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Benfield v. Piedmont Medical Center E.M.S.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

June 19, 2018

Steven Benfield, Plaintiff,
Piedmont Medical Center E.M.S., Defendant.



         The Plaintiff, Steven Benfield, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the York County Detention Center. On May 18, 2018, this court issued an order giving the plaintiff notice to file an amended complaint because the original complaint was subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.[1] ECF No. 9. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 31, 2018. ECF No. II.[2]

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992), Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989), Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972), Nasim v. Warden, Maryland House of Coil, 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995), and Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983). Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a pro se complaint to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)); Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980).

         However, even when considered pursuant to this liberal standard, for the reasons set forth here in below this case is 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); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) [outlining pleading requirements under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure].


         Records from York County indicate that Plaintiff was arrested in August 2015 on charges of murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. See York County, Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Public Index, County=46&CourtAgency=46001 &Casenum=2015 A4610100784&CaseType=C&HKey=98105 546676511034911111167851174989727412011611310065665697117439754521184774107654 9867770115505052; &CourtAgency=46001 &Casenum=2015 A4610100786&CaseType=C&HKey=70112757611310 711310779694775477169108724398971171151211028773100795490545485751068080114101 5010056115 (last visited June I8, 2OI8).[3] Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Piedmont Medical Center EMS was negligent for failure to take him to the hospital in a speedy and timely manner and for failing, at the urging of the York County Sheriffs Department, to bandage his cuts or administer any kind of care on August 10, 2015. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that on August 10, 2015 he was beaten unconscious inside his home. Plaintiff alleges that Piedmont Medical Center EMS crew members Rodney Dutton (EMT Paramedic) and Kenneth Langley (EMT Basic) arrived at his home at 10:23 a.m., and that he entered and was "set" in the captain's chair inside the ambulance, but that EMS crew members did not bandage his cuts or administer any pain medication and the unit sat in the yard until 11:59 a.m. Plaintiff asserts that he told crew members to take him to Kings Mountain Hospital, but they ignored his request and transferred him to Piedmont Medical Center (which he claims was further away) at 1:06 p.m. ECF No. 11 at 1-2. Plaintiff contends that as a result of the alleged incident he suffered severe physical and mental pain and anguish, and that he has suffered permanent disabilities including chronic headaches, impaired vision, breathing problems, eye pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. ECF No. 11 at 2. He requests monetary damages. Id.


         The Amended Complaint filed in this case is subject to summary dismissal without service of process because, even after Plaintiff was put on notice of defects in his original pleading and given an opportunity to amend his Complaint, Plaintiffs Amended Complaint still fails to state a claim which this Court may consider under its federal question jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or its diversity jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff appears to have filed this action pursuant to § 1983, which '"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)). A civil action under § 1983 "creates a private right of action to vindicate violations of 'rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States," Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356, 361 (2012); and to state a claim under § 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. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         As noted previously in the order to amend, Defendant Piedmont Medical Center E.M.S. is not a "person" subject to suit under § 1983. Courts have routinely held that inanimate objects such as a building, facility, and grounds do not act under color of state law, and are not "persons" subject to suit under § 1983. See Allison v. California Adult Autfa., 419 F.2d 822, 823 (9th Cir. 1969)[California Adult Authority and San Quentin Prison not "person[s]" subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983]: Nelson v. Lexington Cnty. Pet. Ctr., C/A No. 8:10-2988-JMC, 2011 WL 2066551, at *1 (D.S.C. May 26, 2011) [Finding that a detention center, as a building and not a person, was not amenable to suit under § 1983]; Preval v. Reno, 57 F.Supp.2d 307, 310 (E.D. Va. 1999)["[T]he Piedmont Regional Jail is not a 'person,' and therefore not amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § l983."l; Brooks v. Pembroke City Jail, 722 F.Supp. 1294, l301(E.D. N.C. l989)["Claims under§ 1983 are directed at 'persons' and the jail is not a person amenable to suit."]. Further, to the extent that the Defendant is a branch or department of the Piedmont Medical Center or could be considered a group of people employed by Piedmont Medical Center, it again is not a person amenable to suit under § 1983. See Harden v. Green, 27 Fed.Appx. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001)[finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983]; Dalton v. South Carolina Dep't of Corr., C/A No. 8:09-260-CMC-BHH, 2009 WL 823931, at *2 (D.S.C. March 26, 2009)[dismissing the medical staff of SCDC and Prison Health Services as defendants because they were not persons!; Barnes v. Baskerville Corr. Cen. Med. Staff, No. 3:07CV 195.2008 WL 2564779 (E.D.Va. June 25, 2008)["Plaintiff s allegations that unspecified prison personnel violated his rights does not adequately state a § 1983 claim."].

