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Collins v. Aiken County Detention Center

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 24, 2018

Michael Alexander Collins, Plaintiff,
v.
Aiken County Detention Center, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Jacquelyn D. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge

         Michael Alexander Collins (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brought this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights.[1] Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Aiken County Detention Center. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge. Having reviewed the Complaint in accordance with applicable law, and for the reasons below, the undersigned finds this action is subject to summary dismissal without issuance and service of process.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a hand-written Complaint, which is difficult to decipher, against a single Defendant, the Aiken County Detention Center. [Docs. 1; 1-4.] In sum, Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated his constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, by denying him proper medical care, among other things, and he appears to seek money damages and injunctive relief related to his medical needs. [Doc. 1-4 at 4; Doc. 1 at 3.] The Court notes that this is the fourth action regarding the same claims that Plaintiff has filed with this Court since June 2018. See Collins v. Ridell, No. 8:18-cv-1580-MGL-JDA (D.S.C. filed Jun. 11, 2018), Collins v. Aiken Cty. Det. Ctr., No. 8:18-cv-1811-MGL-JDA (D.S.C. filed July 2, 2018), Collins v. State of South Carolina, No. 8:18-cv-2596-MGL-JDA (D.S.C. filed Sept. 24, 2018), Collins v. Aiken Cty. Det. Ctr., No. 8:18-cv-2744-MGL-JDA (D.S.C. filed Oct. 9, 2018); see also 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) (“We note that ‘the most frequent use of judicial notice is in noticing the content of court records.'”) (alteration omitted).

         In sum, Plaintiff asserts claims of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need related to his injured knee and his tooth. [Doc. 1 at 1-3.] The allegations in this action are identical to the allegations made in his prior cases.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute, which 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 is 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). 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 pleading 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).

         Although the Court must liberally construe the pro se Complaint and Plaintiff is not required to plead facts sufficient to prove his case as an evidentiary matter in the Complaint, the Complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (explaining that a plaintiff may proceed into the litigation process only when his complaint is justified by both law and fact); cf. Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 530 (2011) (holding that plaintiff need not pin his claim for relief to precise legal theory). “A claim has ‘facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Owens v. Baltimore City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 388 (4th Cir. 2014).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint 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 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). 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).

         Defendant is entitled to dismissal

         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 Aiken County Detention Center is a group of officers in a building 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 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); 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). Further, the Aiken County Detention Center is subject to summary dismissal based on Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Aiken County Detention Center is administered by, and under the control of, the Aiken 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 Aiken County Sheriff's Office, which is considered a state agency for purposes of Plaintiff's claims. 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 “Aiken 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 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. ...


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