United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
C. Mullen, United States District Judge
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:
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).
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).
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).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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.
Plaintiff's Official Capacity Claims
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
Plaintiff's Equal Protection Claims
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 ...