United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Donavan E. Miller, Plaintiff,
Colleton County Sheriff's Office; Jodie Taylor; Andy Strickland; Matthew Bell; and Chris Ferrand, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
SHIVA V. HODGES, Magistrate Judge.
Donovan E. Miller ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is a pretrial detainee incarcerated at Colleton County Detention Center ("CCDC"). He filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Colleton County Sheriff's Office ("CCSO"), Colleton County Sheriff Andy Strickland ("Strickland"), CCSO Captain Jodie Taylor ("Taylor"), and CCDC Officers Matthew Bell ("Bell") and Chris Ferrand ("Ferrand") (collectively "Defendants"). Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that the district judge dismiss the complaint in this case without prejudice and without issuance and service of process as to CCSO and Ferrand.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff alleges that he is subject to a group punishment that has him confined in his cell for 24 hours one day per week and for 23 hours six days per week. [ECF No. 1 at 3]. Plaintiff claims that he is not given an opportunity to engage in at least one hour of daily, outside, physical exercise. Id. Plaintiff contends that he is housed in a cell without a working ventilation system and exposed to rust, dust, black mold, and showers that "are unclean for weeks at a time." Id. Plaintiff states that he is not permitted to call his family or his attorney, watch the news, read a newspaper, or possess a radio. Id. Plaintiff claims that Strickland and Taylor have stopped "all communication to the press." Id. at 4.
Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that on December 24, 2014, he and another inmate were involved in an altercation. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Crosby responded to the altercation and shot Plaintiff with a taser, causing him to fall to the ground. Id. Plaintiff contends that Bell then shot him with a taser while "[Plaintiff] was already on the ground fighting for [his] life in a pool of water." Id. Plaintiff claims that Bell told Plaintiff he was trying to shoot the other inmate. Id. Plaintiff argues that there was no reason for Bell to use his taser on the other inmate who was unconscious and lying at least five feet away from Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff attaches an affidavit from inmate Tequan Brown, who claims that he heard Bell and Crosby talking after the shooting about "how they got them a man with the new tasers." [ECF No. 1-1 at 4]. Brown alleges that Crosby stated that "he got his first Donovan, " and Bell stated that he could not pass up the opportunity to test out the new tasers. Id. at 4, 6. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages. [ECF No. 1 at 5].
A. Standard of Review
Plaintiff filed this complaint 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 a case upon a finding that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted or is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii). A finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). A claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); Allison v. Kyle, 66 F.3d 71, 73 (5th Cir. 1995).
Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). 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. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Merriweather v. Reynolds, 586 F.Supp.2d 548, 554 (D.S.C. 2008). 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. Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).
1. Insufficient Factual Allegations
A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although the court must liberally construe a pro se complaint, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that a plaintiff must do more than make conclusory statements to state a claim. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face, and the reviewing court need only accept as true the complaint's factual allegations, not its legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. Plaintiff's complaint does not contain any factual allegations of specific wrongdoing attributable to Ferrand. Accordingly, Ferrand should be summarily dismissed from this action.
2. Eleventh Amendment
The Eleventh Amendment bars suits by citizens against non-consenting states brought either in state or federal court. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712-13 (1999); Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996). Such immunity extends to arms of the state, see Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 101-02 (1984), and also bars this court from granting injunctive relief against the state or its agencies. See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978); Seminole Tribe of Florida, 517 U.S. at 58. In South Carolina, sheriffs' departments are considered state agencies. See Carroll v. Greenville Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 871 F.Supp. 844, 846 (D.S.C. 1994) ("It is well established in this state that a sheriff's office is an agency of, and a sheriff dominated by, ' the state, such that a suit against the sheriff in his official capacity is a suit against the State."); ...