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Johnson v. County of Greenville

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

July 24, 2015

Christopher S. Johnson, #350430, Plaintiff,
v.
County of Greenville, South Carolina; Craig Hawkins; Joseph Parrish; Claude

ORDER AND OPINION

J. MICHELLE CHILDS, District Judge.

Christopher S. Johnson ("Plaintiff") filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that his constitutional rights were violated when he was falsely arrested and assaulted by Defendants Craig Hawkins ("Hawkins"), Joseph Parrish ("Parrish"), Claude Todd ("Todd"), Laura Campbell ("Campbell"), Johnny Brown ("Brown"), James Cannon ("Cannon"), Joyce K. Monts[1], Jason Bash ("Bash"), and the County of Greenville, South Carolina ("County") (collectively referred to as "Defendants"). (ECF Nos. 1, 37.) This matter is before the court on Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Bash (ECF No. 106), Plaintiff (ECF No. 113), and by the County, Hawkins, Parrish, Todd, Campbell, Brown, and Cannon (collectively "Greenville County Defendants") (ECF No. 109).

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pre-trial handling. On March 27, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 124), recommending that the court grant Bash's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 106), grant Greenville County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 109), deny Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 113), and dismiss the case.

While Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation "in its entirety" (ECF No. 127 at 9), Plaintiff's Objection(s) to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("Objections") specifically address the following issues: (A) the validity of Plaintiff's arrest, (B) the excessive force claim against Bash, (C) the applicability of qualified immunity for any and all Defendants, (D) the applicability of sovereign immunity for any and all Defendants, (E) the false arrest committed by Greenville County Defendants, (F) the use of excessive force by Greenville County Defendants, (G) Hawkins' claim to have been acting in the interest of public and personal safety, and (H) Defendants' use of racial slurs. (ECF No. 127 at 1-9.)

For the reasons set forth herein, the court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and REJECTS Plaintiff's Objections. The court hereby GRANTS Bash's Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS Greenville County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and DISMISSES this action.

I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The following relevant facts from the complaint (ECF No. 1) are taken as true only for the purposes of the pending motions. The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court references below excerpts from the Report that are pertinent to the analysis of Petitioner's claims:

