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Christian v. City of Greenville South Carolina

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

January 26, 2017

Gregory T. Christian, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Greenville, South Carolina; Greenville Police Officer K.A. Payne Defendant.

          ORDER

          Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Gregory T. Christian, proceeding pro se, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a violation of his constitutional rights. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before the court are the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“First Report”) (ECF No. 56), issued October 18, 2016, recommending that the court grant defendant City of Greenville's (“City”) motion to dismiss amended complaint against City (ECF No. 33), the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Second Report”) (ECF No. 63), issued October 25, 2016, recommending that the court deny Plaintiff's motion for default judgment against defendant Greenville Police Officer K.A. Payne (“Payne”) (ECF No. 59), and Plaintiff's fourth motion to amend his complaint (ECF No. 86). The parties were advised of their right to file objections to the Reports. (ECF Nos. 56 at 8 and 63 at 3). On October 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed objections to the First Report (ECF No. 65) and objections to the Second Report (ECF No. 66).

         The recommendations set forth in the Reports have no presumptive weight and the responsibility to make a final determination in this matter 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 Reports 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). However, the 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's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The magistrate judge summarized the facts of this action in his First Report (ECF No. 56 at 1-3). Briefly, in Plaintiff's second amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was improperly searched by officers of the City of Greenville Police Department in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution after being accused by a property owner of stealing a ring at a yard sale. (ECF No. 73). As noted above, Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. In his original complaint, Plaintiff named City as the only defendant. (ECF No. 1). Subsequently, on June 24, 2016, Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to add defendant Payne (ECF No. 18) and the magistrate judge granted Plaintiff's motion on July 7, 2016 (ECF No. 22). The amended complaint (ECF No. 26) was served on Payne on September 22, 2016. (ECF No. 59-1).

         On July 21, 2016, defendant City filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim based upon Plaintiff's failure to identify any policy or custom of the city that caused a deprivation of his rights. (ECF No. 33). On August 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend the amended complaint (ECF No. 38) which the magistrate judge denied, noting that Plaintiff had not yet responded to City's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 43). On September 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed his response in opposition to City's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 46). Plaintiff filed his third motion to amend his complaint on September 22, 2016 (ECF No. 49), to which defendant City filed a response in opposition on October 10, 2016 (ECF No. 50). The magistrate judge granted Plaintiff's third motion to amend his complaint on October 18, 2016 (ECF No. 56) and Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint on October 28, 2016 (ECF No. 73). Finally, Plaintiff filed a fourth motion to amend his complaint on January 23, 2017. (ECF No. 86). Before the court are the magistrate judge's Reports on City's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against City (ECF No. 33) and Plaintiff's motion for default judgment against Payne (ECF No. 59), and Plaintiff's fourth motion to amend his complaint (ECF No. 86).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. First Report

         In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff raised a claim against defendants City and Payne alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated under the color of state law pursuant to § 1983. The magistrate judge determined that Plaintiff failed to assert sufficient factual allegations against defendant City to support a § 1983 claim.[1] (ECF No. 56 at 8). Specifically, he found that Plaintiff did not adequately allege that City maintained a policy or custom that led to the alleged deprivation of his rights nor did he allege facts demonstrating that the acts of the police officers were the result of such a policy or custom. (ECF No. 56 at 6).

         Plaintiff's objections contain a recitation of the arguments contained in his response to City's motion to dismiss rather than specific objections to the magistrate judge's findings. (ECF Nos. 65). However, the court gleans that Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's conclusion on two grounds.[2] First, Plaintiff argues that the magistrate judge failed to acknowledge his allegation that he was denied access to defendant City's relevant policy. (ECF No. 65 at 1). Second, Plaintiff argues that City's actions subsequent to the complaint establish the existence of an official policy or custom adequate to overcome City's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 65 at 1- 2).

         1.

         A municipality may be subject to suit under § 1983, Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978), but liability attaches “only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). A viable § 1983 Monell claim has two elements: (1) the municipality had an unconstitutional policy or custom and (2) the unconstitutional policy or custom caused a violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights. See, e.g., Jordan by Jordan v. Jackson, 15 F.3d 333, 338 (4th Cir. 1994) (holding that “plaintiffs seeking to impose liability on a municipality must, therefore, adequately plead and prove the existence of an official policy or custom that is fairly attributable to the municipality and that proximately caused the deprivation of their rights.”); Monell, 436 U.S. at 694 (holding that plaintiff must prove that “execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury.”). Thus, to survive a Rule 12 motion for dismissal, a plaintiff's pleadings must identify a specific policy or custom “fairly attributable to the municipality as its own” that caused the alleged Constitutional violation and allege that as a result of deliberate conduct, the municipality was the “moving force” behind the injury. Spell v. McDaniel, 824 F.2d 1380, 1387 (4th Cir. 1987); Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997).

         “An official policy often refers to ‘formal rules or understandings . . . that are intended to, and do, establish fixed plans of action to be followed under similar circumstances consistently and over time, ' and must be contrasted with ‘episodic exercises of discretion in the operational details of government.'” Semple v. City of Moundsville, 195 F.3d 708, 712 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480 (1986)). “Outside of such formal decision making channels, a municipal custom may arise if a practice is so ‘persistent and widespread' and ‘so permanent and well settled as to constitute a ‘custom or usage' with force of law.'” Carter v. Morris, 164 F.3d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 691). A custom “may be attributed to a municipality when the duration and frequency of the practices warrants a finding of either actual or constructive knowledge by the municipal governing body that the practices have become customary among its employees.” Spell, 824 F.2d at 1387.

         However, “municipalities are not liable pursuant to respondeat superior principles for all constitutional violations of their employees simply because of the employment relationship.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). A municipality may not be held liable under § 1983 solely because it employs the tortfeaser. See Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 520 U.S. 397. Accordingly, liability will not “be inferred merely from municipal inaction in the face of isolated constitutional deprivations by municipal employees.” Milligan v. City of Newport News, 743 F.2d 227, 230 (4th Cir. 1984). Rather, to be actionable, ...


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