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Parson v. Miles

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

August 21, 2018

Arnold Parson Jr., Plaintiff,
Darren Miles; John Doe 1-18; and Jane Doe 1-2, Defendants.



         I. Brief background and current posture of the case

         This matter is before the court[1] for consideration of several motions now pending in Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights claim. Plaintiff's case principally arises from actions allegedly taken on November 2, 2015 in the execution of a Writ of Assistance that had been issued by a special referee concerning a final order and judgment of foreclosure that had been entered in Marion County in 2013. Anderson Bros. Bank v. Dazarhea Monique Parson, et al., 2013-CP-33-00306 (Marion Cnty. (SC) Court of Common Pleas) (generally referred to as the “Foreclosure Action”)).[2] Previously, the undersigned submitted a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) as to Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendants named in Plaintiff's operative Second Amended Complaint in which it was recommended that those dispositive motions be granted in part and denied in part. ECF No. 95. After considering objections from Plaintiff and from several Defendants, see ECF Nos. 102, 103, 107, the court issued an order adopting that R&R in part, ECF No. 114, and finding that only Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment-based claim for excessive force would survive the motions to dismiss. That cause of action was permitted to proceed only as to Defendant Darren Miles and the “Doe Defendants, ” identified in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint as John Doe 1-18 and Jane Doe 1-2. The remainder of Plaintiff's § 1983 claims (claims brought pursuant to the First, Fourth (other than excessive force during arrest), Eighth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights) and all of his state-law-based claims were dismissed without prejudice, as were Defendants Danny Lee Herring and County of Marion. Mar. 27, 2018 Order at 13-14, ECF No. 114.[3] In short, these defendants and claims were dismissed based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[4] As noted by the court, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is:

“jurisdictional, ” Am. Reliable Ins. Co. v. Stillwell, 336 F.3d 311, 316 (4th Cir. 2003), and it precludes “‘lower federal courts . . . from exercising appellate jurisdiction over final state-court judgments.'” Thana [v. Bd. of License Comm'rs for Charles Cty., Md.], 827 F.3d 314, 319 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 463 (2006)).

ECF No. 114 at 7. As explained by the Court,

Here, Plaintiff alleges that on November 2, 2015, Marion County officials unlawfully entered his property located at 3546 Quail Roost Road and proceeded to violate his constitutional rights. See Sec. Am. Compl. at ¶ 1. However, before Plaintiff filed this federal lawsuit, a state court foreclosure judgment and writ of assistance had long since been issued (and unsuccessfully appealed from), and the special referee had commanded the Sheriff of Marion County to execute the judgment by ejecting and removing Plaintiff and his personal property from the premises at 3546 Quail Roost Road. While Plaintiff does not explicitly seek reversal of the foreclosure proceedings, he implicitly asks this federal Court to review and reject the state court proceedings given that he seeks a declaration that his constitutional rights were violated when he was forcibly ejected from his home as well as compensation for the allegedly unconstitutional actions. Plaintiff effectively asks the Court to nullify the state court foreclosure judgment. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits such federal action, and therefore the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking for all of Plaintiff's federal claims except his § 1983 excessive force claim (which presents an independent claim that does not call into question the validity of the state court foreclosure judgment or writ of assistance, see Thana, 827 F.3d at 320-22). See, e.g., McGhie [v. Headen], 2018 WL 1020132, at *1 [W.D. N.C. Feb. 22, 2018] (involving a “[c]omplaint alleg[ing] an improper seizure by the sheriff” and finding the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applied because “[w]hile Plaintiff does not explicitly ask the Court to reverse the foreclosure proceedings, he is asking for compensation deriving from those actions”); Parker v. Spencer, No. 4:13-CV-00430-RBH, 2015 WL 3870277 (D.S.C. June 23, 2015) (finding the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precluded federal review of a state court foreclosure proceeding).
As the Magistrate Judge explains, the fact that Plaintiff alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not overcome the constraints of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine (except for his § 1983 excessive force claim, which does not call into question the validity of the state court foreclosure judgment or writ of assistance). See R & R at p. 13; see, e.g., Shooting Point, L.L.C. v. Cwinning, 368 F.3d 379, 385 (4th Cir. 2004) (dismissing § 1983 claims based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine).

