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McCombs v. State

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

September 26, 2018

John McCombs, Plaintiff,
State of South Carolina, Defendant.



         This is a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by a civilly committed person, who is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.), the United States Magistrate Judge is authorized to review the case initially and to submit findings and recommendations to the United States District Judge. After careful review, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Complaint (DE# 1) be summarily dismissed, without prejudice, and without issuance and service of process, for the following reasons:

         I. The Present Lawsuit

         Plaintiff has filed a civil complaint against the State of South Carolina, attempting to challenge his civil commitment and the validity of his underlying criminal conviction. (DE# 1).[1] In the present case, the Plaintiff's “Statement of the Claim” consists of the following:

I am being illegally held, off of an illegal conviction that was used for an illegal civil commitment, which was bolstered by perjured testimony, and a violation of Art. I, sec. 22, of the S.C. Constitution. Habeas in state court is nowhere (§ 2254(f)) (Richland County Courthouse C.A. No. 2015-CP-40-02906).

(Id. at 3, ¶ IV). Plaintiff provides no explanation or facts to support his conclusory allegation that his state conviction and subsequent civil commitment are “illegal.” For relief, Plaintiff seeks release from detention and monetary damages for the allegedly “illegal conviction” and “illegal detention.” (DE# 1 at 5, ¶ IV “Relief”).

         III. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, the Magistrate Judge has carefully reviewed this pro se prisoner complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and in light of the following cases: Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147 (4th Cir. 1978).

         Plaintiff is proceeding IFP, and therefore, this case is subject to screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Such statute permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the action. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows the court to dismiss the case upon finding that the case is “frivolous or malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(i-iii).

         A finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). “A suit is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325. A claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte “at any time” under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B). Id. The United States Supreme Court has explained that the statute “is designed largely to discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits.” Id. at 326.

         As for failure to state a claim, “Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 326. The “complaint must contain 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). Although pro se complaints are liberally construed, a plaintiff must do more than make vague and conclusory statements to state a claim for relief. A plaintiff must allege facts that actually state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         This Court is required to liberally construe pro se documents, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), holding them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980) (per curiam). The liberal construction afforded pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a complaint to “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court. Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1088 (1986). The requirement of liberal construction for pro se pleadings does not mean that this Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dept. of Social Services, 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Inherent Authority

         In addition to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the present Complaint is also subject to review pursuant to the inherent authority of this Court to ensure that subject matter jurisdiction exists and that the case is not frivolous. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, “constrained to exercise only the authority conferred by Article III of the Constitution and affirmatively granted by federal statute.” In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998). A federal court is required, sua sponte, to determine if a valid basis for its jurisdiction exists, “and to dismiss the action if no such ground appears.” Id. at 352; see also Carter v. Ervin, No. 0:14-cv-865-TLW-PJG, 2014 WL 2468351, *3 (D.S.C. June 2, 2014) (“the court possesses the inherent authority to ensure that … federal jurisdiction exists”), appeal dism'd, 585 Fed.Appx. 98 (4th Cir. 2014); Davis v. Wilson, No. 9:13-cv-382-GRA-BHH, 2013 WL 1282024, *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 8, 2013)(same), adopted, 2013 WL 1282024 (D.S.C. March 27, 2013), affirmed, 539 Fed.Appx. 145 (4th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 940 (2014), reh'g denied, 134 S.Ct. 1371 (2014); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) (“If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”). Although the absence of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time during the case, a determination of jurisdiction at the outset of the litigation is the most efficient procedure. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999).

         The United States Supreme Court has observed that federal district courts possess inherent authority to dismiss a frivolous case. See Mallard v. United States District Court, 490 U.S. 296, 307-08 (1989) (“Section 1915(d) ... authorizes courts to dismiss a ‘frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do so even in the absence of this statutory provision.”); Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-537 (1974) (holding that federal district courts may dismiss claims that are “so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit”). Consistent with such authority, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that complaints may be “subject to summary dismissal pursuant to the inherent authority of the court.” Ross v. Baron, 493 Fed.Appx. 405, 406 (4th Cir. Aug. 22, 2012); and see, e.g., Cabbill v. United States, No. 1:14-cv-4122-JMC-PJG, 2015 WL 6905072, *5 (D.S.C. Nov. 9, 2015) (same), appeal dismissed, 2016 WL 1085106 (4th Cir. March 21, 2016).

         IV. ...

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