United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Bristow Marchant, United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff, Fontel Williams, proceeding pro se and in
forma pauperis, brings this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is an inmate at the McCormick
Correctional Institution, part of the South Carolina
Department of Corrections (SCDC).
alleges that his First and Eighth Amendment rights were
violated because paperwork from the South Carolina Department
of Social Services concerning his son was received by SCDC on
November 3, 2017, but was not "served" on Plaintiff
until November 28, 2017, which was after a family court
merits hearing concerning a treatment and placement plan for
Plaintiffs son (held on November 14, 2017). Plaintiff claims
that because he was not informed about the hearing and was
not transported by SCDC to the hearing, he "lost"
his son and now has to pay child support. ECF No. 1 at 3-4.
Plaintiff requests monetary damages for emotional damages and
child support, that his good-time credits be restored so he
can be released from SCDC custody, and that "everybody
that took part in this be su[s]pended without pay." ECF
No. 1 at 6.
established local procedure in this judicial district, a
careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint pursuant
to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and
§ 1915 A, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. No.
104-134, 110 Stat. 1321(1996), 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 Com, 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995), and
Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983).
Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than
those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574
F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court
is charged with liberally construing a pro se
complaint to allow the development of a potentially
meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
93 (2007) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)); Hughes v. Rowe, 449
U.S. 5, 9 (1980). However, even when considered pursuant to
this liberal standard, for the reasons set forth herein below
this case is 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); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662 (2009) [outlining pleading requirements under the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure].
this action is subject to summary dismissal because Plaintiff
has only named the SCDC as a defendant. Any request for
monetary damages against the SCDC is barred by the Eleventh
Amendment to the United States Constitution, which divests
this court of jurisdiction to entertain a suit for damages
brought against the State of South Carolina or its integral
parts. As a state agency, the SCDC is considered an integral
part of the State of South Carolina. See S.C. Code Ann.
§ 24-1-30 [statute creating the agency of SCDC];
Florida Dep't. of State v. Treasure Salvors,
Inc., 458 U.S. 670, 684 (1982) [state agencies are arms
of the state and entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity];
Ram Pitta v. Md. Nat'l Capital Park & Planning
Comm'n, 822 F.2d 456, 457 (4th Cir. 1987)[Eleventh
Amendment shields a state entity from suit in federal court
"if, in [the entity's] operations, the state is the
real party in interest, " in the sense that the
"named party [is] the alter ego of the
state."]; Laudman v. Padula, No. 3:12-2382-SB,
2013 WL 5469977, at *7 (D.S.C. Sept. 30, 2013)[dismissing
claims against state agency]; see Alden v. Maine.
527 U.S. 706 (1999); College Savs. Bank v. Florida
Prepaid Educ. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984)[although
express language of Eleventh Amendment only forbids suits by
citizens of other States against a State, Eleventh Amendment
bars suits against a State filed by its own citizens]:
Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); Will
v. Michigan Dep't of State Police. 491 U.S. 58,
61-71 (1989); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663
(1974)[stating that "when the action is in essence one
for the recovery of money from the state, the state is the
real, substantial party in interest and is entitled to invoke
its [Eleventh Amendment] sovereign immunity from suit even
though individual officials are nominal defendants"]
(quoting Ford Motor Co. v. Dep't. of Treasury,
323 U.S. 459, 464 (1945)); see also Harter v.
Vernon, 101 F.3d 334, 338-39 (4th Cir. 1996);
Bellamy v. Borders, 727 F.Supp. 247, 248-50 (D.S.C.
the United States Congress can override Eleventh Amendment
immunity through legislation, Congress has not overridden the
States' Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983
cases. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S.
332, 343 (1979). Further, although a State may itself consent
to suit in a federal district court, Pennhurst State
School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99 &
n. 9 (1984), the State of South Carolina has not consented to
such actions. To the contrary, the South Carolina Tort Claims
Act expressly provides that the State of South Carolina does
not waive Eleventh Amendment immunity, consents to suit only
in a court of the State of South Carolina, and does not
consent to suit in a federal court or in a court of another
state. S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-20(e).
course, Plaintiff may amend his Complaint once before a
responsive pleading is filed. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 15; see
also Brockington v. South Carolina Dep't of Soc.
Servs., No. 17-1028, 2017 WL 1531633 (4th Cir.
2017)[Noting that pro se Plaintiff should be provided an
opportunity to amend his complaint to cure defects prior to a
dismissal]. However, even assuming Plaintiff moved to amend
his Complaint to substitute proper party defendants(s) for
his 1983 claims for the current Defendant SCDC, as discussed
below the relief requested by the Plaintiff cannot be awarded
by this Court. Therefore, even allowing Plaintiff to amend to
substitute a proper party Defendant would not save this case
requests that those persons who took part in the alleged
actions be suspended without pay. However, this Court cannot
suspend or remove SCDC personnel from their jobs. See
Maxton v. Johnson, 488 F.Supp. 1030, 1032 n. 2
(D.S.C.1980) [a federal district court lacks inherent power
to remove or reassign officials not within the executive
control of that federal district court] [citing United
States v. White County Bridge Commission, 275 F.2d 529,
535 (7th Cir. I960)). Plaintiff also requests the return of
good-time credits so that he can be released from SCDC
custody. However, to the extent that Plaintiff is attempting
to attack the disciplinary conviction(s) for which his
good-time credits were taken away from him, this requested
relief is barred by Heck v. Humphrey. 512 U.S. 477
(1997). See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S.
