United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
Wanda Charping and Government Accounting Solutions LLC, Plaintiffs,
Town of Andrews, Sudha Patel, Christopher L. Anderson, Eddie Lee, Jr., Mauretta Dorsey, Kaynnera Capers, Rodney Giles, Angela Anderson, Patsy Greene, and Mattie McGee, Defendants.
PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Wanda Charping's
objections to United States Magistrate Judge Bristow
Marchant's Report and Recommendation (“R &
R”) (ECF Nos. 137 & 132). For the reasons set forth
herein, the Court overrules Plaintiffs' objections,
grants Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on
Plaintiffs' federal claims, and denies Plaintiffs'
motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the Court remands
Plaintiffs' state-law claims to the South Carolina Court
of Common Pleas for Horry County, South Carolina.
action arises out of Plaintiff's work as an accountant for
the Town of Andrews (the “Town”). Charping brings
three federal claims, along with a number of state-law
claims, against Defendants based on her allegations that they
illegally seized and detained her during a budget workshop,
that they violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights
by asking her to leave the budget workshop, and that they
violated her First Amendment right of freedom of association
because she was seized during the budget meeting while other
members of the public were free to attend that public
meeting. The Magistrate Judge recommends granting
Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to
Plaintiff's federal claims. As a result, the Magistrate
Judge recommends remanding the remaining state-law claims to
state court. Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's
recommendations on two grounds.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility for making a final determination remains with
the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71
(1976). Parties may make written objections to the R & R
within fourteen days after being served with a copy of it. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must conduct a de novo
review of any portion of the R & R to which a specific
objection is made, and it may accept, reject, or modify the
Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole
or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive
more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge
with instructions. Id. A party's failure to
object is taken as the party's agreement with the
Magistrate Judge's conclusions. See Thomas v.
Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific
objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which
no specific objection is made-this Court “must
‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on
the face of the record in order to accept the
recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life
& Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir.
2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's
grant a motion for summary judgment, a court must find that
“there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The judge is not to weigh
the evidence but rather must determine if there is a genuine
issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). All evidence should be viewed in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Perini
Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th
Cir. 1990). “[I]t is ultimately the nonmovant's
burden to persuade [the court] that there is indeed a dispute
of material fact. It must provide more than a scintilla of
evidence-and not merely conclusory allegations or
speculation-upon which a jury could properly find in its
favor.” CoreTel Va., LLC v. Verizon Va., LLC,
752 F.3d 364, 370 (4th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted).
“[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party,
disposition by summary judgment is appropriate.”
Teamsters Joint Council No. 83 v. Centra, Inc., 947
F.2d 115, 119 (4th Cir. 1991). Summary judgment is not
“a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but an
important mechanism for weeding out “claims and
defenses [that] have no factual basis.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).
Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's
recommendation that the Court grant summary judgment to
Defendants on Plaintiff's unlawful seizure cause of
action. Although Plaintiff's objection contains a lengthy
recounting of various facts and social media posts, the gist
of that objection is that there is a genuine issue of
material fact as to whether Plaintiff was unlawfully seized
and detained in the Town of Andrews' clerk's office.
“Section 1983 actions premised on alleged unlawful
seizure, malicious prosecution, false arrest, and/or false
imprisonment are analyzed as actions claiming unreasonable
seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
Upchurch v. Wilkie, No. 7:10-cv-1819-JMC-JDA, 2011
WL 3652324, at *4 (D.S.C. July 29, 2011) (collecting
cases). In situations “[w]hen the actions of
the police do not show an unambiguous intent to restrain or
when an individual's submission to a show of governmental
authority takes the form of passive acquiescence, ”
courts must determine whether “‘in view of all
the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable
person would have believed that he was not free to
leave.'” Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S.
249, 254 (2007) (quoting United States v.
Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980)). Additionally,
“when a person ‘has no desire to leave' for
reasons unrelated to the police presence, the ‘coercive
effect of the encounter' can be measured better by asking
whether ‘a reasonable person would feel free to decline
the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the
encounter.'” Id. at 255 (quoting
Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 435-36 (1991)).
“In applying the totality of the circumstances test,
courts look to numerous factors including the time, place and
purpose of the encounter . . . .” United States v.
Weaver, 282 F.3d 302, 309 (4th Cir. 2002). The Fourth
Circuit has held that the following non-exhaustive list of
factors is relevant to this inquiry:
the number of police officers present during the encounter,
whether they were in uniform or displayed their weapons,
whether they touched the [person], whether they attempted to
block his departure or restrain his movement, whether the
officers' questioning was non-threatening, and whether
they treated the defendant as though they suspected him of
“illegal activity rather than treating the encounter as
‘routine' in nature.” United States v.
Jones, 678 F.3d 293, 299 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting
United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322-23 (4th
Cir. 1989)). The “‘reasonable person'
standard ‘is an objective one, ' thus ‘its
proper application is a question of law.'”
Id. (quoting United States v. Weaver, 282
F.3d 302, 309
(4th Cir. 2002)).
asserts that she was illegally seized and detained by
Defendants in violation of the Fourth Amendment after the
Town's mayor asked her to step out of a budget meeting.
Plaintiff alleges that the Mayor, Rodney Giles, and the
council members made this request so that a different
accountant could give a negative report about her work to the
mayor and to the town council without her knowledge.
was present at the Town's budget meeting on June 17,
2015, to provide her usual financial and accounting advice in
her capacity as a bookkeeper for the Town. She voluntarily
left the budget meeting after the Mayor requested that she do
so, and did not ask any questions. She testified that it was
not unusual for her to leave when various meetings went into
executive session. According to Plaintiff, as she left the
meeting she was followed out by the police chief, Kaynnera
Capers. Capers then escorted her past the Mayor's office,
down a hallway towards the entrance to the Town's police
department, and then back up the same hallway, through a door
into a common area, and finally through the door of the town
clerk's office. Plaintiff testified in her deposition
that when she and Capers reached the end of the hallway he
hesitated outside of the police department before turning
around and walking Plaintiff back up the hallway to the
clerk's office. He then placed her in the clerk's
office, told her that someone would come and get her when she
was needed in the meeting, and closed the door as he left.
Plaintiff also testified that the office was not locked, that
she was never told that she had to stay in the office, she
never complained that she did not wish to be there, and she
was certainly never told that she was under arrest.
remained in the clerk's office for about an hour and a
half without interruption or being summoned back to the
meeting. She then had to use the restroom. She opened the
clerk's office door, propped the common area door open to
prevent it from closing, exited the common area into the
hallway, and walked to the restroom without seeing anyone.
She emerged from the restroom to find a male police officer
standing outside. That police officer walked Plaintiff back
to the clerk's office and also shut the door behind her,
but he never told her that she could not leave or that she
was under arrest. Plaintiff testified that when the police
officer shut the door she wanted to run because she thought
she was going to be arrested, although she did not explain
what she thought she might be arrested for. She also stated
that she believed the police officer was guarding her when
she emerged from the restroom. She further testified that she
did not feel free to leave after the police officer escorted
her back to the clerk's office because she thought she
would be arrested if she did so. In contrast, the police