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Glenn v. Walters

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

April 13, 2018

Adrian Lamar Glenn, Plaintiff,
Officer John Walters, Supervisory Sgt. Ronnie Forrester, Spartanburg City Police Department, Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Adrian Lamar Glenn (“Plaintiff”), a non-prisoner litigant proceeding pro se, filed this action against Officer John Walters, Supervisory Sgt. Ronnie Forrester, and the Spartanburg City Police Department, alleging malicious prosecution, negligent supervision, and abuse of process (doc. 1 at 1, 4). Plaintiff sues each defendant individually, but not in an official capacity (doc 1 at 2-3). 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.


         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute, and thus his complaint is subject to pre-service screening. 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); Michau v. Charleston County, S.C., 434 F.3d 725, 728 (4th Cir. 2006). 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); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). 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, 490 U.S. at 325. The statute “is designed largely to discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits.” Id. at 327.

         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).

         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, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Dep't of Transp., 780 F.3d 582, 585-87 (4th Cir. 2015) (noting that a plaintiff must plead enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level); 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).


         On August 8, 2017, Plaintiff and another man, Mr. Hames, were involved in a traffic collision in Spartanburg (doc. 1-1 at 1). Plaintiff alleges that on that date, defendant John Walters (“Walters”), an officer with the Spartanburg City Police Department, “erroneously abused the judicial process by unlawfully initiating a malicious prosecution against” Plaintiff by issuing a traffic ticket to him that showed he was at fault for the collision[1] (doc. 1 at 2; doc. 1-1 at 1). Plaintiff contends that Walters' issuance of the “unlawful ticket” caused Mr. Hames' insurance company to deny liability, which, in turn, caused Plaintiff pain and suffering (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that both Walters and his supervisor, the defendant Supervisory Sgt. Ronnie Forrester (“Forrester”), have refused to rescind the ticket (Id.). Plaintiff contends that Forrester initially told Plaintiff that both Plaintiff, and Mr. Hames had been ticketed for the accident. Subsequently, in court, the Spartanburg Clerk of Court told Plaintiff that Mr. Hames had not been ticketed. After Plaintiff confronted Forrester with this “newly discovered evidence, ” Forrester “tampered with the evidence by changing the most critical part of the traffic collision report form” so that Plaintiff was no longer 100% responsible for the accident, but shared responsibility for the accident equally with Mr. Hames (Id.). Plaintiff claims both tickets have “maliciously injured” him and caused him and his family stress and depression[2] (doc. 1-1 at 1-2).

         Plaintiff sets forth three causes of action: (1) malicious prosecution; (2) negligent supervision on Forrester's part because he failed to properly train, monitor, and supervise Walters; and (3) abuse of judicial process (doc. 1-1 at 2). Plaintiff also alleges that the defendants were “acting under a [sic] color of law [making] the Spartanburg City Police Department personally responsible for the defendants[] illegal actions.” Plaintiff seeks actual and punitive damages totaling $4, 050, 000.00 (Id.).


         Plaintiff's complaint does not allege the violation of a specific federal statute, but he filled out the pre-printed form civil rights complaint and checked the box indicating he was bringing a Section 1983 claim against state or local officials (doc. 1 at 3). 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)). To assert a claim under Section 1983, Plaintiff must allege the deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws by a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Malicious Prosecution

         Construing Plaintiff's pro se complaint broadly, it appears that Plaintiff alleges a malicious prosecution claim against Walters, and perhaps against Forrester because of “[t]he issuance of the ticket against” him (doc. 1-1 at 2). As the Fourth Circuit has observed: “[I]t is not entirely clear whether the Constitution recognizes a separate constitutional right to be free from malicious prosecution.” Snider v. Seung Lee, 584 F.3d 193, 199 (4th Cir. 2009). Thus, in this Circuit, a “malicious prosecution claim under § 1983 is properly understood as a Fourth Amendment claim for unreasonable seizure which incorporates certain elements of the common law tort.” Evans v. Chalmers, 703 F.3d 636, 647 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Lambert v. Williams, 223 F.3d 257, 261 (4th Cir. 2000)).

         In South Carolina, the elements of the common law tort of malicious prosecution are: “(1) the institution o[r] continuation of original judicial proceedings, either civil or criminal; (2) by or at the instance of the defendant; (3) termination of such proceedings in the plaintiff's favor; (4) malice in instituting such proceedings; (5) want of probable cause; and (6) resulting ...

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