United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
L.C., T.C., J.C., and D.C., all minors under the age often 10 years, by and through their guardian ad litem Darline Canzater; and Darline Canzater, individually, Plaintiffs,
South Carolina Department of Social Services, Alexis Eaddy, and John and Jane Roe, whose names are unknown, Defendants.
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendants' partial motion
to dismiss as to Defendants Alexis Eaddy, John Roe, and Jane
Roe. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the
allege that Defendants removed the minor Plaintiffs L.C.,
T.C., J.C. and D.C. from their mother, Plaintiff Darline
Canzater, and restricted Plaintiffs' intra-familial
association for approximately nineteen months, beginning in
September 2015, based on insufficient allegations of corporal
abuse. Plaintiffs also allege Defendants "removed D.C, a
newborn, approximately two months postpartum without any
additional report, investigation and/or sufficient legal
cause." (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 8.) Plaintiffs further allege
Defendants "failed to schedule or request, at any time,
any hearing to include a probable cause hearing as required
pursuant to South Carolina Code Section 63-7-710 to determine
the validity of the removal of the minor plaintiffs from
Darline Canzater until March 17, 2017." (Id.).
Following that hearing, on July 1, 2017, the Richland County
Family Court dismissed Defendants' complaint to remove
the minor children from Plaintiff Canzater and found that
"[n]o probable cause hearing was ever convened in this
matter as required by S.C. Code Ann. §63-7-710."
(Dkt. No. 1-1 at 21.)
September 5, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the present action in the
Richland County Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiffs allege
state-law causes of action for negligence and gross
negligence, negligence per se, defamation, outrage,
false imprisonment, and breach of fiduciary duty, and a
federal cause of action under § 1983 for violation of
Plaintiffs' due process rights, against Defendants the
South Carolina Department of Social Services
("DSS"), Alexis Eaddy (a DSS caseworker), and John
and Jane Roe defendants (unidentified employees of DSS).
Defendants timely removed on November 21, 2017, and on the
same day moved to dismiss § 1983 claims against
Defendants Eaddy, John Roe, and Jane Roe.
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits the
dismissal of an action if the complaint fails "to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted." Such a motion
tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and "does
not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of the
claim, or the applicability of defenses. . . . Our inquiry
then is limited to whether the allegations constitute 'a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief" Republican Party of
N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)
(quotation marks and citation omitted). In a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion, the Court is obligated to "assume the truth of
all facts alleged in the complaint and the existence of any
fact that can be proved, consistent with the complaint's
allegations." E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs.
Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).
However, while the Court must accept the facts in a light
most favorable to the non-moving party, it "need not
accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable
conclusions, or arguments." Id.
survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state
"enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell Ail. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although the
requirement of plausibility does not impose a probability
requirement at this stage, the complaint must show more than
a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). A complaint has "facial plausibility"
where the pleading "allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Id.
individual Defendants-Alexis Eaddy, John Roe, and Jane
Roe-argue that Plaintiffs § 1983 claims against them
should be dismissed with prejudice "because the
plaintiffs' have failed to allege any individual actions
of these defendants in violation of the plaintiffs'
constitutional rights." (Dkt. No. 5-1 at 2.) Regarding
John Doe suits, the Fourth Circuit has held that "if it
does not appear that the true identity of an unnamed party
can be discovered through discovery or through intervention
by the court, the court could dismiss the action without
prejudice." Schiff v. Kennedy, 691 F.2d 196,
198 (4th Cir. 1982) (footnote omitted). This Court
understands "true identity" to encompass not just a
person's name, but also that person's specific role
in the complained-of events. Especially where, as here, all
unknown defendants are allegedly employees or agents of a
named defendant, it would be illogical to hold that the
plaintiff must somehow know exactly which unknown person took
which action before filing a complaint. It would also be
unjust where, as here, the identity of the John Doe
defendants is known only to a named defendant.
argument therefore is without merit. The complaint contains
detailed factual allegations sufficient to satisfy the
requirements of notice pleading. (See Dkt. No. 1-1
at 8-9.) DSS is an inchoate entity that acts only through its
agents. The complaint clearly alleges that DSS employees
whose identities are not yet known to Plaintiffs took the
complained-of actions. There is no reason to believe that the
identities of those employees will not be ascertained during
it does not escape the Court's notice that
Defendants' motion, if granted, would leave DSS as the
only § 1983 Defendant. As counsel is doubtless aware,
DSS is not a "person" for purposes of § 1983
and therefore is not a proper defendant for § 1983
claims. See, e.g., Tate v. State, Dep'tof Soc.
Servs., No. CV 3:16-2714-MBS, 2016 WL4804115, at *1
(D.S.C. Sept. 14, 2016). Defense counsel tacitly ask the
Court to dismiss Plaintiffs § 1983 claims entirely and
with prejudice, without considering the actual merits of the
claims. The Court declines to do so.