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Odom v. Trident Hospital Director

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 1, 2017

Christopher Odom, Plaintiff,
Trident Hospital Director; S.C. Taxpayers, State of; Charleston County Courthouse Bailiff; S.C. Budget and Control Board Director; S.C. Negligence Injury Insurer; Champus Insurer; Charleston County Taxpayers; Judge Nicholson, Jr.; Christopher Burrow, Atty.; CARTA Bus Co. Atty.; Dr. Buncher Medical Facility; Alan Wilson; Courthouse Video; Judge Kaymani West; Judge Richard Gergel; MUSC, and EMS, Defendants.


          Kaymani D. West, United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a civil action filed pro se by a local detainee.[1] Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e); 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).

         I. Factual Background

         According to publicly available information, Christopher Odom (“Plaintiff”) is a detainee at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County, South Carolina (“CCDC”). See T=&ADF=&ADT=&IN=&SPA=False&SNDX=False (last consulted Oct. 31, 2017). In his initial pleading, Plaintiff asserts that, on December 11, 2015 while attending a hearing on a civil case, he was detained against his will and placed in handcuffs and leg shackles by a bailiff at the Charleston County Courthouse. ECF No. 1 at 2.[2] Plaintiff alleges that he was then involuntarily committed to Trident Hospital, where he was deprived of his liberty and happiness by undisclosed personnel “injecting needless in Plaintiff and also extracting blood from Plaintiff.” Id. Plaintiff does not indicate the length of time he was allegedly held at Trident Hospital. Plaintiff names many Defendants, whom he also calls Respondents. Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $3 million. ECF No. 1 at 1.[3]

         II. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of Plaintiff's pro se pleading filed in this case. This review has been conducted pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983); Boyce v. Alizaduh, 595 F.2d 948 (4th Cir. 1979).

         Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a pleading filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Kerr v. Marshall Univ. Bd. of Governors, 824 F.3d 62, 72 (4th Cir. 2016). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se pleading, the pro se litigant's allegations are assumed to be true. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 630 n.1 (4th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that this court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         Furthermore, to the extent that the pleading under review is construed as a habeas-corpus Petition, see supra note 1, this court is charged with screening the lawsuit to determine whether “it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4 of Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; see Rule 1(b) of Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (a district court may apply these rules to a habeas corpus petition not filed pursuant to § 2254). Following the required initial review, it is recommended that the initial pleading submitted in this case be summarily dismissed under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         III. Discussion

         Initially, the pleading under review is subject to summary dismissal to the extent that it is considered a habeas-corpus petition because Plaintiff does not request relief that would shorten any period of incarceration. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 78-83 (2005) (the proper remedy lies in habeas corpus only if “success in [an] action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration.”). The Wilkinson Court held that, “where success in the action would not necessarily spell immediate or speedier release for the prisoner, ” § 1983, not habeas corpus, is the appropriate remedy. Id. at 81 (emphasis in original). Furthermore, to the extent that Plaintiff's allegations could be liberally construed as a claim that he was unconstitutionally confined at Trident Hospital, no habeas-corpus jurisdiction is available for such claim because Plaintiff is no longer in the custody of the hospital. Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490 (1989) (there is a jurisdictional requirement “that the habeas petitioner be ‘in custody' under the conviction or sentence under attack at the time his petition is filed.”).

         Next, to the extent that Plaintiff's allegations may be liberally construed as an effort to state claims of constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, [4] Plaintiff fails to state plausible claims against Defendants S.C. Taxpayers, Charleston County Taxpayers, State of; S.C. Budget and Control Board Director; MUSC; EMS; Dr. Buncher Medical Facility; S.C. Negligence Injury Insurer; or Champus Insurer because there are no allegations showing that any of these individuals or organizations had any personal involvement in the involuntary commitment to Trident Hospital of which Plaintiff complains. Plaintiff does not make any specific allegations of wrongdoing against any of these Defendants or of conspiracy among these Defendants. Therefore, Plaintiff fails to state any plausible claims against any of them. See Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th Cir. 1974) (“Where a complaint alleges no specific act or conduct on the part of the defendant and the complaint is silent as to the defendant except for his name appearing in the caption, the complaint is properly dismissed.”); Newkirk v. Circuit Court of City of Hampton, No. 3:14CV372-HEH, 2014 WL 4072212 (E.D. Va. Aug. 14, 2014) (complaint subject to summary dismissal where no factual allegations against named defendants within the body of the pleading); see also Krych v. Hvass, 83 F. App'x 854, 855 (8th Cir. 2003); Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395, 1401 n.8 (7th Cir. 1994); Walker v. Hodge, 4 F.3d 991, * 2 n.2 (5th Cir. 1993); Banks v. Scott, 3:13CV363, 2014 WL 5430987, at *2 (E.D. Va. Oct. 24, 2014). In absence of substantive allegations of wrongdoing against these named Defendants, there is nothing from which this court can liberally construe any type of plausible cause of action arising from the pleading against them. See Cochran v. Morris, 73 F.3d 1310 (4th Cir. 1996) (statute allowing dismissal of in forma pauperis claims encompasses complaints that are either legally or factually baseless); Weller v. Dep't of Social Servs., 901 F.2d at 389 n.2 (dismissal proper when there were no allegations to support claim). The mere fact that an insurance company provided coverage for a defendant or defendants in a case does not provide the required personal involvement or state action under §§ 1983, 1985. See Wagner v. Washington Cnty., 493 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2007); Burreson v. Barneveld Sch. Dist., 434 F.Supp.2d 588, 592 (W.D. Wisc. 2006).

