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Human Rights Defense Center v. Carmichael

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

December 27, 2019

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER, Plaintiff,
v.
IRWIN CARMICHAEL, SHERIFF OF MECKLENBURG COUNTY, ET AL., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Graham C. Mullen, United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (“Motion”) (Doc. No. 14) filed May 30, 2018. The Court, having carefully considered the briefs and materials submitted in support and in opposition of the Motion, the Complaint (Doc. No. 1), and being otherwise fully advised, finds and orders as follows:

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On April 24, 2018, Plaintiff, the Human Rights Defense Center (“HRDC”), filed its Complaint against Defendants Irwin Carmichael, Telisa White, Aujiena Hicks, David Hill, and Jeff Eason in their individual and official capacities. (Doc. No. 1). Each of the Defendants hold supervisory positions with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”) and at the Mecklenburg County Jail (“MCJ”), and Defendant Carmichael is the Sheriff of Mecklenburg County. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 12, 13, 14, 15). Defendants White and Hill are responsible for the implementation of jail policies in Mecklenburg County, including inmate mail policies and the hiring, training, and supervision of the personnel who interpret and apply inmate mail policies. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 12, 14). Defendants Hicks and Eason report to Defendants White and Hill and supervise jail operations, including the mailroom and the routing of incoming prisoner mail. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 13, 15).

         Plaintiff sends various publications to incarcerated persons at the MCJ, such as Prison Legal News, Criminal Legal News, The Habeas Citebook, and Prisoner's Handbook. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 1, 18, 19, 20, 21). Defendants rejected delivery of at least 144 copies of those and other publications and placed Prison Legal News on Defendants' list of banned magazines. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 27). Defendants did not explain why Prison Legal News was banned or why they had rejected delivery of the other publications, and Defendants did not give Plaintiff an opportunity to appeal the rejections or the decision to ban Prison Legal News. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 32-34).

         Defendants accept some legal texts, magazines, and other publications that Plaintiff alleges are similar to its publications. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 38-39). However, Defendants prohibit mail that is “in violation of the [MCSO's] rules, or detrimental to rehabilitation.” (Doc. No. 1, at p. 8). For example, the MCSO's rules prohibit illicit or enticing photos, material containing nudity, and stamps. (Doc. No. 1, at p. 8).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation and internal quotations omitted). Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) provides an avenue to attack a complaint where the “grounds” of a plaintiff's “entitle[ment] to relief” are insufficient. Id. (citation omitted). When faced with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and . . . view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). A court then “determine[s] whether [those allegations] plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). However, a court “need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. LLP, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Further, a “pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotations and citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff has asserted three claims against Defendants: (1) violation of the First Amendment for censoring Plaintiff's publications, (2) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause for failure to provide notice with regard to the decision to censor Plaintiff's publications, and (3) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause for treating Plaintiff's publications differently than similarly situated publications. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 49-76). Defendants move to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims, except for Plaintiff's First Amendment and Due Process Clause claims against Sheriff Irwin Carmichael in his official capacity. (Doc. No. 15, at 2). Defendants provide three grounds for dismissal. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's “official capacity claims against all Defendants except Sherriff Carmichael are redundant because the Complaint states a cognizable claim against Sheriff Carmichael in his official capacity.” (Doc. No. 15, at 5). Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Equal Protection Clause claim is not supported by factual allegations that the Plaintiff was treated differently for a discriminatory reason. (Doc. No. 15, at 6). Third, Defendants argue that the individual capacity claims against them should be dismissed both because Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants were personally involved in the deprivation of Plaintiff's rights and because Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. No. 15, at 9, 14). The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Official Capacity Claims

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendants Telisa White, Aujiena Hicks, David Hill, Jeff Eason, and Does 1-10 are redundant because the Complaint states a cognizable official capacity claim against Sheriff Carmichael. (Doc. No. 15, at 5). Claims against defendants in their official capacity “constitute . . . claim[s] against the entity for which [they] are agents therefor.” Layman v. Alexander, 343 F.Supp.2d 483, 488 (W.D. N.C. 2004) (citing Gantt v. Whitaker, 203 F.Supp.2d 503, 508 (M.D. N.C. 2002), aff'd, 57 Fed.Appx. 141 (4th Cir. 2003)). It follows that where a plaintiff asserts official capacity claims against multiple defendants acting as agents for the same entity, dismissal of the redundant claims is appropriate. Id. (Dismissing official capacity claims against two officers where a plaintiff had also asserted a claim against a sheriff's department through an official capacity claim against the department's sheriff.) (citing Gantt, 203 F.Supp.2d at 508; Ramsey v. Schauble, 141 F.Supp.2d 584, 591 (W.D. N.C. 2001)). Here, Defendants White, Hicks, Hill, Eason, and Does 1-10 are or were employed by the MCSO and Defendant Carmichael is the Sheriff of Mecklenburg County. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 12, 13, 14, 15, 16). Thus, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against all Defendants other than Defendant Carmichael are redundant and hereby DISMISSED.

         B. Plaintiff's Equal Protection Claims

         Defendants argue that dismissal of Plaintiff's equal protection claim is appropriate because Plaintiff makes no factual allegations that its alleged unequal treatment was due to intentional or purposeful discrimination. (Doc. No. 15, at 6). In order to survive a motion to dismiss an equal protection claim, a plaintiff “must plead sufficient facts to demonstrate plausibly that he was treated differently from others who were similarly situated and that the unequal treatment was the result of discriminatory animus.” Equity in Athletics, Inc. v. Department of Education, 639 F.3d. 91, 108 (4th Cir. 2011). In other words, a plaintiff must ...


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