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Wood v. VRC Worldwide

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

October 16, 2018

Elvis Wood, Plaintiff,
VRC Worldwide, a/k/a Roadway Express, Gallagher Basset Insurance, Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         Elvis Wood (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, files this action purportedly alleging a claim for employment discrimination. This matter is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C. Having reviewed the Complaint in accordance with applicable law, the undersigned concludes that this action should be summarily dismissed without issuance and service of process.


         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint for employment discrimination against two named Defendants-VRC Worldwide and Gallagher Basset Insurance. [Doc. 1 at 1-2.] Plaintiff alleges he was employed at VRC Worldwide, apparently doing business as Roadway Express, in Piedmont, South Carolina. [Id. at 3.] As the basis for this Court's jurisdiction, Plaintiff asserts that his claims arise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”). [Id.] Plaintiff further contends, in a handwritten notation on the Complaint form, that his claims arise under federal laws prohibiting “wiretapping, ” “illegal surveillance, ” “hacking, ” and “using listening devices.” [Id.] Plaintiff alleges the following discriminatory conduct: “Harassment, breaking into personal info. causing a [sic] accidence causing further injury.” [Id. at 4.] Plaintiff also identifies the following disability: “L5S1 Fusion declared disabled on job accident, ” with an estimated injury date of 2004, but he provides no further explanation. [Id. at 5.] Finally, in support of his statement of the claims, Plaintiff alleges the following facts, which are quoted verbatim from the Complaint: “The harassment started w[h]en I got injured on job[, ] shortly after they buzzed my home with aircraft over and over[, ] followed my car[, ] broke into personal information[, ] and the latest thing rear ended my car.” [Id.] Beyond these conclusory statements, Plaintiff makes no other allegations in his Complaint. For his relief, Plaintiff seeks $20 million in damages. [Id.]

         Plaintiff attached a police report to his Complaint, purportedly detailing a rear-end collision in which Plaintiff was involved. [Doc. 1-1.] However, the accident report contains no information that seems relevant to the claims in the instant action. Further, the other party involved in the collision does not appear to be related to either of the two named Defendants in this case. Thus, it is unclear what relationship, if any, the circumstances surrounding the collision have to Plaintiff's case.

         Likewise, Plaintiff attached a hand-written page of notes to his Complaint in which he summarily explained that “[t]he company and or its insurance company have engaged in illegal surveillance[, ] hacking personal information[, ] and harassment.” [Doc. 1-2.] Plaintiff states, “I am suing also for harassment and emotional distress, ” but again fails to provide any further information, stating only that “these harassment tactics are against union regulations.” [Id.]


         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., the undersigned is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. Further, 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).

         As a pro se litigant, 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, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se Complaint is 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 the Court may not rewrite a petition 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 (4th Cir. 1990).

         Further, this Court possesses the inherent authority to review a pro se complaint to ensure that subject matter jurisdiction exists and that a case is not frivolous, even if the complaint were not subject to the prescreening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Court, 490 U.S. 296, 307S08 (1989) (“Section 1915(d) . . . authorizes courts to dismiss a ‘frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do so even in the absence of this statutory provision.”); Ross v. Baron, 493 Fed.Appx. 405, 406 (4th Cir. 2012) (“[F]rivolous complaints are subject to dismissal pursuant to the inherent authority of the court, even when the filing fee has been paid . . . [and] because a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an obviously frivolous complaint, dismissal prior to service of process is permitted.”) (citations omitted); see also Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 364 (2d Cir. 2000) (“[D]istrict courts may dismiss a frivolous complaint sua sponte even when the plaintiff has paid the required filing fee[.]”); Ricketts v. Midwest Nat'l Bank, 874 F.2d 1177, 1181 (7th Cir. 1989) (“[A] district court's obligation to review its own jurisdiction is a matter that must be raised sua sponte, and it exists independent of the ‘defenses' a party might either make or waive under the Federal Rules.”); Franklin v. State of Or., State Welfare Div., 662 F.2d 1337, 1342 (9th Cir. 1981) (providing a judge may dismiss an action sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction without issuing a summons or following other procedural requirements).


         The Complaint purports to assert a claim for employment discrimination and seeks money damages. However, this case is subject to summary dismissal because the Complaint is frivolous and fails to allege facts to support a plausible claim for relief. Liberally construed, the Complaint appears to assert that Defendants harassed Plaintiff by buzzing his home with an airplane, following his car, stealing his personal information, and causing a rear-end collision. [Doc. 1 at 5.] Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts a claim for employment discrimination under Title VII and the ADA. [Id. at 3.]

         As noted, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (“§ 1915”) permits an indigent litigant to proceed in forma pauperis, which allows a federal court action to be commenced without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. See Staley v. Witherspoon, No. 9:07-cv-195-PMD-GCK, 2007 WL 1988272, at *1 (D.S.C. July 3, 2007). However, the statute provides limitations to such actions by permitting the Court to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or is “frivolous or malicious.” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)). A complaint is deemed frivolous when it is “clearly baseless” and includes allegations that are “fanciful, ” “fantastic, ” or “delusional.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 327-28 (1989)).

         Here, Plaintiff's Complaint contains assertions that are barely comprehensible and manifestly delusional. Presuming that Plaintiff has set forth these statements sincerely, as assertions of fact, they cannot be given credibility. A district court's review of a case for factual frivolousness under § 1915 is guided by the Supreme Court's decision in Denton. See Thomas v. Barri, No. 8:10-cv-0431-MBS-BHH, 2010 WL 1993881, at *2-3 (D.S.C. Mar. 3, 2010), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2010 WL 1993860 (D.S.C. May 18, 2010). When a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, § 1915 “gives courts the authority to ‘pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations[, ]' mean[ing] that a court is not bound, as it usually is when making a determination based solely on the pleadings, to accept without question the truth of the plaintiff's allegations.” Denton, 504 U.S. at 32. The “initial assessment of the in forma pauperis plaintiff's factual allegations must be weighted in favor of the plaintiff, ” id., and “[a]n in forma pauperis complaint may not be dismissed . . . simply because the court finds the plaintiff's allegations unlikely.” Id. at 33. However, the district court is entrusted with the discretion to dismiss the case for factual frivolousness “when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible.” Id. “[A] court may dismiss a claim as factually frivolous only if the facts alleged are ‘clearly baseless', a category encompassing allegations that are ‘fanciful,' ‘fantastic,' and ‘delusional.'” Id. at 32-33 (citations omitted) (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325, 328). For frivolous or malicious review, the Court looks to see whether the Complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Harley v. United States, 349 F.Supp.2d 980, 981 (M.D. N.C. 2004) (citing Neitzke, 490 U.S. 319). The Court must accept all well-pled allegations and review the Complaint in a light most favorable to plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. ...

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