Worlock v. Grimes-Gooden et al
ORDER GRANTING 8 Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. This matter is hereby dismissed and judgment will be entered accordingly. Signed by US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 11/5/2014. (Fisher, M.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
COUNTY OF CUMBERLAND, et al.,
This matter is before the Court on the defendant's motion to dismiss [DE 8]. For the
reasons stated herein, the defendant's motion is GRANTED and this action is DISMISSED.
Plaintiff Ashley Worlock filed the complaint on June 10, 2014, alleging violations of 42
U.S.C. § 1983, by defendants in a Cumberland County Department of Social Services case file
involving plaintiffs husband, Travis Worlock, and reports of potential child abuse of their
juvenile daughter Cadee. Cumberland County is a named defendant and the individual
defendants are or were employed by Cumberland County in the Department of Social Services at
the relevant times set forth in the complaint. Plaintiff seeks "actual damages, nominal damages,
punitive damages, and attorney's fees and costs." [DE 1 at~ 9].
Plaintiff alleges the suit arises because of the "unconstitutional and illegal actions of the
defendants in enforcing a policy, practice, custom, usage, rule or procedure and putting such
policy, practice, custom, usage, rule or procedure into effect against the plaintiff." [DE 1
10-11]. Defendants move to dismiss because they argue plaintiff has failed to make any factual
allegations as to what specific policy, practice, custom, usage, rule, or procedure was
unconstitutional or how the enforcement of such was unconstitutional and therefore plaintiff has
failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Defendants also argue the matter is
subject to dismissal based on immunity grounds.
THE COMPLAINT FAILS TO STATE A CLAIM.
A FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief
can be granted challenges the legal sufficiency of a plaintiffs complaint. Francis v. Giacomelli,
588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). When ruling on the motion, the court "must accept as true all
of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94
(2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Although complete and
detailed factual allegations are not required, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of
his 'entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
(citations omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Similarly, a court need not accept as true a plaintiffs "unwarranted
inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Eastern Shore Mkts. v. JD. Assocs. Ltd.,
213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). A trial court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Accordingly, to survive a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must contain facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level" and to satisfy the court that the claim is "plausible on its face." !d. at 555, 570.
Plaintiff alleges a violation of the Fourth Amendment occurred when her home was
searched without a warrant. However, even accepting as true the facts alleged in the complaint,
plaintiff has not alleged that any of the defendants searched the home or even entered the home.
The complaint clearly states that police officers, none of whom are party to this suit, conducted
an illegal search under an "alleged warrant" rather than consent. Plaintiff cannot seek relief
against these defendants for something they did not do and this claim must therefore be
dismissed. See Keenan v. Baker, 914 F.2d 256 (6th Cir. 1990) (holding that even if a search was
illegal, where defendants did not participate in the search, those defendants could not be held
Plaintiffs claim against Cumberland County also fails to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted. To establish liability of a local government, the plaintiff must allege facts
showing that (1) a government actor deprived the plaintiff of her federal rights; and (2) the harm
was the result of the local government's policy or custom. Monell v. Dep 't of Soc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 694 (1978). In order to impose local government liability an employee of the
government must have committed a constitutional violation as a result of the local policy or
custom. Here, as discussed infra Part II, taking the complaint as true, it fails to allege that a
constitutional violation occurred. Even if there was one, plaintiff has not sufficiently laid out
facts supporting her argument that the violation was the result of a local policy or custom.
Accordingly, the claims against Cumberland County fail and must be dismissed.
INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS HAVE QUALIFIED IMMUNITY.
When a public official asserts qualified immunity as a defense, the Court must determine:
(1) whether the facts alleged show that his or her actions violated a constitutional right, and (2)
whether the right asserted was "clearly established" at the time of the challenged actions. Henry
v. Purnell, 501 F.3d 374, 377 (4th Cir. 2007) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201-02
(2001). A public official is someone that uses some amount of"sovereign power and discretion,"
whereas public employees are those that perform only "ministerial duties." Dalenko v. Wake
Cnty. Dep't of Human Servs., 291 S.E.2d 630, 632 (N.C. App. 1982). Social workers are best
viewed as public officials because they are granted authority to exercise discretion in their
capacity by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 108A-14(b). Additionally, North Carolina courts have previously
held social workers to be public officials. Hobbs v. N C. Dep 't of Human Resources, 520 S.E.2d
595 (N.C. App. 1999). Here, plaintiff complains of numerous independent actions taken by
defendants in the course of their investigation. However, a public official is immune from
individual liability unless their conduct was "malicious, corrupt, or outside the scope of her
authority." Dalenko, 291 S.E.2d at 632.
