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Tyler v. Hodges

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

December 13, 2017

Larry James Tyler, Plaintiff,
Eric Hodges, Wayne Byrd, Defendants.



         This is a civil action filed by the Plaintiff, Larry James Tyler, pro se. Plaintiff is detained at the Glen Campbell Detention Center in Darlington, South Carolina. He appears to be awaiting civil commitment proceedings pursuant to the South Carolina Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), SC Code Ann. §§ 44-48-10 through 44-48-170. See Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 2, 4; see also Tyler v. Byrd, No. 4:16-00400-MGL-BM. 2016 WL 4414834. at * 1 (D.S.C. Jul. 27, 2016), adopted by 2016 WL 4374982 (D.S.C. Aug. 16, 2016).[1]

         The Complaint is before the Court for pre-service review. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B): In re Prison Litigation Reform Act, 105 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1997)[pleadings by non-prisoners should also be screened]. Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se complaint herein pursuant to the procedural provisions of § 1915 and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Maryland House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir.1995) (en banc); and Todd v. Baskeryille, 712F.2d70(4thCir.l983).

         Section 1915 permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without paying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. However, to protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action "is frivolous or malicious, " "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, " or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A finding of frivolousness can be made where the complaint "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. at 31. Hence, under § 1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319. Further, while this Court is also required to liberally construe pro se documents, holding them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)(quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)), 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 currently cognizable in a federal court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990). Such is the case here.


         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. ECF No. 1 at 4. He asserts that on September 24, 2011, he was arrested on a warrant charging him with showing nude photos of Plaintiff (the photos were on a cell phone) and an indecent message from Plaintiff (that was also on the cell phone) to minors. Plaintiff claims that the police refused his request to see the nude photos (he contends that he was not nude in the photos). He claims that arresting officer Defendant Eric Hodges told him that the minors had the phone in June and July, but also said that the date the indecent message was written was in August. Plaintiff allegedly had an incident report that contained the above dates, but gave it to his attorney's assistant and appears to no longer have that report. He claims that a few days later the Sheriffs Department issued another incident report that had different dates, including a statement that the minors had the phone between June and August. Defendant Hodges allegedly recited the incorrect dates of June to August during Plaintiff s probable cause hearing. Plaintiff asserts that the statements allegedly made by the minors to police officers and the alleged photos of him (in which he claims he was not nude) differ from the information contained in the warrant and indictment. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Hodges' testimony before the grand jury was false because the victims allegedly never told police officers that Plaintiff was nude in the photos or that they read any indecent message written by Plaintiff. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Wayne Byrd gave Defendant Hodges permission to obtain the allegedly illegal arrest warrants. Plaintiff asserts that the statements made by the police were fabricated such that his due process rights were violated, his prosecution was procedurally improper, and his arrest was illegal. ECF No. 1 at 7-8; see also ECF No. 1-1 (Plaintiff s" Statement of Un-Disputed Facts" and Plaintiffs Declaration).

         Plaintiff alleges injuries of loss of liberty, personal humiliation, mental anguish, loss of family relationships, and loss of wages. ECF No. 1 at 9. He appears to request declaratory and injunctive relief as well as monetary damages. ECF No. 1 at 10-11.

         Plaintiffs claims for monetary damages are subject to summary dismissal based on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that a state prisoner's claim for damages is not cognizable under § 1983 where success of the action would implicitly question the validity of the conviction or duration of the sentence, unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been previously invalidated. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-487.

         Records from Darlington County[2] indicate that Plaintiff was convicted on February 27, 2013 (jury trial) on the charges of criminal solicitation of a minor, sexual exploitation of a minor (second degree), and disseminating harmful material or exhibiting harmful performance to minors, and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment as to each conviction (concurrent sentences). See Darlington County Fourth Judicial Circuit Public Index, PublicIndex/CaseDetails.aspx?County=l 6&CourtAgency=l 6001 &Casenum=2013GS1600603& CaseType=C; 16&CourtAgency=l 6001 &Casenum=2013GS1600604&CaseType=C; http://publicindex.sccourts. org/Darlington/PublicIndex/CaseDetails.aspx?County=l 6&CourtAgency= 16001 &Casenum=201 3GS1600606&CaseType=C (last visited Dec. 11, 2017). Plaintiff was also sentenced to three years concurrent as to his conviction of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. See Agency= 16001 &Casenum=2013GS1600605&CaseType=C (last visited Dec. 11, 2017). As Plaintiff has not shown a favorable termination as to his state court convictions, his claims are barred by Heck, and should be dismissed. See Lambert v. Williams, 223 F.3d 257, 260-261 (4th Cir. 2000)[claim for malicious prosecution requires a showing that the initiation or maintenance of a proceeding against the plaintiff was without probable cause to support it and a termination thereof occurred in favor of the plaintiff!, cert, denied. 531 U.S. 1130 (2001); Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 183 (4th Cir. 1996)[Claim for malicious prosecution does "not accrue until a favorable termination is obtained."]; Roesch v. Otarola, 980 F.2d 850, 853-854 (2d Cir. 1992)[holding that requirement that a plaintiff receive favorable termination applies to claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution]; Ballenger v. Owens, 352 F.3d 842 (4th Cir. 2003)[Heck generally applies where search and seizure issues are raised].