         Also, Plaintiff fails to state plausible §§ 1983, 1985 claims against Defendants Trident Hospital Director, Atty Burrow, or Atty Carta Bus Co. because there are no allegations of wrongdoing against them and, even if there were such allegations, there are no allegations from which it may be inferred that any of these Defendants is a state actor or that he or she conspired with anyone else to violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights. To state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) the defendant(s) deprived him or her of a federal right, and (2) did so under color of state law. See Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999); Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); see also Hall v. Quillen, 631 F.2d 1154, 1155-56 (4th Cir. 1980). Because the United States Constitution regulates only the Government, not private parties, a litigant claiming that his constitutional rights have been violated must first establish that the challenged conduct constitutes “state action.” See Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1002 (1982). To qualify as state action, the conduct in question “must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible, ” and “the party charged with the [conduct] must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982); see United States v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen Helpers of America, AFL-CIO, 941 F.2d 1292 (2d Cir. 1991). Purely private conduct such as that alleged in this case, no matter how wrongful, injurious, fraudulent, or discriminatory, is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or under the Fourteenth Amendment, the two most common provisions under which persons come into federal court to claim that others have violated their constitutional rights. See Lugar, 457 U.S. at 936 (1982); Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth., 365 U.S. 715, 721 (1961). Here, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Hospital Director and unnamed “employees” invaded his “freedom and liberty to pursuit happiness by injecting needles in Plaintiff and also extracting blood from Plaintiff, ” ECF No. 1 at 2; however, there are no allegations that Defendant Hospital Director was acting under color of state law when participating in Plaintiff's medical care.

         Whether a private individual's action or corporation's action rises to the level of state action necessarily depends on the relationship between the activity and the state. The inquiry involves “whether there is a sufficiently close nexus between the State and the challenged action . . . so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.” Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974). In Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982), the Supreme Court held that a state is responsible for private action only when it has exercised “coercive power” or has provided “significant encouragement” in the implementation of the action. Here, there are no allegations of any particular “nexus” or unusually close relationship between Defendants Hospital Director, Atty Burrows, or Atty Carta Bus Co. and law enforcement officials that might support any claim of “state action” in connection with the involuntary commitment of which Plaintiff complains. The fact that a private hospital is involved in committing a person for a mental-health evaluation does not make the hospital a state actor. See, e.g., Wittner v. Banner Health, 720 F.3d 770, 780 (10th Cir. 2013) (involuntary commitment of mentally ill patient was not public function, and thus did not constitute state action for § 1983 purposes; private medical center and its employees were not state actors); Benn v. Universal Health Sys., Inc., 371 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2004) (private hospital and its employee were not state actors by virtue of their involvement in application for involuntary examination); Harvey v. Harvey, 949 F.2d 1127, 1130-31 (11th Cir. 1992) (state law governing private participation in commitment process does not transform private hospital into state actor); Spencer v. Lee, 864 F.2d 1376, 1381-82 (7th Cir. 1989) (private physician and private hospital did not act under color of state law when they committed mentally disturbed person); Kay v. Ben son, 472 F.Supp. 850 (D.N.H. 1979) (holding that any involvement of private medical center and its rehabilitation counselor with respect to plaintiff's admission to state mental health facility did not constitute “state action” for purposes of federal civil rights statute). There are no allegations of wrongdoing against Atty Carta Bus Co. and the only allegations against Atty Burrows are that he “undermine Plaintiff Carta Bus Claim making agreements against Plaintiff permission/consent.” ECF No. 1 at 2. These allegations do not show any state action in Atty Burrows activities and, at most, show a potential legal malpractice claim against this attorney.[5] However, malpractice is not a federal cause of action, but is rather a state-law-based claim that can only be considered by this court under its diversity jurisdiction. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328-336 & n.3 (1986); Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 345-348 (1986); Ruefly v. Landon, 825 F.2d 792, 793-94 (4th Cir. 1987); Cianbro Corp. v. Jeffcoat & Martin, 804 F.Supp. 784, 788-91 (D.S.C. 1992). No such jurisdiction is shown on the face of Plaintiff's pleading.

         As to § 1985, there are no factual allegations from which it may be inferred that anyone conspired with Defendants Hospital Director, Atty Burrows, or Atty Carta Bus Co. to violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights because of Plaintiff's race or other class-based discrimination. As such, Plaintiff fails to satisfy the “heightened pleading requirement” under § ...

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