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Moccia v. Laurens County Detention Center

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

October 16, 2018

Glenn Michael Moccia, Jr., Plaintiff,
Laurens County Detention Center, Solicitor Jim Todd, Judge Frank Addy, Jr., Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         Glenn Michael Moccia, Jr., (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Defendants violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff is a pre-trial detainee incarcerated at the Laurens County Detention Center in Laurens, South Carolina, and he files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The Complaint is subject to summary dismissal.


         As noted, Plaintiff is a pre-trial detainee at the Laurens County Detention Center and asserts claims against Defendants for due process violations and malicious prosecution. [Doc. 1 at 2.] The Court takes judicial notice, see Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (courts “may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record”); Colonial Penn Ins. Co. v. Coil, 887 F.2d 1236, 1239 (4th Cir. 1989) (noting “the most frequent use of judicial notice is in noticing the content of court records”), that Plaintiff has been charged with various drug-related crimes in the Laurens County Court of General Sessions, including charges for manufacturing, distributing, and trafficking drugs at Nos. 2017A3020400512, 2017A3020400513, 2017A3020400520, and 2017A3020400521, which remain pending against him. See Laurens County Eighth Judicial Circuit Public Index (search Plaintiff's first and last name) (last visited Oct. 16, 2018). True bill indictments were issued on October 13, 2017, as to each of the charges, respectively, at indictment No. 2017GS3001653, 2017GS3001654, 2017GS3001655, and 2017GS3001656. Id. Plaintiff alleges that, upon his incarceration at the Laurens County Detention Center on July 19, 2017, he was denied a preliminary hearing in violation of his due process rights. [Doc. 1 at 3.] Plaintiff's repeated requests for a preliminary hearing were denied. [Id.] Plaintiff alleges that, when he finally had a bond hearing on August 31, 2017, bond was denied. [Id.] At the hearing, Solicitor Jim Todd read Plaintiff's arrest record, which was incorrect. [Id.] Plaintiff contends Solicitor Todd and Judge Addy had previously discussed his case. [Id.] Judge Addy took the matter of bond under advisement and, on September 7, 2017, denied bond based on the significant penalty for the charges and Plaintiff's criminal history. [Id. at 3-4.] Plaintiff contends Judge Addy granted a lower bond for Plaintiff's co-conspirators. [Id. at 4.] Plaintiff claims Judge Addy's ruling concerning bond is excessive, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and was maliciously made in concert with Solicitor Todd. [Id.]

         For his relief, Plaintiff seeks to have his state criminal case transferred to a different circuit, to have a different solicitor and judge assigned to the case, to have his bond reviewed, and to be awarded damages for his unlawful incarceration. [Id. at 6.]


         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d), D.S.C., the undersigned is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district court. 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 that 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). Further, Plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and “seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court would be charged with screening Plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the Complaint if (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, his 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, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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 Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a complaint to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the Court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). 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, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         The 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, 566 U.S. 356, 361 (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). Liberally construed, the Complaint asserts claims for due process violations and malicious prosecution.[1] However, for the reasons below, the claims in this § 1983 action are subject to summary dismissal.

         Defendants are Entitled to Dismissal Plaintiff has named three Defendants in this action: the Laurens County Detention Center, Solicitor Jim Todd, and Judge Frank Addy, Jr. [Doc. 1 at 1.] All of the named Defendants are entitled to dismissal from this § 1983 action.