Id. at 7-8 & n.9. The undersigned further notes that Plaintiff's appeal of the Writ of Assistance itself was denied by the South Carolina Court of Appeals on January 13, 2016. Plaintiff then submitted numerous motions to the state appellate court, which were denied. Plaintiff's writ of certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court, submitted in July 2016, was denied by the state supreme court on April 4, 2017-several weeks after the instant federal action was filed on March 15, 2017. See ECF Nos. 132-2, 132-3 (Docket information from South Carolina Appellate Case Management System).

         In considering the motions to dismiss and Plaintiff's objections to the undersigned's R&R, the court recognized Plaintiff's request to amend his complaint (“which he has already amended twice) ‘to add necessary parties . . . and amend any deficiencies' to ‘cure any defect this [C]ourt may find.'” ECF No. 114 at 13 n.17 (quoting Pl. Objections, ECF No. 103 at 10-11). The court noted that Plaintiff had yet to submit an appropriate motion to amend or a proposed amended pleading, and advised Plaintiff that a scheduling order would be entered that would give him “an opportunity and a deadline for filing a motion to amend.” Id.

         Remaining Defendants, Miles and the Doe Defendants (sometimes referred to as Remaining Defendants), answered the Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), and the undersigned issued a scheduling order. The Scheduling Order established April 30, 2018 as the deadline for parties to submit motions to amend pleadings, May 29, 2018 as the discovery deadline, and July 9, 2018 as the deadline for submitting dispositive motions. ECF No. 119.

         Now pending are Plaintiff's Motion to Stay Proceedings, ECF No. 143; “Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint and for Joinder of Additional Defendants” (“Motion to Amend”), ECF No. 124 (filed April 30, 2018); Motion to Quash Subpoena, ECF No. 125 (filed May 2, 2018); and the Remaining Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 133 (filed May 17, 2018), which is directed to the currently operative SAC. Briefing is complete as to all motions other than the Motion for Summary Judgment. The court granted Plaintiff's request to hold his response deadline in abeyance pending the court's ruling on his Motion to Amend. See ECF No. 140 (holding deadline to respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment and all scheduling order deadlines in abeyance pending a ruling on the Motion to Amend and Motion to Quash). See Babatunde v. Ward, No. CV 4:14-2223-RMG, 2016 WL 375045, at *3 n.2 (D.S.C. Jan. 29, 2016) (noting that “a motion to amend the complaint should be adjudicated before a later-filed motion for summary judgment”).

         As the Motion to Stay and Motion to Quash Subpoena are nondispositive, the undersigned will issue separate orders on them. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. KB Home, No. 5:13-CV-831-BR, 2016 WL 5255581, at *2 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 22, 2016) (finding motion to stay litigation that is not dispositive of the case, claim or defense, is properly considered by a magistrate judge); see also Manning v. Herman, No. 1:13-CV-01426, 2014 WL 931095, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 10, 2014) (collecting cases and noting a request for stay is a “non-dispositive matter, subject to adjudication by a federal magistrate judge.”) (citations omitted). The undersigned addresses herein Plaintiff's Motion to Amend.

         II. Motion to Amend, ECF No. 124

         Plaintiff filed his Motion to Amend on April 30, 2018. ECF No. 124. The Motion to Amend includes a proposed Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”) in which Plaintiff seeks to add facts learned in discovery, add “additional wrongdoers” as Defendants, “cure any deficiencies” in the SAC, and identify several of the “Doe” Defendants. ECF No. 124 at 1. The proposed additional defendants include former Defendants Herring and County of Marion; Anderson Brothers Bank (“ABB”); Sheriff Mark Richardson, Marion County Sheriff Office; Marion County Animal Control; and 13 DEU (Marion County Special Operations/Drug Enforcement Unit) Officers-Supervisor Judy Barker, Officer Jack McCaskill, Officer Mitchell McCaskill, Officer Charlie Watson, Officer Dewayne Rogers, Officer Jeff Gause, Officer Samantha Jackson, Officer Johnathan Edwards, Officer Robert Page, Officer Michael Latu, Officer Dale Sylvester, Officer Tracey Causey, and Officer Greg Pike. See TAC ¶¶ 6-25. In naming each of the 13 DEU Officers, Plaintiff's proposed TAC also indicates they may also be referred to as “Collectively Defendant DEU Officers.” See Id. ¶¶ 9-21. These DEU Officer Defendants are the now-identified “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” Defendants referenced in the SAC. Pl. Mot. 5.

