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Singleton v. City of Georgetown

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

February 13, 2017

CITY OF GEORGETOWN, JANET GRANT, individually and as an employee of the City of Georgetown, RICKY MARTIN, individually and as an employee of the City of Georgetown, ROBERT O'DONNELL, individually and as a magistrate for the City of Georgetown, Defendant



         This matter is before the court on the City of Georgetown (“Georgetown”), Janet Grant (“Grant”), Ricky Martin “Martin”), and Robert O'Donnell's (“O'Donnell”) (collectively, “Defendants”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 17. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants in part and denies in part defendants' summary judgment motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         This case arises out of a citation levied on a piece of property (“the Lot”) in the City of Georgetown, South Carolina. Compl. ¶ 4. The citation charged Willie Singleton (“Singleton”) with violating City of Georgetown Municipal Code Article II of Public Nuisance § 11-26 (“Section 11-26”), which categorizes lots with “excessive overgrowth with a dilapidated structure” as a public nuisance subject to citation. Id. ¶¶ 47-51, 56. The relevant text of Section 11-26 identifies a public nuisance as:

(3) Any building or part of any building which, on account of its condition, its occupancy or use, may endanger life or health; …
(7) Any property, whether occupied or vacant, upon which grass, weeds, or undergrowth exceeding eighteen (18) inches in height, trash, garbage, offal, stagnant water, building materials, glass, wood, metal or other matter deleterious to good health and public sanitation is permitted or caused to accumulate in any manner which is or may become a nuisance causing injuries or sickness to the public or neighboring property;
(8) Any property which, because of its condition, may promote the breeding of harborage of flies, [rats], snakes, vermin or other insects and animals.

         Grant sent a series of letters regarding the overgrowth on the Lot beginning in April 2009, but ultimately issued a citation for violation of Section 11-26 in September 16, 2010, Defs.' Mot. 2.

         Singleton appeared at the municipal court hearing for his citation and requested a jury trial. Id. Singleton did not show up at his trial, set for July 13, 2011, and was found guilty of violating Section 11-26. Id. at 3. O'Donnell was the municipal court judge presiding over the trial. Compl. ¶ 38. Singleton was fined $1, 092.00, consisting of a $500.00 fine and the remainder in court fees. Defs.' Mot. 3. Singleton appealed his conviction to the South Carolina Circuit Court on July 29, 2011, which affirmed his conviction. Id. at 4. Singleton then appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, which found on January 7, 2015 that Singleton's original appeal to the circuit court was untimely and so the circuit court lacked appellate jurisdiction over the appeal. Id., Ex. H, S.C Ct. App. Op. No. 2012-212102. The result of the South Carolina Court of Appeals ruling is that the Circuit Court's decision was vacated, and the original municipal court judgment against Singleton stands.

         Singleton, who is African-American, alleges that Georgetown chose to prosecute him for the overgrowth of his lot because of his race and Singleton's history of lodging complaints against Georgetown and various city employees. Compl. ¶ 9. Singleton argues that the Lot was a “naturalized lot”[2] containing an unoccupied house, but that Grant-an employee of Georgetown-nonetheless issued a municipal citation for violating Section 11-26. Id. ¶¶ 47-51, 56. Singleton contends that Section 11-26 is inapplicable to naturalized lots. Defs.' Mot., Ex. A, Singleton Deposition 51:15-18.

         He filed this suit against defendants in the Court of Common Pleas of Georgetown County, South Carolina on May 14, 2015. ECF No. 1. The case was removed to this court on June 26, 2015 because it contained a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. Id. Singleton asserts the following claims: (1) taking of his property as to all defendants;[3] (2) deprivation of substantive and procedural due process based on defendants' failure to give Singleton notice and an opportunity to be heard, and failure to follow prescribed statutory procedures governing condemnation of dilapidated properties as to all defendants; (3) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as to Martin, Grant, and O'Donnell; (4) gross negligence as to all defendants; (5) Conversion of property without proper compensation as to all defendants; (6) Violation of the Administrative Procedures Act by wrongfully condemning and ordering the removal of the building on the Lot as to all defendants;[4] (7) Negligence in failing to follow proper procedures; (8) Violation of Singleton's equal protection rights as to all defendants.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on June 1, 2016, ECF No. 18, which Singleton responded to on July 11, 2016. ECF No. 26. The motion is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the district court enter judgment against a party who, ‘after adequate time for discovery . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'” Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 190 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Any reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Webster v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 685 F.3d 411, 421 (4th Cir. 2012). However, to defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify an error of law or a genuine issue of disputed material fact. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); see also Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003).

         Although the court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; Stone, 105 F.3d at 191. If the adverse party fails to provide evidence establishing that the factfinder could reasonably decide in his favor, then summary judgment shall be entered “regardless of ‘[a]ny proof or evidentiary requirements imposed by the substantive law.'” Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 522 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).


         Defendants move for summary judgment[5] on the following grounds: (1) the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits federal district court review of a state court judgment; (2) the statute of limitations precludes Singleton's action; (3) no cognizable U.S.C. § 1983 claim; (4) no cognizable equal protection claim; (5) no cognizable Fifth Amendment takings claim; (6) no cognizable procedural due process claim; (7) no cognizable substantive due process claim. Defendants also contend that they should be awarded summary judgment because of the following affirmative defenses: (1) Georgetown is not liable under the doctrine articulated in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (2) Grant, Martin, and O'Donnell are protected by ...

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