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Parson v. Miles

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

October 17, 2018

Arnold Parson, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Darren Miles, John Doe 1-18, and Jane Doe 1-2, Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. BRYAN HARWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Arnold Parson, Jr., proceeding pro se, has filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter is before the Court for consideration of the parties' objections to the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, who recommends (1) granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint and (2) dismissing Defendants' motion for summary judgment without prejudice as moot. See ECF Nos. 148, 152, & 153.

         Legal Standard

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).

         The Court must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

         Discussion[1]

         As explained in the Court's prior order ruling on Defendants' motions to dismiss, Plaintiff filed this § 1983 action in this federal Court effectively seeking to challenge a state foreclosure judgment and the manner in which it was executed by Marion County law enforcement. See ECF No. 114. The Court determined the Rooker-Feldman[2] doctrine barred all of Plaintiff's claims except his § 1983 excessive force claim (relating to his handcuffing during his arrest) alleged in his Second Amended Complaint. See Id. Thereafter, the Magistrate Judge entered a scheduling order, and Plaintiff filed a timely motion to amend his complaint and a proposed Third Amended Complaint. See ECF Nos. 119 & 124. Defendants filed responses in opposition to Plaintiff's motion to amend, as well as a motion for summary judgment. See ECF Nos. 127, 132, & 133. The Magistrate Judge has entered a thorough R & R that summarizes the allegations in Plaintiff's proposed Third Amended Complaint and recommends granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's motion to amend (and dismissing the pending motion for summary judgment without prejudice as moot). See R & R [ECF No. 148]. Plaintiff and Defendants have filed objections to the R & R. See ECF Nos. 152 & 153. Plaintiff has filed a reply to Defendants' objections. See ECF No. 156.

         I. Plaintiff's Objections

         Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's proposed finding that amendment is futile as to all claims except his § 1983 excessive force claim relating to his alleged handcuffing. See ECF No. 153 at pp. 1-5. However, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's thorough analysis and conclusion that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Plaintiff's proposed additional claims alleged in his Third Amended Complaint.[3] See R & R at pp. 8-16. Yet again, Plaintiff effectively asks the Court to nullify the state court foreclosure judgment by allowing him to proceed on various constitutional claims attacking the manner in which law enforcement executed the writ of assistance on his residence in Mullins, South Carolina. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits such federal action, and subject matter jurisdiction is lacking for all of Plaintiff's claims except his § 1983 excessive force claim (an independent claim that does not call into question the validity of the state court foreclosure judgment or writ of assistance, see Thana, 827 F.3d at 320-22). Amendment as to all other claims besides Plaintiff's § 1983 excessive force claim is futile.[4] See Adbul-Mumit v. Alexandria Hyundai, LLC, 896 F.3d 278, 293 (4th Cir. 2018) (“[A] district court may deny leave to amend when . . . the amendment would be futile.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         Plaintiff also objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation concerning two additional proposed defendants-namely, Sheriff Mark Richardson and the Marion County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”). However, as correctly explained in the R & R, the MCSO is not amenable to suit because (1) it is not a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and (2) the Eleventh Amendment bars claims against the MCSO (a state agency). See R & R at p. 17; see, e.g., Workman v. Metro PCS, No. 6:17-cv-01208-RBH-KFM, 2018 WL 3434305, at *2 (D.S.C. July 17, 2018) (summarily dismissing the Greenville County Sheriff's Office for similar reasons). Similarly, the Eleventh Amendment bars suit against Sheriff Richardson in his official capacity. See Lawson v. Union Cty. Clerk of Court, 828 F.3d 239, 278 (4th Cir. 2016) (“The Eleventh Amendment bars suit against state officials in their official capacity for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”); Cromer v. Brown, 88 F.3d 1315, 1332 (4th Cir. 1996) (recognizing South Carolina sheriffs are arms of the state and entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity). Regarding any individual capacity claim, Plaintiff has not alleged Sheriff Richardson was personally involved in the alleged excessive force, and he has not sufficiently alleged a § 1983 supervisory liability claim. See R & R at pp. 17-19. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge properly recommended denying leave to amend as to these two proposed defendants.

         II. Defendants' Objections

         The arguments in Defendants' objections primarily relate to qualified immunity.[5] See ECF No. 152. However, the issue of qualified immunity is not yet ripe for consideration. Rather, at this time, the Court is merely granting Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint, and Defendants will have the opportunity to raise the affirmative defense of qualified immunity in their answer to Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint and in any motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. At this stage in the litigation, the Court has simply determined that Plaintiff's § 1983 excessive force claim (based on the manner of his handcuffing) is not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Defendants ultimately may be entitled to qualified immunity on this claim, but that matter is premature at the amendment stage.[6] In sum, the Court is not reaching the issue of qualified immunity at this time.

         Conclusion

          For the foregoing reasons, the Court OVERRULES the parties' objections, ADOPTS the R & R [ECF No. 148], GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint [ECF No. 124], and DISMISSES AS MOOT AND WITHOUT PREJUDICE Defendants' motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 133]. The Court DIRECTS the ...


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