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Cheatham v. Nation

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 30, 2018

Lamar Eugene Lee Willie Cheatham, #179988 Plaintiff,
Deputy Charles Nation, Johnson County Detention Center, City of Laurens, Defendants.


          Kevin F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff, Lamar Eugene Lee Willie Chatham (“Plaintiff”), filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the above-captioned defendants at the time he was detained in the Laurens County Detention Center.[1] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), this case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for consideration. After careful review, the undersigned recommends that the complaint be dismissed without prejudice, and without issuance and service of process, for the reasons set forth below.


         Plaintiff appears to allege that he was charged for the offenses of conspiracy and “drug manufacturing, twice” in violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy. (Doc. 1 at 3). He also contends he was “changed with a fediral [sic] offence [sic], in a municipal setting” by the defendant Deputy Charles Nation. Plaintiff asks the court to investigate the reason he was charged twice for these offenses, and sues the parties for pain and suffering and neglect (doc. 1 at 4).


         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review the complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute. This statute authorizes the District Court to dismiss a case if it is satisfied that the action “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” is “frivolous or malicious, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). A claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte “at any time” under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989). The statute “is designed largely to discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits.” Id. at 326. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) also provides for the screening of complaints “in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         As a pro se litigant, Plaintiff's pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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, but a district court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).


         Plaintiff has filed his Section 1983 action against the defendants who, apparently, were involved in the criminal prosecution for which he is still serving his sentence. To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Section 1983 “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)).

         Although the court must liberally construe the pro se complaint and Plaintiff is not required to plead facts sufficient to prove his case as an evidentiary matter in the complaint, the complaint nonetheless “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (explaining that a plaintiff may proceed in the litigation process only when his complaint is justified by both law and fact). “A claim has ‘facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Owens v. Baltimore City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 388 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         Plaintiff appears to allege that Deputy Nation caused him to be charged twice with certain crimes in violation of the double jeopardy clause. Although the court must liberally construe the pro se Plaintiff's complaint, Plaintiff has made nothing more than conclusory statements against this defendant, and this defendant should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72 (4th Cir. 1994) (dismissal of plaintiff's suit is required where allegations were conclusory).

         Next, Plaintiff has named Johnson County Detention Center as a defendant, but this entity is a building, and is not a “person” subject to suit under Section 1983. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690 & n.55 (1978) (noting that for purposes of Section 1983 a “person” includes individuals and “bodies politic and corporate”). The Johnson County Detention Center, as a building or a facility, does not act under color of state law and therefore is not a “person[]” subject to suit under Section 1983. Rhodes v. Seventh Circuit Solicitors Office, No. C/A 909-1863-JFA-BM, 2009 WL 2588487, at *3 (D.S.C. Aug. 19, 2009) (citing Hancock v. Washtenaw Cnty. Prosecutor's Office, 548 F.Supp. 1255, 1256 (E.D. Mich. 1982); Newell v. Montgomery Cnty. Pub. Def's. Office, 2009 WL 1392838 (M.D. Tenn. 2009)).

         Likewise, the Plaintiff fails to state a cause of action pursuant to Section 1983 against the City of Laurens. The City of Laurens may be liable under Section 1983 only if “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy, statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” Monell v. Dep' t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-691 (1978). Plaintiff has failed to make any allegations whatsoever as to the City of Lauren's connection to the allegations in his complaint, and therefore this defendant is entitled to summary dismissal.

         CONCLUSION ...

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