United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
Benjamin P. Fields, Plaintiff,
Richland County Sheriff's Department, Richland School District Two, Leon Lott, Defendants.
ORDER AND OPINION
MARGARET B. SEYMOUR, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Benjamin Fields (“Plaintiff”), brought the
underlying action against Defendants Richland County
Sheriff's Department (“RCSD”), Richland
School District Two (“Richland Two”), and Sheriff
Leon Lott (“Lott”) (“ together
Defendants”). Plaintiff alleges against RCSD state law
claims of defamation (First Cause of Action); negligence,
gross negligence, recklessness, and willfulness (Second Cause
of Action); and public policy discharge (Third Cause of
Action). Plaintiff also asserts causes of action against
Richland Two for defamation (Fourth Cause of Action); and
negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and willfulness
(Fifth Cause of Action). Finally, Plaintiff alleges a cause
of action for race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against RCSD and Defendant Lott (Sixth Cause of
Action). ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff originally brought his claims
before the Richland County, South Carolina, Court of Common
Pleas. Id. On February 13, 2017, Defendants RCSD and
Lott removed the suit to federal court on the basis of
federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331, 1343 and 1441(a) and (b).
Lott and RCSD filed a motion to dismiss on February 13, 2017.
Richland Two filed a motion to dismiss on February 21, 2017.
ECF Nos. 4, 7. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on
March 9, 2017 and March 10, 2017, respectively, to which
Defendants filed replies on March 15, 2017 and March 16,
2017, respectively. ECF Nos. 13, 14, 15, 17. In accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C.,
this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge
Thomas E. Rogers, III for pretrial handling. This matter is
before the court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation (“Report”) filed July 17, 2017.
ECF No. 21.
RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
is a former employee of RCSD where he was hired as a law
enforcement officer in January 2004. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 7.
For approximately seven years, Plaintiff served as a School
Resource Officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia,
South Carolina. Id. Plaintiff claims that prior to
the underlying incident, he maintained “an exemplary
record with Defendant RCSD; he had not received any formal
write-ups or reprimands and had been exonerated from all
prior complaints if any.” ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 8.
Plaintiff was also employed by Defendant Richland Two as a
conditioning teacher and football coach, where he received
compensation and retirement benefits. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 11.
October 26, 2015, an Assistant Administrator with Spring
Valley High School requested assistance from a School
Resource Officer in response to a disruptive student. ECF No.
1-1 ¶ 12. At the time, Plaintiff was one of two resource
officers at the school. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 9. Plaintiff
responded to the classroom to speak with the student and the
teacher. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 15. Plaintiff was told that the
student kept pulling out her cell phone during class despite
requests from the teacher to put the phone away. ECF No. 1-1
notes that he recognized the student in question from
previous issues of disruption and as he approached the
student, he stated to her that “she knew him, ”
“they could work this out, ” and “for her
to come with him.” ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 16, 17, 18.
The student refused to cooperate. Id. Next,
“Plaintiff  engaged in soft empty hand control in an
attempt to remove the subject student from the desk so he
could remove her from class.” ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 19. As
he attempted to remove the student, “the student began
to fight back, including striking Plaintiff in his face.
Plaintiff then brought the student to front of the classroom
and placed her under arrest.” ECF No. 1-1 ¶
the incident, Plaintiff met with the student in his office
and completed required paperwork and incident reports
pursuant to RCSD policy. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 22. The student
apologized, and said that she “was having a bad
morning.” ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 23. Subsequently, the
student's guardian arrived at school and took her home.
It was Plaintiff's belief and understanding that the
student would be expelled. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 24.
resumed his job duties and reported to football practice in
the afternoon, after which he was asked to attend a meeting
with the principal and Plaintiff's supervisor, Captain
Jon Ewing. ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 25, 26, 27. During the
meeting, Plaintiff was informed that Internal Affairs planned
to conduct a brief investigation and that Plaintiff should
return to the school the following day. Id.
response to the widespread sharing of a video of the incident
taken by another student, Lott appeared on the evening news
and stated that Plaintiff had been placed on suspension
without pay pending an investigation. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 29.
Plaintiff had not been informed of the suspension.
Id. Later, Plaintiff was contacted by Captain Ewing
and instructed to report to headquarters in full uniform the
following morning. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 30. At a meeting the
next day, Plaintiff was informed that he would be placed on
desk duty during the investigation. Plaintiff instead chose
to take personal leave. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 31.
October 27, 2015, Captain Flowers, the Training Captain,
prepared a memorandum concerning the incident involving
Plaintiff the prior day. The memorandum provided, in
When S/Dep. Fields approached [the subject student], she
demonstrated Verbal Non-Compliance by refusing to get up and
saying she was not under arrest. According to Policy 601
Fields had the option of using verbal warning, OC, Taser or
soft empty hand control. Fields responded with what appeared
to be soft empty hand control in the form of an arm bar
(attempting to pull her out of her desk). At that time,
[subject student] started to pull away, push the desk
backwards and even appeared to strike Fields in the neck
area. This is, at the very least, Defensive Resistance, and
possibly Active Aggression. According to policy, Fields had
the option of using OC, Taser, soft empty hand control, hard
empty hand control, or Canine. Fields responded with a
takedown, which is hard empty hand control. Once down on the
ground, Fields appeared to pull her away from the desk and
throw her towards the front of the classroom.
ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 32.
October 28, 2015, Plaintiff was asked to meet with Defendant
Lott to discuss the events that had transpired. ECF No. 1-1
¶ 33. This meeting was the first time Plaintiff had the
opportunity to speak with Defendant Lott as Lott had been out
of the State the prior two days. ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 34.
Defendant Lott told Plaintiff “[h]e was in a tough
situation and that he believed he had no option but to
terminate Plaintiff's ...