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Adams v. Naphcare, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

March 3, 2017

ROXANNE ADAMS, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JAMYCHEAL M. MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NAPHCARE, INC., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          REBECCA BEACH SMITH CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on the Motion to Dismiss ("Motion") and Memorandum in Support filed by Defendants Kelly Boyd ("Boyd") and Lenna Jo Davis ("Davis") on June 8, 2016. ECF Nos. 12, 13. The Plaintiff filed a Response on June 22, 2016, ECF No. 23, and Boyd and Davis filed a Reply and a Request for Hearing on June 29, 2016. ECF Nos. 32, 33.

         On July 5, 2016, this court referred the Motion to a United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, if necessary, and to submit to the undersigned District Judge proposed findings of fact, if applicable, and recommendations for the disposition of the Motion. ECF No. 38.

         Having conducted a hearing regarding the Motion on October 19, 2016, ECF No. 139, the Magistrate Judge filed the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on January 24, 2017. ECF No. 151. The Magistrate Judge recommended granting the Motion. R&R at 1. By copy of the R&R, the parties were advised of their right to file written objections to the findings and recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. See id. at 21. On February 3, 2017, the Plaintiff filed an Objection, ECF No. 153, and on February 6, 2017, Davis and Boyd filed Objections. ECF No. 154. On February 14, 2017, the Plaintiff responded to the Objections by Davis and Boyd. ECF No. 160. On February 16, 2017, Boyd filed a response to the Plaintiff's Objection. ECF No. 161. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

         I.

         This action was brought by the Plaintiff in her capacity as the administrator of the estate of Jamycheal Mitchell ("Mitchell"), who died as a pretrial detainee in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail ("HRRJ"). Compl. ¶¶ 1, 20. Relevant here, the Complaint alleges that Davis, as Clerk of the General District Court of Portsmouth, and Boyd, as a deputy clerk of that court, failed to send a judge's competency restoration order ("CRO") to Eastern State Hospital for Mitchell's mental health treatment, and that, as a result, Davis and Boyd were negligent and grossly negligent in causing Mitchell's death, as well as injury to him and his surviving beneficiaries. Id. ¶¶ 2, 34, 172, 194, 203, 205, 206, 208-210.

         The instant Motion, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), seeks dismissal of the claims against Davis and Boyd because "[t]he Complaint fails to state sufficient and plausible claims of simple negligence and gross negligence against [Davis and Boyd], and the doctrine of absolute quasi-judicial immunity bars these claims." Mem. Supp. at 1. Davis and Boyd further argue that the claims are barred by statutory immunity under Virginia Code § 16.1-69.40. Id. at 13.

         In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge found that neither quasi-judicial immunity nor statutory immunity bars the Plaintiff's claims against Davis and Boyd, but nonetheless recommended that the claims against them be dismissed. R&R at 1, 8-10. Davis and Boyd have objected to the Magistrate Judge's findings on quasi-judicial immunity and statutory immunity, see Defs.' Obj., and the Plaintiff has objected to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation of dismissing the claims against Boyd, though not to the recommendation of dismissing the claims against Davis. See Pl's Obj.

         II.

         Pursuant to Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court, having reviewed the record in its entirety, shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the R&R to which a party has specifically objected. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge, or recommit the matter to him with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must be dismissed when a plaintiff's allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it 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). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility means that a "plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) . It is, therefore, not enough for a plaintiff to allege facts demonstrating a "sheer possibility" or "mere[] consist [ency]" with unlawful conduct. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         The Supreme Court has offered the following guidance to courts evaluating a motion to dismiss:

[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679. That is, the court accepts facts alleged in the complaint as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005). After doing so, the court should not grant the defendant's motion if the plaintiff "demonstrate[s] more than 'a sheer possibility'" that the defendant has violated his rights, by "articulat[ing] facts, when accepted as true, that 'show' that the plaintiff has stated a claim entitling him to relief . . . ." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (as only quoting "a sheer possibility").

         III.

         Defendants Davis and Boyd have both objected to the Magistrate Judge's findings that neither quasi-judicial immunity nor statutory immunity shields them from liability in this action. On the issue of quasi-judicial immunity, the Magistrate Judge found that Davis and Boyd are not protected because "they are alleged to have failed to perform a ministerial act for which they had no discretion"-that is, the transmission of the CRO. R&R at 9 (citing McCray v. Maryland, 456 F.2d 1, 4 (4th Cir. 1972)). On the issue of statutory immunity, the Magistrate Judge found that Davis and Boyd are not protected because the statute in question "reserves such immunity to circumstances where clerks 'provid[e] information or assistance, '" while, " [a] s alleged here, the court clerks purportedly did not provide assistance." Id. at 10 (quoting Va. Code § 16.1-69.40).

         The court will address the issues of quasi-judicial immunity and statutory immunity in turn. Moreover, as stated above, the court reviews de novo each part of the Magistrate Judge's R&R to which the parties object. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). Due to the court's ruling below on the Plaintiff's Objection, the court ...


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