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Feaster v. Mueller

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 10, 2018

Christopher Feaster, #20170675;, Plaintiff,
Sheriff Steve Mueller; Cherokee County Solicitor's Office; and Kim Lescanic, Cherokee County Assistant Solicitor, Defendants.


          Shiva V. Hodges, United States Magistrate Judge

         Christopher Feaster (“Plaintiff”), [1] proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is a pretrial detainee incarcerated at the Cherokee County Detention Center (“CCDC”). He filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights by Sheriff Steve Mueller, the Cherokee County solicitor's office, and Cherokee County Assistant Solicitor Kim Lescanic. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends the district judge dismiss the complaint without prejudice and without issuance and service of process.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff claims there was a riot at the CCDC on April 7, 2018. [ECF No. 1 at 7]. Plaintiff alleges the riot was the result of detainees holding a hunger strike to challenge widespread abuses at the jail. Id. Plaintiff states he and six other detainees were handcuffed and taken to disciplinary segregation after the riot ended, but only he and three other detainees were charged with a disciplinary violation. Id. Plaintiff says on April 10, 2018, he was notified of disciplinary infraction charges and sanctions and a hearing was held. Id. Plaintiff claims he was also served with an arrest warrant for participating in a riot, malicious damage to property, assault and battery by a mob, resisting arrest, and assault of an officer. Id. Plaintiff claims the issuance of the arrest warrant violated his constitutional right against double jeopardy. Id. Plaintiff asks the court to dismiss all charges related to the arrest warrant. Id. at 8.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Plaintiff filed his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, 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).

         B. Analysis

         1. Younger abstention

         Plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal based upon the Younger doctrine. In Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), the Supreme Court held that a federal court should not equitably interfere with state criminal proceedings except in the most narrow and extraordinary of circumstances. See also Gilliam v. Foster, 75 F.3d 881, 903 (4th Cir. 1996). The Younger Court noted that courts of equity should not act unless the moving party has no adequate remedy at law and will suffer irreparable injury if denied equitable relief. Younger, 401 U.S. at 43-44 (citation omitted). From Younger and its progeny, the Fourth Circuit has culled the following test to determine when abstention is appropriate: “(1) there are ongoing state judicial proceedings; (2) the proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) there is an adequate opportunity to raise federal claims in the state proceedings.” Martin Marietta Corp. v. Maryland Comm'n on Human Relations, 38 F.3d 1392, 1396 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing Middlesex County Ethics Comm'n v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)).

         Applying these factors to this case, abstention is appropriate. First, Plaintiff is involved in an ongoing state criminal proceeding. If this court were to make factual findings that defendants acted improperly in relation to Plaintiff's arrest and criminal prosecution, the court would be improperly interfering with a pending criminal state court proceeding. Second, the Supreme Court has noted that “the States' interest in administering their criminal justice systems free from federal interference is one of the most powerful of the considerations that should influence a court considering equitable types of relief.” Kelly v. Robinson, 479 U.S. 36, 49 (1986). Finally, Plaintiff has the opportunity to present his double jeopardy claim in state court before, during, and after the disposition of his criminal charges. Accordingly, the Younger abstention doctrine compels the court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims.

         2. Double Jeopardy

         Plaintiff appears to argue that prison discipline and criminal charges for the same offense violates his rights under the Constitution. However, disciplinary sanctions do not implicate the double jeopardy clause. See, e.g., Warren v. Byars, No. 6:12-CV-3187-DCN, 2014 WL 906276, * *5-6 (D.S.C., March 7, 2014) (summary dismissal) (citing Hudson v. United States, 522 U.S. 93, 98-99 (1997)); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974) (“Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution. . . .”); Anderson v. Padula, No. 0:05-3029-PMD, 2006 WL 1075003, at *4 (D.S.C. Apr. 19, 2006) (concluding the double jeopardy clause was not implicated when the plaintiff was sanctioned twice for one prison disciplinary charge); see also Fogle ...

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