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Brown v. Dorchester County South Carolina

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

March 15, 2018

Connell Brown, Plaintiff,
v.
Dorchester County South Carolina, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Margaret B. Seymour Senior United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Connell Brown, brought the underlying action against Defendant Dorchester County of South Carolina, alleging that he was maliciously prosecuted for an armed robbery in violation of his rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker for pretrial handling. This matter is now before the court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation filed on November 29, 2017, recommending that the court grant Defendant's motion to dismiss or in the alternative motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 40, to which Plaintiff filed objections on December 13, 2017, ECF No. 41.

         I. RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 25, 2012, Plaintiff alleges that an armed robbery took place on 8441 West Saddlebrook Drive, North Charleston, South Carolina, at approximately 11:21 p.m. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff claims that he had oral surgery earlier that day, had ingested pain medication, and was sleeping at his mother's house on or about 11:00 p.m. that night. Compl. ¶¶ 2-3. Plaintiff alleges several North Charleston police officers “repeatedly knocked on the door demanding entrance” to his mother's apartment. Compl. ¶ 4. The apartment was selected based on a K-9 alert. Compl. ¶ 5. Once Plaintiff opened the door he was arrested without any explanation. Compl. ¶ 6. Plaintiff was then brought to an outside porch to be identified by an alleged victim who identified Plaintiff as the suspect while he was in handcuffs. Compl. ¶ 7. That identification Plaintiff claims was made by “someone sitting in a police cruiser looking up at the Plaintiff on the second floor balcony.” Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff was immediately arrested and detained in the Dorchester County Jail. Compl. ¶ 9.

         On March 19, 2012, Investigator Alan Kramitz of the North Charleston Police Department amended the incident report to reflect that Plaintiff was not involved in the case. Compl. ¶10. On or about April 2, 2012, Plaintiff asserts the Assistant Solicitor of the First Circuit Solicitor's Office was contacted to dismiss Plaintiff's criminal charge based on the lack of probable cause. Compl. ¶ 11. Plaintiff, however, alleges “Defendant did not dismiss the charges until February 11, 2013, nearly a year after the first contact of the lack of probable cause.” Compl. ¶ 13.

         On April 11, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a Tort Claim Form to the Clerk of Council of Dorchester County.[1] ECF No. 1-1 at 9-10. The Tort Claim Form listed Plaintiff's date of injury as occurring on February 26, 2012 and claimed $300, 000 in damages. Id. at 10. Plaintiff listed the cause of damage or injury as follows: “claimant was arrested at his home after being awakened by law enforcement officers and charged with strong armed robbery.” Id. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that “claimant immediately informed law enforcement that they had made a mistake but had to spend thousands of dollars before charges were dismissed.” Id. Plaintiff alleges that the government agency is liable because “[t]here was no probable cause for the arrest . . . and [Law Enforcement] took more than one year to have the case dismissed after the witness repudiated his identification.” Id. In response on April 22, 2014, the Office of The Dorchester County Attorney acknowledged Plaintiff's Tort Claim Form and informed Plaintiff that “the Dorchester County Sheriff's Department had no involvement in this matter.” ECF No. 1-1 at 8. The letter also directed Plaintiff to submit the claim to the City of North Charleston. ECF No. 1-1 at 8.

         On February 29, 2016, Plaintiff brought the present lawsuit against Defendant in the Dorchester County Court of Common Pleas, South Carolina. Case No. 2016-CP-18-411. Plaintiff argues that “the Assistant Solicitor by his malicious and baseless prosecution prevented the Plaintiff from entering the Merchant Marines due to this pending charge.” Compl. ¶ 12. Plaintiff contends that “the First Circuit Solicitor's office continued to prosecute the case after numerous attempts [despite] the lack of probable cause in the arrest by Investigator Kramitz.” Compl. ¶ 13. Plaintiff further argues that “the First Circuit Solicitor's Office refused to dismiss the charges against [Plaintiff] until February 2013, nearly a year after it was informed that no case could be maintained against [Plaintiff].” Compl. ¶ 22. Plaintiff asserts there was no warrant for his arrest nor reasonable grounds to believe he had committed a crime.[2] Compl. ¶14. Plaintiff seeks actual, special, and compensatory damages against Defendant. Compl. (Prayer for Relief).

         On April 27, 2016, Defendant removed the action to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. ECF No. 1. Defendant filed an Answer on May 4, 2016, denying Plaintiff's allegations and asserting numerous affirmative defenses. ECF No. 6. On May 1, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or in the alternative motion for summary judgment.[3] ECF No. 31. Defendant argues that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed because: (1) even if Plaintiff's complaint is construed as asserting a tort claim or as a constitutional claim pursuant to § 1983, Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations; (2) Plaintiff failed to produce evidence that “any custom or policy of the Defendant caused Plaintiff's alleged injury or constitutional rights to be violated;” and (3) to the extent Plaintiff's complaint is construed as alleging a state law cause of action, Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed pursuant to the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, as Plaintiff failed to produce evidence demonstrating that the First Circuit Solicitor's decision was not an exercise of discretion or judgment. ECF No. 31-1 at 3-8.

         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss, which included an Affidavit from Plaintiff's mother. ECF No. 37. Plaintiff concedes the criminal charges against him were dismissed in February 11, 2013. ECF No. 37-1 at 1. However, Plaintiff argues that the cause of action “for malicious prosecution did not accrue until [Plaintiff] knew about the dismissal of the charges against him.” Id. at 2. In support thereof, the Affidavit from Plaintiff's mother states that “the Dorchester County Solicitor never presented either her or [Plaintiff] written notice that the criminal charges against [Plaintiff] were dismissed.” ECF No. 37-2, Affidavit. Plaintiff's mother further states that “she and [Plaintiff] were not notified that charges were dismissed until March 2013.” Id.

         On May 22, 2017, Defendant filed a reply asserting that Plaintiff was represented by counsel throughout the criminal proceeding and that his counsel notified him of the dismissal of the charges on the same day they were dismissed. ECF No. 38. Defendant attached a copy of the letter sent from Plaintiff's counsel to Plaintiff on February 11, 2013, notifying him of the dismissal. ECF No. 38-2, Exhibit 2. Defendant further argues that to the extent the court determines that Plaintiff's constitutional claim was preserved, Plaintiff has failed to plead or establish the Monnell factors, [4] and that “Defendant is entitled to judicial/quasi-judicial immunity based on the facts alleged.” ECF No. 38 at 2.

         On November 29, 2017, the Magistrate Judge filed a Report and Recommendation, recommending that Defendant's motion to dismiss or in the alternative motion for summary judgment be granted. ECF No. 40. Pursuant to Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310 (4th Cir. 2005), Plaintiff was advised of the right to file objections to the Report and Recommendation and the possible consequences if he failed to timely file written objections to the Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 40 at 12. On December 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 41. Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections on December 21, 2017. ECF No. 42.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Magistrate Judge's Findings in Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the court. Matthews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to - including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made - for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Opriano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 77 ...


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