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Cruz v. Hinton

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 8, 2018

Manuel Cruz, #363270, Plaintiff,
Zachary Hilton; William Donohue; Matthew Waters; Jonathan Garrett; Chad Maltby; Johnny Westmoreland; Greenville County Sheriff Office; and Mason Hubber, Defendants.



         Manuel Cruz (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is an inmate incarcerated at Allendale Correctional Institution in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections. He filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights by the Greenville County Sheriff Office, and deputies Zachary Hilton (“Hilton”), Matthew Waters (“Waters”), Jonathan Garrett (“Garrett”), Chad Maltby (“Maltby”), Johnny Westmoreland (“Westmoreland”), Mason Hubber (“Hubber”), and William Donohue (collectively “Defendants”). Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this matter has been assigned to the undersigned for all pretrial proceedings.

         This matter comes before the court on Defendants' motion to dismiss [ECF No. 29]. Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Plaintiff of the dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to Defendants' motion. [ECF No. 30]. On December 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to stay, which the court denied on December 28, 2017, finding Plaintiff failed to state a legal reason for staying his action. [ECF Nos. 32, 34]. On January 18, 2018, the court denied Plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel. [ECF Nos. 37, 38]. The court issued an order on February 5, 2018, directing Plaintiff to advise the court whether he wished to continue with his case and to file a response to the motion by February 20, 2018. [ECF No. 40]. Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint on February 15, 2018 [ECF No. 42], which Defendants oppose [ECF No. 45]. Plaintiff also filed a response to the motion to dismiss on February 20, 2018 [ECF No. 43], and Defendant filed a reply on February 27, 2018. [ECF No. 44]. Both motions having been fully briefed, they are ripe for disposition.

         Having carefully considered the record in this case, the undersigned recommends the district judge grant Defendants' motion to dismiss and deny Plaintiff's motion to amend.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff alleges on July 2, 2014, while he was recovering from recent surgery, Defendants kicked in his door to arrest his neighbor, who was visiting. [ECF No. 1-2 at 6-8]. Plaintiff states he did not know English well enough to effectively communicate his cooperation, and he alleges he was threatened while he begged the officers to stop beating his neighbor. Id. at 7- 8. Plaintiff contends the officers kicked him in his abdomen and reopened his surgical site. Id. Plaintiff also alleges his left arm was broken. Id. Plaintiff claims he told Defendants he needed medical treatment, but they refused to transport him to the hospital to be treated. Id. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief. Id. at 8.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard on Motion to Dismiss

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), “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, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court is “not required to accept as true the legal conclusions set forth in a plaintiff's complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). Indeed, “[t]he presence of a few conclusory legal terms does not insulate a complaint from dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) when the facts alleged in the complaint cannot support” the legal conclusion. Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 577 (4th Cir. 2001). Furthermore, in analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court may consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

         Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). A federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Fine v. City of N.Y., 529 F.2d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 1975). The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Analysis

         Defendants argue Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations because the events that are the subject of his complaint occurred on July 2, 2014, and Plaintiff did not file his complaint until August 14, 2017. [ECF No. 29-1 at 3-5]. Plaintiff concedes the events in question took place on July 2, 2014, but argues he was not aware that his rights were violated, or the extent of his injuries, until he was examined by a licensed physician on October 2014. [ECF No. 43 at 1, 4].

         Section 1983 does not contain an express statute of limitations. Therefore, in civil rights cases filed in the District of South Carolina, this court applies South Carolina's general or residual personal injury statute of limitations, which is three years. S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-530(5); see Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-50 (1989) (holding that “where state law provides multiple statutes of limitations for personal injury actions, courts considering § 1983 claims should borrow the general or residual statute for personal injury actions”); Hoffman v. Tuten, 446 F.Supp.2d 455, 459 (D.S.C. 2006). South Carolina determines accrual of the limitations period based on the date the person knew, or should by the exercise of reasonable diligence know, that he had a claim. S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-110, § 15-3-535.

         The undersigned finds, in light of the nature of Plaintiff's alleged injuries and Defendants' alleged subsequent refusal to transport him to the hospital, a person of reasonable diligence would have been aware of Plaintiff's claims on July 2, 2014, when the event allegedly occurred. Accordingly, as Plaintiff filed this case on August 10, 2017, [1] any claim related to events that occurred in July 2014 ...

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