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Workman v. Metro PCS Mobile Phone Co.

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

December 3, 2018

Olandio Ray Workman, Plaintiff,
Metro PCS Mobile Phone Company, Mr. Richardson, Mr. Lewis, and Greenville County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.


          Kevin F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff, proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is the plaintiff's amended complaint filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. 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.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. Based on the plaintiff having now been convicted in his underlying state court action, the undersigned recommends that the stay previously imposed here be lifted, and that the plaintiff's claims as to Mr. Richardson and Mr. Lewis be dismissed.


         The plaintiff Olandio Workman, formerly a pretrial detainee at the Greenville County Detention Center, [1] filed his initial complaint on May 8, 2017 (doc. 1) against the defendants Metro PCS Mobile and Mr. Richardson alleging that they violated his constitutional rights (doc. 1 at 4). On May 18, 2017, the undersigned issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the action be summarily dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted with respect to these defendants (doc. 9). On June 26, 2017, the District Court adopted the Report and Recommendation and dismissed the case without prejudice and without issuance and service of process (doc. 13 at 4). Thereafter, the plaintiff appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (doc. 16). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an unpublished opinion on January 19, 2018, dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remanding the case to the district court with instructions to allow the plaintiff to amend his complaint (doc. 22). On January 19, 2018, the District Court ordered the plaintiff to file an amended complaint within fifteen days of its order (doc. 24). An amended complaint was not filed by the deadline ordered by the District Court, and on February 8, 2018, the magistrate judge issued a report that recommended that the District Court dismiss this action with prejudice due to the plaintiff's failure to prosecute (doc. 27). Thereafter, on February 22, 2018, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint[2] (doc. 31). In light of this filing, on March 8, 2018, the District Court issued an order declining to adopt the Report and Recommendation and recommitting the matter to the magistrate judge for screening of the plaintiff's amended complaint (doc. 33). Following the issuance of two separate reports and recommendations by the undersigned, the Honorable R. Bryan Harwell, United States District Judge, dismissed the defendants Metro PCS Mobile, the Greenville County Sheriff's Office, and Mr. Lewis in his official capacity, and entered a stay as to the defendants Mr. Richardson and Mr. Lewis (in his personal capacity) while the plaintiff's underlying state criminal case was pending (doc. 53). The plaintiff appealed this order on July 26, 2018 (doc. 57). While the appeal was pending, the plaintiff's state case went to trial, and he was convicted of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, kidnapping, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, and sentenced to a concurrent total of 15 years in prison (doc. 63-1). On November 20, 2018, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the plaintiff's appeal for lack of jurisdiction (doc. 65). Accordingly, as the underlying state case has now concluded with the plaintiff's conviction, and the plaintiff's federal appeal has now been dismissed, the case returns to this court for further consideration. As Judge Harwell has already dismissed Metro PCS Mobile, the Greenville County Sheriff's Office, and Mr. Lewis in his official capacity, the undersigned issues this report and recommendation to address the remainder of the case as it pertains to Mr. Richardson and Mr. Lewis in his personal capacity.


         In his amended complaint, the plaintiff alleges that his Fourth Amendment Rights were violated and that Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968 was violated (doc. 31 at 4). The plaintiff alleges that the defendants Mr. Richardson and Metro PCS Mobile[3] “acted under color of state law . . . when they aid[ed] Greenville County Sheriffs office in trac[]ing our cell phone w[ith]out a search warrant” (id.). He also names “Mr. Lewis” with the Greenville County Sheriff's Office as a defendant. He seeks an award of monetary damages against the defendants.


         The 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, the 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 (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 the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district 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 a 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).

         This 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).

         Stay Imposed Pursuant to Younger

         Judge Harwell's July 17, 2018, order (doc. 53) staying the case as to Mr. Richardson and Mr. Lewis in his personal capacity noted the plaintiff's underlying state criminal case had not yet gone to trial. As such, Judge Harwell cited the abstention doctrine addressed in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971), and extended by Deakins v. Monaghan, 484 U.S. 193, 202 (1988) as the basis for staying this federal case until the state case had concluded. The rationale for abstention in Younger and the entry of a stay in Deakins is to provide the state court the opportunity to resolve it's pending criminal matters without interference or parallel litigation from the federal court. However, now that the plaintiff has been convicted in his underlying state criminal case, it is recommended that the stay be lifted here, and the plaintiff's constitutional claims for monetary damages be considered.

         The plaintiff's claims for damages against Richardson and Lewis for illegally tracking his cell phone, resulting in his ultimate conviction and imprisonment, are subject to dismissal pursuant to the Supreme Court's ruling in Heck v. Humphrey, which held that in order to recover damages for a conviction or imprisonment in violation of the United States Constitution, the conviction or imprisonment must first be successfully challenged. 512 U.S. 477, 490 (1994); see Edwards v. Balisock, 520 U.S. 641, 647-48 (1997) (holding that the preclusive rule of Heck extended to § 1983 claims challenging procedural deficiencies that necessarily imply the invalidity of the judgment). The Supreme Court held:

[T]o recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, . . . a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages ...

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