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Quarles v. Ables

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 29, 2019

Jamie Anthony Quarles, #57643, Plaintiff,
v.
Elizabeth Ables, Defendant.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. MCDONALD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights. 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.

         The plaintiff filed his complaint here on December 6, 2018 (doc. 1). By order filed January 8, 2019, the plaintiff was informed that his complaint was subject to summary dismissal because it failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and that he could attempt to cure the defects identified in his complaint by filing an amended complaint within fourteen days (doc. 11). The plaintiff was informed that if he failed to file an amended complaint or otherwise cure the deficiencies outlined in the order, the undersigned would recommend that his case be dismissed (doc. 11 at 4). On January 24, 2019, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint (doc. 13). However, because the amended complaint likewise fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the undersigned recommends dismissal.

         ALLEGATIONS

         The plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Greenwood County Detention Center (“GCDC”) in Greenwood, South Carolina. The defendant Elizabeth Ables is his court-appointed public defender for his pending criminal charges. In his amended complaint, the plaintiff alleges that Ables improperly provided his case paperwork to, and discussed his case with, another GCDC inmate. A third inmate, apparently related to the purported victims in the plaintiff's case, thereafter learned of the plaintiff's alleged involvement and threatened him, and the plaintiff blames Ables as the source of the information and the resulting threats. (doc. 13 at 5-6). This caused the plaintiff to suffer emotional distress, anxiety, humiliation, and fear for his safety, for which he now seeks monetary damages here (doc. 13 at 7).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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). 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).

         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).

         DISCUSSION

         The plaintiff's complaint, even as amended, is subject to dismissal because Ables was not acting under color of state law. It is well-settled that “[a]nyone whose conduct is ‘fairly attributable to the state' can be sued as a state actor under § 1983.” Filarsky, 566 U.S. 377, 383 (2012). To determine whether state action is present, no single factor is determinative and the “totality of the circumstances” must be evaluated. See Goldstein v. Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Co., 218 F.3d 337, 341-43 (4th Cir. 2000). However, purely private conduct, no matter how wrongful, is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the United States Constitution. See Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 936 (1982); Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310 (4th Cir. 2001).

         The law is well-established that appointed defense counsel are not state actors for purposes of § 1983 claims because the public defender acts not on behalf of the state; rather, the public defender “is the State's adversary.” Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 323 n.13 (1981); see Mahaffey v. Sumter Cty. Pub. Defender's Corp., C/A No. 3:06-3557-SB, 2007 WL 3001675, at *4 (D.S.C. Oct. 9, 2007) (“[T]he Sumter County Public Defender's Corp. did not act under color of state law and is entitled to summary dismissal.”); see also Hall v. Quillen, 631 F.2d 1154, 1155-56 (4th Cir. 1980) (finding no state action under § 1983, even where the plaintiff's attorney was court-appointed). While “public defenders are not immune from § 1983 liability when they conspire with state officials to deprive their client of federal rights” (Figueroa v. Clark, 810 F.Supp. 613, 616 (E.D. Pa. 1992); see Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914 (1984)), the plaintiff's amended complaint is void of any such allegations. Instead, the plaintiff, relying on Filarsky, alleges that the defendant is a state actor solely because she is a public defender. However, as referenced above, the employment relationship between a public defender and the state is insufficient to establish that a public defender acts under color of state law for purposes of § 1983. Accordingly, the plaintiff's amended complaint fails to state a claim for relief and is subject to summary dismissal.

         RECOMMENDATION

         By order issued January 8, 2019, the undersigned gave the plaintiff an opportunity to correct the defects identified in his complaint and further warned the plaintiff that if he failed to file an amended complaint or failed to cure the identified deficiencies, the undersigned would recommend to the district court that the action be dismissed with prejudice and without leave for further amendment. Despite filing an amended complaint, the plaintiff has not cured the deficiencies identified in the Order dated January 8, 2019 (doc. 11). Therefore, the undersigned recommends that the district court dismiss this action with prejudice and without issuance and service of process. See Workman v. Morrison Healthcare, 724 Fed.Appx. 280, 281 (4th Cir. 2018) (in a case where the district court had already afforded the plaintiff an opportunity to amend, the district court was directed on remand to “in its discretion, either afford [the plaintiff] another opportunity to file an amended complaint or dismiss the complaint with prejudice, thereby rendering the dismissal order a final, appealable order”) (citing Goode v. Cent. Va. Legal Aid Soc'y, Inc., 807 F.3d 619, 630 (4th Cir. 2015)). The plaintiff's attention is directed to the important notice on the next page.

         IT IS ...


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