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Fetherson v. Blackmon

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 8, 2018

Dana Fetherson, Plaintiff,
Lieutenant Monty Lee Blackmon, Defendant.


          Paige J. Gossett, United States Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff, Dana Fetherson, proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.) for a Report and Recommendation on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 110.) Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Plaintiff of the summary judgment and dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 113.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion (ECF No. 126), and Defendant filed a reply (ECF No. 127). Having reviewed the record presented and the applicable law, the court finds Defendant's motion should be granted as to Plaintiff's federal claims.


         The following facts are either undisputed, or are taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, to the extent they find support in the record. On December 28, 2003, Defendant Lieutenant Blackmon of the Lancaster County Sheriff's Department obtained a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest for the murder of Jason Burgess. (Blackmon Aff. ¶ 17, Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 110-2 at 4.) On January 15, 2004, a Lancaster County Grand Jury indicted Plaintiff for murder. (Id. ¶ 22, ECF No. 110-2 at 6.) Plaintiff was arrested that day by a different Lancaster County sheriff's deputy. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter on June 7, 2004. (Ex. O, Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 110-2 at 62.)

         Plaintiff filed this action on September 19, 2016. Plaintiff alleges Defendant obtained the arrest warrant without probable cause and without a warrant affidavit. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 26-1 at 5.) He also claims that Defendant lied to a grand jury about witnessing the murder to secure an indictment against him. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff claims Defendant's conduct caused him mental pain and suffering and emotional distress.[1] (Id. at 8.)[2]


         A. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party may support or refute that a material fact is not disputed by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Rule 56 mandates entry of summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248.

         The moving party has the burden of proving that summary judgment is appropriate. Once the moving party makes this showing, however, the opposing party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but rather must, by affidavits or other means permitted by the Rule, set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. Further, while the federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case, see, e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth a federal claim, nor can the court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's § 1983 claims are barred pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The court agrees.[3]

         In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that a state prisoner's claim for damages is not cognizable under § 1983 where success of the action would implicitly question the validity of the conviction or duration of the sentence, unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been previously invalidated. Id. at 487; see also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (“[A] state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation)-no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings)-if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration.”). Here, Plaintiff's § 1983 claim for false arrest and imprisonment rests on the circumstances he is using to challenge his conviction his state post-conviction relief application. Thus, the Heck bar applies here because if Plaintiff were to prevail on the merits of his claim, it would imply that his state criminal conviction was unlawful. See Wilson v. Johnson, 535 F.3d 262, 265 n.4 (4th Cir. 2008) (stating the purpose of the Heck bar is to preclude inconsistent judgments and “undue federal interference with states' administration of justice”).

         Plaintiff provides no evidence that he has successfully challenged the validity of his conviction. Plaintiff pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter on June 7, 2004 and was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment. (Ex. O, Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 110-2 at 62.) Plaintiff provides no indication that he appealed his guilty plea. Plaintiff filed an application for post-conviction relief on October 8, 2004, wherein he did not raise any of the issues he raises in the instant matter. (Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 126-4 at 7-8.) Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew this application at a hearing on August 9, 2006, and the application was dismissed with prejudice. (Id.) Plaintiff filed a second application for post-conviction relief on August 29, 2015 that was conditionally dismissed on March 5, 2016. (Id. at 7-13.) In the second application, Plaintiff raised similar claims as in this matter-that probable cause for his arrest did not exist because the arrest warrant did not ...

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