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Brown v. Greenwood County Jail

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

May 27, 2014

Manvel Lee Brown, Plaintiff,
v.
Greenwood County Jail; Head Nurse Donna or Donald at GWD, SC; Lt. Luke Lark; Captain Sharon Middleton, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

Manvel Lee Brown ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is detained at the Greenwood County Jail ("the jail"), and he files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The jail should be summarily dismissed from this action without service of process.

Background

Among other claims, Plaintiff alleges his constitutional rights have been violated during his detention at the jail based on deliberate indifference to his safety and serious medical needs.[1] [Doc. 1 at 2-5.] Plaintiff alleges he was detained at the jail beginning December 6, 2013, and on March 1, 2014, he and a roommate had a violent fight that was "prestage[d] and set up by Lt. Lark." [ Id. at 3.] He further alleges he was denied prescription medicines before and after the March 1, 2014, incident. [ Id. ] He requests damages from the jail and Greenwood County. [ Id. at 5.]

Standard of Review

Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) DSC, the undersigned is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute. This statute authorizes the District Court to dismiss a case if it is satisfied that the action "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, " is "frivolous or malicious, " or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Further, Plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and "seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court is charged with screening Plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the Complaint if (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

As a pro se litigant, Plaintiff's pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ( per curiam ). However, even under this less stringent standard, a portion of the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or "conjure up questions never squarely presented" to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

Discussion

The Complaint is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which "is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). A civil action under § 1983 "creates a private right of action to vindicate violations of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." Rehberg v. Paulk, 132 S.Ct. 1497, 1501 (2012). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

The jail should be dismissed because Plaintiff fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted against it. It is well settled that only "persons" may act under color of state law, and, therefore, a defendant in a § 1983 action must qualify as a "person." Inanimate objects such as buildings, facilities, and grounds cannot act under color of state law. See Nelson v. Lexington Cnty. Det. Ctr., C/A No. 8:10-2988-JMC, 2011 WL 2066551 (D.S.C. May 26, 2011) (finding that a building, detention center, is not amenable to suit under § 1983); 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."). Here, the jail is a group of buildings or a facility and not a person subject to suit. Of course, to the extent Plaintiff may be attempting to sue the staff of the jail, he still fails to state a cognizable claim because groups of people are not amenable to suit under § 1983. See Harden v. Green, 27 F.Appx. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983); Dalton v. South Carolina Dep't of Corr., C/A No. 8:09-260-CMC-BHH, 2009 WL 823931, at *2 (D.S.C. March 26, 2009) (dismissing the medical staff of SCDC and Prison Health Services as defendants because they were not persons).

Additionally, to the extent Plaintiff may be attempting to sue Greenwood County, his § 1983 claim fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted because he does not allege that the county had an official policy or custom that caused his injuries. See Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011) (a local government may be liable if an action pursuant to official municipal policy caused a plaintiff's injury; however, it cannot be vicariously liable for its employees' actions).

Recommendation

It is recommended that the District Court dismiss Defendant Greenwood County Jail from this action without prejudice and without issuance and service of process. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal). This action remains pending, and service of process is authorized for Defendants Head Nurse Donna or Donald at GWD, SC, Lt. Luke Lark, and Captain Sharon Middleton.


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