Foye v. Lassiter et al
ORDER granting 28 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. In light of the dismissal of the complaint in this action, all remaining motions DE 26 , 27 , 32 , 34 , 35 , 38 , 44 , 47 are TERMINATED AS MOOT. The clerk is directed to close this case. Signed by District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan on 11/15/2023. A copy of this Order was sent via US mail to Maurkice Dock Foye at 3525 E. Elizabethtown Rd., TRL 114, Lumberton, NC 28358 (Collins, S)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
MAURKICE DOCK FOYE,
MATTHEW F. LASSITER and ROBESON
COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE;
This matter comes before the court on plaintiff’s motions for certain disclosures and
evidence (DE 26, 27, 32, 34, 35, 44), which the court construes as motions to compel under Fed.
R. Civ. P. 37(a), and motion for summary judgment (DE 38), and defendants’ motions for
judgment on the pleadings (DE 28) and for summary judgment (DE 47). The issues raised are ripe
for ruling. For the following reasons, defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted
and all remaining motions are terminated as moot.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Plaintiff commenced this civil rights action pro se by undated complaint in the Superior
Court of Robeson County, North Carolina, asserting violations of the First and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution by defendant Matthew F. Lassiter (“Lassiter”) in
his official capacity and defendant Robeson County Sheriff’s Office (“the Robeson Sheriff”).
Defendants removed to this court January 17, 2023 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction,
and answered the complaint January 24, 2023. Thereafter, plaintiff made several motions, which
were denied as untimely by this court’s March 1, 2023, order.
On March 28, 2023, the court entered case management order. Between April 17, 2023,
and July 6, 2023, plaintiff filed the instant six motions requesting that defendants make certain
disclosures and produce certain evidence; these motions all are construed as motions to compel.
On April 21, 2023, defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, and on May 3, 2023, plaintiff
responded in opposition.
On May 25, 2023, plaintiff moved for summary judgment, relying upon an investigator
statement, one page of a handwritten letter by Jakiya Ariona Chatman, plaintiff’s girlfriend, and a
consent to search form, but omitting a statement of material facts. See Local Civ. R. 56.1(a)(1).
Defendants responded in opposition, relying upon a statement of material facts, an appendix of
evidence, an investigative file on plaintiff maintained by defendant Robeson Sheriff, and an
affidavit by K. Robert Davis, the County Attorney for Robeson County.
On July 14, 2023, defendants moved for summary judgment, relying upon a statement of
material facts, an affidavit by defendant Lassiter, and an appendix. Plaintiff responded August 11,
2023, and defendants replied August 30, 2023.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
The following facts are asserted in the complaint. Plaintiff states that on October 6, 2021,
he was unlawfully arrested and imprisoned, and an incident report was created bearing a different
crime than the one with which plaintiff eventually was charged. (Compl. (DE 1-3) at 4).
Defendant Lassiter, who is described in the complaint as a Sheriff’s “officer,” allegedly
investigated, along with three other officers. (Id.). Plaintiff asserts that officers “found no p.c.
and charged [him] unlawfully in possession of a firearm that [he] wasn’t in possession of and with
an assault domestic against all regulations and rights.” (Compl. (DE 1-3) at 4).
detained for three and a half days, eventually spending $11,000.00 on bail. (Id. at 5).
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
Standard of Review
A motion for judgment on the pleadings is evaluated under “the same standard as a 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss.” Mayfield v. Nat’l Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 674 F.3d 369, 375
(4th Cir. 2012). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “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)). “ Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In evaluating whether a claim is stated, “[the] court accepts
all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,” but
does not consider “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of
further factual enhancement[,] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or
arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir.
Claim against Robeson County Sheriff’s Office
Defendants argue that the Robeson Sheriff is not an entity capable of being sued. The court
Throughout this order, internal quotation marks and citations are omitted unless otherwise specified.
A sheriff’s office “is not a cognizable legal entity separate from the [s]heriff in his official
capacity and the county government of which [the] office is simply an agency.” Revene v. Charles
County Commissioners, 882 F.2d 870, 874 (4th Cir. 1989). “Rightly construed,” a claim against
a sheriff’s office effectively is “a claim against the governing body of the county,” and this claim
is discussed more fully below. Id. Accordingly, defendants’ motion is granted with respect to
defendant Robeson Sheriff.
Claim against Defendant Lassiter
Defendants argue that plaintiff has failed to include allegations supporting an inference that
Robeson County’s customs or policies played a part in the asserted injury, necessary to state a
claim against defendant Lassiter in his official capacity. The court agrees. In addition, to the
extent plaintiff seeks to assert a claim against defendant Lassiter in his individual capacity, plaintiff
fails to allege facts sufficient to permit an inference of liability.
