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Wilhite v. Hetitch

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 6, 2018

Stephen B. Wilhite, #107850, a/k/a Stephen Brett Wilhite, Plaintiff,
Lt. Hetitch, Lt. Clamp, Lt. Bowman, Lt. Deboard, Sgt. Jones, Sgt. Riddel, Sgt. Bradford, Sheriff Michael Hunt, Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Stephen B. Wilhite (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brought this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants. Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Aiken County Detention Center (“ACDC” or “Detention Center”). Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B) (2)(d), D.S.C., the undersigned is authorized to review such complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge. For the reasons below, this case is subject to summary dismissal.


         Plaintiff filed this civil rights action alleging Defendants denied Plaintiff access to the courts and access to legal materials in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Doc. 1.] The claims in the instant case allegedly arise from another pending civil rights action filed by the Plaintiff in this Court at case number 8:17-2296-JFA-JDA. [Id. at 5.] In that case, Plaintiff asserted a cause of action for excessive use of force by prison officials during a contraband search. Here, Plaintiff asserts he is unable to prepare for his other case because Defendants have denied him access to legal materials and access to the courts. [Id.] Specifically, Plaintiff contends that, from October 2017 to the present, he has been denied access to the court and access to legal materials. [Id. at 6.] Plaintiff asserts that, because he is being denied access to legal materials, summary judgment may be granted in favor of the Defendants in Plaintiff's other case, denying Plaintiff any remedy for his claims. [Id. at 7.] For his relief, Plaintiff requests that the Court grant Plaintiff full access to legal materials in order to successfully litigate his other case, and to grant money damages in the amount of $2, 000 per day for each day he is denied access to legal materials. [Id.]


         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute, which 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). Further, Plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and “seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court is charged with screening Plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the Complaint if: (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         As a pro se litigant, 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, 94 (2007) (per curiam). The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). 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, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         Plaintiff asserts a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ‘but merely provides' a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). A civil action under § 1983 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims for access to courts and access to legal materials. His claims fail for two reasons, each of which is discussed in detail below. First, Plaintiff fails to allege a constitutional violation under Fourth Circuit case law. Second, Plaintiff fails to allege any facts as to any individual Defendant.

         Access to Legal Materials

         This case is subject to summary dismissal because lack of access to legal materials by a pretrial detainee does not rise to the level of a deprivation of a constitutional right. “[T]he fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries . . .” Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977). Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit has unambiguously held that local jails, designed for temporary detainment, are generally not required to have a law library. See Magee v. Waters, 810 F.2d 451, 452 (4th Cir.1987); see also United States v. Chatman, 584 F.2d 1358, 1360 (4th Cir.1978) (discussing applicability of Bounds, 430 U.S. 817, to pretrial detainees).

         Here, Plaintiff is being temporarily held in a county detention center awaiting trial on a criminal charge. The law is clear that those being temporarily detained in county facilities awaiting criminal trials do not have a constitutional right to a law library, and so Plaintiff's claim therefore fails as a matter of law. Jones v. Lexington Cty. Det. Ctr., 586 F.Supp.2d 444, 448 (D.S.C. 2008). A careful review of the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint shows that his contentions do not raise a plausible federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because there is no constitutional right to a law library in a local, short-term detention facility such as ACDC. Furthermore, Plaintiff has made no allegations of any real injury and/or prejudice that Plaintiff suffered or is likely to suffer as a result of the alleged inadequate access to legal materials while in pretrial detention. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996) (plaintiff must allege actual injury resulting from allegedly inadequate jail library in order to state a claim under section 1983). In the absence of an alleged actual injury and prejudice to a constitutional right resulting from Plaintiff's lack of access to legal materials, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim against Defendants on which this Court may grant relief. See, e.g., Payne v. Lucas, No. 6:11-CV-01767-DCN, 2012 WL 988137, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 2, 2012), adopted by, 2012 WL 988133 (D.S.C. Mar. 22, 2012); Crawford v. Nash, No. 4:08-cv-4092-GRA-TER, 2009 WL 580348, at *3 (D.S.C. Mar. 5, 2009)

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