         Remaining Defendants [Defendant Miles and the Doe Defendants] filed an opposition to the Motion to Amend on May 17, 2018, arguing, among other things, that Plaintiff's proposed amendment would violate the law-of-the-case doctrine and would cause the court to revisit causes of action and claims that the court previously dismissed. ECF No. 127 at 8-9. The Remaining Defendants also argue the amendment would be unduly prejudicial and would be futile. ECF No. 127. Plaintiff submitted a Reply to that opposition. ECF No. 131. Counsel for potential Defendant (and former Defendant) Herring and potential Defendant ABB also oppose the amendment based on Rooker-Feldman grounds as well as for failure to state a claim as to Defendant Herring. ECF No. 45. Plaintiff filed a reply to this opposition. ECF No. 136.

         A. Standard of review

         Where, as here, a party seeks leave to amend after a responsive pleading or Rule 12(b) motion has been filed, the party “may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Id. “In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.'” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         With respect to futility, the court may deny leave to amend “if the proposed amended complaint fails to state a claim under the applicable rules and accompanying standards.” Katyle v. Penn Nat. Gaming, Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 471 (4th Cir. 2011). A complaint states a claim if it contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Asking for plausible grounds . . . does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal [the] evidence” required to prove the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. In evaluating the complaint, “[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” but does not consider “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).

         B. Opposition of Defendants Miles and Does, ECF No. 127

         As an initial matter, Remaining Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Motion to Amend should be denied based on Plaintiff's “bad faith” by waiting to “add new and additional facts and/or parties which could/should have been part of his previous Complaints.” ECF No. 127 at 4. Defendants argue Plaintiff's motion should be denied because discovery had almost ended by the time Plaintiff filed the motion to amend, and no party had sought to extend the deadlines. Id. at 5. The undersigned does not agree with Remaining Defendants that the timing of Plaintiff's Motion to Amend, standing alone, would be reason to deny the motion. Plaintiff did file his motion within the deadline for motions to amend that was provided in the March 29, 2018 Scheduling Order. ECF No. 119. The court granted Plaintiff's motion to have the remaining deadlines in the Scheduling Order-discovery and dispositive motions stayed. ECF Nos. 130, 140. Although Remaining Defendants have a pending Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 133, Plaintiff's deadline for responding to that motion has been held in abeyance pending a ruling on the Motion to Amend now under consideration. ECF No. 140.

         Further, without commenting at this time on the substance of Plaintiff's additional allegations, the undersigned does note that at least some of the information added-the purported identity of the “John Doe” Defendants was not known to Plaintiff at the time of his earlier pleadings. Additionally, regardless of whether his proposed amended pleading is accepted by the court, Plaintiff has attempted to provide information noted to be lacking by the court's order on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. This, of course, is one of the goals of the liberal pleading standards espoused by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The undersigned declines to find Plaintiff has operated in “bad faith” by filing the Motion to Amend, and it will not be denied on that ground.[5]

         The court must now consider Remaining Defendants' argument that the proposed TAC should be denied on futility grounds.

1. Summary of Plaintiff's Proposed Third Amended Complaint

         Neither Plaintiff nor any other party has provided a comparison of the operative SAC (ECF No. 24) with the proposed TAC (ECF No. 124-1). The undersigned has closely reviewed the TAC, and notes, as an initial matter, that it includes all of the claims previously pleaded in the SAC-including those already dismissed by the court's March 27, 2018 Order. ...

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