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Lancaster v. Ruane

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 1, 2017

Shannon Miles Lancaster, #7376763, Plaintiff,
James Ruane - 0890, Defendant.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge.

         Shannon Miles Lancaster (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action alleging constitutional violations. Plaintiff is detained in the Spartanburg County Detention Center, and he files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The Complaint is subject to summary dismissal.


         Plaintiff alleges he is detained in the Spartanburg County Detention Center, and several state drug charges are pending against him. [Doc. 1.] The following specific facts are alleged. On April 11, 2016, and April 15, 2016, Defendant James Ruane (“Ruane”), a narcotics officer with the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, contacted Plaintiff pretending to be a drug dealer, convinced Plaintiff to ride around together for more than four hours while Plaintiff tried to find Ruane drugs, and made two controlled buys directly hand-to-hand from Plaintiff. [Id.] Ruane knowingly used false representations to convince Plaintiff he would not get into trouble; Ruane used entrapment in order to get Plaintiff to sell him drugs. [Id.] Plaintiff was not under federal investigation, and Ruane committed an “unmirandized arrest” on Plaintiff. [Id.] As a result of the incidents with Ruane, Ruane arrested Plaintiff on five different state drug charges on April 20, 2016. [Id.] By his actions, Ruane violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights and placed Plaintiff's life and his family's lives in danger. [Id.]

         For his relief, Plaintiff requests that the five pending drug charges be dismissed by the state, and he requests damages. [Id.] Further, Plaintiff asks to have his state jury trial on these charges delayed until this federal Court makes a ruling on this case; and a bond on these charges until the federal court makes a ruling. [Id.]

         On or about January 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion “for fast and speedy trial, and to halt my state prosecution charges until the District Court makes their ruling in this case.” [Doc. 9.] Plaintiff alleges that he has been detained since May 12, 2016, and he was unlawfully arrested. [Id.] He does not “want the state to have a chance for a wrongful conviction on entrapment charges.” [Id.]

         This Court takes judicial notice from the Spartanburg County on-line court records that Plaintiff was arrested on April 20, 2016, for distribution of meth, trafficking in meth or cocaine base, unlawful carrying of pistol, distribute drugs near a school, and trafficking in meth. See Spartanburg County Seventh Judicial Circuit Public Index, https://publicindex. (enter Plaintiff's name, and 2016A4210101077, 2016A4210101490, 2016A4210201354, 2016A4210201358, 2016A4210201359) (last visited Jan. 31, 2017); see also Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (courts “may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record.”); Colonial Penn Ins. Co. v. Coil, 887 F.2d 1236, 1239 (4th Cir. 1989) (“We note that ‘the most frequent use of judicial notice is in noticing the content of court records.'”). And, in each of those pending criminal cases, the state records indicate that Plaintiff was indicted on September 30, 2016. 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).


         This 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 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). 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).

         To the extent Plaintiff brings a claim based on the Fourth Amendment alleging false arrest, he fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. The constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is well settled. Merchant v. Bauer, 677 F.3d 656, 662 (4th Cir. 2012). To state a claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he was arrested without probable cause. Sowers v. City of Charlotte, 659 F. App'x 738 (4th Cir. 2016). Nevertheless, because Plaintiff was indicted on the five state drug charges about which he complains in this case, his allegation of false arrest fails. A grand jury indictment is affirmative evidence of probable cause sufficient to defeat claims for malicious prosecution and false arrest under § 1983. See Durham v. Horner, 690 F.3d 183, 189 (4th Cir. 2012) (an indictment, fair upon its face, returned by a properly constituted grand jury conclusively determines the existence of probable cause); cf. Swick v. Wilde, 529 F. App'x 353 (4th Cir. 2013) (explaining about the effect of deliberately supplying misleading information that influenced a decision); see also Provet v. South Carolina, Civil Action No. 6:07-1094-GRA-WMC, 2007 WL 1847849, at *5 (D.S.C. June 25, 2007) (§1983 claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution were precluded because of indictment). Therefore, Plaintiff fails to allege a plausible claim for false arrest, and this action should be dismissed.

         Moreover, this case is subject to the Younger abstention doctrine. From a review of the Complaint and the motion to halt state prosecution, the crux of the matter is that Plaintiff seeks a ruling by this federal Court on the Fourth Amendment issues in his state court case and seeks to halt the state prosecution until this Court rules. Plaintiff does not want the state court to wrongfully convict him based on a wrongful application of the Fourth Amendment. Thus, Plaintiff invites this Court to interfere with the state court criminal proceedings. However, because a federal court may not ...

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