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Smith v. County of Greenville

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

July 2, 2018

Garrin David Smith, Plaintiff,
County of Greenville, United States, Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Garrin David Smith, has filed this civil action pro se and in forma pauperis. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. After a review of the complaint, attachments, and applicable law, this Court recommends that this action should be summarily dismissed.


         The plaintiff is a former federal prisoner. The undersigned takes judicial notice of its own records[1] which reveal that on September 3, 2004, the plaintiff pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. United States v. Smith, Cr. No. 6:04-00466 (doc. 33). He received a sentence of 135 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release (doc. 48). No. direct appeal was immediately taken. A timely pro se motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 was filed, and a belated direct appeal was granted when the Court vacated and then re-entered the conviction and sentence so as to permit the filing of a timely appeal. Smith v United States, C.A. No. 6:05-2932 (doc. 6). That decision by this Court, which was based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, was affirmed as modified on October 12, 2006.[2] The Court of Appeals affirmed his sentence. United States v. Smith, 205 Fed. App'x 156 (4th Cir Oct. 12, 2006)(No. 06-6175). The plaintiff's conviction and sentence were affirmed on October 31, 2006. United States v. Smith, 204 Fed. App'x 298 (4th Cir. Oct. 31, 2006) (No. 06-4103). Thereafter the plaintiff filed three separate civil actions in this court challenging his federal conviction and sentence, all without success.[3]

         The plaintiff's current complaint indicates on its face that it is filed pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act [“FTCA”], 28 U.S.C. §§ 2401 and 2680[4] and under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) (doc. 1 at 7).[5]The plaintiff seeks to hold the United States and the County of Greenville liable for monetary damages for his alleged “false arrest” and “false imprisonment” on the federal charges to which he pled guilty in 2005 (doc. 1 at 2). He contends that Greenville County, through its officers or agents, violated his Fourth amendment rights when he was arrested without probable cause. He also appears to allege that Greenville County and the United States violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when he was arrested and subsequently incarcerated pursuant to an alleged invalid warrant. The plaintiff does not name any persons as defendants and the claims he makes against the named defendants are conclusory.


         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, 94 (2007) (per curiam). 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, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         In order to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the plaintiff must do more than make mere conclusory statements. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. The reviewing court need only accept as true the complaint's factual allegations, not its legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


         In this matter, the plaintiff's claims for damages, allegedly arising from his “false arrest” and “false imprisonment” in connection with his federal conviction, should be dismissed because the plaintiff does not assert that his criminal conviction has been invalidated. Such a cause of action does not accrue until the underlying conviction has been invalidated, for example, by a state or a federal court's favorable decision on an appeal or issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the United States Supreme Court held that in order to recover damages for imprisonment in violation of the Constitution, the imprisonment must first be successfully challenged. The Court stated:

We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, . . . a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.

Id. at 486-87; see also Edwards v. Balisock, 520 U.S. 641 (1997) (the preclusive rule of Heck extended to § 1983 claims challenging procedural deficiencies which necessarily imply the invalidity of the judgment); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982) and Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994) (a Bivens claim is analogous to a claim brought against state officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, therefore, case law involving § 1983 claims is applicable in Bivens actions, and vice versa).

         The Heck prohibition applies to other types of claims and not exclusively to causes of action under § 1983 or Bivens. For example, several federal courts have held that the Heck doctrine bars claims brought under the FTCA for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and/or malpractice of federal employees in connection with a federal criminal trial. See, e.g., Parris v. United States, 45 F.3d 383, 385 (10th Cir.1995) (“FTCA, like § 1983, is not an appropriate vehicle for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments.”); Echols v. Dwyer, 914 F.Supp. 325, 327 (E.D. Mo.1996) (no FTCA claim for legal malpractice against federal public defender, holding “that an action under the FTCA is not cognizable when it calls into question the validity of a prior conviction”); Bradshaw v. Jayaraman, 205 F.3d 1339 (Table), No. 98-6710, 1999 WL 1206870, at *2 (6th Cir. Dec. 9, 1999) (no FTCA legal malpractice action against appointed criminal defense attorney, two law firm employees, and court reporter; ...

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