”), also known as Stephanie Hess, was designated as male at birth; however, the male gender designation assigned to her at birth does not conform to her female gender identity. (Document 1, ¶ 19). In October 2015, Jones was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, a medical condition where the person's gender identity does not conform to their anatomical sex at birth. (Document 1, ¶¶ 20-21). Gender Dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder is recognized as a serious medical condition by the American Psychiatric Association in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Document No. 1, ¶ 21). Jones treats her Gender Dysphoria with prescribed estrogen therapy and by living full time as a member of the gender corresponding with her gender identity, a treatment known as the “real-life experience.” (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 27, 36). Jones has altered her physical appearance to conform to her female gender identity by growing her hair long and dressing in feminine clothing. (Document No. 1, ¶ 38). Jones also elected to undergo an orchiectomy in November 2015. (Document No. 1, ¶ 37).

         In 2016, Jones lived in South Carolina. (Document No. 1, ¶ 42). Jones petitioned the South Carolina Ninth Judicial Circuit Family Court for an order granting her a gender change from male to female, which the court granted. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 42-43). Jones then had her South Carolina driver's license and her Oklahoma birth certificate “changed to indicate she is female.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 44).

         Jones and Plaintiff Todd M. Hess (“Hess”) (together “Plaintiffs”) were legally married on August 16, 2017. (Document No. 1, ¶ 40). Plaintiffs' marriage license lists Stephanie Hess as a female. (Document No. 1, ¶ 41).

         Jones has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder and has drug and alcohol addictions. (Document No. 1, ¶ 46). When Jones becomes inebriated due to her alcohol addiction, she can become out of control. (Document No. 1, ¶ 47). In November 2017, Jones “called 911 to report herself” and was arrested for possession of “what was believed to be four pills of ecstasy.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 52).

         Jones had been involuntarily committed five times for treatment. (Document No. 1, ¶ 50). On January 29, 2018, Plaintiff Jones was admitted to a treatment center in Florida where she remained until March 14, 2018. (Document No. 1, ¶ 54).

         On March 15, 2018, Jones returned to North Carolina to the residence she shares with Plaintiff Hess. Jones planned to enter treatment at Dove's Nest, but there was not a bed available for her until March 19, 2018.[1] Jones moved her Dove's Nest admission date to March 20, 2018, in order to have some dental work performed on March 19, 2018. (Document No. 1, ¶ 56)

         During the evening of March 19, 2018, Jones acquired alcohol and drank it until she became inebriated. (Document No. 1, ¶ 57). Jones then called 911 on Hess. Id. Union County Sheriff's Deputies arrived at Plaintiffs' residence where they recognized that Jones was inebriated while Hess was not, “which was the way these calls would routinely play themselves out.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 58). Deputies had been out to Plaintiffs' residence on “at least ten, if not more occasions, over the course of the past year, and they always found that Plaintiff Jones was in an inebriated state . . . Jones would routinely make the calls to 911 while in her drunken state.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 102).

         On March 19, 2018, the deputies allegedly advised Hess that they could not do anything and that his only option was to go to a Union County magistrate and seek an Order to involuntarily commit Plaintiff Jones. (Document No. 1, ¶ 59). Hess told the deputies that Jones was scheduled to go into treatment the next morning so he would not go to the magistrate that evening. (Document No. 1, ¶ 60).

         The next morning, March 20, 2018, Jones woke up early and began to drink heavily. (Document No. 1, ¶ 61). Jones told Hess that she did not intend to go to Dove's Nest that morning. Id. Hess told her that if she did not go to Dove's Nest he had no other choice but to have her involuntarily committed. (Document No. 1, ¶ 62). In response, Jones took one of Plaintiffs' cars and fled from the residence. (Document No. 1, ¶ 63).

