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Lancaster v. Horton

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

June 14, 2018

Shannon Miles Lancaster, Plaintiff,
Justin Horton and Lorin Williams, Defendants.


          Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Plaintiff subsequently moved to Amend his Complaint.[1] (ECF No. 12). On December 19, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 13). The court issued an Order pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the potential consequences if he did not respond adequately to Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 14). Plaintiff then filed his Response in Opposition to the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 19). Defendants filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response. (ECF No. 21). Plaintiff subsequently filed a “Motion to Clarify Defendants' Reply, ” which was essentially a response to Defendants' Reply. (ECF No. 22). On February 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 23). Defendants filed a response (ECF No. 24) and Plaintiff replied (ECF NO. 26).

         Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) (ECF No. 28), which recommends that the court grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13) and find Plaintiff's motions (ECF Nos. 22, 23) as moot. Plaintiff was advised of his right to file objections to the Report. (ECF No. 28-1). After the Report was mailed to Plaintiff, Plaintiff filed a second Motion to Amend his Complaint, seeking to withdraw his claim for false arrest. (ECF No. 30). Plaintiff then filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 31). Defendants responded to Plaintiff's Motion to Amend (ECF No. 33), and Plaintiff replied (ECF No. 36).

         The recommendations set forth in the Report have no presumptive weight, and this court remains responsible for making a final determination in this matter. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that on March 15, 2016, Defendants initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle in which he was a passenger. (ECF No. 1 at 4). At the time of the traffic stop, the driver and Plaintiff were leaving 713 Lanyon Lane, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Id. Plaintiff contends that Defendants did not witness him committing a crime and that he had no active warrants for his arrest. Id. Plaintiff further asserts that Defendants were in an unmarked pickup truck, which Plaintiff claims to be “not standard procedure” for conducting traffic stops. Id. at 5. Plaintiff alleges that he was “profil[ed]” and “targeted” by Defendants, because they recognized him. Id.

         Once Defendants conducted the traffic stop, they discovered that the driver's license was suspended. (ECF No. 1-1). According to the incident report, which Plaintiff attached to his Complaint, the driver exited the vehicle when asked and consented to a search of the vehicle. Id. However, Plaintiff states that Defendant Williams then made Plaintiff step out of the vehicle and searched him without permission and without a search warrant. (ECF No. 1 at 5). As a result of this search, Defendant Williams recovered “a small amount of drugs” and $5, 683 in cash from Plaintiff's pockets. Id. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Horton “tricked [him] into signing [his] money over in a forfeiture” because Plaintiff was stressed and under duress at the time he signed the money over. Id. Plaintiff further asserts that he erroneously believed that he was signing a Miranda waiver, not a property seizure form. Id. Plaintiff contends that he was subsequently arrested. Id. Finally, Plaintiff notes that the state dismissed the charges from the traffic stop on March 14, 2017. Id. at 10.

         In the instant action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights based on “profiling, wrongful arrest, and unreasonable searches.” Id. at 7. As a remedy, Plaintiff seeks $700, 000 in damages for the violations, loss of time with his family, and emotional distress. Id. He also requests that all of his legal costs be paid for by Defendants. Id.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would support his claim and entitle him to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the court “need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts” nor “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). While “a plaintiff is not required to plead facts that constitute a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss . . ., factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

         Therefore, a plaintiff's complaint only needs to include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Additionally, when “evaluating a civil rights complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), ” the court must be “especially solicitous of the wrongs alleged.” Harrison v. U.S. Postal Serv., 840 F.2d 1149, 1152 (4th Cir. 1988) (internal citations omitted). Furthermore, when the plaintiff proceeds pro se, the court is charged with liberally construing the factual allegations of the complaint in order to allow potentially meritorious claims to go forward. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Still, this requirement of liberal construction does not mean that this court may ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim for relief. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         The magistrate judge provided a thorough report addressing the sufficiency of Plaintiff's claims and recommended that this court grant the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 28). Plaintiff filed timely objections to this Report. (ECF No. 31). The vast majority of Plaintiff's objections simply restate his claims or object generally to the magistrate judge's determinations on issues of law without providing a specific basis for why Plaintiff objects. However, Plaintiff has made the following specific objections: (1) that the magistrate judge did not address the fact that Defendants were dressed in plain clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle when they conducted the traffic stop; (2) that Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's determination that “an officer's knowledge can reinforce reasonable suspicion” because Plaintiff believes that to be “profiling”; (3) that Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's determination on reasonable suspicion because Plaintiff does not believe that Defendants could have reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop without more than just seeing him leave a residence with another person; and (4) that the magistrate judge incorrectly stated that the driver had given voluntary consent for the officers to search the vehicle. (ECF No. 31). The court finds these objections to be without merit, and, accordingly overrules them.

         First, while Plaintiff is correct that the magistrate judge did not directly address his concern that Defendants were in plain clothes and in an unmarked car, these facts do not entitle Plaintiff to any sort of relief because they did not constitute a constitutional violation. Plaintiff contends that it is improper procedure for investigators who are not patrol officers to conduct traffic stops in plain clothes and unmarked cars. (ECF No. 1 at 5). However, officers often conduct investigative Terry stops in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles. See e.g. United States v. Lender, 985 F.2d 151, 153 (4th Cir. 1993) (where one officer from the police department and one officer from the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement Division, both in plain clothes and in an unmarked car, suspecting drug activity, conducted ...

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