Thomas v. Salvation Army S. Territory

Decision Date08 November 2016
Docket NumberNo. 14-2214,14-2214
Parties Sharon T. Thomas, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. The Salvation Army Southern Territory ; F. Bradford Bailey; The Salvation Army; Bobby Lancaster; Deronda Metz; Barbara Green; Victory Christian Center, Incorporated; Church in the City Ministries ; Cathy Doe; Friendship Community Development Corporation, My Sister's House Transitional Living Center; Iris Hubbard, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Gregory Dolin, University of Baltimore School of Law, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Matthew David Lincoln, Moore & Van Allen PLLC, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Catherine Florea, Third Year Law Student, Marie Langlois, Second Year Law Student, University of Baltimore School of Law, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

Before WILKINSON and FLOYD, Circuit Judges, and Irene M. KEELEY, United States District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.

Affirmed as modified by published opinion. Judge Wilkinson

wrote the opinion, in which Judge Floyd and Judge Keeley joined.


, Circuit Judge:

Sharon Thomas appeals the dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)

of her claims against three charitable organizations, which she says unlawfully refused to admit her to homeless shelters because of her alleged mental health disability. We affirm the judgment of dismissal as modified to indicate that it be without prejudice.


Thomas was receiving behavioral health services from Monarch Mental Health Care, a non-profit organization, when she became homeless on July 10, 2012. Monarch referred her to defendant Salvation Army. When she arrived at the Salvation Army shelter on July 12, 2012, Thomas completed some preliminary paperwork, agreed to follow the shelter's rules, and was admitted.

The Salvation Army shelter was crowded, and on July 16, a Salvation Army staff member informed Thomas that she would be transferred to defendant Church in the City, a shelter run by the third and final defendant, Victory Christian Center.1 During an intake interview with a Church in the City nurse, Thomas disclosed her mental health issues. In her complaint, Thomas describes Church in the City as having strict rules and as being “very clean and quiet.” J.A. 13. Thomas stayed at Church in the City for almost a month before being evicted, and she claims that she followed all of the shelter's rules during her stay.

While at Church in the City, Thomas visited the Salvation Army shelter twice. First, on July 19, Thomas completed the Salvation Army's official intake assessment paperwork. In this paperwork, Thomas disclosed that she was receiving behavioral mental health services and authorized the release of some medical information to the Salvation Army. Second, on July 31, Thomas went to the Salvation Army to see a doctor to get medication. Thomas does not specify what medication she was receiving, but she notes that the doctor referred her to a behavioral health center. On the same visit, Thomas met with her Salvation Army case manager. The meeting included a discussion of Thomas's mental health issues.

Thomas's problems with the shelters began on August 12, when Church in the City evicted her. The shelter did not give Thomas a reason for her ejection. Another woman was evicted at the same time for missing the shelter's curfew, though Thomas avers that she never missed curfew. Thomas's complaint notes that she had been given additional chores the day before—cleaning three showers instead of two—by a volunteer who had, a few weeks earlier, told Thomas not to question the Bible during a Bible study class.

From August 12 through August 15, Thomas tried and failed to be admitted to the Salvation Army shelter a number of times. Immediately after being ejected from Church in the City, Thomas went to the Salvation Army shelter. She was told that she would not be allowed to stay there if she had been ejected from Church in the City. That same day, Thomas was hospitalized for chest pains, and a hospital social worker called the Salvation Army on her behalf. The social worker was informed that Thomas's Salvation Army case worker had decided that Thomas would not be admitted to the Salvation Army shelter.

Thomas herself called the Salvation Army twice the next day, August 13. On the first phone call, Thomas's case manager told her that she had been ejected from Church in the City for violating curfew. This call ended after Thomas accused her case manager of acting unethically. On the second phone call, the director of the Salvation Army shelter told Thomas she had been ejected from Church in the City because she was not a good fit.

The following night, August 14, Thomas had nowhere to stay and went to the police department for help. Two police officers escorted her to the Salvation Army shelter, where she was again denied entry. This time, a staff member told Thomas that the director of the shelter had instructed her not to let Thomas stay. The staff member did not give a specific reason for that instruction but apparently believed it was due to mental health issues and that if Thomas received a mental health evaluation, she would be admitted to the shelter. Thomas went to a psychiatric emergency room and was examined by a psychiatrist. The next day, August 15, Thomas returned to the Salvation Army shelter with her psychiatric discharge papers. She was again refused admission to the shelter, though this time Thomas was not given a reason for the denial.

Thomas does not allege that she sought admission at the Salvation Army shelter after August 15, but she did continue to seek an answer for why she had been denied admission. On September 12, 2012, she received an email from the Area Commander for the Salvation Army, explaining that he had investigated her case and that the denial of services was justified because Thomas had “exhibited disrespect and hostility toward the staff.” J.A. 21. The Area Commander offered shelter if Thomas submitted to “a mental health evaluation and stabilization services from” a behavioral mental health organization. J.A. 21. In response, Thomas requested records of her stay and of the Salvation Army's relationship with Church in the City. On October 23, 2012, Thomas received an email from another Salvation Army employee, denying her request for records.

Nearly two years later, on July 24, 2014, Thomas filed this action in the Western District of North Carolina, moving to proceed in forma pauperis. The district court granted Thomas's motion. In the same order, however, the district court dismissed all of Thomas's claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)

for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. In addition, the district court warned Thomas that if she continued to file meritless lawsuits, it would require her to show cause as to why the court should not enter a pre- filing injunction against her. Thomas now appeals.


Thomas challenges the dismissal of her claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

, 42 U.S.C. § 1985, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court dismissed these claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). “The standards for reviewing a dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) are the same as those for reviewing a dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003). Thus, we review this dismissal de novo and accept pleaded facts as true. King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 212, 214 (4th Cir. 2016). While we construe allegations in a pro se complaint liberally, a complaint still “must contain ‘enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’ Id. at 214 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). We shall address each of Thomas's various claims in turn.2

A. Thomas's § 1983

claim cannot proceed because none of the defendants are state actors. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that he was “deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law.” Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49–50, 119 S.Ct. 977, 143 L.Ed.2d 130 (1999). The color of law requirement “excludes from its reach merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrongful.” Id. at 50, 119 S.Ct. 977 (internal quotations omitted). In rare cases, the state can “so dominate[ ] [private] activity as to convert it to state action.” Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 181 (4th Cir. 2009). The defendants here are three private charities, and Thomas has not alleged any facts that even remotely suggest that defendants' actions were attributable to the state. Without state action, Thomas has no § 1983 claim.

B. Thomas's § 1985

claim of a civil conspiracy between the Salvation Army and Church in the City must also be dismissed because there are no allegations to support the existence of any conspiracy. To bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, a plaintiff must show:

(1) a conspiracy of two or more persons, (2) who are motivated by a specific class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus to (3) deprive the plaintiff of the equal enjoyment of rights secured by the law to all, (4) and which results in injury to the plaintiff as (5) a consequence of an overt act committed by the defendants in connection with the conspiracy.

Simmons v. Poe, 47 F.3d 1370, 1376 (4th Cir. 1995)

. Allegations of “parallel conduct and a bare assertion of a conspiracy” are not enough for a claim to proceed. A Soc'y Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 347 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

Thomas provides no facts to suggest that the Salvation Army and Church in the City conspired to do anything, much less to deprive her of rights because of...

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