United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
RODNEY LAIL, JAMES B. SPENCER, IRENE SANTACROCE, ESTATE OF DORIS E. HOLT, and NICHOLAS C. WILLIAMSON, Plaintiffs,
HORRY COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA, JOHNNY MORGAN, Horry County Police Chief, and JOHN DOES, Defendants.
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
DISMISSING THE COMPLAINT
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter was filed in 2011 as an action for alleged
constitutional violations and related claims. The Court has
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This matter is
before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation
(Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting to
the Court the action be dismissed following briefing from the
parties in response to the Magistrate Judge's September
27, 2016, Order to Show Cause. The Report was made in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule
73.02 for the District of South Carolina.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976).
The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of
those portions of the Report to which specific objection is
made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole
or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or
recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. §
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on February 6, 2018. ECF
No. 301. Plaintiff James B. Spencer (Mr. Spencer) filed
objections to the Report on February 20, 2018. ECF No. 305.
Defendants Horry County, South Carolina and Johnny Morgan
(Defendants) replied to Mr. Spencer's objections on
February 23, 2018. ECF No. 312. Plaintiffs Rodney Lail (Mr.
Lail), Irene Santacroce (Ms. Santacroce), Nicholas Williamson
(Mr. Williamson), and the Estate of Doris E. Holt (Holt)
failed to file objections to the Report.
Report recommends that the Court dismiss Plaintiffs'
remaining claims because they are barred by the statute of
limitations, collateral estoppel, and, with the exception of
Mr. Williamson's claim, res judicata. The Report further
suggests the Complaint fails to state a claim for denial of
access to the courts. Mr. Spencer objects to the
recommendations in the Report and insists dismissal of his
remaining claim would be inappropriate.
Court will first consider Mr. Spencer's objection
regarding the Magistrate Judge's suggestion his claim is
barred by the statute of limitations. The Report acknowledges
Mr. Spencer has taken the position his remaining claim in
this matter is a claim for denial of access to the courts in
a related case, Southern Holdings, Inc. v. Horry
County, No. 4:02-cv-01859-RBH (“Original
Case”). The Report suggests that, even if the Court
were to determine the Complaint states a claim for denial of
access to the courts, such a claim is barred by the statute
of limitations because Plaintiffs articulated the factual
allegations supporting the claim in motions they filed in the
Original Case in 2007.
Spencer argues the Magistrate Judge improperly evaluated
whether his claim is barred by the statute of limitations
pursuant to a summary judgment standard. Mr. Spencer
maintains the Magistrate Judge's September 27, 2016,
Order to Show Cause, ECF No. 250, which led to the Report,
“referred to whether Plaintiff's case should be
dismissed pursuant to a motion to dismiss, as opposed to a
summary judgment proceeding, ” ECF No. 305 at 8. Mr.
Spencer asserts he was not placed on notice of a summary
judgment motion, and he claims it is not apparent from the
face of the Complaint when his claim for denial of access to
the courts accrued. Mr. Spencer further posits his claim did
not accrue until 2016 when the appeal of the Original Case
to Mr. Spencer's assertion, the Magistrate Judge does not
improperly employ a summary judgment standard when
considering whether Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the
statute of limitations. As explained above, the Magistrate
Judge concludes Plaintiffs' claims are barred because
Plaintiffs articulated the factual allegations comprising
their claims in a motion for sanctions filed in the Original
Case in February 2007, as well as motions for reconsideration
filed in the Original Case in June 2007. Under a motion to
dismiss standard, a court “may properly take judicial
notice of matters of public record.” Philips v.
Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir.
2009) (citations omitted). Because Plaintiffs' filings in
the Original Case are matters of public record, the
Magistrate Judge properly considered them without employing a
summary judgment standard. The Court will therefore overrule
Mr. Spencer's objection on this ground.
Court likewise rejects Mr. Spencer's contention the
Magistrate Judge erred in suggesting Plaintiffs' denial
of access to the courts claims are barred by the statute of
limitations because, according to Mr. Spencer, the claims did
not accrue until resolution of the appeal of the Original
Case in 2016. Assuming, without deciding, that the Complaint
states a claim for denial of access to the courts, such a
claim has been brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 105-09; see also
ECF No. 305 at 6. A cause of action arising under § 1983
generally accrues when the plaintiff “knows or has
reason to know of his injury.” Owens v. Balt. City
State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 389
(4th Cir. 2014). Mr. Spencer has failed to articulate why a
different rule should apply to his claim, and he has
neglected to provide any authority for his assertion that his
claim did not accrue until resolution of the appeal in the
Original Case. The Court holds Plaintiffs' claims for
denial of access to the courts accrued when Plaintiffs knew
or had reason to know of their alleged injuries.
claims for denial of access to the courts are premised upon
allegations that Defendants fabricated and concealed
evidence, which undermined the Original Case. See,
e.g., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 72, 75, 76, 105-09; see
also ECF No. 305 at 2-5. Plaintiffs, including Mr.
Spencer, lodged the same type of accusations against
Defendants in their “Rule 37 Motion Requesting
Sanctions against Defendants for their Spoliation of Evidence
and Discovery Abuses” filed on February 4, 2007, in the
Original Case. See Plaintiffs' Rule 37 Motion,
S. Holdings, Inc. v. Horry Cty., S.C., No.
4:02-cv-1859-RBH, ECF No. 324. Thus, Plaintiffs' filings
in the Original Case reveal they knew of their alleged
injuries by February 2007. Plaintiffs, however, failed to
file their Complaint in this matter until April 25, 2011.
Plaintiffs' claims for denial of access to the courts are
subject to South Carolina's three-year statute of
limitations for personal injury actions set forth in S.C.
Code § 15-3-530, see Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S.
384, 387 (2007) (holding § 1983 claims are governed by
the statute of limitations for personal injury actions in the
State in which the cause of action arose), the Court agrees
with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion Plaintiffs'
claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly,
the Court holds Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the
statute of limitations, and the Court will overrule Mr.
Spencer's objection regarding the accrual of his claim.
the Court's holding regarding the statute of limitations
is dispositive of this matter, the Court declines to address
Mr. Spencer's remaining objections to the Report. See
Karsten v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan of Mid-Atl. States,
Inc., 36 F.3d 8, 11 (4th Cir. 1994) (“If the first
reason given is independently sufficient, then all those that
follow are surplusage; thus, the strength of the first makes
all the rest dicta.”).
Court further notes Mr. Lail, Ms. Santacroce, Mr. Williamson,
and Holt failed to file objections to the Report. “[I]n
the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court
need not conduct a de novo review, but instead 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
& Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note). A
failure to object waives appellate review. Wright v.
Collins, 766 F.2d 841, 845-46 (4th Cir. 1985). Moreover,
as explained above, the Court holds the denial of access to
the courts claims of Mr. Lail, Ms. Santacroce, Mr.
Williamson, and Holt are barred by the statute of
thorough review of the Report and the record in this case
pursuant to the standard set forth above, the Court adopts
the portion of the Report regarding the statute of
limitations and incorporates it herein. The Court declines to
reach the remainder of the Report. Therefore, it is the
judgment of Court Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants
Horry County, South Carolina and Johnny Morgan are
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. ...