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Murray v. Greenwood County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 19, 2018

Bryantavious K. Murray, Plaintiff,
Greenville County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.



         Bryantavious K. Murray (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is an inmate incarcerated in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”). He filed this action against the Greenville County Sheriff's Office (“GCSO” or “Defendant”) in the Greenwood County Court of Common Pleas, and GCSO removed the case to this court on July 13, 2018. [ECF No. 1]. Defendant removed the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as Plaintiff alleges violations of his constitutional rights, which claims are construed as brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this matter has been assigned to the undersigned for all pretrial proceedings.

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant's motion to dismiss [ECF No. 15]. Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Plaintiff of the dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to Defendant's motion. [ECF No. 17]. Plaintiff filed a response on August 29, 2018. [ECF No. 19]. Having carefully considered the record in this case, the undersigned recommends the district judge grant Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's federal claims.

         I. Factual Background

         Although Plaintiff's complaint is partially illegible, his allegations stem from his 2012 arrest and pretrial detention in 2012 and 2013. The gravamen of Plaintiff's claims relate to his arrest, the investigation of the charges against him, and his treatment while detained in the Greenwood County Detention Center. According to SCDC records, Plaintiff was admitted to SCDC custody on July 24, 2013, where he has remained to the present.[1]

         In its motion to dismiss, GCSO argues that it is not a person for purposes of § 1983 and that Plaintiff has not identified a policy or custom that caused his injuries under Monell v. Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard on Motion to Dismiss

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court is “not required to accept as true the legal conclusions set forth in a plaintiff's complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). Indeed, “[t]he presence of a few conclusory legal terms does not insulate a complaint from dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) when the facts alleged in the complaint cannot support” the legal conclusion. Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 577 (4th Cir. 2001). Furthermore, in analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court may consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

         Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). A federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Fine v. City of N.Y., 529 F.2d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 1975). 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 the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Analysis

         Defendant argues that it is not a “person” subject to suit pursuant to § 1983. Defendant is a county sheriff's department, and sheriff's departments in South Carolina are considered alter egos or arms of the state. See Gulledge v. Smart, 691 F.Supp. 947, 954-55 (D.S.C. 1988) (discussing sheriff as agent and alter ego of state and that deputy sheriffs act as the sheriff's agent), aff'd, 878 F.2d 379 (4th Cir. 1989); Carroll v. Greenville County Sheriff's Dep't, 871 F.Supp. 844, 846 (D.S.C. 1994) (suit against the sheriff's office is suit against the state); S.C. Code Ann. § 23-13-550. As an arm of the state, Defendant is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, (1989) (“[N]either a state nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.”); Davis v. S.C. Dep't of Corrections, No. 0:13-2790-TMC-PJG (D.S.C. Nov. 3, 2014), report and recommendation adopted (D.S.C. Nov. 21, 2014). The Supreme Court has indicated that the “no person” defense discussed in Will is not waivable. Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 69 (1997).[2]

         Although Plaintiff argues that his allegations identify RJ Gossett and Clint A. Burden as persons culpable for his claims [ECF No. 19], he has not named these individuals as defendants. Therefore, the undersigned recommends Plaintiff's constitutional claims be dismissed without prejudice. Out of abundance of caution, [3] the undersigned recommends Plaintiff be allowed 14 days from the district judge's order to file a clearly legible amended complaint. Plaintiff is reminded that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). If the district judge accepts this recommendation and Plaintiff fails to file a legible amended complaint within 14 days of the district court's order on the motion to dismiss, the undersigned recommends the district judge dismiss Plaintiff's ...

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