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Paul v. South Carolina Department of Transportation

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

October 8, 2014

Ronald I. Paul, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; PAUL D. DE HOLCZER, individually and as a partner of the law Firm of Moses Koon & Brackett PC; IIENE A. BUCKLES, as personal representative of the Estate of G.L. Buckles individually and Iiene A. Buckles individually, G.L. BUCKLES, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Keith J. Buckles and G.L. Buckles individually personal representative Keith J. Buckles; MICHAEL H. QUINN, individually and as senior lawyer of Quinn Law Firm LLC; J. CHARLES ORMOND, JR., individually and as a partner of the Law Firm of Holler, Dennis, Corbett, Ormond, Plante & Garner; OSCAR K. RUCKER, in his individual capacity as Director, Rights of Way South Carolina Department of Transportation; MACIE M. GRESHAM, in her individual capacity as Eastern Region Right of Way Program Manager, South Carolina Department of Transportation; NATALIE J. MOORE, in her individual capacity as Assistant Chief Counsel, South Carolina Department of Transportation; REGINALD I. LLOYD, in his individual capacity as Circuit Court Common Pleas, 5th Circuit, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

CAMERON McGOWAN CURRIE, Senior District Judge.

This matter (" Paul III ") is the third action Plaintiff has filed in this court relating to the same underlying dispute: claims arising from a state condemnation proceeding. See ECF No. 10 at 2 (explaining history of related actions, C. A. No. 3:12-1036-CMC-PJG (" Paul I "), and C.A. No. 3:13-367-CMC-PJG (" Paul II ")). The underlying condemnation proceeding related to a commercial property Plaintiff leased from Keith J. Buckles. ECF No. 10 at 3.

Defendants. Defendants named in the Original Complaint in this action, Paul I and Paul II, include the state entity that pursued the condemnation (South Carolina Department of Transportation ("the SCDOT")), three employees of the SCDOT (one identified as Assistant Chief Counsel) (collectively with the SCDOT "SCDOT Defendants"), G.L. Buckles, the personal representative of Keith J. Buckles' estate ("Landowner"), and three private attorneys who were involved in the proceeding, including Plaintiff's own attorney (collectively "Attorney Defendants"). Id. at 2. The Amended Complaint adds two new Defendants, Iiene A. Buckles, the personal representative of the estate of G.L. Buckles (included within the designation "Landlord"), and Reginald I. Lloyd, Esq., who served as a state court judge at times relevant to the allegations against him ("Judge Lloyd").

Dismissal of Earlier Actions. Paul I and Paul II were dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim, the first after service and on motion of Defendants, the second based on preservice review. See Paul I, ECF Nos. 116, 127; Paul II, ECF Nos. 14, 19, 23. Both of the prior dismissals were reduced to judgment of dismissal without prejudice. Paul I, ECF No. 128; Paul II, ECF No. 20. Neither judgment was appealed.

Although the earlier dismissals were, ultimately, without prejudice, certain determinations in those actions are entitled to preclusive effect in light of Plaintiff's failure to appeal. This includes a determination that the SCDOT and the individual SCDOT Defendants were entitled to immunity from suit to the extent sued in their official capacities. Likewise, the determinations that the allegations found in the prior complaints were insufficient to state a claim are entitled to preclusive effect. The review in this action, therefore, focuses on the extent to which allegations (most critically in the Amended Complaint) offer greater specificity or otherwise cure deficiencies noted in the orders dismissing Paul I and Paul II. [1]

Prior Proceedings in this Action. The Original Complaint in the current action was also dismissed after a pre-service review and that dismissal was reduced to judgment of dismissal without prejudice. ECF Nos. 10 ("Original Report"), 15 (Order), 16 (Judgment). After an unsuccessful motion to alter or amend judgment (ECF Nos. 19, 21), Plaintiff appealed the dismissal. ECF No. 23. Despite this court's entry of judgment, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal and remanded the matter based on its conclusion that Plaintiff could still "proceed with this action in the district court by amending his complaint to provide specific facts showing his entitlement to the relief he seeks." Paul v. S.C. Dept. of Transportation, Slip Op. No. 13-2431 (4th Cir. May 14, 2014) (emphasis added).

After remand, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 30 (ECF No. 30). In light of the Fourth Circuit's remand and in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), DSC, the undersigned again referred the matter to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pretrial proceedings. In particular, the court sought a Report and Recommendation ("Report") addressing whether Plaintiff's post-remand amendments cured the deficiencies noted in the prior order of dismissal and in Paul I and Paul II.

On August 29, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint be dismissed without prejudice and without issuance and service of process because the Amended Complaint, like earlier versions of the complaint in this and related actions, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. ECF No. 38 ("Supplemental Report"). The Magistrate Judge advised Plaintiff of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the Report and the serious consequences if he failed to do so. Plaintiff filed objections to the Supplemental Report on September 2, 2014. ECF No. 40.

STANDARD

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge to which a specific objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The court reviews only for clear error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating that "in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'") (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

PRIOR REPORTS AND RULINGS IN THIS ACTION

Original Report in Paul III. As explained in the Original Report (ECF No. 10), the allegations in Plaintiff's Original Complaint in this action are almost identical to those raised in Paul I and Paul II, both of which were dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 10 at 2.[2] In his Original Complaint in this action, Plaintiff attempted to address the concerns raised in Paul I and Paul II by pointing to (1) allegations that Keith Buckles was required, as part of his settlement with the SCDOT, to aid the SCDOT in its claims against the premises and (2) allegations that Defendants schemed and conspired to mislead and bribe Judge Allison Lee and Judge Lloyd. ECF No. 10 at 9-10.

Plaintiff also construed advice his own attorney, J. Charles Ormand Jr., Esq., ("Ormond") gave him and Ormand's motion to withdraw as counsel as evidence that Ormond was a coconspirator. ECF No. 10 at 9. In addition, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants furthered the conspiracy by seeking approval of the settlement agreement between the SCDOT and Landlord and misrepresenting that Paul agreed with its terms. Id. at 10 (Plaintiff described this order as void and predetermined). Plaintiff suggested that Judge Lloyd's decision to grant a motion approving the settlement is evidence of bribery. Id. Finally, Plaintiff suggests the existence of a conspiracy is supported by Defendants' joint actions in seeking disbursement of the settlement proceeds and in seeking an injunction against further action by Plaintiff during the pendency of his third appeal in the course of the condemnation proceeding. Id.

The Original Report noted that "[a]ll of these actions... show only that the parties attempted to accomplish the goal of acquiring a property for use by the State." Id. at 10. It also noted the absence of allegations of any improper motivation on Ormond's part.[3] Id. Referring, inter alia, to the inference of bribery Paul would draw from the fact a state court judge ruled in favor of opposing parties, the Original Report noted that the court "need not accept the [plaintiff's] legal conclusions drawn from the facts, " nor "unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments[.]" Id.[4] The Original Report also noted various legal roadblocks to Paul's claims against the SCDOT itself and the remaining SCDOT ...


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