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Strickland v. Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 28, 2018

Cale Marcus Strickland, Plaintiff,
Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, Chuck Wright, Lieutenant Wilson Lieutenant Sinner, Officer Campbell, Sergeant Bleu, Sergeant Atkins, and Sergeant Piccolo, Defendants.


          Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking monetary damages. 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 12, 2018, the undersigned filed an order informing the plaintiff that his complaint contained deficiencies which could subject it to summary dismissal (doc. 7). 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 set forth below and for failing to comply with an order of the court.


         The plaintiff, a non prisoner and former pre-trial detainee, filed this action on September 4, 2018 naming the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office (SCSO), Sheriff Wright, Lieutenant Wilson (“Lt. Wilson”), Lieutenant Sinner (“Lt. Sinner”), Officer Campbell, Sergeant Bleu (“Sgt. Campbell”), Sergeant Atkins (“Sgt. Atkins”), and Sergeant Piccolo (“Sgt. Piccolo”)[1] as defendants. He asserts claims against them arising out of his arrest, on April 22, 2018, for a suspended license and his detention in the Spartanburg County Detention Center (“SCDC”) from April 22, 2018 until June 12, 2018 (doc. 1). The plaintiff sues the defendants in their official capacities (Id. at 2-4). He appears to allege claims for unreasonable seizure and excessive force against the SCSO and Sheriff Wright, and a conditions of confinement claim against all defendants. As to his claim for unreasonable seizure/false arrest, he alleges he was arrested for a suspended license, but asserts he had previously paid the ticket which led to the suspension. As to his claim for excessive force, he alleges he was maced on April 28th and May 22nd (Id. at 8). As to his conditions of confinement claim, he alleges he was not provided with proper hygiene and bedding, and was forced to take showers during his 55-day stay in the SCDC (Id. at 5). The plaintiff contends he sustained psychological injuries, injuries to his teeth from being unable to brush them for fifty-two days, injuries to his legs and knees from his sleeping arrangements, and burns to his testicles from the mace[2] (Id. at 10).


         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 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 the remaining officer defendants 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 such, the plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Wright, Lt. Wilson, Lt. Sinner, Officer Campbell, Sgt. Bleu, Sgt. Atkins, and Sgt. Piccolo, all employees of the SCSO, in their official capacities are subject to summary dismissal because they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

         Sheriff Wright, Lieutenant Wilson, Lieutenant Sinner, Officer Campbell, Sergeant Bleu, Sergeant Atkins, and ...

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