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Legette v. Wilson

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 14, 2017

Roger Syndell Legette, #243366, a/k/a Roger Syndell Legette, Plaintiff,
Alan M. Wilson, Defendant.

          Kevin F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge


         The plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. The plaintiff is an inmate in the South Carolina Department of Corrections incarcerated at the Evans Correctional Institution. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.


         The plaintiff alleges that he has been subjected to involuntary servitude, malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment as a result of his conviction for murder in Horry County, South Carolina (doc. 1-1 at 4-5, 18). He contends that the statute was misapplied and that the defendant did not act in good faith (id. at 6-7). He further contends that the defendant engaged in a conspiracy (id. at 7). The plaintiff asserts that he was denied equal protection and his right to Due Process (id. at 7, 17). The plaintiff also possibly attacks the sufficiency of the indictment (id. at 4). A review of the public index reveals that the plaintiff was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder on August 5, 1997. See Greenville County Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Public Index, (enter the plaintiff's name and CAW199612007) (last visited Nov. 13, 2017); see also Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (courts “may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record.”). He seeks $2, 382, 720, 000, 000.00 in damages (id. at 21).


         The 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). As a pro se litigant, the 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 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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 (4th Cir. 1990).

         As an initial matter, this action is subject to dismissal because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See Title 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In South Carolina, the South Carolina Attorney General is the chief prosecuting officer of the State of South Carolina. See S.C. Code Ann., SC Const. art. V, § 24 (1995). The South Carolina Attorney General and the South Carolina Assistant Attorney Generals have absolute immunity from personal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they are entitled to prosecutorial immunity for activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. See, e.g., Williams v. Condon, 553 S.E.2d 496 (S.C. App. 2001); Garrett v. McMaster, 7:07-2952-HFF-WMC, 2008 WL 3411673 (D.S.C. Aug. 11, 2008) (finding that the Attorney General and a former Assistant Attorney General had prosecutorial immunity for conduct related to presenting the State's case). Cf. Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 129 S.Ct. 855 (2009) (noting that prosecutors have absolute immunity from § 1983 actions unless the conduct involves administrative duties such as workplace hiring, payroll administration, or the maintenance of physical facilities). Therefore, the defendants have absolute immunity from this suit. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) (absolute immunity “is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability”).

         Additionally, a defendant cannot be liable under § 1983 merely because they are a supervisor or manager. The doctrines of vicarious liability and respondeat superior are not applicable in § 1983 actions. See Vinnedge v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 927-29 (4th Cir. 1977); see also Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981).

         Further, the plaintiff's claims for damages for constitutional violations, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution are subject to dismissal pursuant to the Supreme Court's ruling in Heck v. Humphrey, which held that in order to recover damages for imprisonment in violation of the United States Constitution, the imprisonment must first be successfully challenged. 512 U.S. 477, 490 (1994); see Edwards v. Balisock, 520 U.S. 641, 647-48 (1997) (holding that the preclusive rule of Heck extended to § 1983 claims challenging procedural deficiencies that necessarily imply the invalidity of the judgment). The Supreme Court held that

“to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, . . . a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.”

Id., 512 U.S. at 486-87.

         Here, the plaintiff is attempting to attack the validity of his conviction; however, he has not shown that his conviction has been overturned or otherwise impugned. “Because the grant of a new trial does not trigger the limitations period for a malicious prosecution claim, the statute of limitations on [the plaintiff's] § 1983 claims [do] not begin to run on the date he [is] granted a new trial.” Owens v. Baltimore City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 390 (4th Cir. 2014); see also Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 183 (4th Cir.1996) (Heck bars § 1983 claims for false arrest that “necessarily would implicate the validity of the plaintiff's conviction or sentence”). Here, a favorable determination on the merits of the plaintiff's § 1983 claims would require a finding that his detention is invalid; accordingly, his claims are barred under Heck and subject to summary dismissal.[1]

         With respect to any state law claims raised in the complaint, including failure to act in good faith, the District Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law causes of action because the complaint's federal claims are recommended for summary dismissal. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); see also Tigrett v. Rector and Visitors of the Univ. of Va., 290 F.3d 620, 626 (4th ...

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