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Strickland v. Spartanburg County Sheriff's Department

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

October 12, 2018

Cale Marcus Strickland, Plaintiff,
v.
Spartanburg County Sheriff's Department, Chuck Wright, Officer Schall, Officer Sergeant Thomas and Brian Lurcious, Defendant.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          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 order filed on September 14, 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 Schall, Sgt. Thomas, and Officer Lurcious as defendants. It appears he seeks to sue them in their official capacities.

         In the complaint, the plaintiff raises claims of unreasonable seizure/false arrest, excessive force, conditions of confinement, and involuntary commitment. As to Officer Schall, he alleges claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution arising out of his arrest for trespassing on December 3, 2015 (Id. at 5 and 9). As to the SCSO, Sheriff Wright, and Sgt. Thomas, the plaintiff asserts conditions of confinement claims which include being denied proper hygiene and bedding, being forced to take showers, and being placed in a cold cell (Id. at 5-7). He also appears to assert an excessive force claim against Sheriff Wright and the SCSO due to being maced while confined at the Spartanburg County Detention Center (Id. at 5). Finally, as to Officer Lurcious and Sheriff Wright, the plaintiff asserts an unreasonable seizure claim arising out of his involuntary commitment to a hospital (Id. at 7). The plaintiff contends he sustained psychological injuries, injuries to his teeth from being unable to brush them, injuries to his legs and knees from his sleeping arrangements, and an injury to his eye from being maced (Id. at 13-14). The plaintiff seeks monetary damages (Id. at 15).

         DISCUSSION

         Failure to Comply with an Order of the Court

         This action is subject to dismissal due to the plaintiff's failure to comply with an of order of the court. As indicated above, the plaintiff failed to comply with the court's order of December 14, 2018, and, thus failed to provide necessary information to accomplish review and possible service of process under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The court warned the plaintiff that failure to comply with its September 14, 2018, order would subject his case to dismissal. It is well established that a district court has authority to dismiss a case for failure to comply with court order. Rule 41(b) of 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). Because the plaintiff failed to fully comply with an order of this court after being warned that his failure to comply could result in dismissal, it does not appear that any sanction less drastic than dismissal is available. 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”).

         Claims Presented

         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

         At the outset, 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. ...


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