United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
Heather C. Hoffman, Plaintiff,
P.J. Tanner, Chief Deputy Michael Hatfield, Staff Sergeant Eric Calendine, Corporal Andrew Calore, J. Edward Allen, Stephanie Smart-Gittings, Duffie Stone, Dr. Susan Erin Presnell, Ms. Catherine E. Heigel, Jerri Ann Roseneau, AT&T, and John Does x 20, Defendants.
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge
the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R &
R") of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 64) recommending
that the motion to dismiss by Defendants P.J. Tanner, Michael
Hatfield, Staff Sergeant Eric Calendine, Corporal Andrew
Calore, J. Edward Allen, and Jerri Ann Roseneau
("Defendants") (Dkt. No. 26) be granted. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the R & R as
the Order of the Court and grants Defendants' motion to
lawsuit arises out of the 2017 death of her adult daughter,
Ashley Paskiewicz ("Paskiewicz"). Plaintiffs
Complaint alleges that Defendants were involved in the
investigation of Paskiewicz's death, which was ruled
suicide by law enforcement, but Plaintiff contends was
homicide. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants conspired to
fraudulently conceal the true cause of her daughter's
death by, for example, failing to properly secure
Paskiewicz's personal property, refusing to provide
Plaintiff with the name of the medical examiner who conducted
the autopsy, posting Paskiewicz's criminal charges on the
Beaufort County Judicial Court website, and refusing to
return Paskiewicz's iPhone to Plaintiff. As it relates to
these Defendants, Plaintiff brings claims for violation of
her constitutional rights by conspiring to abuse their
authority through concealing and fabricating the
circumstances of Paskiewicz's death; unlawfully searching
and seizing Paskiewicz's iPhone, which Plaintiff contends
was her own; conspiring to create a false conviction on
Paskiwicz's court record; depriving Plaintiff of her
constitutional right to "culpable parties" by
concealing the true circumstances of Paskiwicz's death;
and failing to correct or intervene in these continuing civil
rights violations; as well as claiming intentional infliction
of emotional distress. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief in
the form of an order for a proper investigation into
Paskiewicz's death, an injunction barring Defendants from
continuing to display Paskiewicz's criminal records on
the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court website, and subpoenas
issued on all health care providers involved in
Paskiewicz's medical care from 2014 to 2017.
Review of the R&R
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight and the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. See, e.g., Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261,
270-71 (1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify,
in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by
the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
Where there are specific objections to the R & R, the
Court "makes a de novo determination of those
portions of the report or specified proposed findings or
recommendations to which objection is made."
Id. In the absence of objections, the Court reviews
the R & R to "only satisfy itself that there is no
clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the
recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory
committee's note. Where there are no objections, the
Court need not give any explanation for adopting the
Magistrate Judge's analysis and recommendation. See,
e.g., Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983)
("In the absence of objection ... we do not believe that
it requires any explanation.").
Motion to Dismiss
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits the
dismissal of an action if the complaint fails "to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted." A motion to
dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and
"does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the
merits of the claim, or the applicability of defenses. . . .
Our inquiry then is limited to whether the allegations
constitute a short and plain statement of the claim showing
that the pleader is entitled to relief" Republican
Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir.
1992) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A
"complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state
a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Martin Marietta Corp. v.
Int'l Telecomms. Satellite Org., 991 F.2d 94, 97
(4th Cir. 1992) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S.
42, 45-46 (1957)). In so analyzing, the Court is obligated to
"assume the truth of all facts alleged in the complaint
and the existence of any fact that can be proved, consistent
with the complaint's allegations." E. Shore
Mkts., Inc. v. ID. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d
175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Although the Court must accept the
facts in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the Court
"need not accept as true unwarranted inferences,
unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Id.
