Davis v. Durham Mental Health Dev. Disabilities

Decision Date01 June 2004
Docket NumberNo. 1:03 CV 273.,1:03 CV 273.
Citation320 F.Supp.2d 378
PartiesCarolyn DAVIS, Plaintiff, v. DURHAM MENTAL HEALTH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES SUBSTANCE ABUSE AREA AUTHORITY, d.b.a. and a.k.a. The Durham Mental Health Center, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina

Karen Frasier Alston, Janet Juanita Lennon, Frasier & Alston, P.A., Durham, NC, for Plaintiff.

Lucy Chavis, S.C. Kitchen, Curtis O. Massey, II, Durham County Attorney's Office, Durham, NC, for Defendants.

RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

OSTEEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Carolyn Davis, a former employee at the Durham Mental Health Developmental Disabilities Substance Abuse Area Authority ("the Durham Center"), has sued the Durham Center and other defendants, alleging race and color discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; a violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights; race discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and a violation of the North Carolina Whistleblower Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 126-84 et seq.1 Defendants have filed motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim under Rules 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [pleading nos. 4-1, 6-1, 8-1, 10-1], and Defendants' motions have been referred to the undersigned.2 Plaintiff has also filed a motion to amend her Amended Complaint [pleading no. 17-1], and that motion is also before the court. The parties have filed responsive pleadings and this matter is ripe for disposition. Since there has been no consent, I must address the motions by way of a recommended disposition.

FACTS

Defendant Durham Center is a mental health area authority, created pursuant to Article 4 of North Carolina's Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Act of 1985 ("the Act"), N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 122C-2 to 122C-433. The Durham Center provides community based mental health, developmental, and substance abuse services within the Durham County area. See Compl. ¶ 16(a). The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff Carolyn Davis, an African-American woman of brown skin color who at all relevant times was at least forty years old, worked at the Durham Center for 24 years, beginning in 1977, until she was fired in August 2002. According to Plaintiff, she advanced without incident until February 2002, when the acting Area Director resigned, leaving the Area Director position vacant. At that time, Plaintiff was employed as the Durham Center's Deputy Area Director, and she alleges that she applied for and was interviewed for a promotion to fill the vacancy left by the Area Director. See Amended Compl. ¶¶ 4, 17(b).

On or about April 1, 2002, the Durham Center selected Ellen Holliman, a white non-employee, to serve as the center's Interim Area Director. See Amended Compl. ¶ 17(c), (d). Holliman's employment agreement stated that she would serve as the Interim Area Director until March 31, 2003, while the Durham Center was seeking a permanent Area Director. Plaintiff has alleged that Holliman has since been appointed to the permanent Area Director position, and Holliman has not denied that she is now serving as the Durham Center's Area Director. See Br. Supp. Mot. Dismiss by Holliman.

Plaintiff alleges that on or around April 18, 2002, she complained to the Durham Center that the center had discriminated against her in failing to select her for the Interim Area Director position. See Amended Compl. ¶ 17(g). Furthermore, on or about August 5, 2002, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging race and age discrimination in failure to promote her.3 On August 8, 2002, Defendant Holliman, while acting as the Interim Area Director, placed Plaintiff on "suspended with pay" status, and on August 28, 2002, Defendant Holliman fired Plaintiff, citing alleged misconduct by Plaintiff at a board meeting. See Amended Compl. ¶ 17(j). On March 26, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this court, alleging (1) race and color discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) age discrimination and retaliation under the ADEA; (3) violations of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights; (4) and "[w]histleblower retaliation" under North Carolina's Whistleblower Act. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on July 1, 2003. The named Defendants include Durham County; the Durham Center; the Durham Center's Area Board; Jackye Knight in her official capacity as Durham County's Director of Human Resources; Ellen Holliman in her official capacity as the Durham Center's Area Director; MaryAnn E. Black in her official capacity as a Durham County Commissioner and Area Board member; and Harold Batiste, Nancye Bryan, Karen Crumbliss, Phillip Golden, Terrance McCabe, Thomas Owen, Douglas Wright, and Hugh Wright, Jr., in their official capacities as Area Board members.