         Laurens County Detention Center It is well settled that only “persons” may act under color of state law, and, therefore, a defendant in a § 1983 action must qualify as a “person.” See Harden v. Green, 27 Fed.Appx. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001). The Laurens County Detention Center is a group of officers in a building and, as such, is not subject to suit under § 1983, or is a facility or building, which cannot be sued as a “defendant” in a § 1983 lawsuit. See Preval v. Reno, 57 F.Supp.2d 307, 310 (E.D. Va. 1999) (“[T]he Piedmont Regional Jail is not a ‘person,' and therefore not amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”), aff'd in part, modified in part on other grounds, vacated in part on other grounds by 203 F.3d 821 (4th Cir. 2000); Brooks v. Pembroke City Jail, 722 F.Supp. 1294, 1301 (E.D. N.C. 1989) (“Claims under § 1983 are directed at ‘persons' and the jail is not a person amenable to suit.”); Williams v. Dorchester Cty. Det. Ctr., 987 F.Supp.2d 690, 696 (D.S.C. 2013); Morrison v. Greenville Cty. Det. Ctr., No. 4:17-cv-2657-JMC-TER, 2017 WL 7732598, at *3 (D.S.C. Oct. 10, 2017), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2018 WL 936383 (D.S.C. Feb. 16, 2018). Likewise, as noted, buildings and correctional institutions usually are not considered legal entities subject to suit. See Harden, 27 Fed.Appx. at 178 (finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983); Nelson v. Lexington Cty. Det. Ctr., No. 8:10-cv-2988-JMC, 2011 WL 2066551, at *1 (D.S.C. May 26, 2011) (finding that a building-the detention center-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, 1132 (S.D. Fla. 1990) (dismissing city police department as improper defendant in § 1983 action because it was not a “person” under the statute); Shelby v. City of Atlanta, 578 F.Supp. 1368, 1370 (N.D.Ga. 1984) (dismissing police department as party defendant because it was merely a vehicle through which city government fulfills policing functions).

         Further, the Laurens County Detention Center is subject to summary dismissal based on Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Laurens County Detention Center is administered by, and under the control of, the Laurens County Sheriff's Office. See, e.g., Williams, 987 F.Supp.2d at 695-98 (finding that Dorchester County Detention Center is controlled by the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, and thus a state agency). As such, Plaintiff's claim is actually against the Laurens County Sheriff's Office, which is considered a state agency for purposes of Plaintiff's claim. See Gulledge v. Smart, 691 F.Supp. 947, 954-55 (D.S.C.1988) (explaining that a Sheriff's Office is considered a state agency in South Carolina). Because the County Sheriffs are state officers, not county employees, a suit against the “Laurens County Detention Center” is a suit against the state of South Carolina for purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. (noting Sheriff's office is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit); see also Cash v. Thomas, No. 6:12-cv-1278-MGL, 2013 WL 3804375, at *7 (D.S.C. July 19, 2013) (“It is well settled, both in South Carolina and federal law, that a Sheriff in South Carolina is an arm of the State and not a County employee and therefore is entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity in his or her official capacity from suit in Federal Court”) (citing Cromer v. Brown, 88 F.3d 1315, 1332 (4th Cir. 1996)).

         The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution divests this Court of jurisdiction to entertain a suit for damages brought against the State of South Carolina or its integral parts. U.S. Const. Amend. XI; see also Alden v. Maine,527 U.S. 706 (1999); Harter v. Vernon,101 F.3d 334, 338-39 (4th Cir. 1996); Bellamy v. Borders,727 F.Supp. 247, 248-50 (D.S.C.1989). The law is clear that a state must expressly consent to suit in a federal district court. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman,465 U.S. 89, 99 (1984). However, the State of South Carolina has not consented to suit in federal court. See S.C. Code § 15-78-20(e) (1976) (South Carolina statute expressly providing that the State of South Carolina does not waive Eleventh Amendment immunity, consents to suit only in a court of the State of South Carolina, and does not consent to suit in a federal court or in a court of another State); see also McCall v. Batson,329 S.E.2d 741, 743 (S.C. 1985) (abolishing sovereign immunity in tort “does not abolish the immunity which applies to all legislative, judicial and executive bodies and to public officials who are vested with discretionary authority, for actions taken in their official capacities”), superseded by statute, SC Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b), as recognized in Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp.,633 S.E.2d 143 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006). Since the Eleventh Amendment bars the relief that Plaintiff requests against the Laurens County Detention Center, the Complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted against this Defendant. Accordingly, Laurens County Detention Center is entitled to summary dismissal from this § 1983 action. Defendant Solicitor Jim Todd Plaintiff makes various allegations against Solicitor Todd related to his prosecution of Plaintiff's state criminal case and, specifically, with regard to Solicitor Todd's conduct at Plaintiff's bond hearings. [Doc. 1 at 3-4.] However, Solicitor Todd is entitled to prosecutorial immunity.[2] Prosecutors have absolute immunity for activities in or connected with judicial proceedings, such as criminal trials, bond hearings, bail hearings, grand jury proceedings, and pre-trial “motions” ...

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