         Moreover, even if Piedmont Medical Center E.M.S. satisfied the "person" requirement for a suit under § 1983 (or Plaintiff had named the individual EMS personnel as the party Defendants), there is no allegation that the Defendant here has acted under color of state law. The Defendant is a private, not a public, entity, and its employees are private, not public, employees. Purely private conduct such as that alleged in this case, no matter how wrongful, injurious, fraudulent, or discriminatory, is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or under the Fourteenth Amendment, the two most common provisions under which persons come into federal court to claim that others have violated their constitutional rights. See Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 936 (1983); Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth., 365 U.S. 715, 721 (1961). Because the United States Constitution regulates only the government, not private parties, a litigant asserting a § 1983 claim that his constitutional rights have been violated must first establish that the challenged conduct constitutes "state action." See, &£., Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1002 (1982). To qualify as state action, the conduct in question "must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible," and "the party charged with the [conduct] must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor." Lugar, 457 U.S. at 937; see U.S. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of Am., AFL-CIO. 941 F.2d 1292 (2d Cir.1991). Although a private individual or corporation can act under color of state law, his, her, or its actions must occur where the private individual or entity is "a willful participant in joint action with the State or its agents." Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27-28 (1980). Plaintiff has set forth no facts to show or establish that Piedmont Medical Center EMS, which appears to be a private company, is a state actor, as there is no allegation to suggest that the Defendant's actions were anything other than purely private conduct.[4]

         Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant was negligent. However, such a claim is not actionable under § 1983. See Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344. 345-48 (1986); Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328-36 & n. 3 (1986). Civil rights statutes, such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, do not impose liability for violations of duties of care arising under a state's tort law. DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 489 U.S. 189, 200-03 (1989). While Plaintiff does also state that he has filed this action pursuant to South Carolina Code Ann. § 15-78-10 and the South Carolina Tort Claims Act (SCTCA);[5] ECF No. 11 at 3; even if the SCTCA is applicable to Plaintiffs claims (and it does not appear to be, as Plaintiff has not alleged that the Defendant is an entity covered by the SCTCA), the SCTCA expressly provides that the State of South Carolina does not waive Eleventh Amendment immunity, consents to suit only in a court of the State of South Carolina, and does not consent to suit in a federal court or in a court of another state. S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-20(e).

         Even if Plaintiff has intended to simply bring a state law negligence claim against the Defendant, federal courts are allowed to hear and decide state-law claims only in conjunction with federal-law claims, through the exercise of "supplemental jurisdiction." See 28 U.S.C. §1367; Wisconsin Dep't of Corrs. v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 387 (1998). As noted, however, no viable federal claim has been asserted. Of course, a district court can have jurisdiction of a civil action involving solely state law claims "where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000...and is between-(1) citizens of different States...". 28 U.S.C. § 1332. However, in order to maintain an action based upon diversity jurisdiction, complete diversity between the plaintiff and the defendant must exist at the time the complaint is filed. Martinez v. Duke Energy Corp., 130 Fed.Appx. 629, 634 (4th Cir. 2005). Plaintiff has not alleged complete diversity of the parties in this case, nor is diversity of the parties shown or established anywhere in his pleadings. See Owen Equipment & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 372-374 (1978) [Complete diversity of parties means that no party on one side may be a citizen of the same State as any party on the other side]. Therefore, as Plaintiff has asserted no valid federal claim and there is no diversity jurisdiction, this Court should not exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367; see also United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966); Tigrett v. Rector and Visitors of the Univ. of Va., 290 F.3d 620, 626 (4th Cir. 2002)[affirming district court's dismissal of state law claims when no federal claims remained in the case]; Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir. 1999) ["[T]he Constitution does not contemplate the federal judiciary deciding issues of state law among non-diverse litigants"].

         Finally, it should be noted that Plaintiff has failed to bring his case into proper form. In an order dated May 18, 2018, Plaintiff was given an opportunity to provide the necessary information and paperwork, to include forms necessary to effect service, to bring the case into proper form for evaluation and possible service of process. ECF No. 7. Plaintiff failed to provide the necessary documents or to otherwise respond to the proper form order. Plaintiff was specifically warned that failure to provide the necessary information within the timetable set forth in the Order would subject the case to dismissal. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 41. Thus, in the alternative, it is recommended that this action be dismissed, without prejudice, in accordance with Rule 41, Fed.R.Civ.P. See Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626 (1962); Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 95-96 (4th Cir. 1989). cert, denied sub nom. Ballard v. Volunteers of America, 493 U.S. 1084 (1990) [holding that district court's dismissal following an explicit and reasonable warning was not an abuse of discretion].

         Reco ...

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