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Smith v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 29, 2016

Jean H. Smith, Plaintiff,
South Carolina Department of Corrections, Director Bryan P. Stirling, and Investigator Robert Stuckey, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging that Defendants violated her Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights during the course of her arrest and subsequent imprisonment. Plaintiff also brings South Carolina state law claims against Defendants. This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 23, filed on October 6, 2015. On October 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion, ECF No. 26, and Defendants filed a Reply on November, 2, 2015, ECF No. 28. Therefore, this matter is now ripe for review. This case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all pretrial proceedings pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(f), D.S.C. Because this Motion is dispositive, a Report and Recommendation is entered for the court's review.

I. Background

Jean H. Smith ("Plaintiff"), a former South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC") Correctional Officer, brought this lawsuit after she was arrested for a South Carolina ethics law violation on July 26, 2011. Compl. ¶¶ 12-15, ECF No. 1. Defendant Stuckey investigated Plaintiff for allegedly bringing an inmate cigarettes and marijuana, which is considered contraband. See ECF Nos. 23-5, 23-7. During his investigation, Defendant Stuckey received statements from Inmate Antonio Watkins and his girlfriend, Sylvia Wilburn, indicating that Plaintiff would receive payments from Ms. Wilburn for bringing the illegal contraband into SCDC for Inmate Watkins. See id. "Plaintiff maintains that she did not receive any funds from an inmate, and that a money order was placed on her windshield which was the only time she cashed anything." ECF No. 26 at 3. Plaintiff was arrested after Defendant Stuckey procured a warrant for her arrest. See id. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Stuckey was aware that Plaintiff, during the course of her employment as an officer with SCDC, did not receive payment to perform any acts and made "defamatory, grossly negligent allegations on Plaintiff's arrest warrant." ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 10, 18. After she was arrested, the charges against Plaintiff were nol prossed on October 25, 2012, and the record expunged. ECF No. 23-15.

Plaintiff brings suit under South Carolina common law for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act ("SCTCA"). ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 25-39. Additionally, Plaintiff brings state law causes of action for "outrage-intentional infliction of emotional distress, " "slander/defamation/defamation per se, " and "negligence/gross negligence." Id. at ¶¶ 40-58. In a separate cause of action, Plaintiff alleges Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment violations under § 1983. Id. at ¶¶ 59-62. Plaintiff seeks actual, consequential, and punitive damages pursuant to the SCTCA and § 1983, along with attorneys' fees, costs, and other relief that the court deems just and proper. Id. at ¶¶ 63-66.

II. Standard of Review

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id. at 248.

The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude granting the summary judgment motion. Ross v. Commc'ns Satellite Corp., 759 F.2d 355, 365 (4th Cir. 1985), overruled on other grounds, 490 U.S. 228 (1989).

III. Analysis

Defendants assert several arguments in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 23-1. In their first argument, Defendants assert that "Plaintiff's explanation of her conduct is utterly baseless." Id. at 7-9. Defendants argue that to successfully oppose a Motion for Summary Judgment, "Plaintiff must do more than offer the flimsiest of stories to explain damning evidence." Id. at 7. Furthermore, Defendants describe Plaintiff's opposition as "baseless conjecture." Id. at 8. The undersigned will consider all the evidence when addressing each of Defendants' arguments that concern specific causes of action rather than first addressing this broad argument.

A. Probable Cause for Plaintiff's Arrest

Defendants assert that probable cause existed for Plaintiff's arrest, and the existence of probable cause is dispositive of Plaintiff's claims for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence/gross negligence, defamation, and claims under § 1983. ECF No. 23-1 at 9. In this instance, Defendants argue that probable cause can be decided as a matter of law because the evidence yields but one conclusion. Id. In response, Plaintiff argues that probable cause did not exist for her arrest because Defendant Stuckey had no proof that Plaintiff received funds as a result of any transaction. ECF No. 26 at 8-9. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts:

In this case, [Defendant] Stuckey obtained an arrest warrant before he had received any response to his subpoena, based on a tip from an inmate who came to him looking for a deal, and based on an illegally obtained photograph (based on his friend's information that should not have been disclosed without a subpoena).

Id. at 9. Further Plaintiff maintains that the affidavit attached to the arrest warrant does not state the facts upon which probable cause was based. Id. at 10. In Reply, Defendants argue that the evidence needed to procure an arrest warrant and the evidence needed to obtain a conviction are different and here, Defendant Stuckey had sufficient evidence to ...

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