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Cleveland v. Clayton, Ga Police Department

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

July 10, 2015

George Cleveland, III Plaintiff,
v.
Clayton, GA Police Department; Chief Lindsey Owens, individually and in her official capacity; Asst. Chief Andy Strait, individually and in his official capacity; Captain Tony Taylor, individually and in his official capacity; Officer Tim Brown, individually and in his official capacity; Unknown Name of Jail Transport Officer, Defendants.

ORDER

R. BRYAN HARWELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff George Cleveland, III, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville, South Carolina, filed this action pro se. Plaintiff's complaint alleges various officials and officers of the Clayton, Georgia police department violated his constitutional rights through false imprisonment, assault, battery, and malicious prosecution stemming from arrest without probable cause. ECF No. 1. United States Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers, III issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R)[1] that found that the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendants, and recommended the case be transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. ECF No. 7. Plaintiff timely filed objections to the R & R. ECF No. 11. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that the District of South Carolina does not have personal jurisdiction over Defendants, and orders that, in the interests of justice, the case be transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Background

The facts underlying this case relate to a car theft, and the subsequent investigation of, and arrest for, said theft and related crimes. On or about November 21, 2011, someone stole a 2011 Ford Fusion from the Duvall Ford Chevrolet Dodge dealership in Clayton, Georgia. ECF 11-1 at 10-11. Clayton Police officers Strait and Brown made a report on the theft, and forwarded the case to investigations. Id. Plaintiff alleges he came into possession of the stolen car via an online auction, but did not get proper title to the car. ECF No. 1 at 5. Plaintiff then alleges that he panicked, bought a like-kind, wrecked vehicle, and swapped out the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the wrecked vehicle with the one on the vehicle he bought at auction. Id. On or about May 7, 2012, Plaintiff sold the stolen car to Carmax of Greenville in Greenville, South Carolina for $7, 000. Id.; ECF No. 11-1 at 6-7. An investigation by the Greenville and Oconee County, South Carolina Sheriff's Offices, ECF No. 1 at 6, revealed that the car whose VIN was swapped into the stolen car was located on Plaintiff's property. ECF No. 11-1 at 6. Plaintiff was then arrested by the Greenville County Sheriff's Office on or about July 12, 2012, ECF No. 1 at 6, for falsifying a VIN, selling a stolen vehicle, and obtaining property under false pretenses. ECF No. 11-1 at 3-5. Plaintiff alleges that he was then held for nearly two weeks in the Greenville County Detention Center, despite posting bond, because Clayton police had issued arrest warrants for him for two counts of theft by receiving, and had run his information through the FBI's N.C. I.C. database. ECF No. 1 at 7. After two weeks, Plaintiff alleges he was transported by an unknown Rabun County detention officer from Greenville to the Rabun County Detention Center in Georgia, where he was booked, posted bond, and was released. Id. Plaintiff alleges that there was no probable cause underlying the Georgia arrest warrants, and as a result, he was subject to false imprisonment, assault, battery, and malicious prosecution in violation of his constitutional rights by the Clayton police defendants he names. Id. at 8-13.

Standard of Review

A de novo review is conducted of the Magistrate Judge's R&R. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The R&R is only a recommendation to the Court and has no presumptive weight; indeed, the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the district court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the R&R to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. § 636(b)(1).

The right to de novo review, however, may be waived by the failure to file timely objections. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only "general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." Id. Moreover, in the absence of objections to the R&R, the Court is not required to give any explanation for adopting the recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). In that event, however, the Court must "satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'" Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

Discussion

The Magistrate Judge found in his R&R that the District of South Carolina lacked personal jurisdiction over the Defendants, all police officers/a police department in Georgia, and that the South Carolina long-arm statute did not apply to the instant case to extend South Carolina's personal jurisdiction to Defendants. ECF No. 7 at 1-3. Plaintiff objects to the R&R on three grounds. First, Plaintiff argues that, under the South Carolina long-arm statute, South Carolina has personal jurisdiction over Defendants, because Defendants conducted business or supplied services in South Carolina since the investigation that led to Plaintiff's arrest started and ended in South Carolina, and a Georgia police officer picked him up for transport from South Carolina to Georgia. Id. Second, plaintiff argues that South Carolina has personal jurisdiction because the bulk of the witnesses and records are in South Carolina. Id. at 8. Finally, Plaintiff argues that South Carolina has personal jurisdiction because the events giving rise to his claims occurred in South Carolina. Id.

I. South Carolina does not have personal jurisdiction over Defendants

This Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants. Defendants do not meet the requirements of South Carolina's long-arm statute because Defendants lack sufficient connection to South Carolina. Thus, the District of South Carolina cannot extend its personal jurisdiction to reach Defendants.

A. Personal jurisdiction

1. Standard of review

A key requirement in any civil action is that the court in which the complaint is filed have personal jurisdiction over the defendants. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e) (providing the rules for serving an individual within a Judicial District, and thereby suggesting that the court must have personal jurisdiction over the defendant for the action to lie). Although personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant may be either general or specific, Plaintiff appears to allege only specific jurisdiction in this case. See ECF No. 11 at 7-10. A court may exercise specific jurisdiction when "the out-of-state defendant engage[s] in some activity purposely aimed toward the forum state and... the cause of action arise[s] directly from that activity." ESAB Group, Inc. v. Centricut, LLC, 34 F.Supp.2d 323, 331-32 (D.S.C. 1999); see S.C. Code Ann. § 36-2-803. Minimal, ...


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