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Lancaster v. Woodward

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

February 26, 2018

Shannon Miles Lancaster, Plaintiff,
Tony Woodward, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. On June 14, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 14). The court issued an Order pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the potential consequences if he did not respond adequately to Defendant's motion. (ECF No. 15). Plaintiff subsequently amended his Complaint (ECF No. 19) and filed a Response in Opposition to the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 20). Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response. (ECF No. 21). Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) (ECF No. 35), recommending that the court grant Defendant Woodward's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14). Plaintiff was advised of his right to file objections to the Report. (ECF No. 35-1). Plaintiff filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 37), and later supplemented those objections (ECF No. 39). On November 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend his Complaint, seeking leave to amend the Complaint only by withdrawing the claim against Defendant in his official capacity. (ECF No. 40). On December 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 44).

         The recommendations set forth in the Report have no presumptive weight, and this court remains responsible for making a final determination in this matter. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that on May 12, 2016, Defendant conducted a traffic stop on a car in which Plaintiff was a passenger. (ECF No. 20 at 1). Plaintiff contends that Defendant checked the licenses of both Plaintiff and the driver of the vehicle, Ricky Ponder. Id. Plaintiff alleges that although the license check showed no outstanding warrants regarding either Plaintiff or Ponder, Defendant asked Ponder to exit the vehicle so that he could conduct a pat-down search.[1] Id. During this pat-down, Defendant discovered a pipe in Ponder's waistband and subsequently placed him under investigative detention. Id.

         Plaintiff states that following this pat-down of Ponder, Defendant came to Plaintiff's side of the car and searched Plaintiff “without consent or search warrant.” Id. Plaintiff contends that despite finding “no objects” on Plaintiff's person, Defendant told Plaintiff to sit on the guardrail. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant then searched the vehicle and that Defendant attests that he “[found] drugs inside or around a[n] orange shirt.” (ECF No. 20 at 1-2). Plaintiff further states that Defendant “alleged that [Plaintiff] was in possession of the orange shirt but [did] not exit [him] from driver's vehicle with a[n] orange shirt.”[2] (ECF No. 20 at 2). Plaintiff alleges that he did not claim ownership of any drugs or of the vehicle. (ECF No. 1 at 7). Furthermore, Plaintiff contends that Defendant targeted him by charging him with the drugs and not charging the driver of the car. Id. Plaintiff admits to having been indicted on three counts by a grand jury: (1) trafficking methamphetamine, first offense; (2) possession of a controlled substance, schedule IV, first offense; and (3) possession of a controlled substance, schedule II, first offense. (ECF No. 1 at 5). However, Plaintiff asserts that these charges were nolle prossed on March 14, 2017. (ECF No. 1 at 7).

         Plaintiff is suing Defendant in his official and individual capacities. (ECF No. 19). He asserts claims for false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff seeks to recover punitive damages in the amount of $625, 000, along with compensation for court costs and legal expenses incurred. (ECF No. 1 at 7).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would support his claim and entitle him to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the court “need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts” nor “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). While “a plaintiff is not required to plead facts that constitute a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss . . ., factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

         Therefore, a plaintiff's complaint only needs to include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Additionally, when “evaluating a civil rights complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), ” the court must be “especially solicitous of the wrongs alleged.” Harrison v. U.S. Postal Serv., 840 F.2d 1149, 1152 (4th Cir. 1988) (internal citations omitted). Furthermore, when the plaintiff proceeds pro se, the court is charged with liberally construing the factual allegations of the complaint in order to allow potentially meritorious claims to go forward. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Still, this requirement of liberal construction does not mean that this court may ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim for relief. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         The magistrate judge provided a thorough report addressing the sufficiency of Plaintiff's claims and recommended that this court grant the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 35). Plaintiff filed timely objections to this Report (ECF No. 37) and later supplemented those objections (ECF No. 39). Plaintiff's objections stated that the magistrate judge erred by stating the following: (1) that there was a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest; (2) that there was a search warrant for the car or for Plaintiff's person; (3) that Plaintiff had no credible evidence that the charges were nolle prossed because of Defendant's misrepresentations to the grand jury; (4) that the charges were not nolle prossed; and (5) that the Plaintiff was rightfully charged even though the drugs were found in the vehicle of Ricky Ponder and in his possession. (ECF No. 37). In his supplemented objections, Plaintiff further objects to the magistrate judge's determination that Defendant is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and also challenges the reasonableness of the investigation during the traffic stop. (ECF No. 39).

         A. Defendant's search of Plaintiff was reasonable.

         As to Plaintiff's objections alleging that the magistrate judge erred in stating that there was a warrant for the search of Plaintiff and the car, this objection is without merit. Nowhere in the Report did the magistrate judge make such a statement. The magistrate judge did state that “[u]under § 1983, ‘a public official cannot be charged with false arrest when he arrests a defendant pursuant to a facially valid warrant.'” (ECF No. 35 at 9) (citations omitted). However, this was simply a recitation of the applicable law pertaining to how false arrest claims might be handled in regards to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Additionally, later on in the Report, the magistrate judge specifically stated that the Plaintiff alleged that there was no warrant to search him or the car. (ECF No. 35 at 11). However, the magistrate judge explained that the finding of the crack pipe gave Defendant reasonable suspicion that illegal drugs were in the vehicle. Id. Therefore, the Defendant needed no warrant or consent to pat-down the occupants of the vehicle and search the car. See U ...

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