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Tyler v. Bogle

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 16, 2018

Larry James Tyler, Plaintiff,
James Bogle, Jr.; James K. Falk, Defendants.



         This is a civil action filed by the Plaintiff, Larry James Tyler, pro se. He is a frequent filer of litigation in this Court and is currently detained at the Darlington County Detention Center, where he is awaiting civil commitment proceedings pursuant to the South Carolina Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), SC Code Ann. §§ 44-48-10 through 44-48-170. See Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 5-6: see also Tyler v. Byrd, No. 4:16-00400-MGL-BM. 2016 WL 4414834, at * 1 (D.S.C. Jul. 27, 2016), adopted by 2016 WL 4374982 (D.S.C. Aug. 16, 2016).[1]

         Plaintiffs Complaint is before the Court for pre-service review. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); In re Prison Litigation Reform Act, 105 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir.1997)[pleadings by non-prisoners should also be screened]. Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se complaint herein pursuant to the procedural provisions of § 1915 and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden. Maryland House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir.1995) (en banc); and Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir.1983). Section 1915 permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without paying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. However, to protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action "is frivolous or malicious," "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted," or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A finding of frivolousness can be made where the complaint "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. at 31. Hence, under § 1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319.

         Further, while this Court is also required to liberally construe pro se documents, holding them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)(quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)), 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 currently cognizable in a federal court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir.1990). Such is the case here.

         Plaintiffs Allegations

         Plaintiff is once again challenging his pending sexually violent predator (SVP) proceedings, arguing that Defendants violated his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. ECF No. 1 at 2, 5-8. He claims that on October 12, 2015, the state held an adversarial hearing (at which he was not present) to determine whether he should be classified as an SVP and evaluated for civil commitment.[2] Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Assistant Attorney General James Bogle, Jr. incorrectly told the state court that Plaintiff was a career criminal and had three prior sex crime convictions that were considered violent under the SVPA.[3] Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff alleges that another adversarial hearing, at which he was present and represented by Defendant James K. Falk, was held on October 26, 2015. Plaintiff claims he did not receive twenty-four hour prior notice of the hearing, he met with Falk only ten to fifteen minutes before the hearing, and Falk did nothing to defend him against the allegedly false accusations. He further contends that Falk will not respond to his request for a transcript of the hearing and is "in with the prosecutor to make [Plaintiff] and S.V.P. using all the lies against [Plaintiff]." Id. at 7-8. Plaintiff requests declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. Id. at 9-10.


         Initially, the undersigned is constrained to note that Plaintiffs claims for monetary damages are subject to summary dismissal based on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that a state prisoner's claim for damages is not cognizable under § 1983 where success of the action would implicitly question the validity of the conviction or duration of a sentence, unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been previously invalidated. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-487. Heck bars both a claim that the plaintiff was being held past his mandatory parole release date as to his state convictions as well as his civil confinement pending assessment as a SVP. Cf. Huff v. Attorney General of Va., No. 3:07cv744, 2008 WL 4065544 (E.D.Va. Aug. 26, 2008), aff'd, 323 Fed.Appx. 293 (4th Cir. 2009); see also Haynesworth v. Cothran, C/A No. 2:12-2466-CMC-BHH, 2012 WL 4753896, at *2 (D.S.C. Sep.27, 2012) [Heck applies to civil-rights challenges to SVP orders], adopted by, 2012 WL 4753893 (Oct. 4.2012); Wood v. Wood El, No. Civ.A. 05-1447 RBK, 2005 WL 1899335, at *4 (D.N.J. Aug.5, 2005) [rejecting a § 1983 challenge to an involuntary civil commitment because the involuntary commitment had not been invalidated as required by Heck].

         Heck also acts to bar Plaintiffs claims for injunctive and declaratory relief. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) ["[A] state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation)-no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit ...-If success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration."]; Mobley v. Tompkins, 473 Fed.Appx. 337 (4th Cir. 2012) [applying Heck in a civil action seeking damages and injunctive relief relating to federal convictions] (citing Heck at 586-87; Harvey v. Horan, 278 F.3d 370, 375 (4th Cir. 2002), abrogated on other grounds by Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521 (2011)).

