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Russell v. Haley

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

June 30, 2014

Brian Russell, Plaintiff,
Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina; State of South Carolina; Lillian Kohler, Director of South Carolina Department of Social Services; Jean Hanna, Director of Kershaw County Department of Social Services; Shalia Belton, Defendants.[1]


CAMERON McGOWAN CURRIE, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's complaint alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims. On May 27, 2014, Defendants State of South Carolina, Lillian Kohler, Jean Hanna, and Shalia Belton filed a motion for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims. ECF No. 32. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, has not responded to Defendants' motion and the time for doing so has expired.


Plaintiff's complaint "is far from a model of clarity, rendering enigmatic an identification of the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed by the challenged [conduct].'" Taylor v. Waters, 81 F.3d 429, 433 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989)). See also Cook v. Howard, 484 F.App'x 805, 807 (4th Cir. 2012) (noting as to the plaintiff's complaint and reply brief that to say that they "are poorly drafted is to be generous.").

In the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the facts are as follows. On March 12, 2012, the Kershaw County Department of Social Services (Kershaw DSS) received and investigated an allegation that Stacy Renee Melton, the biological mother and custodial parent of Plaintiff's minor children, had been using illegal drugs. See Compl. at ¶¶ 14-15, ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff was working in Tennessee at the time, but upon notice of the Kershaw DSS involvement, returned to South Carolina. Id. at ¶ 16. Plaintiff submitted to and failed a drug screening test. Id. at ¶ 17. Between March 2012 and December 2012, Plaintiff completed parenting classes and a relapse prevention program. Id. at ¶ 19-20. Plaintiff consented to a second Safety Plan on July 27, 2012.

On December 21, 2012, Defendant Shalia Belton asked Plaintiff to sign a new Safety Plan, based upon an allegation of physical abuse against Plaintiff by one of the minor children. The Plan called for Plaintiff to have supervised visits with his children at the Kershaw DSS office with a Kershaw DSS officer present. Plaintiff contends Defendant Belton threatened to place the children in foster care if the Safety Plan was not signed. Id. at ¶ 23. Plaintiff refused to sign the plan. Id. at ¶ 22.

On January 18, 2013, Kershaw DSS filed a summons and complaint in Family Court against Plaintiff, Stacy Melton and Robin Horton. Id. at ¶ 24. The Family Court complaint alleged that the minor children in question had been "abused and/or neglected... in that the child [sic] was harmed or threatened with harm, " Ex. B to Aff. of Jean Hanna (hereinafter "Hanna Aff.") at 4, ECF No. 32-13, and that "a separate investigation has been initiated for physical abuse." Id. at 6. The Family Court complaint sought temporary placement of the minor children with other family members, that Melton and Plaintiff be ordered to complete a "treatment plan, " and that the court find the children "are an abused or neglected children [sic]" and that the children "cannot be protected from further harm without removal from the custody of the parents." Id. at 7, 8. Sometime between February 4, 2013 and February 20, 2013, Plaintiff received notice from Kershaw DSS that the allegation of physical abuse was substantiated. Based upon instructions received with the determination, Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal.

Per the uncontroverted affidavit of Defendant Jean Hanna, after Hanna received notice that Plaintiff intended to appeal the finding of physical abuse, she "immediately retrieved and reviewed the case file." Hanna Aff. at ¶ 5, ECF No. 32-11. Upon review, she noticed that a complaint had already been filed in Family Court by DSS attorney Virginia Ann Millikin. During her review, Hanna

spoke with Attorney [Millikin] and verified that both the physical neglect intake and the physical abuse intake were encompassed in the Family Court filing. I then followed up with Karen Fleming with the Office of Administrative Hearings on February 21, 2013 via email and informed her that the current appeal for the physical abuse charge would be consolidated with the physical neglect charge and would be heard in the Family Court.

Id. at ¶ 9. Hanna attests that

Kershaw County DSS does not have separate case files for the indications of physical neglect and physical abuse, but these are just two separate service lines or intakes included in the same case file. Kershaw County DSS petitioned the Family Court for intervention in the case file of the Plaintiff, not simply in the service line for physical neglect.

Id. at 12.

On March 28, 2013, Plaintiff was informed by the DSS Office of Administrative Hearings that an appeal hearing would not be held "due to the intention of Kershaw County Department of Social Services' intent [sic] to file a Complaint in the matter." Compl. at ¶ 30. On April 3, 2013, Hanna sent Plaintiff's counsel a letter indicating that she agreed with the indicated finding of physical abuse. Id. at ¶ 29. The letter informed Plaintiff that "the Family Court had been petitioned in this case and the Plaintiff would have the right to contest the findings in that forum." Hanna Aff. at ¶ 11.

Plaintiff contends that as of June 13, 2013 (the date of filing his complaint in state court), no Complaint had been filed in Family Court addressing the allegations of physical abuse. Compl. at ¶ 29. Per Hanna's affidavit, "the Family Court matter against the Plaintiff is still ongoing. I have no control over the Family ...

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