Generally, to survive a motion to dismiss, the Complaint must
provide enough facts to '"state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see
also Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2). Although the requirement
of plausibility does not impose a probability requirement at
this stage in the litigation, the Complaint must show more
than a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A
Complaint has "facial plausibility" where the
pleading "allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Id. III. Discussion The
Court finds that the Magistrate Judge ably addressed the
issues and correctly concluded that Defendants' motion to
dismiss should be granted. Reviewing Plaintiffs pleadings in
a light most favorable to her and applying an appropriately
liberal construction for the pro se litigant, the
Complaint fails to set forth plausible claims against
Defendants. The Court further considered Plaintiffs objection
to the R & R-that the Magistrate Judge, federal judiciary
personnel and Defendants "perpetrate a fraud on the
court"-and finds it is without merit. (Dkt. No. 66.)
Roseneau is the Circuit Court Clerk for Beaufort
County. As an initial matter, Defendant Roseneau
is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. See Martin v.
Rush, No. 13-cv-693, 2013 WL 2285948, at *5 (D.S.C. May
23, 2013) (clerk entitled to quasi-judicial immunity).
Moreover, to state a claim pursuant to Section 1983,
Plaintiff must demonstrate that her constitutional right was
violated by an individual acting under the color of state
law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Here, as the Magistrate Judge noted, the Complaint fails to
plausibly allege that Plaintiff had a constitutional right to
have her daughter's criminal records removed from the
judicial website, and that Defendant Roseneau could have done
so in her official capacity. See, e.g., Johnson v. SC.
Dep't o/Corrs., No. 06-cv-2062, 2007 WL 904826, at
¶ 2 (D.S.C. Mar. 21, 2007) ("Plaintiffs allegation
that defendants did not follow their own policies or
procedures, standing alone, does not amount to a
constitutional violation."). The Complaint similarly
does not support federal judicial intervention to order
expungement of the criminal records and, in any event, it is
unclear that any right would belong to Plaintiff rather than
to her deceased daughter. See Meyers v. Loudon Co. Pub.
Sck, 418 F.3d 395, 401 (4th Cir. 2005) (pro se
litigant's right to litigate for himself does not create
right to litigate on behalf of another); In re Blackwater
Sec. Consulting, LLC, 460 F.2d 576, 593 (4th Cir. 1976)
(noting that injunctive relief "is an extraordinary
remedy whose issuance depends upon the discretion of the
court"). Accordingly, Plaintiffs claim against Defendant
Roseneau is subject to dismissal.
similarly fails to set forth a sufficient claim against
Defendants Tanner, Hatfield, Calendine, Calore and Allen, who
are members of the Beaufort County Sheriffs Department and
state officers. The Eleventh Amendment protects state
officers, such as County Sheriffs, acting in their official
capacity from suit in federal court. See, e.g., Cash v.
Thomas, No. 12-cv-1278, 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.").
Although a litigant may seek injunctive relief from
continuous federal law violations by a state officer, the
Complaint again does not set forth sufficient allegations to
raise a plausible claim under Section 1983. See Lylte v.
Griffith, 240 F.3d 404, 408 (4th Cir. 2001) (noting that
Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908) authorizes
"suit against state officers for prospective equitable
relief from ongoing violations of federal law"). For
example, as the Magistrate Judge noted, Plaintiff does not
have a cognizable interest in ordering the investigation or
prosecution of another individual for her daughter's
death. See Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614,
619 (1973). Similarly, Plaintiff fails to plead facts
sufficient to support that the iPhone found with
Paskiewicz's body belonged to Plaintiff such that
Plaintiff had a constitutional right to demand its return
from law enforcement. The Complaint is likewise devoid of
sufficient facts to establish to the Rule 8 pleading standard
that Defendants conspired to abuse their official authority
by hiding the true circumstances of and constructing a false
narrative for Paskiewicz's death.
the Magistrate Judge correctly determined that Defendants are
entitled to dismissal because Plaintiffs claims are
unsupported by factual allegations in the Complaint.
foregoing reasons, the Court ADOPTS the R
& R (Dkt. No. 64) as the Order of the Court and