         Moreover, even if Plaintiff s claims are not barred by Heck, federal courts are not authorized to interfere with a State's pending criminal proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances.[4] See. e.g., Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37.44 (1971): Cinema Blue of Charlotte, Inc. v. Gilchrist, 887 F.2d 49, 50-53 (4th Cir. 1989). The Fourth Circuit has held that the Younger abstention doctrine applies "to noncriminal judicial proceedings when important state interests are involved." Harper v. Public Serv. Comm'n of W.Va., 396 F.3d 348, 351 (4th Cir. 2005)[property law concerns] (citing Middlesex County Ethics Comm'n v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)). The South Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the SVPA and its procedures as a constitutionally valid exercise of the State's power to protect its citizens from sexually violent predators; In re: Luckabaugh, 568 S.E.2d 338, 348 (S.C. 2002); and the Court of Appeals of South Carolina has stated that protecting minors from sexual predators is an important state interest. See State v. Reid, 679 S.E.2d 194, 201 n. 6 (S.C.Ct.App. 2009)[discussing South Carolina's important public policy of protecting minors from harm in the context of an internet solicitation of a minor case].[5] Other circuits have also applied Younger to pending civil commitment proceedings. See Sweeney v. Bartow, 612 F.3d 571, 572 (7th Cir. 2010)["The principles of Younger are applicable to habeas petitions from pending [Wisconsin] sexually violent person commitments."]; Smith v. Plummer, 458 Fed.Appx. 642, 643 (9th Cir. 2011)[Younger doctrine extends to state civil judicial proceedings where there is an ongoing state-initiated judicial proceeding, the proceeding implicates important state interests, the federal litigant is not barred from litigating federal constitutional issues in the state proceeding, and federal court action would enjoin the proceeding or have the practical effect of doing so, Le., would interfere in a way that Younger disapproves].

         In Cinema Blue of Charlotte. Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that federal district courts should abstain from constitutional challenges to state judicial proceedings, no matter how meritorious, if the federal claims have been or could be presented in an ongoing state judicial proceeding. Id. at 52. Moreover, the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, expressly prohibits this court from enjoining such proceedings. See Bonner v. Circuit Court of St. Louis, 526 F.2d 1331, 1336 (8th Cir. 1975) (en banc)["Congress and the federal judiciary have consistently recognized that federal courts should permit state courts to try state cases, and that, where constitutional issues arise, state court judges are fully competent to handle them subject to Supreme Court review."]; cf District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983)[federal courts cannot review state court proceeding in appellate sense]; Gurley v. Superior Court of Mecklenburg Cnty., 411 F.2d 586.587-88 & nn.2-4 (4th Cir. 1969)[federal courts may not issue writs of mandamus against state courts].

         Plaintiff argues that he has exhausted his available state remedies such that he may proceed in federal court based on letters he has written to the judge presiding over his SVP proceedings and to the Supreme Court of South Carolina (see ECF No. 1-2) informing them of the alleged errors as to the classification of his prior offenses, but they have ignored his letters and he has not been allowed to file his motions and letters as part of the SVP proceedings. However, Plaintiff has not alleged that all of his SVP proceedings have been completed. After the probable cause determination by a state civil judge and evaluation by professional specialists, § 44-48-80, the detained person has the opportunity to challenge "at trial" any unfavorable results of the evaluation before a state civil judge. S.C.Code Ann. § 44'48-90. Here, it does not appear that the evaluation by the professional specialist(s) or the trial have been completed.

         Even if the SVP proceedings have been completed, Plaintiff has not alleged that he appealed any commitment. If a civilly committed person does not prevail at the trial level, the State of South Carolina provides appellate judicial review of all findings made by the civil trial judge under the SVPA. The appellate review of the Court of Common Pleas' final civil commitment determination is generally conducted by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, White v. State, 649 S.E.2d 172 (S.C.Ct.App. 2007); although this review may also be conducted by the Supreme Court of South Carolina upon certification from the South Carolina Court of Appeals. See Care & Treatment of Beaver v. State, 642 S.E.2d 578, 579, 580 n. 2 (S.C. 2007); Rule 204(b), SCACR. Plaintiff has not alleged that he received an adverse result at trial and has not alleged or that he has unsuccessfully appealed any adverse result at trial to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Because Plaintiff has not proceeded through the statutory mechanism of South Carolina's SVPA, he has not exhausted his state court remedies. See Michau v. Joan W. Warden. 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office, Civil Action No. 2:11-0286-RMG-BM, 2011 WL 4943631, *2 (D.S.C. Oct. 17, 2011) ["Plaintiffs avenue of appeal of this determination is in state court and not in this Court."]; see also Jordan v. McMaster, No. 8:09-0051-CMC-BHH, 2010 WL 419928, *3 (D.S.C. Jan. 29, 2010)["Therefore, as Petitioner cannot establish cause and prejudice for his failure to exhaust his state court remedies, consideration of the merits of this petition is foreclosed."].

         Additionally, to the extent Plaintiff is requesting release from custody, such relief may only be obtained in a habeas action, not in a § 1983 case.[6] See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973)[complaint or petition challenging the fact or duration of confinement should be construed and processed as a habeas corpus petition, while a complaint or petition challenging the conditions of confinement should be construed and processed as a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983]. In Heck, the Fourth Court reiterated that release from prison is not a remedy available under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Heck, 512 U.S. at 481 [stating that "habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of § ...

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