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Webb v. County of Allendale

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

February 2, 2018

Clifford J. Webb, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
County of Allendale, a body corporate and politic, Charles Rowell in his capacity as Assistant Sheriff for Allendale County, South Carolina, J. Albayalde, Agent with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Tonia Capers, Director of the Allendale County Detention Center, Defendants. Brenda Diane Webb, Plaintiff,
v.
County of Allendale, a body corporate and politic, Charles Rowell in his capacity as Assistant Sheriff for Allendale County, South Carolina, Kelvin Jones, Director of the Hampton County Detention Center, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Magistrate Judge Paige Gossett's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment be granted as to Plaintiffs' claims for false imprisonment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 71; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 65.)[1] The Magistrate Judge also recommends that the court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' remaining state law claims. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 71; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 65.) Plaintiffs filed an objection to the Report (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 72; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 66), and Defendants filed a reply (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 73; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 67). For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 71; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 65), thereby GRANTING Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF Nos. 53, 54; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF Nos. 50, 53).

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, who are married to each other, are members of the Yamassee Nation, a Native American tribe and reservation located in Allendale County, South Carolina. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3.) Brenda Webb's son, Donald Franklin, also known as Grand Chief Sekhu Hidden Eagle Gentle, is the Grand Chief of the Yamassee Nation. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3.) On August 26, 2011, while the tribe was residing in Florida, Bilqiys Muhammad gave birth to Franklin's son. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3.) The name on the child's birth certificate was Li'Mahil Diane Gentle, but unbeknownst to Plaintiffs or Franklin, Bilqiys Muhammad later changed the child's name to Pocahontas Limahi Muhammad by filing a delayed record of the child's birth. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3-4; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3-4.)

         In November 2011, the Yamassee Tribe, including Bilqiys Muhammad and her child, moved to Allendale County, South Carolina, on land they claim is a Native American reservation. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3.) In February 2013, Bilqiys Muhammad and her child moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3.) But in April 2013, Bilqiys Muhammad called Brenda Webb and asked if she would come to Philadelphia to pick up her child out of fear for the child's safety because of abuse Bilqiys Muhammad had endured by her family member in her Philadelphia home. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3.) That month, Brenda Webb and other members of the tribe drove to Philadelphia, picked up Bilqiys Muhammad's child (Brenda Webb's grandchild), and brought the child back to the reservation in Allendale County. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 3.)

         A dispute of fact exists about whether Bilqiys Muhammad ever called Plaintiffs and asked to have the child returned to her custody. Regardless, the undisputed record shows Bilqiys Muhammad traveled to South Carolina on August 31, 2013, with the intention of retrieving her child, and she enlisted the help of local law enforcement. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-3 at 3-4, ECF No. 53-4 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 53-10 at 3-4.) Bilqiys Muhammad obtained a temporary order of custody for the child from a family court in Philadelphia, identifying the child on the order by using the name of Pocahontas Limahi Muhammad. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4.) Bilqiys Muhammad attempted to register the temporary order of custody in a South Carolina court on December 9, 2013, but although she was not aware of this at the time, she failed to properly register the order.[2] (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4.) The temporary order was provided to law enforcement, including Defendants Jomar Albayalde of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Charles Rowell of the Allendale County Sheriff's Office. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-4 at 3, ECF No. 57-4 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 53-4 at 3.) Allendale County Sheriff's Department personnel took the temporary order to the Allendale County Clerk of Court and an Allendale County Family Court judge, who both informed the personnel that the order was authentic and valid, and consequently, the Allendale County Sheriff's Office understood at that time that it was required to enforce the order. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 57-4 at 3; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 53-4 at 3.) Similarly, Ablayalde had the temporary order reviewed by a deputy solicitor in the Fourteenth Solicitor's Office and, based upon the solicitor's advice, believed he had the authority to enforce the order. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-4 at 3, 6.)