“To establish an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment,” plaintiff must allege
facts permitting an inference that “the officers decided to arrest [him] . . . without probable cause.”
Brown v. Gilmore, 278 F.3d 362, 367 (4th Cir. 2002); see also Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S.
200, 207 (1979) (noting that this prohibition applies to the states through the Fourteenth
Amendment). Probable cause exists if there is “enough evidence to warrant the belief of a
reasonable officer that an offense has been or is being committed; evidence sufficient to convict is
not required.” Brown, 278 F.2d at 367. In addition, “the First Amendment prohibits government
officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions,” including by arresting the individual,
“for engaging in protected speech.” Nieves v. Bartlett, 139 S. Ct. 1715, 1722 (2019). “To prevail
on such a claim, a plaintiff must establish a causal connection between the government defendant’s
retaliatory animus and the plaintiff’s subsequent injury.” Id. 2
“To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by
the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was
committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
“[A] state official in his or her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, [is] a person under
§ 1983 because ‘official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against
the State.’” Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 n.10 (1989). However, “an
official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.”
Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985).
“[A] governmental entity is liable under § 1983 only when the entity itself is a moving
force behind the deprivation.” Id. Accordingly, “[b]ecause the real party in interest in an officialcapacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official, the entity’s policy or custom
must have played a part in the violation of federal law.’” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991).
“[I]t is when execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by
those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the
government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.” Hunter v. Town of Mocksville, 897 F.3d
538, 554 (4th Cir. 2018).
A policy or custom for which a [government entity] may be held liable can arise in
four ways: (1) through an express policy, such as a written ordinance or regulation;
(2) through the decisions of a person with final policymaking authority; (3) through
an omission, such as a failure to properly train officers, that “manifest[s] deliberate
indifference to the rights of citizens”; or (4) through a practice that is so “persistent
and widespread” as to constitute a “custom or usage with the force of law.”
Where plaintiff “has not alleged any conduct on the officer’s part that even arguably is governed by” the
Fifth Amendment, the court is unable to identify a Fifth Amendment standard applicable to this case. Taylor v. Waters,
81 F.3d 429, 437 n.6 (4th Cir. 1996).
Lytle v. Doyle, 326 F.3d 463, 471 (4th Cir. 2003) (second alteration in original).
Plaintiff does not allege facts supporting an inference that Robeson County, the
municipality and the real party in interest for purposes of the official capacity claim against
defendant Lassiter, engaged in a policy or custom that played a part in the injury alleged.
Plaintiff’s allegations are confined to the specific instance discussed above, without reference to
Robeson County’s customs, policies, or practices. Accordingly, his claim against defendant
Lassiter in his official capacity is dismissed.
Plaintiff’s arguments are directed toward the wrongfulness of his arrest rather than any
practices of Robeson County or similar instances of the same conduct directed toward others. In
considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court confines its review to the allegations
in the complaint. Where plaintiff is proceeding without representation, the court has examined the
record carefully for any attempt to amend the complaint to add allegations that Robeson County’s
policies or practices contributed to the injury alleged. Where no such allegations appear, however,
plaintiff fails to state a claim against defendant Lassiter in his official capacity.
The court also has considered whether plaintiff has stated a claim against defendant
Lassiter in his individual capacity, where plaintiff suggests in his complaint that defendant Lassiter
and other Sheriff’s officers personally engaged in wrongful conduct. However, the complaint fails
to allege enough “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. For example, plaintiff
suggests defendant Lassiter “found no p.c. and charged [him] unlawfully in possession of a firearm
that [he] wasn’t in possession of and with an assault domestic against all regulations and rights.”
(Compl. (DE 1-3) at 4). Plaintiff does not, however, allege facts upon which to infer defendant
Lassiter lacked probable cause to arrest plaintiff on all charges, including domestic assault. See
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 (“[A] plaintiff must plead that each [g]overnment-official defendant,
through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”); Brown, 278 F.3d at
367 (requiring a complaint to allege facts permitting an inference that an officer lacked probable
cause to arrest the plaintiff). Therefore, where plaintiff fails to state a claim against defendant
Lassiter, plaintiff’s complaint must be dismissed as a matter of law.
In light of the court’s dismissal of the complaint, plaintiff’s motions to compel (DE 26, 27,
32, 34, 35, 44) and motion for summary judgment (DE 38) and defendants’ motion for summary
judgment (DE 47) all are terminated as moot.
Based on the foregoing, defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings (DE 28) is
GRANTED. Plaintiff’s claims are DISMISSED. In light of the dismissal of the complaint in this
action, all remaining motions (DE 26, 27, 32, 34, 35, 38, 44, 47) are TERMINATED AS MOOT.
The clerk is directed to close this case.
SO ORDERED, this the 15th day of November, 2023.
LOUISE W. FLANAGAN
United States District Judge
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