United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
Ronald I. Paul, Plaintiff,
Paul D. de Holczer, individually and as a partner of the law Firm of Moses, Koon & Brackett, PC; Michael H. Quinn, individually and as senior lawyer of Quinn Law Firm, LLC; J. Charles Ormond, Jr., individually and as 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, Defendants.
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CAMERON McGOWAN CURRIE, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("Report"). ECF No. 14 (Objections); ECF No. 11 (Report). The Report recommends summary dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint based, in part, on Plaintiff's continued reliance on allegations of due process, equal protection, and other constitutional violations found insufficient in his three earlier actions. E.g., Report at 2-3 (comparing allegations to prior actions), 4-7 (analysis). The Report also addresses new allegations that Plaintiff was subjected to discrimination based on his race and a separate cause of action for declaratory relief. Report at 3, 6-8.
For reasons set forth below, the court overrules Plaintiff's objections and adopts the Report as supplemented here. The court, therefore, dismisses the action without prejudice and without issuance and service of process.
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).
As explained in the Report, this is the fourth civil action brought in this court by Plaintiff, Ronald I. Paul ("Paul"), challenging events surrounding a 2002 condemnation of commercial property in which Paul held a leasehold. The complaints in the four actions vary in some respects, generally with each new complaint adding allegations and, in some instances, adding or dropping Defendants. Despite the variations, the central allegations remain the same: that various individuals involved in the condemnation proceedings conspired to deprive Paul of his constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, jury trial, and to present an expert witness, resulting in the taking of Paul's leasehold property without just compensation.
All prior actions were dismissed without prejudice, the first on Defendants' motion and the remainder sua sponte prior to service. The most recent dismissal was summarily affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Paul III, aff'd, 599 F.Appx. 108.
Repetitive Allegations and Claims. In light of this history and the detailed nature of the Reports and corresponding orders in Paul's prior cases, the court overrules Paul's objections to the extent they challenge the Report's failure to set out the reasons for dismissal of repetitive allegations and claims in any greater detail. Paul is correct in noting that the prior dismissals were without prejudice and, consequently, do not preclude him from filing a new action against the previously named Defendants.
That the dismissals were without prejudice does not, however, render them without meaning. The dismissal orders (and incorporated Reports) in Paul I, Paul II, and Paul III, stand as authority for the proposition that the allegations in each of those cases either failed to state a claim or were precluded by an immunity doctrine, or both, for reasons explained in each of those orders (and Reports). It follows that the prior decisions are on-point authority for dismissal of Paul's present v. South Carolina Dep't of Transp., C/A No. 3:12-1036-CMC-PJG, 2013 WL 461349 (D.S.C. Feb. 6, 2013) (adopting Report and Recommendation and granting the defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims) (" Paul I "). complaint to the extent it merely repeats prior allegations and claims found in his prior complaints. This is particularly true as to Paul III, which the Fourth Circuit summarily affirmed "for the reasons stated by the district court." 599 F.Appx. 108 (4th Cir. 2015). Under these circumstances, the Report properly relied on prior rulings as to repetitive allegations and claims.
New Race-Based Allegations. Paul's new allegations of race-based discrimination fail to cure deficiencies in the complaints in his prior actions for the reasons stated in the Report. As noted in the Report, Paul's claim of racial discrimination rests on allegations that he was told by a subcontractor for the South Carolina Department of Transportation that "other property owners received large payments' from SCDOT, " while Plaintiff did not receive such a payment. Report at 6 (quoting Complaint at 39). It is, however, clear from the Complaint (in this and Paul's three earlier actions) that Paul was a leaseholder, not a property owner. Thus, the Complaint does not allege facts that raise a plausible inference of racially disparate treatment because, as a leaseholder, Paul was not similarly situated to "other property owners."
Declaratory Judgment. Finally, the court overrules Paul's objection to the recommended dismissal of his "new" declaratory judgment claim. Complaint ¶¶ 162-64. While the Report's discussion of this separate "claim" is minimal, the recommended dismissal is correct.
This cause of action cites 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 as well as Rule 57 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but does not set out a legal theory supporting declaratory relief. The court, therefore, construes this claim as relying on one of the legal theories advanced in Paul's other claims. So construed, the claim fails for the same reasons as Paul's other claims.
Giving Paul the benefit of the doubt, it is possible that he intends to rely on an unstated contract-based theory. Most critically, Paul's request that Defendants be "prohibited from enforcing the settlement agreement between SCDOT and the Buckles against Paul, because the evidence shows Paul never agree[d] to any settlement" may suggest a contract-based claim. Such a claim would, however, be a state-law claim between ...