United States District Court, D. South Carolina
August 25, 2014
Terrence Oneil Thomas Frazier, Plaintiff,
Travis Cox; Goergia Richey; Harry V. Irick; Lisa E. Phillips, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PAIGE J. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff, Terrence Oneil Thomas Frazier ("Plaintiff"), a self-represented pretrial detainee, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) DSC. Plaintiff is a detainee at the Greenwood County Detention Center, and files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Having reviewed the Complaint in accordance with applicable law, the court concludes that it should be summarily dismissed as to Defendant Lisa E. Phillips.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Defendant Lisa E. Phillips is named as a judge who set a "high and extensive" bond for Plaintiff's criminal charges. (ECF No. 1 at 4.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and removal of Defendant Phillips from her position. (Id. at 5.)
A. Standard of Review
Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). This review has been conducted in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez , 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995) ( en banc ); Todd v. Baskerville , 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983).
The Complaint has been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss the case upon a finding 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). A finding of frivolousness can be made where the complaint "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Denton , 504 U.S. at 31. Hence, under § 1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte. Neitzke , 490 U.S. 319; Allison v. Kyle , 66 F.3d 71 (5th Cir. 1995).
This court is required to liberally construe pro se complaints. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Such pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, id.; Gordon v. Leeke , 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe , 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Cruz v. Beto , 405 U.S. 319 (1972). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Erickson , 551 U.S. at 93 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)).
Nonetheless, 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 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009) (outlining pleading requirements under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for "all civil actions"). 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 the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so; however, a district court may not rewrite a complaint to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett , 174 F.3d 1128 (10th Cir. 1999), construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott , 998 F.2d 411 (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).
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (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). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Phillips violated his constitutional rights by setting an excessive bond. However, it is well settled that judges have absolute immunity from a claim for damages arising out of their judicial actions. Mireless v. Waco , 502 U.S. 9, 12 (1991); Chu v. Griffith , 771 F.2d 79, 81 (4th Cir. 1985). Judicial immunity is not pierced by allegations of corruption or bad faith, nor will a judge "be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority." Stump v. Sparkman , 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978). Because judicial immunity is a protection from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages, Mireless , 502 U.S. at 11, Defendant Phillips is entitled to summary dismissal from the instant case for claims associated with her judicial rulings in Plaintiff's state criminal proceedings.
For the foregoing reasons, it is recommended that the Complaint be summarily dismissed without prejudice and without issuance and service of process as to Defendant Lisa E. Phillips.