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Collins v. Aiken County Detention Center

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 14, 2018

Michael Alexander Collins, #8503, Plaintiff,
Aiken County Detention Center, Southern Health Partners, Dentist for A.C.D.C., Brandy Galloway, Nurse Angel, S. Donaldson, B. Dehayes, Nurse Cindy, Doctor Williams, Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         Michael Alexander Collins (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brought this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the above named Defendants. Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Aiken County Detention Center. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge. For the reasons below, Defendant Aiken County Detention Center is subject to summary dismissal from this action without issuance and service of process.


         Plaintiff filed this civil rights action alleging Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights. [Doc. 1 at 7.] Liberally construed, the Complaint appears to assert claims for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. In sum, Plaintiff alleges that he has been enduring excruciating tooth pain that has resulted in an ongoing infection that Defendants have failed to properly treat and remedy. [Doc. 1-1 at 2-9.] Plaintiff seeks money damages as a result of the Defendants' alleged deliberate indifference to his medical needs. [Id. at 9-10.]


         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute, which 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). Further, Plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and “seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court is charged with screening Plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the Complaint if: (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         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). 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 Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a pleading to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct 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, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         Plaintiff asserts his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 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 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). 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).

         It is well settled that only “persons” may act under color of state law, and, therefore, a defendant in a § 1983 action must qualify as a “person.” See Harden v. Green, 27 Fed.Appx. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001). The Aiken County Detention Center is a group of officers in a building and, as such, is not subject to suit under § 1983, or is a facility or building, which cannot be sued as a “defendant” in a § 1983 lawsuit. See 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. § 1983.”) aff'd in part, modified in part on other grounds, vacated in part on other grounds by 203 F.3d 821 (4th Cir. 2000); Brooks v. Pembroke City Jail, 722 F.Supp. 1294, 1301 (E.D. N.C. 1989) (“Claims under § 1983 are directed at ‘persons' and the jail is not a person amenable to suit.”); Williams v. Dorchester Cty. Det. Ctr., 987 F.Supp.2d 690, 696 (D.S.C. 2013); Morrison v. Greenville Cty. Det. Ctr., No. 4:17-cv-2657-JMC-TER, 2017 WL 7732598, at *3 (D.S.C. Oct. 10, 2017), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2018 WL 936383 (D.S.C. Feb. 16, 2018). Likewise, as noted, buildings and correctional institutions usually are not considered legal entities subject to suit. See Harden, 27 Fed.Appx. at 178 (finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983); Nelson v. Lexington Cty. Det. Ctr., No. 8:10-cv-2988-JMC, 2011 WL 2066551, at *1 (D.S.C. May 26, 2011) (finding that a building-the detention center-is not amenable to suit under § 1983 and that Food Service Supervisors was a group of people not subject to suit); see also Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 750 F.Supp. 1131, 1132 (S.D. Fla. 1990) (dismissing city police department as improper defendant in § 1983 action because it was not a “person” under the statute); Shelby v. City of Atlanta, 578 F.Supp. 1368, 1370 (N.D.Ga. 1984) (dismissing police department as party defendant because it was merely a vehicle through which city government fulfills policing functions).

         Further, the Aiken County Detention Center is subject to summary dismissal based on Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Aiken County Detention Center is administered by, and under the control of, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. See, e.g., Williams, 987 F.Supp.2d at 695-98 (finding that Dorchester County Detention Center is controlled by the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, and thus a state agency). As such, Plaintiff's claim is actually against the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, which is considered a state agency for purposes of Plaintiff's claim. See Gulledge v. Smart, 691 F.Supp. 947, 954-55 (D.S.C.1988) (explaining that a Sheriff's Office is considered a state agency in South Carolina). Because the County Sheriffs are state officers, not county employees, a suit against the “Aiken County Detention Center” is a suit against the state of South Carolina for purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. (noting Sheriff's office is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit); see also Cash v. Thomas, No. 6:12-cv-1278-MGL, 2013 WL 3804375, at *7 (D.S.C. July 19, 2013) (“It is well settled, both in South Carolina and federal law, that a Sheriff in South Carolina is an arm of the State and not a County employee and therefore is entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity in his or her official capacity from suit in Federal Court”) (citing Cromer v. Brown, 88 F.3d 1315, 1332 (4th Cir. 1996)).

         The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution divests this Court of jurisdiction to entertain a suit for damages brought against the State of South Carolina or its integral parts. The Eleventh Amendment provides:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

U.S. Const. Amend. XI; see alsoAlden v. Maine,527 U.S. 706 (1999); Harter v. Vernon,101 F.3d 334, 338-39 (4th Cir. 1996); Bellamy v. Borders,727 ...

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