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Vanzant v. Cannon

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

June 19, 2014

Ronnie Joe Vanzant, #1486538, Plaintiff,
Sheriff Al Cannon, Defendant.


JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

Ronnie Joe Vanzant ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center ("the detention center") in North Charleston, South Carolina, and he files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The Complaint is subject to summary dismissal.


Plaintiff alleges his constitutional rights have been violated because he does not have access to a law library to litigate certain pending cases pro se. [Doc. 1 at 2.] Plaintiff alleges that he represents himself in three criminal cases in three separate counties, and he has two civil cases pending in Charleston County. [ Id. at 3.] He alleges that the detention center is under the authority of Defendant Sheriff Al Cannon, and it has a policy of not offering a law library for pro se detainees. [ Id. ] Further, he alleges, "[i]t is said that I can put in a request to get certain information from a law-library. I tryed (sic) this to no avail. And even if this was allowed, or happened, I would not be allowed to do my own research. I need access to do my own research." [ Id. ] Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief in the form of an order directed to Defendant to permit Plaintiff access to a law library on a weekly basis so he can perform his own research and legal work. [ Id. at 4.]

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, 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).


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 Complaint should be dismissed because Plaintiff does not state facts sufficient to constitute a violation of the Constitution. Although the Court must liberally construe the pro se Complaint and Plaintiff is not required to plead facts sufficient to prove his case as an evidentiary matter in the Complaint, the 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 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (explaining that a plaintiff may proceed into the litigation process only when his complaint is justified by both law and fact); cf. Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S.Ct. 1289 (2011) (holding that plaintiff need not pin his claim for relief to precise legal theory). There is no constitutional right to a law library or law books; the constitutional right is for meaningful access to the courts to bring challenges to sentences or conditions of confinement. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351-52 (1996); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 305 (4th Cir. 2008). This is true even where a person charged with a crime fires his court-appointed attorney and decides to defend himself. See Dowdle v. Quinn, C/A No. 6:10-31-MBS-KFM, 2010 WL 3938387, at *3 (D.S.C. Sept. 8, 2010), adopted 2010 WL 3927808 (D.S.C. Oct. 5, 2010). Further, to state a cognizable claim for denial of meaningful access to the courts a prisoner must allege specific actual injury resulting from the alleged denial. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349-353 (1996) (holding that an inmate alleging denial of access to the courts must be able to demonstrate "actual injury" caused by the policy or procedure in effect at the place of incarceration in that his non-frivolous legal claim had been frustrated or was being impeded). In this case, Plaintiff does not allege any specific facts as to how a pending legal case has been adversely affected due to his denial of access to legal materials, and, therefore, Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable claim.

Additionally, this action is subject to dismissal to the extent Plaintiff sues Defendant in his official capacity for damages because he has Eleventh Amendment immunity. Cf. Bland v. Roberts, 730 F.3d 368, 390-91 (4th Cir. 2013). In South Carolina, a suit against a sheriff in his official capacity or a sheriff's office is a suit against the state. See Carroll v. Greenville Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 871 F.Supp. 844, 846 (D.S.C. 1994). The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution divests this Court of jurisdiction to entertain a suit brought against South Carolina or its integral parts. Under Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984), a state must expressly consent to suit in a federal district court. Id. The State of South Carolina has not consented to suit in a federal court. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-20(e) (1976) (statute expressly provides that the State of South Carolina does not waive Eleventh Amendment immunity, consents to suit only in a court of the State of South Carolina, and does not consent to suit in a federal court or in a court of another State). Thus, to the extent Plaintiff seeks damages from Defendant in his official capacity, the Complaint should be dismissed based on immunity.


It is recommended that the District Court dismiss 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 ...

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