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Thorne v. Hale

March 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James C. Cacheris United States District Court Judge


This matter comes before the Court on three motions to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed against a number of individuals and entities involved in administering a "drug court" program in the Rappahannock area. The motions were filed by: Defendant Karl Hade, the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia ("Hade"); Defendant Judith Alston, a former Virginia Department of Corrections employee ("Alston"); Defendants Kelly Hale ("Hale") and Sharon Killian ("Killian"), both of whom allegedly served as managers or directors of the drug court; the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (the "RACSB"), the Rappahannock Regional Jail (the "Regional Jail"), and the Rappahannock Regional Jail doing business as the Rappahannock Regional Drug Court (collectively, the "Defendants").*fn1 Also before the Court is a motion by Hade and Alston to strike certain supplemental evidentiary filings.

For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motions to dismiss and deny, without prejudice, the motion to strike. The Court will dismiss all of Thorne's claims brought pursuant to the ADA and state law, all of his requests for equitable and injunctive relief, and all claims against defendants Hade, Alston, the Rappahannock Regional Jail, and the Rappahannock Regional Jail doing business as the Rappahannock Regional Drug Court. The Court will deny the motions to dismiss the § 1983 claims against the RACSB, Hale, and Killian.

I. Background

Pro se plaintiff William G. Thorne ("Thorne") brought this suit against several individuals and entities that took part in treating him for his drug and alcohol addictions through Virginia's drug court program. His experience with the drug court stems from a state criminal proceeding for the possession of a controlled substance. Thorne filed his original complaint (the "Complaint") in June 2008. At oral argument on the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants, the Court granted Thorne leave to amend the Complaint. He did so on October 22, 2008.

The amended complaint ("Amended Complaint") re-alleged, by reference, everything in the Complaint.*fn2 It also changed the allegations against the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia to allegations against "the person of Karl Hade, the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia," changed the allegations against the Drug Court to allegations against the Regional Jail or, in the alternative, the Regional Jail doing business as the Drug Court (henceforth, the "Regional Jail/Drug Court"), added new allegations pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Virginia Administrative Code, and clarified the damages Thorne claims to have suffered as a result of the alleged constitutional, statutory, and state law violations. See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 151-52; 160-62; 172-74. The allegations in the Amended Complaint are as follows.

In March 2006, Thorne entered into a plea agreement on a possession of a controlled substance charge. As part of the plea deal, he agreed to undergo treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Pursuant to his plea, the Virginia court in which he pled guilty placed Thorne under the supervision of the Regional Jail/Drug Court, which required him to participate in the Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") and Narcotics Anonymous ("NA") addiction treatment programs. Had Thorne successfully completed the Regional Jail/Drug Court program, the state would have dropped the charge against him. The RACSB served as the substance abuse and mental health treatment provider for the Regional Jail/Drug Court. See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 1-16. It appears that, after encountering a number of treatment-related difficulties that caused him to fail out of the program, Thorne was convicted of the drug offense in April 2007. Id. at ¶ 13.

Thorne complains that the practices of the AA and NA programs contravened his religious beliefs. He claims that the AA and NA programs are state-sponsored religions that violate the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18. Among numerous other allegations, Thorne appears to have been offended by the public recitation of the Lord's Prayer at AA meetings. See id. at ¶¶ 24-25 (citing Matthew 6:5-7 (New Am. Standard Bible)). Other allegations include being subjected to "mind control" and being "forced to pray to pagan gods with individuals of dissimilar and contradictory beliefs." Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 63, 69.

Thorne, who was involved in a religious liberties lawsuit against AA in 1998,*fn3 now claims that he would never have entered into a plea agreement if he had known that it would entail mandatory AA or NA participation. Id. at ¶ 30. He also claims that Defendants refused to allow him to participate in other drug treatment programs more amenable to his religious beliefs. Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.

Asserting that the responsibility for informing him about the practices of the Regional Jail/Drug Court prior to his plea lay with the Virginia court and the Commonwealth's Attorney rather than with his counsel, Thorne states that he never waived his constitutional rights as part his plea. Id. at ¶ 50. He claims that he was unlawfully incarcerated for various periods of time as "sanctions" for his failures to participate in the Regional Jail/Drug Court program and that, because these "sanctions" were not deducted from his prison term, they improperly extended Thorne's "actual and potential incarceration." Id. at ¶ 52. Thorne asserts that he was denied the right to counsel during hearings held to determine whether to levy "sanctions" against him. He also claims that several defendants presented evidence against him in a way that prevented him from defending himself. Id. at ¶¶ 54-58.

