United States District Court, D. South Carolina
January 30, 2015
Michel Andre Dukes, Sr., also known as Michael A. Dukes, also known as Michael Andre Dukes, Plaintiff,
J. Gregory Hembree, Solicitor Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, both in his official and individual capacities; George H. Debusk, Jr., Senior Solicitor, State of S.C. Office of the Solicitor Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, both in his official and individual capacities; James E. Brown, North Myrtle Beach Police Department, both in the official and individual capacities, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PAIGE J. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff, Michel Andre Dukes, Sr. ("Plaintiff"), a self-represented state prisoner, brings this civil rights 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) DSC. Plaintiff is an inmate at Evans Correctional Institution 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.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was illegally arrested by Defendant Brown on September 12, 2003 resulting in Plaintiff's false imprisonment. (ECF No. 1 at 3.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Hembree "erroneously" secured an indictment against Plaintiff on November 20, 2003 and Defendant Debusk acted as the prosecuting attorney during Plaintiff's trial in August of 2005. (Id.) Plaintiff asks this court to vacate his conviction and sentence and release him from custody. (Id. at 4.)
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. See Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327; 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, 684 (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).
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)). To state a claim under § 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).
1. Prosecutorial Immunity-Hembree and Debusk
Prosecutors have absolute immunity for activities in or connected with judicial proceedings, such as a criminal trials, bond hearings, bail hearings, grand jury proceedings, and pre-trial motions hearings. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993); Dababnah v. Keller-Burnside, 208 F.3d 467 (4th Cir. 2000). Thus, the Complaint's claims against Defendant Hembree for securing an indictment against Plaintiff, and claims against Defendant Debusk for prosecuting Plaintiff's state criminal case at trial, are barred from suit under § 1983. Accordingly, these defendants are entitled to summary dismissal from this case.
2. False Arrest-Brown
To establish a § 1983 claim for false arrest or imprisonment, a plaintiff must show that the seizure was effected without probable cause. See Brown v. Gilmore, 278 F.3d 362, 367 (4th Cir. 2002); Rogers v. Pendleton, 249 F.3d 279, 294 (4th Cir. 2001); Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 183 (4th Cir. 1996). Thus, there is no § 1983 claim for false arrest unless the officer lacked probable cause. See Street v. Surdyka, 492 F.2d 368, 372-73 (4th Cir. 1974). Moreover, an arrest made pursuant to a facially valid warrant will not support a claim for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment. See Porterfield v. Lott, 156 F.3d 563, 568 (4th Cir. 1998). To demonstrate that an officer seized an individual pursuant to an arrest warrant without probable cause, a plaintiff must show that the officer "deliberately or with a reckless disregard for the truth made material false statements in his affidavit or omitted from that affidavit material facts with the intent to make, or with reckless disregard of whether they thereby made, the affidavit misleading." Miller v. Prince George's Cnty., 475 F.3d 621, 627 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
In the instant Complaint, Plaintiff makes the conclusory assertion that he was illegally arrested by Defendant Brown. However, Plaintiff provides no factual allegations to demonstrate that he was arrested without a warrant, or arrested pursuant to a facially invalid warrant. While the court must liberally construe a pro se complaint, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that a plaintiff must do more than make conclusory statements to state a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Moreover, the reviewing court need only accept as true the complaint's factual allegations, not its legal conclusions. Id. Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable false arrest claim against Defendant Brown.
Additionally, the Supreme Court has held that a prisoner's claim for damages is not cognizable under § 1983 where success of the action would implicitly question the validity of the conviction or duration of the sentence, unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been previously invalidated. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). In this case, a favorable determination on the merits of Plaintiff's false arrest claim would require a finding that Defendant Brown lacked probable cause for the arrest resulting in Plaintiff's criminal trial and conviction. As Plaintiff provides no facts to demonstrate that he successfully challenged this conviction, any claim for monetary damages asserted by Plaintiff is likewise subject to summary dismissal.
Accordingly, the court recommends that the Complaint be summarily dismissed without prejudice and without issuance and service of process.