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Hunt v. Columbia Regional Correct Care

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 28, 2018

Kalvin Dontay Hunt, #10241269, Plaintiff,
Columbia Regional Correct Care, Defendant.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         Kalvin Dontay Hunt (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging his constitutional rights have been violated. Plaintiff is currently an involuntary detainee at the Columbia Regional Care Center, [1] and he files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The Complaint is subject to summary dismissal.


         This action arises from the loss of Plaintiff's personal property while in the care of the Columbia Regional Care Center. [Doc. 1.] Plaintiff had several items of his personal property stolen without reimbursement or replacement. [Id. at 3.] Plaintiff has attempted to resolve the issue at the Care Center, but to no avail. [Id.] The items were properly secured, and a security code for lockers at the facility is available. [Id.] Police reports were filed, but none of the stolen property was recovered. [Id.] For his relief, Plaintiff seeks money damages for his stolen property-including clothing, a digital watch, and a digital radio-and for mental anguish. [Id. at 5.]


         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. 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).

         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). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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 petition 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).


         The Complaint is filed 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 “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). 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).

         Plaintiff's core allegation is that Defendant deprived Plaintiff of his personal property when it was stolen and failed to reimburse Plaintiff for the value of his property; however, this does not state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Supreme Court has held that deprivations of personal property do not support an action for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986); Baker v. Stevenson, No. 8:13-cv-466-JFA-JDA, 2013 WL 4866337, at *1 (D.S.C. Sept. 11, 2013). It is not clear from the allegations in the Complaint whether Plaintiff contends Columbia Regional Correct Care negligently or intentionally lost his personal property. While Plaintiff alleges his property was stolen, he does not identify any individuals who purportedly stole his property. In any case, neither a negligent or intentional loss of property is cognizable.

         Negligence, in general, is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Ruefly v. Landon, 825 F.2d 792, 793-94 (4th Cir. 1987); Pink v. Lester, 52 F.3d 73, 75-78 (4th Cir.1995). Moreover, § 1983 does not impose liability for violations of duties of care arising under state law. In other words, “[t]he Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment . . . does not transform every tort committed by a state actor into a constitutional violation.” DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 200-03 (1989). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that random and unauthorized deprivations of personal property by state officials do not rise to a federal due process violation where the state provides post-deprivation procedures to secure the return of the property or to compensate for the loss. See Mora v. City of Gaithersburg, 519 F.3d 216, 230-31 (4th Cir. 2008); Bogart v. Chapell, 396 F.3d 548, 561-63 (4th Cir. 2005); Yates v. Jamison, 782 F.2d 1182, 1183-84 (4th Cir. 1986).

         The case law is clear that the availability of a state cause of action for an alleged loss of property provides adequate procedural due process; in other words, where state law provides such a remedy, no federally guaranteed constitutional right is implicated. See King v. Massarweh, 782 F.2d 825, 826 (9th Cir. 1986); Slaughter v. Anderson, 673 F.Supp. 929, 930 (N.D. Ill.1987). In South Carolina, the state provides post-deprivation procedures to secure the return of the property or to compensate for the loss. Plaintiff's negligence claim relating to his lost property may be cognizable under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, SC Code Ann. § 15-78-10 et seq. Section 15-78-30 and its subparts encompass a “loss” of property from an occurrence of negligence proximately caused by a person employed by the State of South Carolina, a state agency, or political subdivision while acting within the scope of his or her employment. Suits brought under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act must be brought in a state court within the boundaries of South Carolina. See S.C. Code Ann. §15-78-20(e) (providing 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). Thus, Plaintiff cannot pursue a claim under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act in this Court.

         Furthermore, even “an intentional deprivation of property by a state employee, if unauthorized, does not violate the Due Process Clause if a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for loss is available.” Hammond v. Dean, No. 3:07-cv-654-SB, 2007 WL 3002362, at *2 (D.S.C. Oct. 9, 2007) (citing Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984)). Thus, even if Defendant intentionally destroyed or took Plaintiff's property, Plaintiff has remedies under South Carolina law to obtain relief in state court. See Hudson, 468 U.S. at 530-36 (holding that intentional deprivations of property by State employees do not violate due process until and unless the State refuses to provide a suitable post-deprivation remedy); Mora, 519 F.3d at 230-31 (finding that the state courts were open to plaintiff for claims of conversion or trespass to chattels and there was no reason to think that the state process was constitutionally inadequate); see also Samuel v. Ozmint, No. 3:07-cv-178-PMD-JRM, 2008 WL 512736, *7 (D.S.C. Feb. 25, 2008) (noting that claims related to taking of personal property are cognizable under South Carolina state law); Greene v. Stonebreaker, No. 9:06-cv-3392-PMD-GCK, 2007 WL 2288123, *6 (D.S.C. Aug. 6, 2007) (noting that a person in South Carolina appears to have adequate post-deprivation remedies for personal property loss). Accordingly, Plaintiff can bring an intentional tort civil action in the South Carolina state courts. Therefore, Plaintiff's § 1983 claim based on any intentional loss of personal property fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         RECO ...

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