This lawsuit arises from a police "raid" on a hotel room at La Quinta Inn in Greenville, South Carolina on October 7, 2010. (ECF No. 1 at 5.) Plaintiff alleges the raid occurred while Defendants were conducting a search for Joyce Evelyn Edwards ("Edwards"), allegedly a non-violent parole violator wanted by authorities in Pennsylvania. ( Id. at 6.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Bash was informed that Edwards was staying in a room "with an unknown male" and that a large quantity of narcotics was in the room. ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Hawkins, Brown, Campbell, Todd, Parrish, Bash, and Cannon took positions outside of Plaintiff's hotel room to conduct surveillance in an effort to apprehend Edwards. ( Id. ) Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Parish and Todd "claim to have witnessed Edwards enter/exit Plaintiff's room... two times." ( Id. at 7.) While officers were positioned outside his room, Plaintiff alleges he attempted to exit the hotel room for "snacks" when "he was confronted by multiple armed subjects yelling various phrases, slurs, and commands: Show me your hands nigger!'; Greenville County Sheriff's Office'; Get your ass on the bed boy! Get down, get down!'; Etc." ( Id. at 7-8.)
Plaintiff maintains that he "allowed himself to be handcuffed and draped' over a hotel bed (said bed being one of two king-sized beds in the room), knees on the ground, facedown on the mattress." ( Id. at 8.) While Edwards was struggling with officers, Plaintiff maintains that officers reviewed his identification, and then threw it on the bed near Plaintiff's head. ( Id. ) While Edwards was being taken into custody, Plaintiff alleges that some of the agents began searching through his possessions, and he demanded to know why he was being detained. ( Id. at 8-9.) In response, agents allegedly told Plaintiff "it was part of a narcotics investigation." ( Id. at 9.) Plaintiff maintains that Edwards' purse contents "yielded a syringe (unused) and a few small, plastic baggies' (also unused). These items were field-tested' on the scene and yielded negative' results." ( Id. ) Plaintiff also maintains that after a search of a zipped backpack "produced a set of digital scales, Plaintiff was again searched, without his consent, this second search yielding a prescription bottle containing a small amount of both heroin and methamphetamine. The prescription bottle was closed and sealed, and at no time did Plaintiff give consent to search the closed and sealed prescription bottle." ( Id. ) (emphasis in original). Thereafter, Plaintiff was formally arrested and "given his Miranda warnings." ( Id. at 9-10.)
After his arrest, Plaintiff alleges that agents continued to question him even though he " clearly and plainly invoked his privileges, and declared his wishes to remain silent and only speak in the presence, and with benefit, of counsel." ( Id. at 10.) (emphasis in original). Plaintiff accepted full responsibility for all contents in the room, including items found on Edwards after "a crying, shuddering Ms. Edwards was paraded in front of [him]." ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that "this agreement was stipulated upon the understanding that Ms. Edwards would not face charges related to Plaintiff's, and that both the Plaintiff and Ms. Edwards would be allowed to smoke cigarettes until they were transported to jail." Plaintiff alleges that he was then "double-cuffed."[2] ( Id. )
Plaintiff alleges at this point, several agents "conducted a meeting, within view and earshot of Plaintiff, in which they conspired as to exactly what approach' to use to satisfy the Magistrate's detached' inquiry." (ECF No. 1 at 10-11.) Plaintiff maintains that the agents agreed to use a "plain view" claim, and "after both Ms. Edwards and Plaintiff were relocated outdoors, the agents set about staging' the crime scene' and photographing it." ( Id. at 11.) Further, Plaintiff alleges that "once the room had been prepared, ' the K-9 officer, Defendant Cannon, was brought into the room, with his dog (Nero'), ostensibly to check for hidden contraband, but actually to witness' the now staged' evidence." ( Id. ) Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Todd and Campbell used perjured testimony to secure a search warrant from the magistrate court. ( Id. ) Then, Plaintiff maintains that "a final search was performed subsequent to the warrant, but no contraband was seized pursuant to it." ( Id. )
Thereafter, Plaintiff asserts that he and Edwards were transported to the Greenville County Detention Center ("GCDC") and arraigned on charges of trafficking heroin and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute ("PWID"). ( Id. at 11-12.) Plaintiff alleged that agents from the Greenville County Solicitor's Office and the Greer County Solicitor's Office initiated an unlawful prosecution "they knew to be predicated on deceit, fraud, coercion, racism, contrived and manipulated evidence, and perjury." ( Id. at 12.) After spending 18 months incarcerated in the GCDC, on April 9, 2012, Plaintiff maintains that he "was found guilty" of both trafficking and the PWID charges. ( Id. ) Plaintiff asserts he was ordered to serve concurrent sentences of 15 years for both of the charges. ( Id. )
Initially, Plaintiff brought claims for conspiracy, false arrest, several constitutional rights violations, excessive force, and malicious prosecution. ( Id. at 13-16.) Furthermore, he sought $10 million in compensatory damages, $5 million in punitive damages, and trial by a three-judge panel, costs and any additional relief the court deems just, proper, and equitable. ( Id. at 18.) After initial review, the undersigned recommended dismissing Joyce K. Monts, the solicitor in Plaintiff's criminal case, as a defendant based on prosecutorial immunity. ( See ECF No. 14 at 6.) Additionally, the undersigned recommended summary dismissal of Plaintiff's cause of action "relating to the prosecution of his criminal action subsequent to Defendants' obtaining a warrant... because no right of action has accrued." ( Id. at 5 (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1997))). Plaintiff's excessive force/assault allegations from March 17, 2011, was recommended for dismissal without prejudice. ( Id. at 7.) Thus, Plaintiff's claims now being considered include a cause of action for false arrest for the time period between his arrest and the time a warrant was obtained and his claim for excessive force during his arrest. ( Id. ) Over Plaintiff's objections, the district court accepted the undersigned's recommendations. (ECF No. 85.) The motions herein address Plaintiff's remaining causes of action for false arrest and excessive force.

(ECF No. 124 at 2-5.)

Defendants rely upon their respective previously filed Motions for Summary Judgment and supporting memoranda as to why the court should deny Plaintiff's Objections. (ECF Nos. 129, 130.)

II. LEGAL STANDARDS AND ANALYSIS

The Magistrate Judge's Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Matthews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). This court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objections are made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's recommendation, or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1).

Objections to a Report and Recommendation must specifically identify portions of the Report and the basis for those objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). "[I]n 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.'" Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 316 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note). Failure to timely file specific written objections to a Report will result in a waiver of the right to appeal from an Order from the court based upon the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 155 (1985); Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841 (4th Cir. 1985); ...


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