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McCoy v. Rogers

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

April 19, 2016

Robert Bruce McCoy, Plaintiff,
v.
Probate Judge Carolyn W. Rogers; York County, S.C.; Lancaster County, S.C., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff, Robert Bruce McCoy, proceeding pro se, brings this action alleging the probate hearing regarding his mother's estate was unfair. (ECF No. 1 at 3-5.) The Complaint has been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.). Having reviewed the Complaint in accordance with applicable law, the court concludes that it should be summarily dismissed.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff alleges he was denied a fair trial in the probate hearing for the distribution of his mother's estate. (ECF No. 1 at 4-5.) Plaintiff claims Defendant Judge Carolyn W. Rogers ("Judge Rogers") made Plaintiff sell land to Roger Jellenick, his attorney, because the estate ran out of money. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff requests the land be returned to him. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges his mother was supposed to leave him a house in Lancaster upon her passing, but she left it to his brother James instead. (ECF No. 1-1 at 10-11.) Plaintiff claims he had an insurance policy on the house, but when the house was destroyed by a fire, the insurance benefits were paid to the estate and not to him. (Id. at 16.) Plaintiff further claims he was supposed to be paid $3, 500 for a truck but he never received the payment. (Id. at 26.) Plaintiff further claims he was not provided fair notice of the probate hearing because he was served via mail only twenty days before the hearing. (Id. at 13.) Finally, Plaintiff claims Defendants York County and Lancaster County are responsible for Judge Rogers's actions. (Id. at 4.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint. This court is required to liberally construe pro se complaints. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Such pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, id.; Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and 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. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)).

         Nonetheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (outlining pleading requirements under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for "all civil actions"). 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; however, a district court may not rewrite a complaint to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128 (10th Cir. 1999), construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411 (7th Cir. 1993), or "conjure up questions never squarely presented" to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         B. Analysis

         1. Claims Against Judge Rogers

         Plaintiff claims the probate hearing before Judge Rogers concerning the distribution of his mother's estate was unfair. (ECF No. 1 at 4-5.) Though Plaintiff fails to state with any specificity what actions by Judge Rogers caused the hearing to be unfair, the court construes his allegations as a claim that Judge Rogers denied Plaintiff due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, in light of this court's duty to liberally construe Plaintiff's pro se Complaint, the court construes the Complaint as stating a civil rights cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to raise a § 1983 claim against Judge Rogers, such a claim would fail because Judge Rogers is entitled to absolute judicial immunity.

         It is well settled that judges have absolute immunity from a claim for damages arising out of their judicial actions. Mireless v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 12 (1991); Chu v. Griffith, 771 F.2d 79, 81 (4th Cir. 1985). Judges are also protected from claims for injunctive relief as § 309(c) of the Federal Courts Improvement Act, Pub. L. No 104-317, 110 Stat. 3847 (1996), amended § 1983 to bar injunctive relief against a judicial officer "for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity... unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable." 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Donato Malave v. Abrams, 547 F.Appx. 346, 347 (2013) (affirming district court's holding that state court judges were immune from claims for injunctive relief under § 1983 where plaintiff did not show the violation of a declaratory decree or the unavailability of declaratory relief). Judicial immunity is not pierced by allegations of corruption or bad faith, nor will a judge "be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority." Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978). Because judicial immunity is a protection from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages, Mireless, 502 U.S. at 11, Plaintiff's claims against Judge Rogers are subject to summary dismissal.

         2. Claims Against York County and Lancaster County

         Plaintiff alleges Defendants York County and Lancaster County are responsible for Judge Rogers's actions. (ECF No. 1 at 4.) However, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to raise a § 1983 claim against Judge Rogers and hold the defendant ...


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