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Workman v. Metro PCS Mobile Phone Co.

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

July 17, 2018

Olandio Ray Workman, Plaintiff,
Metro PCS Mobile Phone Company, Mr. Richardson, Mr. Lewis, and Greenville County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.


          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Olandio Ray Workman, a state pretrial detainee proceeding pro se, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the four above-captioned defendants. The matter is before the Court for consideration of Plaintiff's objections to the two separate Reports and Recommendations (“R & Rs”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald, who recommends summarily dismissing two of the defendants and staying this action as to the other two defendants.[1] See ECF Nos. 36, 44, 47, & 51.

         Standard of Review

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it may accept, reject, or 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); Fed. R. Civ. 72(b).

         The Court must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).


         Plaintiff, presently detained at the Greenville County Detention Center on state charges, [3] filed an amended complaint[4] alleging his cell phone was traced without a warrant and naming four defendants-Metro PCS Mobile Phone Company (“Metro PCS”), Mr. Richardson (the registered agent for Metro PCS), the Greenville County Sheriff's Office (“GCSO”), and Mr. Lewis (the sheriff of Greenville County).[5] See ECF No. 31. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages as relief. See Id. at p. 8. Upon reviewing the amended complaint, the Magistrate Judge sent Plaintiff special interrogatories asking him, “Were you arrested and imprisoned due to Mr. Richardson of Metro PCS Mobile aiding Mr. Lewis of the Greenville County Sheriff's Office to locate you by tracing your cell phone?”, and Plaintiff answered in the affirmative and listed the charges. See ECF Nos. 38 & 41.

         Thereafter, the Magistrate Judge issued two separate R & Rs, one recommending summarily dismissing Defendants Metro PCS and the GCSO and the other recommending staying this action as to Defendants Richardson and Lewis. See ECF Nos. 36 & 47. Plaintiff filed objections to both R & Rs. See ECF Nos. 44 & 51.

         I. First R & R - Defendants Metro PCS & the GCSO

         The Magistrate Judge recommends summarily dismissing Defendants Metro PCS and the GCSO because they are not “persons”as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See ECF No. 36 at pp. 4-5 (first R & R). Although Plaintiff has filed objections to the first R & R, see ECF No. 44, he does not specifically object to this conclusion. The Court reiterates that absent a specific objection, it need only review the R & R for clear error. See Diamond, 416 F.3d at 315; Camby, 718 F.2d at 199-200. Regarding the GCSO, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that this defendant is not a person withing the meaning of § 1983. See, e.g., Workman v. Perry, No. 6:17-cv-00765-RBH, 2017 WL 4791150, at *2 (D.S.C. Oct. 23, 2017) (summarily dismissing defendants who were not “persons” within the meaning of § 1983); Shadoan v. Florence Cty. Det. Ctr. Med. Dep't, 2013 WL 6408347, at *2 (D.S.C. Dec. 6, 2013) (“[U]se of the term ‘staff,' ‘department,' or the equivalent as a name for alleged defendants, is not adequate to state a claim against a ‘person' as required in § 1983 actions. . . . [G]roups of people are not amenable to suit under § 1983[.]”). Moreover, a “federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear a cause of action against a South Carolina Sheriff's Department, as such a suit is barred by state immunity.” Stewart v. Beaufort Cty., 481 F.Supp.2d 483, 492 (D.S.C. 2007). Plaintiff's claims against the GCSO are tantamount to a suit against the State of South Carolina, and “[a]s such, an action against South Carolina will not lie in this court without South Carolina's express waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Id.; see, e.g., Workman v. Cooper, No. 6:08-cv-03429-HFF, 2009 WL 690664, at *3 (D.S.C. Mar. 16, 2009) (“As an agency of the state, the Greenville County Sheriff's Office is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution which divests this court of jurisdiction to entertain a suit brought against the State of South Carolina or its integral parts.”).

         Regarding Metro PCS, the Court notes this defendant appears to be a private company, and the Fourth Circuit has held “a private corporation is liable under § 1983 [but] only when an official policy or custom of the corporation causes the alleged deprivation of federal rights.” Austin v. Paramount Parks, Inc., 195 F.3d 715, 728 (4th Cir. 1999); see also Powell v. Shopco Laurel Co., 678 F.2d 504, 506 (4th Cir. 1982) (concluding the holding in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978))-“that a municipal corporation cannot be saddled with section 1983 liability via respondeat superior alone”-is “equally applicable to the liability of private corporations”). Here, Plaintiff has not alleged an official policy or custom of Metro PCS caused his purported constitutional injuries, and Metro PCS is not liable under § 1983 merely as an employer. See, e.g., Tellez v. Spartanburg Reg'l, No. 4:18-cv-00720-RBH-TER, 2018 WL 1939504, at *3 (D.S.C. Mar. 19, 2018), adopted by, 2018 WL 1933706 (D.S.C. Apr. 24, 2018) (summarily dismissing a private corporation for similar reasons). Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against Metro PCS. The Court will adopt as modified the first R & R and summarily dismiss Defendants Metro PCS and the GCSO from this action.

         II. Second R & R - Defendants Richardson & Lewis

         The Magistrate Judge recommends abstaining pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and staying this action as to Defendants Richardson[6] and Lewis because Plaintiff is involved in ongoing state criminal proceedings and seeks monetary damages in this § 1983 action. See ECF No. 47. Although Plaintiff objects to this conclusion, [7] the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that Younger abstention is appropriate because (1) Plaintiff is involved in ongoing state criminal proceedings (2) that implicate important state interests, and because (3) he has an adequate opportunity to raise his federal claims in the state proceedings. See Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S.Ct. 584 (2013) (addressing the appropriate grounds for Younger abstention); Robinson v. Thomas, 855 F.3d 278, 285 (4th Cir. 2017) (summarizing the three Younger criteria). By alleging Defendants Richardson and Lewis violated his Fourth Amendment rights by tracing his cell phone without a warrant, Plaintiff is effectively asking this Court to intervene in a pending state criminal matter. Plaintiff also has not made a showing of “extraordinary circumstances” justifying federal interference with the state proceedings. See Robinson, 855 F.3d at 286 (“A federal court may disregard Younger's mandate to abstain from interfering with ongoing state proceedings only where ‘extraordinary circumstances' exist that present the possibility of irreparable harm.”). Moreover, the Court notes a stay (rather than outright dismissal) is appropriate in light of binding precedent. See Nivens v. Gilchrist, 444 F.3d 237, 248 (4th Cir. 2006) (“State criminal proceedings do not, however, allow for claims of money damages by criminal defendants-such a claim is simply not available. Therefore, a ‘District Court has no discretion to dismiss rather than to stay claims for monetary relief that cannot be redressed in the state proceeding.'” (quoting Deakins v. Monaghan, 484 U.S. 193, 202 (1988))).

         However, the Court notes Plaintiff has sued Defendant Lewis for monetary damages in both his individual and official capacity, see ECF No. 31 at pp. 3 & 8, and the Eleventh Amendment bars the official capacity claim. See Lawson v. Union Cty. Clerk of Court, 828 F.3d 239, 278 (4th Cir. 2016) (“The Eleventh Amendment bars suit against state officials in their official capacity for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”); Cromer v. Brown, 88 F.3d 1315, 1332 (4th Cir. 1996) (recognizing South Carolina sheriffs are arms of the state and entitled to Eleventh ...

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