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Jones v. Union County Sheriff's Office

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

November 4, 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.

          ORDER

          Kenneth D. Bell United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Motion To Dismiss By Defendants Cathey, Eason, Miles, Aldridge, and Union County Sheriff's Office (Doc. No. 5); the Motion To Dismiss On Behalf Of Defendants Robison, Fredheim, and District Attorney's Office Of Union County, North Carolina (Doc. No. 9); the Memorandum and Recommendation of the Honorable Magistrate Judge David C. Keesler (“M&R”) entered September 23, 2019 (Doc. No. 15), Plaintiffs' Objection to the M&R (Doc. No. 16) and Defendants' replies to Plaintiffs' Objection (Doc. Nos. 17 and 18).

         After an independent review of the M&R, Plaintiffs' Objection thereto, and a de novo review of the full record, the Court concludes that the recommendation to grant these Motions to Dismiss is correct and in accordance with law. For the reasons stated below, and in the M&R, the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are ADOPTED and the Defendants' respective Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court may designate a magistrate judge to “submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition” of dispositive pretrial matters, including motions to dismiss. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Any party may object to the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations, and the court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Objections to the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations must be made "with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground for the objection." United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 551 U.S. 1157 (2007). However, the Court does not perform a de novo review where a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). After reviewing the record, the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” tests whether the complaint is legally and factually sufficient. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd, 566 U.S. 30 (2012). A court need not accept a complaint's “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). The court, however, “accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in weighing the legal sufficiency of the complaint.” Id. Construing the facts in this manner, a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The M&R provides a detailed and thorough description of the factual and procedural background of this action, which this Court adopts and will not be fully repeated here. However, a shorter summary of the most critical alleged facts from the Complaint, which are assumed to be true for the purposes of these motions, follows.

         Plaintiff Casey L. Jones (“Jones”), also known as Stephanie Hess, is a partially pre-operative transgender female (with male external genitalia), who has been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, a medical condition where the person's gender identity does not conform to his or her anatomical sex at birth. Jones looks like and dresses as a female as part of the treatment for her disorder. In 2016, 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. Jones' South Carolina driver's license and her Oklahoma birth certificate now indicate she is female. Jones and Plaintiff Todd M. Hess (“Hess”) (together “Plaintiffs”) were legally married on August 16, 2017, and Plaintiffs' marriage license lists Stephanie Hess as a female.

         Jones also has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder and has drug and alcohol addictions. These addictions have led to Jones being involuntarily committed at least five times for treatment and also numerous engagements with law enforcement officers. Specifically, Union County Sheriff's Deputies were called 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.”

         In March 2018, Jones planned to enter treatment at Dove's Nest, a women's treatment program affiliated with Charlotte Rescue Mission, in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, she could not be immediately admitted first because a bed was not available until March 19, then because of another brief involuntary commitment on March 20, and subsequent inebriation after her discharge on March 21. In the evening of March 22, the night before she was to try once more to be admitted to Dove's Nest, Jones began drinking again, which led to Hess calling “911.”

         When employees of the Union County Sheriff's office arrived at Plaintiffs' residence, they noticed red marks surrounding Jones's neck and asked her if Hess choked her. Jones says that she does not remember her response. Defendant Eason wrote in his report that Hess admitted to choking his wife, but Hess asserts that he did not choke or harm Jones and that he did not admit to doing so to Defendant Eason. Ultimately, Hess was charged with “assault on a woman” in Union County File No. 18 CR 051508 and Jones was charged with “simple assault” in Union County File No. 18 CR 051509.

         Jones and Hess were transported separately to the Union County jail. Jones was taken inside the jail first for processing, while Hess remained in the back of a patrol car. Although the timing of the call is unclear, Plaintiffs allege that Hess placed a telephone call to Defendant Miles, who they assert is the Captain of the Union County jail. In that call, Hess informed Miles that Jones had been legally declared a female, was listed as a female on her driver's license and that she suffers from Gender Dysphoria, which worsens if she is not treated as a female. In response, Miles allegedly said that the jail determines an inmate's sex based on “the parts they have” and not on their legal status. However, Miles also told Hess that he would discuss the situation with the Union County Sheriff's Office attorney, Defendant Aldridge.

         The Union County jail segregates male and female prisoners, as is typical among correctional facilities. Although Jones alleges that she was “treated as a male” at the jail, she does not allege that she was housed with the men. Rather, the Complaint states that Jones was required to “remain secluded from other female inmates in one area of the jail.” (Doc. 1, ¶147). Thus, Jones was apparently placed in neither the male nor the female section, and no further details are alleged related to her confinement, either as to the duration of that confinement or any of its conditions.[1] Jones alleges that she was listed as a “White / Male” at some point in the Union County Sheriff's Office website, although it is not alleged when and how this statement came to be made or how long it was on the website.

         Also, Plaintiffs allege that during the Sheriff's Deputies' visits to their residence and during the arrest and booking process on March 22, various employees of the department, including one or more of the individual defendants, made derogatory and/or insensitive comments about Jones' gender, refusing to properly acknowledge her status as a female. Plaintiffs further allege that derogatory and/or discriminatory statements were made to or about Hess because of his relationship with Jones.

         Finally, as detailed in the M&R, in addition to their allegations related to Jones' confinement and the discriminatory comments made to Jones and Hess, Plaintiffs allege that one or more of the defendants filed untruthful police reports, denied Plaintiffs access to public records, failed to turn over exculpatory evidence, slandered the Plaintiffs in court statements and failed to properly accommodate her Gender Dysphoria (alleging that Jones should have been taken to a treatment facility rather than to a jail and 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”).

         Plaintiffs Jones and Hess, appearing pro se (although Hess is a licensed attorney), filed their Complaint in this action on September 19, 2018. The Complaint is brought against twelve Defendants and includes seventeen causes of action. 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”). Defendants also include the District Attorney's Office of Union County, North Carolina ...


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