NC RSOL v. Boone

Decision Date26 August 2019
Docket Number1:18CV597
Citation402 F.Supp.3d 240
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina
Parties NC RSOL and John Doe 1, also known as Christopher Kyle Woodruff, Plaintiffs, v. Sean BOONE and Lorrin Freeman, each in his or her official capacity as District Attorney, and Joshua Stein, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of North Carolina, Defendants.

Paul Moore Dubbeling, P.M. Dubbeling, PLLC, Chapel Hill, NC, for Plaintiffs.

Ann W. Matthews, N.C. Dept. of Justice Office of the Attorney General, Anna M. Davis, Tamika Henderson, N.C. Department of Justice, Raleigh, NC, for Defendants.


OSTEEN, JR., District Judge

This case is now before the court on Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of standing, sovereign immunity, abstention, and failure to state a claim. (See Doc. 12.) This court has reviewed the pleadings in this case and, for the reasons that follow, finds that Defendants' motion to dismiss should be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff NC RSOL is a nonprofit organization that "advocate[s], both legislatively and legally, for the rational reform of statutes, regulations, and ordinances regarding sex offender registries and legal restrictions placed upon registrants." (Complaint ("Compl.") (Doc. 1) ¶ 42.) As initially filed, the complaint also named two individuals as Plaintiffs: John Doe 1 and John Doe 2. Following this court's order denying Plaintiffs' motion to proceed under fictitious names, (Doc. 19), Plaintiff John Doe 2 voluntarily dismissed his claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i). (See Doc. 20.) Plaintiff John Doe 1 filed an affidavit stating his legal name and will be referred to herein as "Woodruff." (Doc. 21.)

Plaintiff Woodruff is a registered sex offender who resides in Alamance County, North Carolina, "and is subject to the restrictions contained in North Carolina General Statutes Article 27A, specifically including N.C.G.S. § 14-208.18(a)(3) and (a)(4)." (Compl. (Doc. 1) ¶ 22.) Woodruff was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery of a thirty-year-old woman in 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 23–26.) The complaint alleges that Woodruff "desires to attend church, to be able to go to the public library, to go to movies, sporting events, recreation parks, amusement parks, and other areas made off-limits to him by § 14-208.8(a)(3) [sic]." (Id. ¶ 95.) Woodruff also desires to attend North Carolina state and agricultural fairs and would do so but for the restrictions in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.18(a)(4). (See id. ¶¶ 107–17.)

Plaintiffs challenge the premises restrictions in N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-208.18(a)(2)(a)(4), which make it unlawful for registered sex offenders to knowingly be present at certain locations. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that § 14-208.18(a)(2) is unconstitutionally "overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution," that § 14-208.18(a)(3) is both overbroad and unconstitutionally vague, and that § 14-208.18(a)(4) is overbroad. (Id. ¶¶ 119–30.)

Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. R. 12(b)(1), (b)(2), and (b)(6), asserting sovereign immunity, lack of standing, and failure to state a claim. (Doc. 12.) Defendants filed a brief in support of their motion to dismiss. (See Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mem.") (Doc. 13).) Plaintiffs have responded opposing the motion to dismiss, (Pls.' Resp. and Mem. in Resp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Pls.' Resp.") (Doc. 15)), and Defendants have not filed a reply brief.


"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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). In other words, the plaintiff must plead facts that "allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable" and must demonstrate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

When ruling on a motion to dismiss, this court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. Further, "the complaint, including all reasonable inferences therefrom, [is] liberally construed in the plaintiff's favor." Estate of Williams-Moore v. All. One Receivables Mgmt., Inc., 335 F. Supp. 2d 636, 646 (M.D.N.C. 2004) (citation omitted). Despite this deferential standard, a court will not accept legal conclusions as true, and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, [will] not suffice."

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

A. Legal Framework

The federal judicial power extends only to cases or controversies within the scope of Article III of the United States Constitution. See U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. To have standing, "[t]he plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision." Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S. ––––, ––––, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547, 194 L.Ed.2d 635 (2016). Stated differently, "[a] plaintiff must allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief."3 Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750, 104 S.Ct. 3315, 82 L.Ed.2d 556 (1984), abrogated on other grounds by Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 572 U.S. 118, 134 S.Ct. 1377, 188 L.Ed.2d 392 (2014).

First, the plaintiff must have either suffered an injury or be in imminent fear of an injury. "A plaintiff who challenges a statute must demonstrate a realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury as a result of the statute's operation or enforcement." Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat'l Union, 442 U.S. 289, 298, 99 S.Ct. 2301, 60 L.Ed.2d 895 (1979). That injury must be "(a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical." Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) (internal citations, quotation marks and footnote omitted). Plaintiffs generally may challenge alleged violations prospectively, provided that "the threatened injury is real, immediate, and direct." Davis v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 554 U.S. 724, 734, 128 S.Ct. 2759, 171 L.Ed.2d 737 (2008). "Past exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief, however, if unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects." O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495–96, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974).

Second, the injury must be "fairly traceable" to the defendant's conduct. This does not mean that the plaintiffs must prove to an absolute certainty that the defendant's actions caused or are likely to cause injury; rather the "plaintiffs need only show that there is a substantial likelihood that defendant's conduct caused plaintiffs' harm." Pub. Interest Research Grp. of N.J., Inc. v. Powell Duffryn Terminals Inc., 913 F.2d 64, 72 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Envtl. Study Grp., Inc., 438 U.S. 59, 75 n.20, 98 S.Ct. 2620, 57 L.Ed.2d 595 (1978) ) (internal quotation marks omitted). While this standard excludes any injury that is "the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court, [it] does not exclude injury produced by determinative or coercive effect upon the action of someone else." Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 169, 117 S.Ct. 1154, 137 L.Ed.2d 281 (1997) (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560–61, 112 S.Ct. 2130 ). For example, in Bennett, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs had alleged an injury "fairly traceable" to the Fish and Wildlife Service when the Service's (technically advisory) biological opinion expressing concern about a land reclamation project's impact on endangered wildlife prompted a federal agency to enforce minimum reservoir levels. Id. at 167–71, 117 S.Ct. 1154.

Third and finally, the law requires that it be "likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision" from the court. Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 181, 120 S.Ct. 693, 145 L.Ed.2d 610 (2000). This requirement "examines the causal connection between the alleged injury and the judicial relief requested" and asks whether a judicial decision granting the requested relief will alleviate plaintiff's alleged injury. See Allen, 468 U.S. at 753 n.19, 104 S.Ct. 3315 (explaining the distinction between the "fairly traceable" and "redressable" components of standing).

B. Analysis

Prior to the Fourth Circuit's decision substantively affirming the district court in Doe v. Cooper, 842 F.3d 833 (4th Cir. 2016) (" Cooper III"), a former judge in this district found that registered sex offenders had standing to challenge the prior version of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.18(a). See Does 1–5 v. Cooper, 40 F. Supp. 3d 657 (M.D.N.C. 2014) (" Cooper I" ). In its standing analysis, the court compared the facts of that case to the Fourth Circuit case Doe v. Virginia Department of State Police, 713 F.3d 745 (4th Cir. 2013), where the plaintiff lacked standing to challenge Virginia's sex offender premises restrictions ( Va. Code § 18.2-370.5 ). The Virginia statute that criminalized sex offender presence in certain locations also contemplated that a registered sex offender could "petition the circuit court in the county or city where the school or child day center is located for permission to enter such property" and become exempt from certain restrictions upon obtaining a court order and permission from the school board or property owner. Va. Code §...

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