Plaintiff alleges that her constitutional rights were violated by defendants in their failure
to seek an adversary hearing before seeking the immediate removal of the juveniles from the
home, and removing the juveniles where there was not an immediate danger that would justify
removing the juveniles from the home without notice to plaintiff and an opportunity for an
adversary hearing. The Fourth Circuit has held that a constitutional right does exist where "a
parent is entitled to a hearing initiated by the State before he may be deprived of custody of his
child, and in an emergency a prompt hearing may ratify the state action." Weller v. Dep 't of
Social Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 398 (4th Cir. 1990). The North Carolina Juvenile Code statutorily
provides the time requirements for such hearings. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-100 et seq. "When a
report of abuse ... is received, the director of the department of social services 1 shall make a
prompt and thorough assessment ... in order to ascertain the facts of the case, the extent of the
abuse or neglect, and the risk ofharm to the juvenile ... [which] shall include a visit to the place
where the juvenile resides." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-302(a). "[T]he director shall decide whether
immediate removal of the juvenile or any other juveniles in the home is necessary for their
In accordance with N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 108A-14(b), the director ofthe department of social services may delegate
their authority to other persons. Each of the defendants not otherwise the director has been given authority to act
pursuant to this statutory provision.
protection," and if so, "a protective services worker may assume temporary custody of the
N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-500 et seq. lays out the means of taking temporary custody of a
juvenile. A social worker is authorized to seek out telephonic approval from a person authorized
to issue a non-secure custody order for the juveniles. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-508. A district court
judge is authorized to issue a non-secure custody order. § 7B-502. The grounds for issuing a nonsecure custody order include those where a juvenile has been physically injured or where there is
a substantial risk of physical injury. § 7B-503. A hearing to determine the need for continued
non-secure custody must be held within seven days of removal, and may be continued for up to
ten days after removal. §7B-506(a).
Here, as laid out in the complaint, on June 11,2011 defendant Grimes-Gooden sought out
telephonic approval from a person authorized to issue a non-secure custody order for the
juveniles immediately after speaking to Mr. Worlock, who was not cooperative, and observing
the bruising on Cadee. Then on June 15, 2011, 4 days following the removal of the juveniles, a
hearing to determine their status was held in which custody was returned to plaintiff, but not her
husband. Plaintiff is obviously upset that, while she was honorably serving her country in the
Armed Forces in Afghanistan, a child abuse complaint was made and investigated and her
children were removed from the custody of her husband. Plaintiff is further upset by the fact that
when plaintiff returned to Cumberland County, her children were not immediately returned to
her custody because, as she alleges, no direct allegation of abuse was made against her.
However, it is clear to the Court that defendants operated within the statutory framework
provided by North Carolina throughout this incident. Therefore, no constitutional violation
occurred. Further, even if the non-return of plaintiffs children to her immediately upon her
arrival in the county was a violation of her due process rights, it is not a right that would have
been clearly established at the time. Indeed, the social workers involved were right to proceed
with caution in this situation as the safety of the children was their paramount concern and it
would have been reckless for them to immediately release the children without any sort of
proceeding. Therefore, it is beyond doubt that here, the individual defendants are entitled to
qualified immunity which bars plaintiffs claims against them and demands dismissal of this
Further, in alleging that plaintiffs rights were somehow violated when the defendants
represented "falsehoods" to the court during the hearings concerning the children, the individual
defendants are entitled to absolute immunity. See Vosburg v. Dep 't of Social Servs., 884 F.2d
133, 138 (4th Cir. 1989) (holding that social workers performing prosecutorial functions which
include filing removal petitions are entitled to absolute immunity).
INTENTION INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS.
Plaintiffs claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is premised on defendants
knowingly violating plaintiffs constitutional rights. [DE 1 at 14]. Because the Court has found
that the complaint does not sufficiently lay out a claim for a violation of her constitutional rights
and that individual defendants are entitled to qualified or absolute immunity to this suit,
plaintiffs claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress also fails.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED. This matter
is hereby DISMISSED. The Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment accordingly and to close the
SO ORDERED .
This the~ day ofNovember, 2014.
CE W. BOYLE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDG
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