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Strickland v. Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 25, 2018

Cale Marcus Strickland, Plaintiff,
v.
Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, Chuck Wright, and Officer Piggins, Defendants.

          REPORT AND ECOMMENDATION

          Kevin F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff Cale Marcus Strickland, proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases involving pro se litigants, and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         On September 10, 2018, the undersigned filed an order informing the plaintiff that his complaint contained deficiencies which could subject it to summary dismissal (doc. 9). The plaintiff was directed to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies for review for possible service of process (Id.). The plaintiff failed to file an amended complaint. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends summary dismissal of the complaint for the reasons listed below and for failing to comply with an order of the court.

         BACKGROUND AND ALLEGATIONS

         The plaintiff is a non-prisoner. In the complaint, he names the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office (SCSO), Sheriff Chuck Wright (Sheriff Wright), and Officer Piggins of the SCSO as defendants. He appears to assert a malicious prosecution/ illegal seizure claim against Officer Piggins and a conditions of confinement claim against the SCSO and Sheriff Wright. As to Officer Piggins, he alleges that on March 2, 2018, he was arrested for having no vehicle insurance, operating an unregistered vehicle, and for improper use of a temporary tag, for which he was incarcerated in the Spartanburg County Detention Center (SCDC) for 34 days (doc. 1 at 7). He alleges the traffic tickets were “not true” and that Officer Piggins violated his Fourth Amendment rights as well as 18 U.S.C. § 241 when he arrested him and took him to jail (doc. 1 at 4). As to Sheriff Wright and the SCSO, the plaintiff alleges that they violated his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights as well as 18 U.S.C. § 242 and various state statutes as he was required to stay in his cell and denied hygiene, though he also alleges that he was forced to take showers 12 times (doc. 1 at 4, 5, 7).

         The plaintiff states that he pleaded guilty and was released because he was not allowed to use the phone and could not bond out (Id. at 7). The plaintiff contends that he sustained psychological injuries from not knowing when he was going to be released and injuries to his teeth from being unable to brush them (Id. at 9). The plaintiff sues the defendants in their official capacities and seeks monetary damages.

         DISCUSSION

         The plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute. This statute 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, the 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 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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 (4th Cir. 1990).

         This 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, 132 S.Ct. 1497, 1501(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).

         Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office

         The SCSO cannot be sued under § 1983 because it is not a person. It is well settled that only “persons” may act under color of state law, so a defendant in a § 1983 action must qualify as a “person.” However, sheriff's departments and similar groups of people or offices are not persons subject to suit under § 1983. See Harden v. Green, 27 Fed. App'x. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983); Nelson v. Lexington Cnty. Det. Ctr., C/A No. 8:10-2988-JMC, 2011 WL 2066551, at *1 (D.S.C. May 26, 2011) (finding that a detention center, as a building, 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, 1133 (S.D. Fla. 1990) (dismissing city police department as improper defendant in § 1983 action because not “person” under the statute); Green v. Murdaugh, C/A No. 5:12-1086-RMG-KDW, 2012 WL 1987764, *2 (D.S.C. May 07, 2012), adopted by 2012 WL 1987259 (D.S.C. June 04, 2012) (dismissing because police department was not subject to suit under § 1983). Therefore, the SCSO is not subject to suit under § 1983.

         Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         With respect to the plaintiff's allegations against Sheriff Wright and Officer Piggins in their official capacities, they are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining an action against a state. See, e.g., Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (per curiam) (citations omitted). Further, Eleventh Amendment immunity “extends to ‘arm[s] of the State,' including state agencies and state officers acting in their official capacity, ” Cromer v. Brown, 88 F.3d 1315, 1332 (4th Cir. 1996) (alteration in original) (internal citations omitted), because “a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office . . . [and] is no different from a suit against the State itself, ” Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (internal citation omitted). Therefore, Eleventh Amendment immunity protects state agencies and state officials sued in their official capacity from liability for monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. “[U]nder South Carolina law, the sheriff and sheriff's deputies are State, not county employees.” Edwards v. Lexington Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 386 S.C. 285, n. 1 (2010). As a result, the plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against Sheriff Wright and Officer Piggins in their official capacities under § 1983, is subject to summary dismissal because they are both entitled to immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment.

         Sheriff Wright and Officer Piggins ...


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