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Moore v. Sumter County Court House In Court of Common Pleas

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 22, 2016

Darious Lamont Moore, #248459, Plaintiff,
Sumter County Court House in the Court of Common Pleas; Honorable Mr. Howard P. King, presiding judge; Joseph Spigner, Attorney for Applicant; Mr. Harry Conner, Esquire, Attorney for the State of South Carolina, Defendants.

          Darious Lamont Moore, Plaintiff, Pro Se.


          JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

         Darious Lamont Moore ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff is a South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC") inmate incarcerated at the McCormick Correctional Institution.[1] He files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This case is subject to summary dismissal.


         Plaintiff alleges the following facts. On March 3, 2003, he appeared before the Honorable Howard P. King in the Sumter County General Sessions Court, and Plaintiff was represented by Joseph Spigner, Esquire. [Doc. 1.] He alleges Howard King was the presiding judge during his state criminal proceedings, and Harry Conner was the attorney for South Carolina. [ Id. ] Plaintiff was indicted on the charge of armed robbery; and, "the court stated" that the charges of attempted armed robbery and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime would be dismissed. [ Id. ] He contends that he pled guilty to armed robbery and gave up certain important constitutional rights, and he seems to argue that he failed to realize his indictment should no longer have been classified as a violent offense after the charge of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime was dismissed. [ Id. ] Plaintiff seems to allege the Defendants misled him and failed to properly classify his crime to which he pled guilty. [ Id. ]

         From a review of the exhibits attached to the Complaint, the Court gleans that Plaintiff disagrees with the way SCDC has calculated his 2003 sentence related to armed robbery. [Docs. 1-1; 1-2.] Also, he has complained that Spigner told him he would receive a 10-year sentence, but he received a 16-year sentence instead. [ Id. ] And, he attaches a copy of his indictment for armed robbery showing that it was classified as a "violent" offense. [ Id. ]

         Based on these facts, Plaintiff seeks damages and declaratory injunctive relief. [ Id. ]


         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) DSC, the undersigned is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute. This statute authorizes the District Court to dismiss a case if it is satisfied that the action "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, " is "frivolous or malicious, " or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Further, Plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and "seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court is charged with screening Plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the Complaint if (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         As a pro se litigant, Plaintiff's pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ( per curiam ). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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 Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (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). 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, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         The Complaint is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which "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)). A civil action under § 1983 "creates a private right of action to vindicate violations of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." Rehberg v. Paulk, 132 S.Ct. 1497, 1501 (2012). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         This action should be dismissed because several Defendants have immunity from this lawsuit. Howard King has judicial immunity. It is well settled that judges have absolute immunity from a claim for damages arising out of their judicial actions unless they acted in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 351-364 (1978); see also Chu v. Griffith, 771 F.2d 79, 81 (4th Cir. 1985) (explaining that if a challenged judicial act was unauthorized by law, the judge still has immunity from a suit seeking damages); e.g., Baccus v. Wickensimer, C/A No. 9:13-1977-DCN-BM, 2013 WL 6019469, at *2-3 (D.S.C. Nov. 13, 2013) (explaining that judicial immunity is from claims for damages and injunctive relief). Whether an act is judicial or nonjudicial relates to the nature of the act, such as whether it is a function normally performed by a judge and whether the parties dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12.

         Immunity applies even when the judge's acts were in error, malicious, or in excess of his authority. Id. at 12-13. Immunity presents a threshold question. SeeHarlow v. Fitzgerald,475 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Absolute immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability." Mitchell v. Forsyth,472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). Here, Plaintiff alleges that Howard King was the presiding judge, and somehow he misled Plaintiff related to his guilty plea to armed robbery or possibly his sentence. This alleged factual misconduct relates to the judge's judicial acts. Thus, because ...

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