         Hess then went to a Union County magistrate who issued an Order to have Jones involuntarily committed. (Document No. 1, ¶ 64). When Hess returned from the magistrate, a sheriff's deputy and Defendants Doe 3 and 4 were waiting at Plaintiffs' residence. (Document No. 1, ¶ 65). Hess approached the deputies assuming they were at the residence to involuntarily commit Plaintiff Jones into the local hospital pursuant to the magistrate's order. (Document No. 1, ¶ 66). Instead, the deputies told Hess that Jones had called 911 “as she regularly did whenever she became inebriated.” Id. The deputies did not know about the involuntarily commitment order. (Document No. 1, ¶ 67). As they were leaving Plaintiffs' residence, Defendant Doe 3 allegedly indicated, as he had regularly done in the past, that Jones was a male and not a female, to which Defendant Doe 4 allegedly agreed. (Document No. 1, ¶ 68).

         On March 21, 2018, Hess picked up Jones from the hospital where she was involuntarily committed. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 71-72, 74). Plaintiff Jones was to be admitted to Dove's Nest later that day. (Document No. 1, ¶ 73). On the way to Dove's Nest, Plaintiffs stopped by their residence in order for Jones to shower and pack items she would need while at Dove's Nest. (Document No. 1, ¶ 74). At Dove's Nest, the admissions coordinator determined Jones had alcohol on her breath and could not be admitted that day. (Document No. 1, ¶ 75). Instead, Jones was to return to Dove's Nest for admission the morning of March 23, 2018. (Document No. 1, ¶ 80).

         Plaintiffs returned to their residence that evening where Hess noticed that Jones was drinking alcohol. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 88-89). Hess reminded Jones that she could not be admitted to Dove's Nest if she had alcohol in her system. (Document No. 1, ¶ 91). At about 9:00 pm, Hess went to bed. (Document No. 1, ¶ 90). Later, Jones woke up Hess in a drunken rage and took Hess' cell phone. (Document No. 1, ¶ 92). Hess went downstairs to retrieve his cell phone from Jones believing that he may need to call 911. (Document No. 1, ¶ 93). As Hess tried to grab his cell phone from Jones's hand, Jones threw the cellphone to the floor causing the screen to break. (Document No. 1, ¶ 94). Hess immediately called 911 for assistance. (Document No. 1, ¶ 96).

         Defendant Eason and Defendants Does 1 and 2, all employees of the Union County Sheriff's office, arrived at Plaintiffs' residence. (Document No. 1, ¶ 97). Defendant Doe 2 remained outside with Plaintiff Hess while Defendants Eason and Doe 1 went inside Plaintiffs' residence to question Plaintiff Jones. (Document No. 1, ¶ 98). Defendants Eason and Doe 1 noticed red marks surrounding Jones's neck and asked her if Plaintiff Hess choked her; however, Jones does not recall her response to their question. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 99-100). Defendant Eason wrote in his report that Hess admitted to choking his wife, Jones. (Document No. 1, ¶ 120). Hess asserts that he did not choke or harm Jones the evening of March 22, 2018, and that he did not admit to doing so to Defendant Eason. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 101, 121).

         Defendant Eason then went outside to question Hess. (Document No. 1, ¶ 106). Hess tried to tell Defendant Eason that Jones suffers from alcohol addiction, that she had been involuntarily committed by a Union County Magistrate two days earlier, on March 20, 2018, and that she was scheduled to go to Dove's Nest for treatment the next morning. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 106, 108). Defendant Eason then told Hess that he was placing him and Plaintiff Jones under arrest. (Document No. 1, ¶ 109). Todd Hess was charged with “assault on a woman” in Union County File No. 18 CR 051508 and Casey Jones was charged with “simple assault” in Union County File No. 18 CR 051509. (Document No. 1, ¶ 113) (emphasis added). Plaintiffs assert that Defendant Eason did not have probable cause to arrest Hess for assault. (Document No. 1, ¶ 125).

         Defendant Eason transported Hess to the Union County Jail, while either Defendant Doe 1 or Defendant Doe 2 transported Jones to the jail. (Document No. 1, ¶ 114). Jones was taken inside the Union County Jail for processing first, while Hess remained in the back of a patrol car. (Document No. 1, ¶ 117). Defendant Eason exited the patrol car and went inside the jail. (Document No. 1, ¶ 118). When Defendant Eason returned to the patrol car, he exclaimed to Hess that Jones “has a penis.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 119).