Thorne believes that these and other practices related to the Regional Jail/Drug Court treatment program violated his First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He also alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (through which, the Court will presume, he brings his constitutional claims).

Finally, Thorne argues that Defendants violated Virginia statutory law and various sections of the Virginia Administrative Code related to the provision of mental health services. In recompense, Thorne asks: (1) for $60,000,000 in damages; (2) that the Court declare his state court plea agreement null and void; and (3) that the Court order the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Regional Jail/Drug Court. Am. Compl. at ¶ 149.

On November 6, 2008, Virginia's Office of the Attorney General filed, with the requisite Roseboro notices, separate motions to dismiss Hade and Alston for lack of jurisdiction. Thorne did not respond to either motion. On November 11, Defendants Hale, Killian, the Regional Jail, the Regional Jail/Drug Court, and the RACSB filed a motion to dismiss and a Roseboro notice. Thorne responded on December 3, 2008. After the hearing on the motions to dismiss, Thorne submitted additional papers in support of his ADA claims. Defendants Alston and Hade objected to these filings and moved to strike them from the docket. Thorne opposed their motion on February 24, 2009. These motions are before the Court.

II. Standard of Review

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Randall v. United States, 30 F.3d 518, 522 (4th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). In deciding a motion to dismiss, "the material allegations of the complaint are taken as admitted." Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969) (citation omitted). Moreover, "the complaint is to be liberally construed in favor of plaintiff." Id. A motion to dismiss must be assessed in light of Rule 8's liberal pleading standards, which require only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. While Rule 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations," a plaintiff must still provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (citation omitted).

Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), a claim may be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Defendants may attack subject matter jurisdiction in one of two ways. First, defendants may contend that the complaint fails to allege facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction can be based. See Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982); King v. Riverside Reg'l Med. Ctr., 211 F. Supp. 2d 779, 780 (E.D. Va. 2002). In such instances, all facts alleged in the complaint are presumed to be true. Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219; Virginia v. United States, 926 F. Supp. 537, 540 (E.D. Va. 1995).

Alternatively, defendants may argue that the jurisdictional facts alleged in the complaint are untrue. Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219; King, 211 F. Supp. 2d at 780. In that situation, "the Court may 'look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.'" Virginia v. United States, 926 F. Supp. at 540 (citing Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC, 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993)); see also Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219; Ocean Breeze Festival Park, Inc. v. Reich, 853 F. Supp. 906, 911 (E.D. Va. 1994). In either case, the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction falls on the plaintiff. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219.

Complaints filed by pro se plaintiffs are construed more liberally than those drafted by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Khozam v. LSAA, Inc., 2007 WL 2932817 (W.D.N.C. 2007). "However inartfully pleaded by a pro se plaintiff, allegations are sufficient to call for an opportunity to offer supporting evidence unless it is beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to relief." Thompson v. Echols, 1999 WL 717280 at *1 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972)). While a court is not expected to develop tangential claims from scant assertions in a complaint, if a pro se complaint contains potentially cognizable claims, the plaintiff should be allowed to particularize those claims. Id. (citing Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274 (4th Cir. 1985); Coleman v. Peyton, 340 F.2d 603, 604 (4th Cir. 1965)).

III. Analysis

Thorne raises constitutional claims through § 1983, federal statutory claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (the "ADA"), and state law claims.*fn4 He asks for damages as well as equitable and injunctive relief. Because of the number of defendants and the complexity of the allegations, the Court will review Thorne's claims in two stages. First, it will consider his ADA claims, state law claims, and requests for injunctive and equitable relief. As explained in more detail below, none of those claims and requests can proceed. The Court will then consider each defendant's arguments for dismissal of the § 1983 claims.

A. ADA Claims

Thorne asserts that the Defendants violated his rights under the ADA. He did not state which provisions of the ADA Defendants violated. The Court will presume that, in keeping with the rest of the Amended Complaint, Thorne intended to cast his net broadly. Title II of the Act applies to the services provided by state and local governments. Title III applies to, inter alia, public accommodations. For the reasons stated below, the Court will dismiss Thorne's ADA claims, whether they are brought pursuant to Title II or Title III.