         Heck also acts to bar Plaintiffs claims for injunctive and declaratory relief. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 ["[A] state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation)-no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit ...-if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration."]; Mobley v. Tompkins, 473 Fed.Appx. 337 (4th Cir. 2012)[applying Heck in a civil action seeking damages and injunctive relief relating to federal convictions] (citing Heck at 586-87; Harvey v. Horan, 278 F.3d 370, 375 (4th Cir. 2002), abrogated on other grounds by Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521 (2011)).

         It is unclear whether Plaintiff is still incarcerated as to his 2013 convictions discussed above. The Fourth Circuit, in Wilson v. Johnson, 535 F.3d 262 (4th Cir. 2008), indicated that Heck does not bar a § 1983 action where "a prisoner could not, as a practical matter, seek habeas relief." Wilson. 535 F.3d at 268. However, even if Plaintiff is currently no longer "in custody" as to the challenged convictions, he had ample time to bring his habeas claims while in custody and has not alleged that circumstances beyond his control existed to prevent him from pursuing habeas relief. See Bishop v. County of Macon, 484 Fed.Appx. 753, 754 (4th Cir. 2012)[Finding that the Wilson exception only applies where the plaintiff can show that circumstances beyond his control left him unable to pursue habeas remedies and warning that "Wilson does not permit a plaintiff to end-run Heck by simply sitting on his rights until all avenues for challenging a conviction have closed."]; see also Covey v. Assessor of Ohio County, 777 F.3d 186.197 (4th Cir. 2015) [In order for the Heck bar not to apply, the claimant must not only no longer be in custody because the sentence has been served, but also could not have practicably sought habeas relief while in custody]; cf Ballenger v. Owens, 515 Fed.Appx. 192, 195 n.5 (4th Cir. 2013)[Noting that where a claimant had sufficient time to pursue post conviction relief, and indeed had actually done so and was unsuccessful, the Heck bar remains even after termination of the underlying conviction or sentence].

         Further, Plaintiff currently has an application for post-conviction relief pending in the South Carolina Courts. See County=l 6&Court Agency=l 6002&Casenum=2015CP1600016&CaseType=V (last visited Dec. 11, 2017). To the extent that Plaintiff is requesting that this Court interfere with his pending state court action (his PCR), federal courts are not authorized to interfere with a State's pending criminal proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances. See, e.g., Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971): Cinema Blue of Charlotte. Inc. v. Gilchrist, 887 F.2d 49.50-53 (4th Cir. 1989). Even though Plaintiff was convicted of the charges against him in a jury trial, any pending proceedings in the state court (e.g., pending applications for post-conviction relief) are still part of his "pending criminal case" as that terminology is understood under Younger and its progeny. See, e.g., Howell v. Wilson, No. 4:13-2812-JFA-TER, 2014 WL 1233703 (Mar. 25, 2014) [applying Younger as to the plaintiffs request that the district court provide direction to state court judges as to the plaintiffs PCR, criminal, and/or DNA testing cases]; Smith v. Bravo, No. 99 C 5077, 2000 WL 1051855, *5 (N.D.Ill.2000)[presuming that Younger abstention would apply to civil case that could interfere with post-conviction proceedings]; Lockheart v. Chicago Police Dep't, No. 95 C 343, 1999 WL 639179, *2 (N.D.Ill. Aug. 17, 1999)[applying Younger because post-conviction proceedings were pending].

         In Cinema Blue of Charlotte. Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that federal district courts should abstain from constitutional challenges to state judicial proceedings, no matter how meritorious, if the federal claims have been or could be presented in an ongoing state judicial proceeding. Id. at 52. Moreover, the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, expressly prohibits this court from enjoining such proceedings. See Bonner v. Circuit Court of St. Louis, 526 F.2d 1331, 1336 (8th Cir. 1975) (en banc)["Congress and the federal judiciary have consistently recognized that federal courts should permit state courts to try state cases, and that, where constitutional issues arise, state court judges are fully competent to handle them subject to Supreme Court review."]; cf. District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983)[federal courts cannot review state court proceeding in appellate sense]; Gurley v. Superior Court of Mecklenburg Cnty., 411 F.2d 586, 587-88 & nn.2-4 (4th Cir. 1969)[federal courts may not issue writs of mandamus against state courts].

         Plaintiff may be requesting release from custody. However, such relief may only be obtained in a habeas action. See Preiser v. Rodriguez,411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973)[complaint or petition challenging the fact or duration of confinement should be construed and processed as a habeas corpus petition, while a complaint or petition challenging the conditions of confinement should be construed and processed as a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983]. In Heck, the Fourth Court reiterated that release from prison is not a remedy available under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Heck, 512 U.S. at 481 [stating that "habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of ยง ...

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