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Hewins v. Loftis

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

July 28, 2016

ERICK ELTON HEWINS, Plaintiff,
v.
DERICK LOFTIS and OFC. CHARLES COTHRAN, Defendants.

          Erick Elton Hewins, Plaintiff, represented by Thomas Chase Samples, Jackson Lewis PC.

          Derick Loftis, Defendant, represented by Knox L. Haynsworth, III, Brown Massey Evans McLeod and Haynsworth.

          Ofc Charles Cothran, Defendant, represented by Knox L. Haynsworth, III, Brown Massey Evans McLeod and Haynsworth.

          ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO AMEND THEIR ANSWER TO ASSERT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS AS AN AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE, AND DISMISSING WITHOUT PREJUDICE WITH LEAVE TO REFILE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO AMEND TO ASSERT THE STATUTORY CAP ON ATTORNEY'S FEES

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS, District Judge.

         This case was filed as a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and Defendants' motion for summary judgment be denied. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 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 the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on May 19, 2016, and the Clerk of Court entered Plaintiff's objections on June 8, 2016, ECF No. 63, at which time Plaintiff was proceeding pro se. On June 9, 2016, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel, appointing Mr. T. Chase Samples from the Greenville, South Carolina, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. as Plaintiff's counsel in this matter. ECF No. 64. Defendants filed their objections to the Report, reply to Plaintiff's objections, and motion to amend on June 20, 2016. ECF Nos. 67, 68, 69, 70. Plaintiff filed a reply to Defendants' objections and a response in opposition to Defendants' motion to amend their answer on July 8, 2016. ECF Nos. 72, 73. Defendants then filed replies to both of Plaintiff's filings on July 14, 2016. ECF Nos. 75, 76. The Court has reviewed the parties' objections, but finds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

         Turning first to Plaintiff's objections to the Report, Plaintiff initially objects to the Report because "it fails to fully address his motion for summary judgment." ECF No. 63 at 1. Plaintiff asserts that the Magistrate Judge neglected to consider the affidavit he attached to his motion for summary judgment. But this is simply not so. The Magistrate Judge refers to Plaintiff's affidavit throughout the Report, in fact using Plaintiff's affidavit to identify several of Plaintiff's constitutional claims against Defendants. Further, the Magistrate Judge's interpretation of Plaintiff's affidavit ultimately saves this case from being dismissed via Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., ECF No. 53 at 9. Therefore, for these reasons, the Court will overrule Plaintiff's first objection.

         Second, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that his motion for summary judgment be denied because, as the Report notes, Defendants' failed to respond to Plaintiff's Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims. ECF No. 63 at 1-2. In Plaintiff's view, Defendants' failure to respond to these constitutional claims should be grounds for granting summary judgment in his favor. Id. "Although the failure of a party to respond to a summary judgment motion may leave uncontroverted those facts established by the motion, the moving party must still show that the uncontroverted facts entitle the party to a judgment as a matter of law." Custer v. Pan Am. Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 410, 416 (4th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted). As the Magistrate Judge found and as this Court holds, genuine issues of material fact remain as to Plaintiff's claims, and he is thus unentitled to summary judgment at this juncture. See ECF No. 53 at 16 n.4. Accordingly, the Court will also overrule this objection.

         Third, Plaintiff objects to the Report "because it fails to show that the defendants have to establish why they believed Plaintiff was in possession of drugs to justify the extended detention beyond the scope of the traffic stop, for the purpose of searching for drugs." ECF No. 63 at 2-4. Although it is unclear how this contention advances Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, as already observed, there remain genuine issues of material fact on Plaintiff's constitutional claims. When a motion to suppress is allowed, the criminal defendant cannot obtain an estoppel effect in a later civil case because estoppel cannot be applied against a party who had no ability to participate in the first litigation. See Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 95 (1980) (noting that "collateral estoppel cannot apply when the party against whom the earlier decision is asserted did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate that issue in the earlier case" (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court will thus overrule this objection as well.

         Plaintiff's fourth and final objection states that the Report neglects to consider the fact that Defendants "completely failed to address the alleged drugs that never made it to Court for trial purposes." Id. at 4. However, contrary to Plaintiff's assertion, the Magistrate Judge notes that Defendants' motion for summary judgment fails to address the merits of Plaintiff's constitutional claims and thus recommends denial of Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's constitutional claims. ECF No. 53 at 11; see Custer, 12 F.3d at 416 (holding that the moving party must still show his entitlement to judgment as a matter of law where the nonmoving party fails to respond to a motion for summary judgment). Again, as noted above, because there remain genuine issues of material fact on Plaintiff's claims, the Court will overrule Plaintiff's fourth objection. Consequently, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         The Court will now turn to Defendants' objections to the Report. First, Defendants insist that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Plaintiff asserted constitutional claims against Defendants in his Complaint and Amended Complaint. ECF No. 69 at 4-5. Rather, Defendants argue that the Magistrate Judge drew Plaintiff's constitutional claims from the affidavit Plaintiff filed in support of his motion for summary judgment. Id.

         Defendants' contention is entirely meritless, as both Plaintiff's Complaint and his Amended Complaint assert constitutional claims. It is uncontroverted that pleadings of a pro se party are to be liberally construed by the Court. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Even ignoring this less stringent standard, however, Plaintiff unquestionably raises constitutional violations against Defendants Cothran and Loftis in his Complaint, his Motion to Amend the Complaint, and his Amended Complaint, which the Magistrate Judge ordered to be consolidated and served on Defendants as one pleading. ECF No. 40. Specifically, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges violations of the Fourth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment against Defendants Cothran and Loftis. ECF No. 1-7 at 1. Consequently, the Magistrate Judge properly recommended denial of Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to these claims, and the Court will thus overrule Defendants' first objection.

         Second, Defendants object to the Report because they purportedly "are entitled to summary judgment pursuant to qualified immunity and there is no evidence that any constitutional right which Plaintiff claims was violated had been clearly established so as to defeat Defendants' qualified immunity." ECF No. 69 at 5 (emphasis omitted). Defendants aver that the state of the law regarding the circumstances under which traffic stops could be extended was unclear at the time of Plaintiff's stop on September 15, 2009. Id. at 7. Defendants notably focus on the length of Plaintiff's traffic stop-25 to 35 minutes-in relation ...


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