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Battersby v. Ashley

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

May 5, 2016

Dr. Gregg Battersby, Plaintiff,
v.
Stanley Ashley, Michelle Hendrix, Greg Williamson, [1] and John Does 1-20[2]; Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants. [Doc. 53.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         This action was filed on January 6, 2015, alleging violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[3] [Doc. 1.] Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on January 13, 2015 [Doc. 6], a second amended complaint on February 18, 2015 [Doc. 12], and a third amended complaint on April 7, 2015 [Doc. 27]. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on September 10, 2015. [Doc. 53.] On September 11, 2015, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised to respond to the motion and of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond. [Doc. 54.] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion on October 5, 2015 [Doc. 57], and Defendants filed a reply on October 16, 2015 [Doc. 60]. Accordingly, the motion is ripe for review.

         BACKGROUND[4]

         Plaintiff is a chiropractor providing chiropractic services out of his home. [Doc. 27 ¶ 8.] On August 2, 2013, Plaintiff was arrested on one count of indecent exposure "by Defendants." [ Id. ¶ 9.] This charge, Case Number 2013A0410900191, resulted from allegations that Plaintiff exposed himself to a patient, Jane Morton ("Morton"), at his place of business. [ Id. ¶¶ 10-12.] Morton provided an audio statement, which after being withheld initially, was eventually produced for Plaintiff. [ Id. ¶ 17-35.] In the initial incident report, Morton alleged "Plaintiff answered the door wearing a men's robe and during her treatment he dropped his robe on the floor and was completely nude with a fully erect penis." [ Id. ¶ 15 (internal quotations omitted).] In the subsequent audio statement, Morton stated Plaintiff "came to the door. He had a towel on..." [ Id. ¶ 18.] Citing the contradictory statements, Plaintiff alleges Defendants lacked probable cause to obtain an arrest warrant. [ Id. ¶ 37.] The criminal charge against Plaintiff was dismissed on April 24, 2014. [ Id. ¶ 26.]

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff asserts Defendants have violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. [ Id. ¶¶ 50-52.] Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees, and any other relief the Court deems appropriate. [ Id. at 7.]

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Liberal Construction of Pro Se Petition

         Petitioner brought this action pro se, which requires the court to liberally construe his pleadings. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Even under this less stringent standard, however, the pro se petition is still subject to summary dismissal. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520-21. The mandated liberal construction means only that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the petitioner could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the petitioner's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court "conjure up questions never squarely presented." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         Requirements for a Cause of Action Under § 1983

         This action is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a private cause of action for constitutional violations by persons acting under color of state law. Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). Accordingly, a civil action under § 1983 allows "a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief." City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999).

         Section 1983 provides, in relevant part,

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress...

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) that the defendant "deprived [the plaintiff] of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States" and (2) that the defendant "deprived [the plaintiff] of this constitutional right under color of [State] statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage." Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310 (4th Cir. 2001) (third alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The under-color-of-state-law element, which is equivalent to the "state action" requirement under the Fourteenth Amendment,

reflects judicial recognition of the fact that most rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement by governments. This fundamental limitation on the scope of constitutional guarantees preserves an area of individual freedom by limiting the reach of federal law and avoids imposing on the State, its agencies or officials, responsibility for conduct for which they cannot fairly be blamed.

Id. (quoting Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998)) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, "the deed of an ostensibly private organization or individual" may at times be treated "as if a State has caused it to be performed." Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn. Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 531 U.S. 288, 295 (2001). Specifically, "state action may be found if, though only if, there is such a close nexus between the State and the challenged action' that seemingly private behavior may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.'" Id. (quoting Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974)). State action requires both an alleged constitutional deprivation "caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State... or by a person for whom the State is responsible" and that "the party charged with the deprivation [is] a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor." Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982). A determination of whether a private party's allegedly unconstitutional conduct is fairly attributable to the State requires the court to "begin[] by identifying the specific conduct of which the plaintiff complains.'" Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 51 (1999) (quoting Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982)).

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states, as to a party who has moved for summary judgment:

The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect disposition of the case under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. When determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities ...


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