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Booker v. Shearouse

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

January 2, 2019

Patrick L. Booker, Plaintiff,
Daniel E. Shearouse and Brenda F. Shealy, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, brought this action pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983. This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Judgment by Default filed by Plaintiff (Dkt. No. 13), and a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Daniel E. Shearouse (“Shearouse”) and Brenda F. Shealy (“Shealy”) (collectively, “Defendants”) (Dkt. No. 22). Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., all pretrial matters in cases involving pro se litigants are referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for consideration. For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment by Default (Dkt. No. 13) be denied, and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 22) be granted.


         A. Initial Action

         In 2003, Plaintiff pled guilty to four counts of armed robbery, one count of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, carjacking, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, threatening the life of a public official, and assault on a correctional facility employee. (Dkt No. 1-1 at 10; Dkt. No. 22-6 at 2.) From 2004 through 2007, Plaintiff filed six applications for post-conviction relief (“PCR”), all of which were denied. (Dkt. No. 22-6 at 2.) On or around January 20, 2010, Plaintiff submitted a notice of appeal to Defendant Shearouse, Clerk of Court for the Supreme Court of South Carolina (also referred to herein as the “Supreme Court”), regarding the final order issued in Plaintiff's PCR case. (Dkt. No. 22-3.) On February 5, 2010, the Supreme Court dismissed Plaintiff's appeal on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to present an “arguable basis” for asserting that the determination by the lower court was improper, as required under Rule 243(c) of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules (“SCACR”). (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 10-11; Dkt. No. 22-4.) Plaintiff then petitioned for rehearing, which was denied by the Supreme Court on April 7, 2010. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 11; Dkt. No. 22-6.) The Supreme Court's Order prohibited Plaintiff “from filing any further collateral actions challenging his 2003 convictions in the circuit court without first obtaining permission to do so from this Court” (“April 2010 Order”). (Dkt. No. 22-6 at 3.)

         On or around September 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Reopen to Declare and Vacate Void Judgment in the South Carolina Supreme Court (“September 2015 Motion”). (Dkt. No. 22-14.) Specifically, Plaintiff's motion sought to vacate the Supreme Court's April 2010 Order on the grounds that he was not given notice or an opportunity to be heard regarding the Court's restriction on future filings. (Id. at 5-6.) On September 11, 2015, Defendant Shealy, Chief Deputy Clerk for the Supreme Court of South Carolina, sent a letter to Plaintiff acknowledging receipt of his motion, [1] and informing him that his motion was untimely pursuant to Rule 221(a), SCACR, which requires that petitions for rehearing be received by the appellate court within fifteen (15) days after the filing of the order at issue. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 20.) The letter further stated that because the remittitur was issued on April 7, 2010, the Supreme Court of South Carolina no longer had jurisdiction over the matter. (Id.) Accordingly, Defendants took no further action on Plaintiff's motion. (Id.)

         On or around March 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Petition to Vacate Void Judgment in the Supreme Court of South Carolina, again challenging the April 2010 Order. (Dkt. No. 22-16.) Plaintiff reiterated that the April 2010 Order imposed a “prefiling injunction” without providing Plaintiff notice or the opportunity to be heard, which violated his due process rights. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff filed a similar Petition for Declaratory Judgment with the Supreme Court on or around July 17, 2017. (Dkt. No. 22-17.) On December 14, 2017, the Supreme Court issued an Order allowing Plaintiff the opportunity to submit a brief in support of his petition for rehearing on the April 2010 Order. (Dkt. No. 22-19.)

         On April 17, 2018, after reviewing Plaintiff's brief, the Supreme Court of South Carolina denied Plaintiff's petition for rehearing. (Dkt. No. 22-20.) The Supreme Court noted that it had considered and rejected Plaintiff's same arguments in response to multiple prior filings, and that Plaintiff had yet to offer a sufficient reason as to why he should be allowed to continue filing collateral actions challenging his 2003 convictions. (Id.) Moreover, the Supreme Court stated that even if Plaintiff had been given notice and the opportunity to be heard prior to the imposition of the filing restriction in the April 2010 Order, the Court would have imposed the same restriction. (Id.)

         B. Current Action

         On or around February 25, 2018, prior to receiving the Supreme Court's final ruling on Plaintiff's petition against the April 2010 Order, Plaintiff filed a separate action against Defendants in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, McCormick County. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Plaintiff alleged that Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments by refusing to take “appropriate action” on his September 2015 Motion and obstructing his access to the Supreme Court of South Carolina. (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff further alleged that Defendants improperly rendered “legal opinions” in finding that Plaintiff's September 2015 Motion was untimely and “lack[ed] merit.”[2] (Id. at 6.) On April 11, 2018, Defendants removed Plaintiff's Complaint to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. (Dkt. No. 1.) On April 13, 2018, Defendants filed their joint Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. (Dkt. No. 9.)

         On April 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment by Default, alleging that Defendants had failed to file a timely answer to his Complaint. (Dkt. No. 13.) On April 24, 2018, Defendants filed a Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Dkt. No. 14.) On August 10, 2018, Defendants filed a joint Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 22.) On August 13, 2018, the undersigned issued an Order pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the dismissal procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. (Dkt. No. 23.) After receiving several extensions of time to file a response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff filed his Response in Opposition on November 26, 2018. (Dkt. No. 39.) Defendants filed their Reply on December 13, 2018. (Dkt. No. 43.)


         A. Summary Judgment

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment “shall” be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” The News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “the nonmoving party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in that party's favor.” Id. (quoting Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999)); see also Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123-24 (4th Cir. 1990). However, “the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence.” Dash v. Mayweather, 731 F.3d 303, 311 (4th Cir. 2013).

         B. Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint

         Plaintiff brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520. The mandated liberal construction means that only if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the complainant could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the complainant's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court “conjure up questions never squarely presented.” 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 currently cognizable in a federal ...

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