         At the jail, Jones was placed in solitary confinement instead of being placed in the women's section of the jail. (Document No. 1, ¶ 31). Defendants Miles and Aldridge required Jones to be secluded from the other female inmates in one area of the jail. (Document No. 1, ¶ 147). Plaintiffs contend that placing Jones “in the woman's section of the jail would have been the best approach given her Gender Dysphoria and desires to be recognized as female.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 32). Defendants treated Jones differently than other females taken into custody and held at the Union County Jail despite knowing that she was legally a female by the information on her driver's license or by being told by Hess of her female gender. (Document No. 1, ¶ 146). Plaintiffs assert that Defendant Miles stated the jail determines an inmate's sex based on the “the parts they have” and not on their legal status. (Document No. 1, ¶ 149). Plaintiffs further assert that Defendant Eason discriminated against Jones by taking her to jail instead of to a treatment center. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 110-112).

         Later, Hess submitted a public records request to Union County Government Emergency Services for the 911 call information from the evening of March 22, 2018. (Document No. 1, ¶ 166). On March 29, 2018, Susan Farr, Operations Manager for Union County Government Emergency Services, responded to Plaintiff Hess's public records request via email stating that she “provided all that [] [she could] without a subpoena.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 167).

         On April 25, 2018, Plaintiff Jones “committed herself to a long term, in patient treatment program” for drug and alcohol addiction at Dove's Nest “where she remained through the duration of the program before filing this Complaint.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 49).

         On May 10, 2018, Hess issued a subpoena to Defendant Cathey and Defendant Union County Sheriff's Office (hereinafter known as “UCSO”) to produce evidence, documents, and 911 call transcripts. (Document No. 1, ¶ 168). Defendant Aldridge responded to the subpoena indicating that Defendant Cathey would not produce any such evidence, and filed a Motion to Expunge Subpoena on behalf of Defendants Cathey and UCSO in Union County Court File No. 18 CR 051508. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 169-170).

         On June 4, 2018, Hess also issued a subpoena to Defendants Kerri Fredheim (“Fredheim”) and the District Attorney's Office of Union County, North Carolina (“DAO”) for evidence, documents, and 911 transcripts. (Document No. 1, ¶ 180) Defendant Fredheim responded by filing a Motion to Expunge Subpoena in Union County File No. 18 CR 051508. (Document No. 1, ¶ 181). In her motion, Fredheim acknowledged that exculpatory evidence, or Brady evidence, would have to be produced to Hess. (Document No. 1, ¶ 182). Hess asserts that it was unclear to him whether Defendant Fredheim intended to give him exculpatory evidence. Id.

         A hearing was held in Union County District Court on June 12, 2018 regarding the motion filed by Defendant Aldridge on behalf of Defendants Cathey and UCSO. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 171, 174, 177). Purportedly, Defendant Aldridge stated to the Court that Defendant UCSO had no controlling oversight regarding the distribution of content from 911 calls. (Document No. 1, ¶177). The presiding District Court Judge entered an Order granting the Motion to Quash the Subpoena filed on behalf of Defendants Cathey and UCSO on the basis that discovery is not allowed while a matter is pending in District Court. (Document No. 1, ¶ 171). In entering the Order, the District Court Judge allegedly “emphasized that no such subpoena was needed since Defendants were constitutionally obligated to produce exculpatory evidence to Plaintiff Hess.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 171).

         Also on or about June 12, 2018, the presiding District Court Judge entered an Order granting the Motion to Quash the Subpoena filed on behalf of Defendants Fredheim and the DAO. (Document No. 1, ¶ 183). Again, the District Court Judge allegedly “emphasized that no such subpoena was needed since Defendants were constitutionally obligated to produce exculpatory evidence to Plaintiff Hess.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 183). Plaintiffs contend that Defendants failed to produce exculpatory evidence. (Document No. 1, ¶ 184, 188).

