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Couram v. South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV)

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

August 10, 2016

Glenda R. Couram, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV); Shirley Rivers, in her official and individual capacity; Lula N. Davis, in her official and individual capacity; Constance “Connie” Rhett, in her official and individual capacity; Marcia Adams, in her official and individual capacity; Dorothy Blankenship, in her official and individual capacity; Tosha Autry, in their official and individual capacities; Richardson Plowden Attorneys at Law; Eugene H. Matthews, Esq., in his individual and official capacity; S.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel; Lesley M. Coggiola, in their individual and official capacity; John Doe, in their individual and official capacity; Steven W. Lake, in his official and individual capacity; Judge James R. Barber, III, Court of Common Pleas of Richland County Circuit Court - District 5, in his individual and official capacity; Judge L. y Manning, Court of Common Pleas of Richland County Circuit Court - District 5, in his individual and official capacity; Judge H. Bruce Williams, 2 S.C. Court of Appeals, in his individual and official capacity; Judge John D. Gathers, SC Court of Appeals, in his individual and official capacity; Judge Stephanie P. McDonald, SC Court of Appeals in her individual and official capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          MARGARET B. SEYMOUR Senior United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Glenda R. Couram (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this action alleging violations of her constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and additional violations of state law. Plaintiff has named eighteen Defendants in this action, who can be grouped into the following categories:

• The “SCDMV Defendants” comprised of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (“SCDMV”) and individual defendants Shirley Rivers, Lula N. Davis, Constance “Connie” Rhett, Marcia Adams, Dorothy Blankenship, Tosha Autry, and Steven W. Lake, all in their official and individual capacities. Many of these defendants were parties in Couram I, [1] and all of these defendants were parties in Couram II.[2]
• The “Richardson Plowden Defendants” consist of attorney Eugene H. Matthews, Esquire, and his law firm Richardson Plowden Attorneys at Law, who represented the SCDMV Defendants in Couram I and Couram II and who continue to represent the SCDMV Defendants in the current litigation.
• The “ODC Defendants” consist of the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”) and attorneys Lesley M. Coggiola and John Doe in their individual and official capacities. In her proposed amended complaint, Couram identifies the John Doe attorney as a Mr. Green(e).
• The “Judicial Defendants” comprised of two state circuit court judges-the Honorable James R. Barber, III, and the Honorable L. Casey Manning-and three state court judges of the South Carolina Court of Appeals-the Honorable H. Bruce Williams, the Honorable John D. Gathers, [3] and the Honorable Stephanie P. McDonald.

         This matter is before the court on two pending motions: Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and/or Motion to Dismiss, and Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. ECF Nos. 8 and 19. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (2012) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for a Report and Recommendation. The Magistrate Judge filed a Report and Recommendation on May 12, 2016, recommending that Defendants’ motion be granted and Plaintiff’s remaining motion be dismissed. ECF No. 44. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on June 2, 2016. ECF No. 47.

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo review of any portions of the Report and Recommendation to which a specific objection is made. Id. The district court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the Magistrate Judge’s proposed findings and recommendations. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47-48 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         I. AUTHORITY OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE AND RECUSAL

         As a general matter, Plaintiff questions the authority of the Magistrate Judge and suggests that Plaintiff’s complaint and briefs were not given a “real review.” See ECF No. 47 at 4. Here again, the court reiterates that the Magistrate Judge is authorized to review certain matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (2012) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., and regardless of the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, the court is conducting a de novo review of the issues.

         Plaintiff also requests that the Magistrate Judge recuse herself.[4] ECF No. 47-1 at 12. Under 28 U.S.C. § 455, a magistrate judge should disqualify herself “in any proceeding in which [her] impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” The Fourth Circuit has held that the relevant inquiry is whether a reasonable person would have a reasonable basis for questioning the judge's impartiality. United States v. Cherry, 330 F.3d 658, 665 (4th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff offers no evidence suggesting that the Magistrate Judge was impartial during any proceeding; on the contrary, Plaintiff only points out that the Magistrate Judge has repeatedly ruled against her. ECF No. 47-1 at 12. The court finds that ruling against Plaintiff, absent additional evidence, is an insufficient basis for questing the Magistrate Judge’s impartiality. Plaintiff’s request for recusal is denied.

         II. OBJECTIONS TO REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         A. Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff first objects to the Clerk of Court categorizing her “Pro Se Plaintiff’s Amended Verified Complaint” (ECF No. 20), as a “Motion to Amend Complaint, ” and second, to the Magistrate Judge denying the motion. ECF No. 47-1 at 1-3. According to the December 10, 2015, Scheduling Order, the deadline for filing motions to amend pleadings was on January 11, 2016. See ECF No. 5. Plaintiff filed her Amended Verified Complaint on January 6, 2016, which was within the stated deadline. From this “timely filing, ” Plaintiff argues that her amendment should have been granted “freely” and without the “court or defendant[s’] approval.” ECF No. 47-1 at 2. Plaintiff relies on Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1), which allows a party to its amend its complaint as a matter of course so long as the amendment is within twenty-one days of either (1) service of the pleading, (2) service of a responsive pleading, or (3) service of a Rule 12(b), (e), or (f) motion. However, ...


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