         Based on this advice, Albayalde, Rowell, and other law enforcement officers not named as defendants in these cases sought to enforce the temporary order. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4-5; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4-5.) On multiple occasions, Albayalde, Rowell, and others went to the Yamassee Tribe reservation to take custody of Bilqiys Muhummad's child. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4-5; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 4-5.) On December 9, 2013, Rowell appeared at the reservation in an attempt to enforce the order. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 66-5 at 3.) Rowell told Plaintiffs that he had a custody order for a child named Pocahontas Muhammad, the child of Brenda Webb's son Donald Franklin and Bilqiys Muhammad. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 66-5 at 3.) P laintiffs claimed that they did not know a child by that name and thereafter did not speak to Rowell. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 66-5 at 3.) On December 10, 2013, Rowell and Albayalde again appeared at the reservation with other law enforcement officers to enforce the order, but this time, the officers had a search warrant to search for the child on the reservation. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiffs again denied knowing a child by that name, despite the officers' assertion that the child was the child of Brenda Webb's son Donald Franklin and Bilqiys Muhammad. (Id.) After she was shown a picture of the child, Brenda Webb told the officers she could not identify the child, but later she admitted the child was her granddaughter. (Id.; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-5 at 2.) Plaintiffs also told the officers that they knew where the child was and refused to turn her over to law enforcement. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 66-5 at 4, ECF No. 53-5 at 2.)

         On December 11, 2013, Rowell, Albayalde, and other law enforcement officers again appeared at the reservation, but this time, the officers had secured a warrant for Brenda's arrest for custodial interference.[3] (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 66-5 at 4.) Albayadle had again consulted with a deputy solicitor in the Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor's Office who advised him that probable cause for the issuance of warrants existed and, if the officers were met with the same type of resistance from the tribe's members when the officers returned to the reservation, the officers would have probable cause to charge the members with custodial interference. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-4 at 5.) Because Plaintiffs again refused to cooperate with the search or disclose the location of the child, they were both placed under arrest at the scene for custodial interference. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 57-4 at 5; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 53-4 at 5.) Brenda Webb was arrested pursuant to the previously issued arrest warrant, and Rowell secured an arrest warrant for Clifford Webb on the following day, December 12, 2013. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-6 at 2.)

         Plaintiffs were held in jail for three days without a hearing until they were released on bond.[4](C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 5; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 5.) In January 2014, the Allendale County Family Court entered an order finding that the temporary custody order from a Pennsylvania court had not been properly registered in accordance with South Carolina law and was therefore unenforceable. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 5; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 5.) Consequently, the Allendale County Family Court ordered law enforcement to cease efforts to enforce the temporary custody order. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 5, ECF No. 66-4 at 5; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 5.) Following proceedings in the Allendale County Family Court, Bilqiys Muhammad was awarded full custody of the child. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-2 at 18-19.)

         II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Initially, the court notes Plaintiffs' Amended Complaints are equivocal as to what claims they raise pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Each Amended Complaint contains a paragraph in the “Statement of Facts” section that states:

The acts complained of herein above were committed under the color of the State law and deprived the Plaintiff of the equal protection of the laws of the State of South Carolina and the United States of America, and deprived the Plaintiff of the rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed to [him/her] as a citizen of the State of South Carolina and the United States of America in violation of 42 U.S.C § 1983 and denied Plaintiff the rights guaranteed to [him/her] by Article 1 Section 3; Article 1 Section 10; Article 1 Section 15; and Article 1 Section 23 of the Constitution of the State of South Carolina and the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

(C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 7; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 6.) Each Amended Complaint also lists only three causes of action-gross negligence, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress-without expressly stating which causes of action, if any, are brought pursuant to § 1983. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 7; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 5 at 6.) Moreover, all three causes of action are recognized tort claims under South Carolina law, and therefore could be construed as state law claims only.

         While Defendants recognize the ambiguity in the Amended Complaints, they also presume Plaintiffs' false imprisonment claims are made pursuant to § 1983 and move for summary judgment on this cause of action. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 53-1, ECF No. 57-1; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 50, 53-1.) In their responses to the Motions for Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs do not dispute Defendants' construction of the Complaint. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 66, C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 61.) Accordingly, the court construes the Amended Complaints as raising claims of false imprisonment in violation of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         In their Motions, Defendants espouse they are entitled to summary judgment because the record shows that probable cause existed for Plaintiffs' arrest for custodial interference. (C/A No. 1:15-cv- 02766-JMC, ECF Nos. 53, 54; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF Nos. 50, 53) Plaintiffs, in response, posit that since the Pennsylvania Family Court order of custody was not properly registered in South Carolina pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 63-15-358 (2012), Defendants lacked probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs. (C/A No. 1:15-cv-02766-JMC, ECF No. 66; C/A No. 1:15-cv-02767-JMC, ECF No. 61.)

         III. ...


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