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Tant v. Frick

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

July 28, 2017

David Ray Tant, Plaintiff,
v.
William Frick; South Carolina Office of the Attorney General; South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services; Solicitor's Office for the Sixth Judicial Circuit; South Carolina Department of Corrections; Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Margaret B. Seymour Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff David Ray Tant (“Plaintiff”), filed this action alleging constitutional rights violations and state law tort claims against Defendants Solicitor William Frick (“Frick”); South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”); South Carolina Office of the Attorney General (“Attorney General's Office”); South Carolina Department of Pardon, Probation, and Parole Services (“SCDPPPS”); and Solicitor's Office for the Sixth Judicial Circuit (“Solicitor's Office”) (collectively, “Defendants”)[1] arising out of the alteration of his prison sentence following a state court criminal conviction in 2004. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C), this case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for all pre-trial proceedings. This case is now before the court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report and Recommendation”) recommending the court grant Defendants' motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 67.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case has a lengthy procedural history. In 2012, Plaintiff filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina, alleging constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as state law claims stemming from the alteration of his prison sentence from fifteen to forty years. The suit was removed to federal court. The original claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was lodged solely against Defendant Frick. Tant v. Frick, No. 3:12-3020-JFA, 2014 WL 4417372, at *2 (D.S.C. Sept. 8, 2014). The court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff's federal claim and remanded the state law claims. Id. at *3. Following remand, the Court of Common Pleas granted Plaintiff leave to file a supplemental complaint. Plaintiff's supplemental complaint “incorporates the allegations of the original complaint in this action, where relevant, as amended where applicable by prior rulings of this Court and the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.” ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 1. Plaintiff's supplemental complaint states “[t]he causes of action set forth herein concern matters which occurred subsequent to the filing of the initial action and are therefore appropriate for consideration by way of supplemental complaint.” Id. at ¶ 2. Plaintiff's supplemental complaint states (1) a claim against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a violation of his constitutional rights; (2) a state law claim against Defendants for intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) a state law claim against Defendant SCDC for abuse of process; (4) state law claims of negligence and gross negligence against Defendants; and (5) a state law claim for false imprisonment against Defendants SCDC and SCDPPPS. After Plaintiff filed the supplemental complaint including additional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Defendants again removed to federal court.

         Defendant SCDC moved for summary judgment on September 7, 2016. ECF No. 54. On September 9, 2016, Defendants Frick, Solicitor's Office, and Attorney General's Office jointly moved for summary judgment. ECF No. 55. Defendant SCDPPPS filed a separate motion for summary judgment on September 9, 2016. ECF No. 56. Plaintiff filed a consolidated response on September 29, 2016. ECF No. 59.

         On February 9, 2017, Magistrate Judge Gossett issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motions be granted. ECF No. 67. Magistrate Judge Gossett recommended the court dismiss the action against Defendants SCDC, SCDPPPS, and Attorney General's Office because Defendants are “entities or agencies of the State of South Carolina, and, as such, do not qualify as ‘persons' under § 1983.” ECF No. 67 at 5-6 (citing Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989)). Magistrate Judge Gossett noted that the § 1983 claim against Defendant Frick was previously dismissed on summary judgment. Id. at 5 n.2. As such, Magistrate Judge Gossett found that the

controlling [c]omplaint in this action acknowledges that the allegations are amended where applicable by prior rulings in the previous action and that the instant causes of actions concern matters that have occurred subsequent to the filing of the previous action. (ECF No. 1-1 at 2.) None of these additional actions mention Defendant Frick. (See generally ECF No. 1-1.).

Id. Accordingly, Magistrate Judge Gossett recommended the court grant summary judgment on the renewed § 1983 claim against Defendant Frick. Magistrate Judge Gossett then examined the various state law claims, and recommended the court grant summary judgment on those claims as well. Plaintiff asserted numerous objections to the Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 68. As pertinent here, Plaintiff claims that the Magistrate Judge (1) erred in finding that § 1983 does not provide a cause of action against Defendant agencies, and (2) erred in finding Plaintiff's § 1983 claim “failed to demonstrate Defendant Frick ‘acted personally.'” ECF No. 68 at 1-2.

         The matter is now before the court for review of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. The court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portions of the Report and Recommendation to which a specific objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation by the Magistrate Judge or may recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). After carefully considering the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court adopts the Report and Recommendation as to the federal law claim. However, the court declines to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims and remands them for adjudication in the state court.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In 2004, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature (“ABHAN”), possession of a dangerous animal, and forty-one counts of animal fighting. Tant v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 759 S.E.2d 398, 399 (S.C. 2014). On November 22, 2004, the Honorable Wyatt T. Saunders, Jr. orally sentenced Plaintiff to serve ten years' imprisonment for the ABHAN and “five years consecutive

to [the ABHAN sentence]” on six of the animal fighting counts with the condition that if restitution were paid on two of those convictions, those sentences would be null and void. [Plaintiff] was also sentenced to five years' imprisonment, suspended, on the remaining animal fighting charges and three years' imprisonment, suspended, for possession of a dangerous animal.

Id. at 399-400. Judge Saunders asked if there were any questions regarding the sentence. Defendant Frick, the South Carolina solicitor responsible for prosecuting the case, requested clarification on the first part of the sentence. Judge Saunders responded that the first “four indictments for which [Plaintiff] has been convicted of animal fighting, are consecutive to each other and consecutive to [the ABHAN sentence].” Id. at 400. Judge Saunders asked “if [the sentence] was clear, and there was no objection.” Id. Judge Saunders “then [repeated] the two additional animal fighting sentences were for five years consecutive to the ABHAN sentence, but would be null and void upon payment of restitution. Again, there was no objection.” Id.

         The sentencing sheets for all six of the animal fighting charges, which were signed by the judge, the solicitor, and Plaintiff's attorney, indicated each animal fighting sentence was consecutive to the ABHAN sentence, but failed to indicate whether the animal fighting charges were consecutive to each other. Id. After receiving the sentencing sheets, Defendant SCDC initially interpreted the animal fighting charges as running concurrently with each other and consecutive to the ABHAN charge. Id. Defendant SCDC recorded Plaintiff's sentence ...


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