1. Statute of Limitations

Thorne's claims under the ADA fail for several reasons. First, the statute of limitations has run on any otherwise-viable ADA claim. The weight of authority agrees that the statute of limitations for ADA claims in Virginia is one year. See Lewis v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 993 F. Supp. 382, 385 (E.D. Va. 1998); see also Brown v. Dep't of Corr., 2009 WL 87459, at *8 (W.D. Va. Jan. 9, 2009); Thompson v. Va. Dep't of Game and Inland Fisheries, 2006 WL 1310363, at *3 (W.D. Va. May 14, 2006), aff'd, 196 Fed. Appx. 164 (4th Cir. 2006); M.S. v. Fairfax County Sch. Bd., 2006 WL 721372, at *4 (E.D. Va. March 20, 2006), vacated in part on other grounds, 553 F.3d 315, 2009 WL 81654 (4th Cir. 2009); Childress v. Clement, 5 F. Supp. 2d 384, 388-89 (E.D. Va. 1998). But cf. Morrissey v. Rockingham Mem'l Hosp., 2006 WL 297741, at *2 (W.D. Va. Feb. 7, 2006) (adopting the two-year personal injury statute of limitations); Peters v. Blue Ridge Reg'l Jail, 2006 WL 3761624, at *2 (W.D. Va. Dec. 21, 2006) (same).

The ADA itself does not specify a statute of limitations. District courts look to analogous state statutes of limitations to find the one most applicable to the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988; Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266, 268 (1985); Lewis, 993 F. Supp. at 385. Relying on the Fourth Circuit's finding that the Virginia Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, Va. Code Ann. § 51.5-40 et seq., provides the analogous statute of limitations for claims brought under the Rehabilitation Act, Lewis held that a one-year statute of limitations should apply to claims brought under the ADA, which was modeled on the Rehabilitation Act. 993 F. Supp. at 385 (citing Wolsky v. Med. Coll. of Hampton Rds., 1 F.3d 222, 223 (4th Cir. 1993)). This Court agrees that a one-year statute of limitations applies in the present case.

Here, the statute of limitations bars Thorne's ADA claims. Thorne pled guilty to the charges against him on March 7, 2006. Am. Compl. at ¶ 5. On March 13, 2006, he was "informed of the Drug Court Program Conditions and Terms, namely it's [sic] State sponsored religious requirements, unlawful imprisonment terms, and involuntary servitude demands . . . ." Id. at ¶ 8. He was finally convicted of the crime to which he had previously pled guilty on April 23, 2007, before which date "all of the allegations cited in this Complaint occurred." Id. at ¶¶ 13-14. Thorne did not file this lawsuit until June 10, 2008. Even if Thorne became aware of the ADA violations on April 23, 2007, the lawsuit still falls outside the one-year statute of limitations.

In the supplementary evidentiary filing that is the object of defendants Hade and Alston's motion to strike, Thorne argues that the one-year statute of limitations does not bar his ADA claims. In support, he attached a letter complaining of ADA violations that he had previously submitted to a number of entities, including the Department of Justice, the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services. See Pl.'s Supp. Filing.

Thorne submitted fax cover sheets showing that he faxed the letter to several recipients before April 23, 2008 -- the date by which the statute of limitations had run. His evidentiary submission shows that he faxed his complaint letter to the state and federal agencies on April 8, 9, and 17 of 2008. The Court notes that the letter was untimely submitted to the agencies under 28 C.F.R. § 35.170(b), which requires the filing of a complaint "not later than 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination . . . .". Even a timely filing with a federal agency, however, does not toll the statute of limitations for the filing of a judicial complaint.

Assuming the veracity of Plaintiff's supplemental submission, his ADA claims still fall outside the one-year statute of limitations. In lawsuits brought pursuant to Title I of the ADA, for employment discrimination, filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tolls the ADA statute of limitations, because Title I requires the exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Lewis, 993 F. Supp. at 387. As the court explained in Lewis, however, administrative notice does not toll the statute of limitations for actions brought pursuant to a different Title of the ADA that does not contain an exhaustion requirement. Id. (holding that the statute of limitations was tolled for claims under Title I but not for claims under Title III).

Here, Thorne's asserted ADA claims all center on the provision of public services. As such, they probably fall under Title II. The same analysis used in Lewis applies directly to any claims brought under Title II: because plaintiffs are not required to exhaust their administrative remedies before bringing suit pursuant to Title II, notifying state or federal agencies of a potential claim does not toll the statute of limitations.*fn5 Cf.

Smith v. Philadelphia, 345 F. Supp. 2d 482, 486 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (explaining that Title II does not require a plaintiff to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit); see also 28 C.F.R. § 35.172, Appx. A ("[b]ecause the act does not require exhaustion of administrative remedies, the complainant may elect to proceed with a private suit at any time.").

Where a plaintiff is not obligated to take administrative action before instituting an ADA suit, "the commencement of the statute of limitations could not be linked to any administrative procedure" -- instead, a claim accrues upon "discovery of the original act of discrimination." Thompson v. Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries, 2006 WL 1310363, at *4 (W.D. Va. May 14, 2006). Thorne's ADA claims are time-barred. ...

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