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Strickland v. Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 9, 2018

Cale Marcus Strickland, Plaintiff,
v.
Spartanburg County Sheriffs Office, Sheriff Chuck Wright, Officer Ledbetter, and Officer Cooper, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brings this action 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.

         By orderfiled on September 10, 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. 8). The court directed the plaintiff to complete, sign, and return the Court's Special 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 proper form order has passed and the plaintiff has failed to respond.

         BACKGROUND AND ALLEGATIONS

         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 Chuck Wright, Officer Ledbetter, and Officer Cooper as defendants. The plaintiff indicates that Sheriff Wright and Ofc. Cooper are employed by the SCSO, and Ofc. Ledbetter is employed by the South Carolina Highway Patrol. He asserts claims arising out of his arrest for trespassing on January 1, 2017, and his detention in the Spartanburg County Detention Center (“SCDC”) for 110 days, including his “30 day jail sentence” (doc. 1 at 7). The plaintiff sues the defendants in their official capacities (Id. at 2-3). As to Ofc. Ledbetter, he appears to allege a claim for malicious prosecution arising out of his arrest. As to Ofc. Cooper, he asserts that his constitutional rights were violated, as well as South Carolina Code of Laws Sections 24-5-80 and 24-9-30, when he was allegedly placed naked in a cell for 24 hours. As to Sheriff Wright and the SCSO, he asserts his constitutional rights were violated, as well as federal and state statutes, arising out of the conditions of his confinement. Specifically, he alleges he was not provided with proper hygiene and bedding, and was subjected to forced showers during his stay in the SCDC (Id. at 10). The plaintiff contends he sustained psychological injuries, injuries to his teeth from being unable to brush them, and injuries to his legs and knees from his sleeping arrangements (Id. at 10). The plaintiff also claims he never recovered his car that was towed the night of his arrest (Id.). The plaintiff 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 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).

         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 10, 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, and is thus solely responsible for his failure to comply with the court's orders. The court warned the plaintiff that failure to comply with its September 10, 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”). As it stands, the complaint alone is subject to dismissal as addressed below.

         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.Appx. 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 ...


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