641, 648 (1997)[Heck precludes a § 1983 claim relating
to a prison disciplinary hearing which has not been
previously invalidated, where the challenge would necessarily
imply the invalidity of the deprivation of good-time
credits]; see also Kerr v. Orellana, 969 F.Supp. 357
(E.D.Va. 1997)[holding that prisoner's § 1983 claim
for monetary damages and injunctive relief related to his
disciplinary hearing was precluded under Heck]; cf
Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 751 (2004)
["Heck's requirement to resort to state
litigation and federal habeas before § 1983 is not.. .
implicated by a prisoner's challenge that threatens no
consequence for his conviction or the duration of his
sentence."]. Plaintiff has not alleged that he has
successfully attacked his disciplinary hearing conviction(s).
Therefore, reinstating Plaintiffs good-time credits would
necessarily imply the invalidity of the outcome of his
disciplinary hearing(s) and thus any such relief is barred
under Heck and Edwards. Moreover, Plaintiff
s request for release from incarceration is also subject to
dismissal because such relief is not available under §
1983. Instead, his exclusive federal remedy for such relief
is to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28
U.S.C. § 2254, after full exhaustion of his state
remedies. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 481 (1994) [holding
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"];
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].
extent Plaintiff is complaining about the delay in his
receipt of his mail from DSS about a family court hearing, an
occasional, negligent delay or interference with personal or
legal mail, without more, does not impose a deprivation of
constitutional proportions. See Pink v. Lester, 52
F.3d 73, 75 (4th Cir. 1995) [legal mail]; Pearson v.
Simms, 345 F.Supp.2d 515, 519 (D. Md. 2003),
affd. 88 F. App'x. 639 (4th Cir. 2004)[outgoing
mail]. Rather, to state a claim under § 1983 based upon
a delay in sending or receiving legal mail, an inmate must
allege facts showing that the delay interfered with his
constitutional right of access to the courts by causing an
actual injury to his ability to attack his criminal sentence
or challenge to conditions of his confinement. Bryant v.
Lee, No. 92-6571, 1993 WL 188302, at *1 (4th Cir. June
2, 1993) (citations omitted) (citing White v. White,
886 F.2d 721, 723-24 (4th Cir. 1989)); Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 348-55 (1996). Here, Plaintiffs
allegations do not involve an action attacking his sentence
or challenging his conditions of confinement, and the Supreme
Court has stated that "[i]mpairment of any
other litigating capacity is simply one of the
incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of
conviction and incarceration." Lewis, 518 U.S.
at 355; see, e.g., Wagner v. Gober, No.
4:15-CV-1789 CAS, 2017 WL 2984841, *4 (E.D. Mo. July 13,
2017) [finding no denial of access to courts based on
defendant's alleged interference with plaintiffs divorce
case]; King v. Hunt County, No. 3:08-CV-1253-K(BF).
2010 WT, 4314738 (N. D.Tex. Oct. 1, 2010)[aprisoner's
inability to access the law library to litigate his child
custody case did not demonstrate "actual injury" to
support an access to courts claim], adopted by 2010
WL 4321572 (Oct. 26, 2010); but see Cohen v.
Longshore, 621 F.3d 1311, 1317 (10th Cir.
2010)["although Lewis limits the types of cases
in which the prison must provide affirmative assistance, it
does not give free reign to prison authorities to interfere
with and impede a prisoner's pursuit of other legal
Plaintiff may also be attempting to assert that Defendant did
not follow certain SCDC policies or rules as to his mail or
as to transporting him to a custody hearing. However, such
allegations do not state a constitutional claim. See
Keeler v. Pea, 782 F.Supp. 42, 44 (D.S.C. 1992); cf
Johnson v. S.C. Dep't of Corrs., No. 06-2062,
2007 WL 904826, at *12 (D.S.C. Mar. 21, 2007)[The plaintiffs
allegation that defendants did not "follow their own
policies or procedures, standing alone, does not amount to a
constitutional violation."](citing Riccio v. County
of Fairfax. Virginia, 907 F.2d 1459, 1469(4thCir.
1990)[if state law grants more procedural rights than the
Constitution requires, a state's failure to abide by that
law is not a federal due process issue].
on the foregoing, it is recommended that the Court dismiss
Plaintiffs Complaint without prejudice and without issuance
and service of process. Plaintiffs attention is directed to
the important notice on the next page.”]
of Right to File Objections to Report ...