         Plaintiffs further allege that during the June 12, 2018 District Court hearing “Defendant Fredheim stated in Court that Plaintiff Hess and Plaintiff Jones were ‘estranged' without having definitive proof to support the statement.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 191). Plaintiffs assert that the legal definition of estrangement includes abandonment or alienation, and suggest that the legal definition leads to an implication that Plaintiffs were “unchaste.” (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 192-193). Plaintiffs further assert that Fredheim's statement in court that Hess and Jones were “estranged” was false and malicious, slanderous, and evidence of “her discriminatory belief that Plaintiff Hess as a straight male married to a transgender female cannot be in an unchaste relationship.” (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 195, 197). Plaintiffs also assert that Fredheim's statement characterizing her voluntary commitment for treatment as estrangement from her husband “invidiously discriminated against Plaintiff Jones' disability.” (Document No. 1, ¶ 198).

         B. Procedural

         Plaintiffs Jones and Hess, appearing pro se, initiated the instant action with the filing of their “Complaint” (Document No. 1) on September 19, 2018.[2] The Complaint is brought against twelve (12) Defendants and includes seventeen (17) causes of action. (Document No. 1). Defendants include the Union County Sheriff's Office (“UCSO”), Sheriff Eddie Cathey (“Cathey”), Deputy Stephen Eason (“Eason”), Captain Mendel Miles (“Miles”), Attorney John Julian Aldridge (“Aldridge”) and four (4) unnamed deputy John Doe employees of the UCSO (“Defendant Doe 1-4”), (all together, the “Sheriff Defendants”). Id. Defendants also include the District Attorney's Office of Union County, North Carolina (“DAO”), District Attorney Trey Robison (“Robison”), and Assistant District Attorney Kerri Fredheim (“Fredheim”) (all together, “State Judicial Defendants”). Id.

         The state court action pending against Plaintiff Todd Hess, charging him with assault on a female - his wife Casey Lee Jones, a/k/a Stephanie Hess - was dismissed on November 7, 2018. (Document No. 6, p. 6; Document No. 6-1, p. 3); see also (Document No. 10, p. 10; Document No. 10-2, p. 2). The state prosecutor dismissed the action, noting that “[v]ictim has recanted and refuses to testify.” Id. (citing Document No. 6-1, pp. 4-5); see also (Document No. 10-1, p. 2). Specifically, Plaintiff Jones provided an “Affidavit” after listening to the 911 call she made on March 22, 2018. (Document No. 6-1, p. 4). Jones stated in part that she did not remember:

stating to the 911 operator that my husband had attempted to choke or strangle me. Furthermore, I do not remember my husband attempting to choke or strangle me on the night in question. These statements were likely said due to my inebriated state.

         (Document No. 6-1, p. 5). Jones' Affidavit further provides they she refuses to testify against her husband, Todd Hess, and that she requests that the charges against her husband “in which I am the alleged victim be dismissed.” Id. The pending state charge against Jones for simple assault on Hess was also dismissed by the state prosecutor on November 7, 2018. (Document No. 6, p. 6; Document No. 6-2, p. 4); see also (Document No. 10, p. 10).[3]

         On December 19, 2018, the pending “Motion To Dismiss By Defendants Cathey, Eason, Miles, Aldridge, And The Union County Sheriff's Office” (Document No. 5) and “Motion To Dismiss On Behalf Of Defendants Robison, Fredheim, and District Attorney's Office Of Union County, North Carolina” (Document No. 9) were filed by the Sheriff Defendants and State Judicial Defendants (together, “Defendants”) in this Court. Sheriff Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and the State Judicial Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (2), and (6) of the instant lawsuit before this Court for alleged civil rights violations.

         The pending motions have been briefed and are now ripe for review and a recommended disposition to the Honorable Kenneth D. Bell.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) seeks to dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The plaintiff has the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). The existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue the court must address before considering the merits of the case. Jones v. Am. Postal Workers Union, 192 F.3d 417, 422 (4th Cir. 1999). “The subject matter jurisdiction of federal courts is limited and the federal courts may exercise only that jurisdiction which Congress has prescribed.” Chris v. Tenet, 221 F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)).

         When a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), “the district court is to regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Richmond, 945 F.2d at 768. The district court should grant the Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Id. See also, Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the “legal sufficiency of the complaint” but “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992); Eastern Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Assoc. Ltd. Partnership, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss will survive if it contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also, Robinson v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 551 F.3d 218, 222 (4th Cir. 2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the ...


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