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Paschal v. Lott

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

September 28, 2016

Kay F. Paschal, PLAINTIFF
Leon Lott; Stan Smith; Howard Hughes; Heidi Scott a/k/a Heidi Jackson; all in their individual and official capacities; Richland County, South Carolina, DEFENDANTS


          Terry L. Wooten, Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Kay F. Paschal, an attorney, filed this civil rights action against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff asserts Defendants violated her Constitutional rights during the prosecution of criminal charges against her in Lexington and Richland Counties, South Carolina, arising from Plaintiff's use of an allegedly forged power of attorney.

         This matter is before the Court for review of the detailed Report and Recommendation (R&R) filed by United States Magistrate Judge Paige Gossett to whom this case was previously assigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), DSC. ECF No. 59. In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge analyzed the case both factually and legally and she recommends granting summary judgment to Defendants as to Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims on the ground of qualified immunity, and on Plaintiff's Sixth Amendment claims because they fail as a matter of law. Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R and Defendants replied. ECF Nos. 62, 67.

         The District Court held a hearing in this matter on August 29, 2016. Counsel for all parties were present: S. Jahue Moore for Plaintiff, and Robert D. Garfield for Defendants. The parties also submitted supplemental authorities after the hearing. ECF Nos. 71, 72. This matter is now ripe for disposition.

         In reviewing the R&R, the Court applies the following standard:

The magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the Court, to which any party may file written objections . . . . The Court is not bound by the recommendation of the magistrate judge but, instead, retains responsibility for the final determination. The Court is required to make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendation as to which an objection is made. However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the report and recommendation to which no objections are addressed. While the level of scrutiny entailed by the Court's review of the Report thus depends on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify any of the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations.

Wallace v. Hous. Auth. of City of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992) (citations omitted).

         In light of this standard, the Court has carefully considered the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, the record in this case, the applicable caselaw, and the arguments advanced by the parties. For the reasons set forth below and in the R&R, the Court accepts the R&R and grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge set forth in detail the relevant facts viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. ECF No. 59 at 1-6. As the Magistrate Judge observed, Plaintiff's Constitutional claims are essentially that Defendants arrested her, searched her home, and seized her property without probable cause.[1] Id. at 11-12.

         The Magistrate Judge observed that the specific question in this case is whether “a reasonable officer in [Defendants'] position could have believed that probable cause existed.” ECF No. 59 at 9 (citing Torchinsky v. Siwinski, 942 F.2d 257, 261 (4th Cir. 1991)). As the Fourth Circuit has explained, the Court applies an objective, not subjective, analysis of this issue. See, e.g., Graham v. Gagnon, ___F.3d ___, 2016 WL 4011156, at *6 (4th Cir. 2016) (“Because probable cause is an objective test, we examine the facts within the knowledge of arresting officers to determine whether they provide a probability on which reasonable and prudent persons would act; we do not examine the subjective beliefs of the arresting officers to determine whether they thought that the facts constituted probable cause.” (citing United States v. Gray, 137 F.3d 765, 769 (4th Cir. 1998)).

         As stated in the R&R, there is extensive Fourth Circuit caselaw recognizing that officers are generally entitled to rely on the opinions of prosecutors and findings by a neutral and detached magistrates, for example: Wadkins v. Arnold, 214 F.3d 535 (4th Cir. 2000); Porterfield v. Lott, 156 F.3d 563, 568 (4th Cir. 1998); and Torchinsky, 942 F.2d 257. To demonstrate that an officer seized an individual pursuant to an arrest warrant without probable cause, a plaintiff must show that the officer “deliberately or with a reckless disregard for the truth made material false statements in his affidavit or omitted from that affidavit material facts with the intent to make, or with reckless disregard of whether they thereby made, the affidavit misleading.” Miller v. Prince George's Cty., 475 F.3d 621, 627 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In light of these standards, the Magistrate Judge addressed the claims against each Defendant in As noted in the R&R, however, these asserted violations of state law do not implicate rights protected by the United States Constitution and therefore are not remediable under Section 1983. See Street v. Surdyka, 492 F.2d 368, 371 (4th Cir. 1974) (“[N]ot all violations of state law rise to the level of constitutional tort.”).turn.

         The Magistrate Judge first addressed Plaintiff's claim against Lt. Heidi Scott, the Richland County investigator who obtained search and arrest warrants against Plaintiff in Lexington County based on Plaintiff's use of an allegedly forged power of attorney. Id. at 7-13. The Magistrate Judge summarized the key actions taken by Scott during her investigation, which are supported by the uncontradicted evidence of record, as follows:

Defendant Scott conducted a months' long investigation and consulted with two veteran prosecutors from two different judicial circuits who both opined that she had probable cause to seek a warrant for various offenses. The affidavit supporting the warrant application, although brief, sets forth the affiant's belief that the plaintiff used a fraudulent power of attorney to purchase a minivan with ...

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