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Thomas v. Salvation Army Southern Territory

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 8, 2016

SHARON T. THOMAS, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
THE SALVATION ARMY SOUTHERN TERRITORY; F. BRADFORD BAILEY; THE SALVATION ARMY; BOBBY LANCASTER; DERONDA METZ; BARBARA GREEN; VICTORY CHRISTIAN CENTER, INCORPORATED; CHURCH IN THE CITY MINISTRIES; CATHY DOE; FRIENDSHIP COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, My Sister's House Transitional Living Center; IRIS HUBBARD, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: September 21, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Charlotte. Robert J. Conrad, Jr., District Judge. (3:14-cv-00403-RJC-DCK)

         ARGUED:

          Gregory Dolin, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE SCHOOL OF LAW, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

          Matthew David Lincoln, MOORE & VAN ALLEN PLLC, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Catherine Florea, Third Year Law Student, Marie Langlois, Second Year Law Student, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE SCHOOL OF LAW, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

          Before WILKINSON and FLOYD, Circuit Judges, and Irene M. KEELEY, United States District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.

         Affirmed as modified by published opinion. Judge Wilkinson wrote the opinion, in which Judge Floyd and Judge Keeley joined.

          WILKINSON, Circuit Judge

         Sharon Thomas appeals the dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) of her claims against three charitable organizations, which she says unlawfully refused to admit her to homeless shelters because of her alleged mental health disability. We affirm the judgment of dismissal as modified to indicate that it be without prejudice.

         I.

         Thomas was receiving behavioral health services from Monarch Mental Health Care, a non-profit organization, when she became homeless on July 10, 2012. Monarch referred her to defendant Salvation Army. When she arrived at the Salvation Army shelter on July 12, 2012, Thomas completed some preliminary paperwork, agreed to follow the shelter's rules, and was admitted.

         The Salvation Army shelter was crowded, and on July 16, a Salvation Army staff member informed Thomas that she would be transferred to defendant Church in the City, a shelter run by the third and final defendant, Victory Christian Center.[1] During an intake interview with a Church in the City nurse, Thomas disclosed her mental health issues. In her complaint, Thomas describes Church in the City as having strict rules and as being "very clean and quiet." J.A. 13. Thomas stayed at Church in the City for almost a month before being evicted, and she claims that she followed all of the shelter's rules during her stay.

         While at Church in the City, Thomas visited the Salvation Army shelter twice. First, on July 19, Thomas completed the Salvation Army's official intake assessment paperwork. In this paperwork, Thomas disclosed that she was receiving behavioral mental health services and authorized the release of some medical information to the Salvation Army. Second, on July 31, Thomas went to the Salvation Army to see a doctor to get medication. Thomas does not specify what medication she was receiving, but she notes that the doctor referred her to a behavioral health center. On the same visit, Thomas met with her Salvation Army case manager. The meeting included a discussion of Thomas's mental health issues.

         Thomas's problems with the shelters began on August 12, when Church in the City evicted her. The shelter did not give Thomas a reason for her ejection. Another woman was evicted at the same time for missing the shelter's curfew, though Thomas avers that she never missed curfew. Thomas's complaint notes that she had been given additional chores the day before - cleaning three showers instead of two - by a volunteer who had, a few weeks earlier, told Thomas not to question the Bible during a Bible study class.

         From August 12 through August 15, Thomas tried and failed to be admitted to the Salvation Army shelter a number of times. Immediately after being ejected from Church in the City, Thomas went to the Salvation Army shelter. She was told that she would not be allowed to stay there if she had been ejected from Church in the City. That same day, Thomas was hospitalized for chest pains, and a hospital social worker called the Salvation Army on her behalf. The social worker was informed that Thomas's Salvation Army case worker had decided that Thomas would not be admitted to the Salvation Army shelter.

         Thomas herself called the Salvation Army twice the next day, August 13. On the first phone call, Thomas's case manager told her that she had been ejected from Church in the City for violating curfew. This call ended after Thomas accused her case manager of acting unethically. On the second phone call, the director of the Salvation Army ...


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