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James I. Aiken v. Sheriff Al Cannon Jr.

February 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge


Currently pending before the Court are: (1) the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that the Court partially dismiss the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint without prejudice and without issuance and service of process against Defendants Charleston County Sheriff's Office ("CCSO") and Charleston County Detention Center ("CCDC") [Docket # 35]; and (2) the Magistrate Judge's R&R recommending that the Court deny the Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") [Docket # 38]. For the following reasons, the Court adopts both R&Rs.

Procedural History

This case was initiated on October 19, 2010, when the Plaintiff filed a Complaint appearing to assert various claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, the Plaintiff complains that he was improperly placed in permanent disciplinary lock-up, his bag lunches fell below his 2000-calorie daily dietary requirement, and that he has been permanently denied phone calls, visitation, canteen, recreation, request forms, grievance forms, and medical forms. The Plaintiff also filed a one-page handwritten Motion for a TRO, stating "I fear that when they are served the oppression will increase. Also, I need an emergency hearing for some type of temporary relief immediately." [Docket # 4] On November 22, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in which he named two additional Defendants: CCSO and CCDC. The Plaintiff requests $5 million in damages from both of these Defendants. On December 2, 2010, the Defendants filed a Response in Opposition to the Plaintiff's Motion for a TRO. On December 9, 2010, the Magistrate Judge filed a R&R, recommending that the Amended Complaint be dismissed without prejudice as to Defendants CCSO and CCDC without issuance and service of process. The Plaintiff filed no objections to this R&R. On December 14, 2010, the Magistrate Judge filed another R&R, recommending that the Court deny the Plaintiff's Motion for a TRO. The Plaintiff filed timely objections to this R&R on December 29, 2010.

Standard of Review

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the R&R to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The Court is obligated to conduct a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only general and conclusory objections that do not direct the Court to a specific error in the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47-48 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed specific objection, the Magistrate Judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).


Defendants CCSO and CCDC

In her R&R [Docket # 35], the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court dismiss the Amended Complaint in this case without prejudice and without issuance and service of process for Defendants CCSO and CCDC because CCSO is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and CCDC is not a "person" acting "under color of state law." See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Plaintiff has failed to file objections to this recommendation. Pursuant to Pennhurst State Sch.. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984),unless the State of South Carolina has consented to suit, it and its agencies have immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment. Id. at 98-100 ("[A]n unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another state. . . . [I]n the absence of consent a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment."). As noted by the Magistrate Judge, the State of South Carolina has not consented to suit in federal court. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-20(e). A suit against the CCSO is a suit against the State of South Carolina itself. See Carroll v. Greenville Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 871 F. Supp. 844, 846 (D.S.C. 1994) ("It is well-established in this state that a sheriff's office is an agency of, and a sheriff 'dominated by,' the state, such that a suit against the sheriff in his official capacity is a suit against the State."). Accordingly, the CCSO, as an agency of the State, has Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Stewart v. Beaufort Cnty., 481 F. Supp. 2d 483, 492 (D.S.C. 2007) ("[A] federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear a cause of action against a South Carolina Sheriff's Department, as such a suit is barred by state immunity."). Thus, the Magistrate Judge correctly determined that CCSO is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, and dismissal of the Amended Complaint as to this Defendant is appropriate.

Notably, it appears that the Plaintiff brings suit against the individual Defendants in their official capacities:

The Charleston County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) has jurisdiction over the Al Cannon Detention Center (ACDC), coupled with the fact that Chief Lucas has been deputized by the power invested in the CCSO to function on its behalf as Chief Administrating Deputy in the ACDC. Crider has been deputized as well by the CCSO to function as a deputy in the ACDC on its behalf. As a natural consequence their actions were born out of their official position opposed to their personal position. Thus, Plaintiff lists both CCSO and the ACDC as separate Defendants, for both entities are liable for the actions of their representatives/agents. Thus, CCSO and ACDC are rightly listed as separate Defendants.

Pl.['s] Am. Compl., p. 4 (emphasis added). It is well settled, in both South Carolina law and federal law regarding § 1983 litigation, that a Sheriff in South Carolina is an arm of the State, and, as such, enjoys Eleventh Amendment Immunity in federal court when sued in his official capacity. See Cromer v. Brown, 88 F.3d 1315, 1331-32 (4th Cir. 1996); Cone v. Nettles, 308 S.C. 109, 417 S.E.2d 523, 524-25 (1992). This immunity extends to the Sheriff's Office, including the individual employees and deputy sheriffs of the Sheriff's Office. See Gulledge v. Smart, 691 F. Supp. 947, 954-55 (D.S.C. 1988) (concluding that a deputy sheriff is an agent of the State and entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity); Cone, 308 S.C. at 111, 417 S.E.2d at 525 (holding that a deputy sheriff is a state official and not liable in his official capacity for monetary damages under § 1983); see also Barrett v. Brooks, No. 4:00-2967-19BF, 2001 WL 34684725, at *9-10 (D.S.C. Sept. 28, 2001)(stating Eleventh Amendment immunity applies to the States and "arms of the states," including state agencies, divisions, departments and officials, for purposes of Section 1983 litigation (citing Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989))). Thus, to the extent that the individual Defendants are sued in their official capacities, they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from liability for monetary damages under § 1983.

The Amended Complaint should also be dismissed as to Defendant CCDC because it is not a proper party to a lawsuit filed pursuant to § 1983. In order to state a claim for relief under § 1983, the Plaintiff must sufficiently allege (1) that he "has been deprived of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under the color of state law." Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998). The CCDC is an entity, facility, or group of buildings, and not a "person acting under the color of state law." See, e.g., Brooks v. Pembroke City Jail, 722 F. Supp. 1294, 1301 (E.D.N.C. 1989) ("Claims under § 1983 are directed at 'persons' and the jail is not a person amenable to suit."); Moore v. Charleston Cnty. Det. Ctr., No. 8:08-cv-00492, 2008 WL 2001959, at *3 (D.S.C. May 6, 2008) ("The Defendant Charleston County Detention Center is ...

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