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Strickland v. WJTV Mississippi's First

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

March 30, 2018

Cale Marcus Strickland, Plaintiff,
v.
WJTV Mississippi's First, Chris Turner, and Jeff Guy, Defendants.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brings suit against the defendants for defamation. 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.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases involving pro se litigants, and submit findings and recommendations to the district court. By way of order dated March 6, 2018, the plaintiff was advised by the undersigned that his complaint failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted, and that he could attempt to correct the identified defects by way of filing an amended complaint. The plaintiff has failed to so amend.

         BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff filed this defamation action asserting diversity of citizenship as a basis for jurisdiction, alleging that an article published by WJTV Mississippi's First was false, and that the “material has had a damaging attire on the area of life I walk around.” (doc. 1 at 5). All of the defendants are located in Mississippi (doc. 10). The plaintiff seeks damages of $1, 650, 000.00 (doc. 1 at 6).

         DISCUSSION

         The 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). As a pro se litigant, the 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 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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).

         A plaintiff may file a state law claim in a federal court under the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, if that statute's requirements are satisfied. See Cent. W.Va. Energy Co. v. Mountain State Carbon, LLC, 636 F.3d 101, 103 (4th Cir. 2011). With the exception of certain class actions, the diversity statute requires complete diversity of parties and an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. See id.; 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Complete diversity of parties in a case means that the citizenship of every plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of every defendant. Cent. W.Va. Energy Co., 636 F.3d at 103. Here, the plaintiff alleges that he is a resident of South Carolina (doc. 1 at 3), that the defendants are residents of Mississippi (id. at 2), and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 (id. at 5 (listing $1, 650, 000.00 as the amount in controversy)). Accordingly, the plaintiff has properly alleged diversity jurisdiction, and the court will analyze the plaintiff's claims pursuant to South Carolina law.

         Defamation and Libel

         Under South Carolina law, “the tort of defamation allows a plaintiff to recover for injury to his or her reputation as the result of the defendant's communications to others of a false message about the plaintiff.” Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., 506 S.E.2d 497, 501 (S.C. 1998). Defamatory communications take two forms: libel and slander. Id. “Slander is a spoken defamation while libel is a written defamation or one accomplished by actions or conduct.” Id. To state a cause of action for defamation, a plaintiff must show that “(1) a false and defamatory statement was made; (2) the unprivileged publication was made to a third party; (3) the publisher was at fault; and (4) either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication.” Erickson v. Jones St. Publishers, L.L.C., 629 S.E.2d 653, 664 (2006).

         The plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action for defamation. While he alleges that WJTV made a false statement in the form of an article, he fails to allege any details about the article (including the express wording of the article itself), why it was false, why WJTV (and / or the other named defendants) are at fault in its publication, and why the article is actionable as defamatory, entitling him to the damages he seeks. As presented, the plaintiff's defamation claim is insufficient as a matter of law, as he fails to allege facts sufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         RECOMMENDATION

         As the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and as the plaintiff has failed to timely file an amended complaint as set forth in this court's order of March 6, 2018, it is recommended that the district court dismiss this action without prejudice. The plaintiff's attention is directed to the important notice on the next page.

         IT IS SO RECOMMENDED.

         Notice of Right to File Objections to Report ...


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