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Roberts v. City of Laurens

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

October 24, 2016

Billy Joe Roberts, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Laurens; Det. Tony Lynch, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Billy J. Roberts (“Plaintiff) filed this pro se and in forma pauperis action against Detective Tony Lynch (“Lynch”) and the City of Laurens (“Defendant”), [1] seeking monetary damages, Lynch's resignation, and a public apology and alleging false arrest, officer misconduct and abuse of privileges, slander, and harassment.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald for pre-trial handling. On March 10, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending the court dismiss the case without prejudice and without issuance and service of process. (ECF No. 10 at 5.) This review considers Plaintiffs Objections to the Report (“Objections”) filed March 24, 2014. (ECF No. 14.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report in part, MODIFIES the Magistrate Judge's Report in part, in accordance with public record information released after Plaintiff's Objections, and DISMISSES this action (ECF No. 1) without prejudice and without issuance and service of process.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual synopsis is accurate and incorporates it by reference. This court will thus focus on the facts pertinent to the analysis of Plaintiff's Objections.

         Plaintiff alleges he was wrongly arrested and jailed by Lynch on December 10, 2013, in regard to the theft of a moped from a Wal-Mart parking lot in Laurens, South Carolina. (ECF No. 1 at 3-4.) Plaintiff alleges that Lynch had information about two witnesses who could clear Plaintiff's name. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff also alleges he was stopped by Lynch in November, before finally being arrested by Lynch in December. (Id. at 4.) At the time of the Complaint filing, Plaintiff had been incarcerated for more than sixty days. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks $100, 000 in monetary damages and the resignation of Lynch, alleging false arrest, officer misconduct, abuse of privileges, slander, and harassment. (Id. at 5.)

         The Magistrate Judge's March 10 Report found that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate a claim for false arrest or malicious prosecution that would allow the claims to be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 10 at 3-4.) The Magistrate Judge also found that the federal court should not interfere in the state court proceedings because Plaintiff could vindicate his constitutional rights, and raise evidence issues, in the state proceedings. (Id. at 4.) Additionally, the Magistrate Judge found the federal court could not force Lynch's resignation, and should not address state law claims. (Id. at 5.)

         In response to the Magistrate Judge's Report, Plaintiff filed a timely Objection on March 24, 2014. (ECF No. 14.) In his Objection, Plaintiff repeats, in somewhat greater detail, the timeline he laid out in the Complaint (Id. at. 1-4), and reasserts his accusations of false arrest, misconduct, and abuse of privileges. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff notes the differing dates of his arrest (December 10, 2013), the warrant issuance (December 19, 2014), and the indictment (May 12, 2014) (Id. at 5), and says he was detained without probable cause. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff states he is suing Lynch, who is an employee of the City of Laurens, and asks for “justice [to be] served.” (Id. at 7-8.) Additionally, Plaintiff takes issue with the Report for not addressing various tort claims and his pain and suffering. (Id. at 9.)

         The online court records from Laurens County Eighth Judicial Circuit Public Index reveal that the state court proceedings against Plaintiff, from which this Complaint arises, were resolved when Plaintiff entered a guilty plea on May 12, 2014.[2]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Magistrate Judge's Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge's Report is only a recommendation to this court, and has no presumptive weight-the responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objections are made. Id. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Plaintiff filed this complaint in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which allows a federal court to proceed with a prisoner's complaint or action without the prepayment of court fees by the prisoner litigant. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1).[3] The statute attempts to restrain this privilege, and thus avoid allowing meritless lawsuits to flood the court system, by permitting a court to dismiss the case at any time upon finding that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.[4] § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         Pro se complaints must be held to a less stringent legal standard than those complaints or proceedings drafted by lawyers, and a pro se document should be liberally construed by a federal court. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). “Technical niceties” should not defeat a meritorious claim when it can be amended to achieve justice. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). However, while a pro se complaint may be entitled to “special judicial solicitude, ” federal courts are not required to recognize “obscure or extravagant claims.” Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985). A complaint will be dismissed, even under the lens of a liberal interpretation, “if it does not allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief.'” Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008)).

         Federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction and there is no presumption that the court has jurisdiction. Pinkley Inc. v. City of Frederick, MD., 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999). They are “constrained to exercise only the authority conferred by Article III of the Constitution and affirmatively granted by federal statute.”[5] In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998). Therefore, a federal court is required to determine if there is a valid basis for jurisdiction, “and to dismiss the action if no such ground appears.” Id. at 352. A plaintiff who seeks jurisdiction, even a pro se plaintiff whose complaint must be viewed liberally, must “allege in his pleadings the facts essential to show jurisdiction.” McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936). Subject matter jurisdiction can be attained through (1) federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and (2) diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         Objections to a Report must specifically identify portions of the Report and the basis for those objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). The Magistrate Judge correctly concludes that the allegations contained in Plaintiffs Complaint are not sufficient to show constitutional violations that would warrant relief under § ...


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