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Strickland v. WJTV Mississippi's First

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

October 3, 2018

Cale Marcus Strickland, Plaintiff,
v.
WJTV Mississippi's First and Jeffery Guy, Defendants.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Cale Marcus Strickland, proceeding pro se, brings this defamation action against the defendants WJTV Mississippi's First and Jeffery Guy. The plaintiff is a non-prisoner. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d)(D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters and submit findings and recommendations to the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff filed this case on September 4, 2018 (doc. 1) asserting diversity of citizenship as a basis for jurisdiction. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that he was arrested on December 3, 2015, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He alleges that on December 7, 2015, the defendants published a report that was a “false version of a supposedly true story about [him] of a police report written by an officer of the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office of the December 3, 2015 arrest” which was damaging to him (Id. at 5-6). He seeks monetary damages in the amount of $1, 650, 000.00 (Id. at 7).

         By order filed on September 5, 2018, the plaintiff was informed that his case was not in proper form for service, and was provided with instructions for bringing the case into proper form (doc. 6). The court directed the plaintiff to complete, sign, and return the Court's 26.01 interrogatories (Id.). The order warned the plaintiff that his failure to comply with the order within the time permitted may subject his case to dismissal for failure to prosecute and for failure to comply with an order of the court under Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Id.). The time to respond to the court's order has passed, and the plaintiff has not responded.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The plaintiff filed his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute, which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss a case upon a finding that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted or is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii). 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 claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989).

         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).

         Here, the plaintiff alleges this court has jurisdiction to entertain his state law claim for defamation based on diversity of citizenship. A plaintiff may file a state law claim in a federal court under the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, if that statute's requirements are satisfied. See Cent. W.Va. Energy Co. v. Mountain State Carbon, LLC, 636 F.3d 101, 103 (4th Cir. 2011). With the exception of certain class actions, the diversity statute requires complete diversity of parties and an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. See id.; 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Complete diversity of parties in a case means that the citizenship of every plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of every defendant. Cent. W.Va. Energy Co., 636 F.3d at 103. Here, the plaintiff alleges that he is a resident of South Carolina (doc. 1 at 1), that the defendants are residents of Mississippi (id. at 2), and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 (id. at 7 (listing $1, 650, 000.00 as the amount in controversy)). Accordingly, the plaintiff has properly alleged diversity jurisdiction.

         DISCUSSION

         Failure to Comply with an Order of the Court

         As addressed above, the plaintiff failed to comply with the court's proper form order entered on September 5, 2018, by failing to submit the necessary information to accomplish review and possible service of process under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. It is well established that a district court has authority to dismiss a case for failure to prosecute pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. “The authority of a court to dismiss sua sponte for lack of prosecution has generally been considered an ‘inherent power,' governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.” See Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962). In addition to its inherent authority, this court may also sua sponte dismiss a case for lack of prosecution under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) (Id. at 630). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that, in deciding whether to dismiss a case under Rule 41(b), a court should “ascertain (1) the degree of personal responsibility of the plaintiff, (2) the amount of prejudice caused the defendant, (3) the existence of a drawn out history of deliberately proceeding in a dilatory fashion, and (4) the existence of a sanction less drastic than dismissal.” Chandler Leasing Corp. v. Lopez, 669 F.2d 919, 920 (4th Cir. 1982) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Here, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, therefore, he is solely responsible for his refusal to comply with the court's orders. The court warned the plaintiff that failure to comply with its September 5, 2018 order could subject his case to dismissal. Rather than comply with the court's instructions to bring his case into proper form, the plaintiff failed to respond. Because the plaintiff failed to comply with an order of this court after being warned, this case may be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 96 (4th Cir. 1989) (finding the magistrate judge's explicit warning that a recommendation of dismissal would result from the plaintiff's failure to obey his order gave the district court little alternative to dismissal). As such, this case should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Ballard, 882 F.2d at 95 (finding that dismissal of a suit did not constitute abuse of discretion where the plaintiff “failed to respond to a specific directive from the court”).

         Defamation and Libel

         Even if the plaintiff had complied with the court's proper form order, this case would still be subject to dismissal. Under South Carolina law, “the tort of defamation allows a plaintiff to recover for injury to his or her reputation as the result of the defendant's communications to others of a false message about the plaintiff.” Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc.,506 S.E.2d 497, 501 (S.C. 1998). Defamatory communications take two forms: libel and slander. Id. “Slander is a spoken defamation while libel is a written defamation or one accomplished by actions or conduct.” Id. To state a cause of action for defamation, a plaintiff must show that “(1) a false and defamatory statement was made; (2) the unprivileged publication was made to a third party; (3) the publisher was at ...


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