In support of her various claims, Plaintiff maintains that, in failing to promote her and in firing her, the Durham Center violated personnel policies and procedures, wasted public funds, and discriminated and retaliated against her because of her race, color, and age. See Amended Compl. ¶ 17(c), (d). In addition, Plaintiff contends that she was treated differently from the other applicants for the Interim Area Director position, who were all white, in the following manner: the Durham Center's Area Board asked the white applicants a set of written questions during their interviews but did not ask Plaintiff the same set of written questions during her interview; the Board sent written notification to the white applicants not selected for the position but the Board did not send Plaintiff written notification of her nonselection; and Defendant Holliman was hired at a salary higher than the amount that the Durham Center was willing to pay Plaintiff even though Holliman lacked Plaintiff's education and knowledge of the Durham Center and the community served by the center. See Amended Compl. ¶ 17(c), (d). Finally, Plaintiff alleges that she was asked "age related questions during her interview" and that white employees "have not been disciplined or terminated under circumstances similar to that of Plaintiff." See Amended Compl. ¶ 17(m). Plaintiff alleges that Durham County, the Durham Center, and the Area Board have waived sovereign immunity through the purchase of liability insurance, and she seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages. See Amended Compl. ¶¶ 13, 14.

Defendants have now filed various motions to dismiss Plaintiff's claims under Rules 12(b)(1), (12)(b)(2), and (12)(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure based on (1) lack of jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; (2) Eleventh Amendment immunity as to Defendant Durham Center (3) the affirmative defense of res judicata based on Plaintiff's two previously filed state court lawsuits, which arose out of her non-promotion to the Interim Area Director position; and (4) failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. Before turning to the merits of Plaintiff's claims, I will first address Defendants' arguments as to Rooker-Feldman, res judicata, and Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity.

Plaintiff's Previously Filed State Court and State Administrative Proceedings

In addition to filing this lawsuit, Plaintiff also initiated state court and administrative proceedings arising out of Plaintiff's failure to be promoted to the position of Interim Area Director and out of Defendants' alleged retaliatory suspension and firing of Plaintiff. I will discuss these proceedings before turning to the merits of Plaintiff's claims since these prior proceedings are related to Defendants' res judicata and Rooker-Feldman arguments.

On May 2, 2002, Plaintiff filed two separate lawsuits in Durham County Superior Court. The defendants named in the state court lawsuits included all defendants named in this suit, plus additional defendants not named in this suit.4 In the first state court lawsuit, bearing case number 02CVS3232 and hereinafter referred to as the "negligence lawsuit," Plaintiff sued Durham County; Jackye Knight in her individual and official capacity as the Director of Human Resources for Durham County; the Durham Center; and sixteen of the Durham Center's Area Board members in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to comply with state and local personnel hiring requirements when selecting an Area Director and that they wasted public funds in the process.5 Plaintiff contended, for instance, that when filling the Area Director position, Defendants did not follow internal and external posting requirements, did not follow internal recruitment preferences, did not form a search committee, and did not establish a recruitment period and a closing date. Plaintiff requested compensatory damages, including lost wages. She also requested that the court nullify Holliman's appointment to the Interim Area Director position. On August 14, 2002, the Durham County Superior Court dismissed Plaintiff's negligence lawsuit with prejudice as to the Durham Center and Jackye Knight and dismissed the action without prejudice as to the remaining defendants, finding that Plaintiff had not exhausted her administrative remedies as to those defendants. On September 11, 2002, Plaintiff filed a notice to appeal the state court's dismissal, but she subsequently withdrew her appeal.

In Plaintiff's second state court lawsuit, bearing case number 02CV2211 and hereinafter referred to as the "open meetings" lawsuit, Plaintiff...

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