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Goodwater v. County of Charleston

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

February 12, 2018




         This matter is before the court on defendants County of Charleston (the “County”), Charleston County Sheriff's Office (“CCSO”), Dep. J. Comfort (“Comfort”), Lt. Plunkett (“Plunkett”), and Captain Tittle's (“Tittle”) (collectively, “Defendants”) motion to dismiss the amended complaint, ECF No. 23. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the defendants' motion to dismiss in full.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         This case arises out of a property dispute. Plaintiff Joseph Goodwater (“Goodwater”) owns a number of vacant lots in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Goodwater, an African-American man, alleges that the property was purchased by his ancestor Richard Thompson in 1887. Goodwater and his siblings were made heirs to the property after the death of their grandmother, Maggie Thompson Goodwater.

         In 1946, a white man named Dick Thompson represented that he owned the lots in question and granted an easement to the County of Charleston. In 1977, after litigation between the heirs on the property and Thompson, Thompson was determined to not own the property and indeed, never possessed a deed to any of the property. In 2013, Goodwater purchased an interest in the property from his cousin Radiyah I. Miller.[2] At the time of purchase, Goodwater was unaware of the easement. Indeed, Goodwater alleges that the easement was not a matter of record on the property at all.

         Gardenhill Road, which connects Gadsdenville Road to Lieben Road, runs through three of Goodwater's lots. Due to the placement of Gardenhill Road, Goodwater alleges that he has lost the use of over 1/3 of his property and will be unable to build his retirement home in the location where he had planned to build the home. On January 6, 2016, Goodwater cut down a number of trees across Gardenhill Road so that it would be closed to traffic. Several Charleston County Sheriff's Office deputies, law enforcement officers, and the Charleston County Fire Department responded to the incident. In the process of responding to Goodwater's closing of Gardenhill Road, the officers threatened him with arrest.

         On February 8, 2017 Goodwater filed a complaint against defendants, alleging a number of claims. ECF No. 1. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and the court held a hearing on the motion on August 19, 2017, during which it granted Goodwater leave to amend the complaint. On August 15, 2017, Goodwater amended his complaint. The claims can be broken down into two rough categories: (1) claims against the County of Charleston related to its “taking” of Gardenhill Road across the three lots Goodwater owned; and (2) claims against law enforcement defendants related to the incident on January 6, 2016 when law enforcement responded to Goodwater physically closing Gardenhill Road. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on August 23, 2017. Goodwater responded on September 25, 2017. The defendants replied on October 2, 2017. The matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted “challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted); see also Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (“A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) ... does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.”). To be legally sufficient, a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would support his claim and would entitle him to relief. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court should accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 251 (4th Cir. 1999); Mylan Labs., Inc., 7 F.3d at 1134. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.


         As an initial matter, since the amended complaint is somewhat muddled, it is difficult to parse out what claims Goodwater is asserting against which defendants. The court can surmise the following claims: (1) unconstitutional taking of his property by constructing Gardenhill Road through the lots; (2) deprivation of due process because defendants failed to give Goodwater notice and an opportunity to be heard and failed to follow prescribed statutory procedures governing inverse condemnation; (3) Defendants the Charleston County Sheriff's Department, Cannon, Comfort, Plunkett, and Tittle were negligent in failing to follow the proper procedures, and violated Goodwater's equal protection rights by engaging in selective enforcement in responding to the January 2016 incident when Goodwater physically blocked Gardenhill Road, and that defendants Cannon, Comfort, Plunkett, and Tittle violated U.S.C. § 1983; (4) the County committed a “taking” of Goodwater's property, and converted the property; and (5) due process claim against all defendants. Since it is difficult to determine exactly what claims Goodwater is asserting, the court separates its analysis between those claims that are related to the construction of Gardenhill Road across Goodwater's vacant lots and those claims that stem from the law enforcement response to Goodwater physically closing Gardenhill Road to traffic in January 2016.

         1.Property-related Claims

         a. ...

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