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Goodman v. Lott

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 8, 2019

Isaac Goodman, Jr., also known as Isaac Goodwin, Plaintiff,
v.
Leon Lott, C.L. Hudnell, Samuel Peay, Warren B. Giese, Lawrence G. Wedekind, Kathryn Luck Campbell, Alexander S. Macaulay, Jill C. Andrews, Robert W. Mills, Bryan P. Stirling, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Bristow Marchant, United States Magistrate Judge

         The Plaintiff, Isaac Goodman, Jr., also known as Isaac Goodwin, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He is an inmate at the Goodman Correctional Institution, part of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC).

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez. 504 U.S. 25 (1992), Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989), Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972), Nasim v. Warden, Maryland House of Com, 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995), and Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983). Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a pro se complaint to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citing Bell Atlantic Com, v. Twomhly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)).

         However, even when considered pursuant to this liberal standard, for the reasons set forth herein below this case is subject to summary dismissal. 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); see also Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679-679 (2009) [outlining pleading requirements under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure].

         Discussion

         Plaintiff is serving two concurrent twenty-five year sentences of incarceration for possession with intention to distribute crack cocaine and for trafficking in cocaine, and a consecutive five-year sentence of incarceration for involuntary manslaughter. See Richland County Fifth Judicial Circuit Public Index, https://publicindex.sccourts.org/Richland/PublicIndex/CaseDetails.aspx?Coun ty=40&CourtAgency=40001&Casenum=G420748&CaseType=C&HKey=106558911166108115 878666535179100110848611197511111088181747411397651037086851001176878875612010 8108103 (manufacturing/distributing crack -3rd); https://publicindex.sccourts.org/Richland/Public Index/CaseDetails.aspx?County=40&CourtAgency=40001&Casenum=F982302&CaseType=C& HKey=667812110977111884886431035667104994952571181058383801049971547411675116 11511510082784869100115527181 (trafficking in cocaine); https://publicindex.sccourts.org/Richland/PublicIndex/CaseDetails.aspx?County=40&CourtAgency=40001&Casenum=F780688&Cas eType=C&HKey=439911911610347481218310810387881198087688812171102122751029811 2108120116501031031058678998070111481065048 (manslaughter)(last visited Feb. 6, 2019).

         Plaintiff asserts claims concerning incidents allegedly occurring from 2000 to 2001 which led to his arrest on the crack cocaine charge and his convictions (guilty pleas) on January 23, 2011 to the crack cocaine and involuntary manslaughter charges. He alleges federal and state constitutional claims as well as claims pursuant to South Carolina law. Plaintiffs allegations stem from his belief that a search warrant was improperly returned (Plaintiff appears to claim that Sergeant Sheer, who is not named as a defendant in this action, untimely returned a search warrant, which made it invalid). He claims that based on this deficiency there was a lack of subject matter for his prosecution, that his due process and other constitutional rights were violated, that there was prosecutorial misconduct because prosecutors allegedly knew of these deficiencies, that his attorney and a prosecutor withheld vital witness statements that would have reversed the outcome of his conviction and sentencing, and that his attorney and prosecutors improperly coerced him to accept a plea deal. Plaintiff requests monetary damages, vacation of his criminal convictions, and the filing of state and federal charges against the parties involved.[1] ECF No. 1 at 13-14.

         First, this case is subject to summary dismissal pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which held that a state prisoner's claim for damages is not cognizable under § 1983 where success of the action would implicitly question the validity of the conviction or duration of the sentence, unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been previously invalidated. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-487. As these claims would implicitly question the validity of Plaintiffs convictions and he has not alleged that his convictions have been previously invalidated, they are subject to dismissal. Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-487. Heck acts to bar claims for injunctive and declaratory relief as well as for monetary damages. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 ["[A] state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation)-no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit...-if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration."]; Mobley v. Tompkins, 473 Fed.Appx. 337 (4th Cir. 2012)[applying Heck in a civil action seeking damages and injunctive relief relating to federal convictions] (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-487; Harvey v. Horan, 278 F.3d 370, 375 (4th Cir. 2002), abrogated on other grounds by Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521 (2011)).

         Additionally, to the extent Plaintiff is requesting release from prison, such relief is not available in a civil rights action. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 481 [stating that "habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of § 1983"]; Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 487-88 (1973)[attacking the length of duration of confinement is within the core of habeas corpus]. Moreover, To the extent Plaintiff is attempting to collaterally attack his sentences, Plaintiffs exclusive federal remedy to obtain release from custody is to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, after full exhaustion of his state remedies. See Heck, 512 U.S. at48l.[2] Plaintiffs claims against Defendants Magistrate Judge C. L. Hudnell, Magistrate Judge Samuel Peay, and Circuit Judge Alexander S. MacCauley are also subject to summary dismissal because these Defendants are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from suit for all actions taken in their judicial capacities. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 351-64 (1978); Pressly v. Gregory, 831 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. l987)[a suit by South Carolina inmate against two Virginia magistrates]; Chu v. Griffith, 771 F.2d 79, 81 (4th Cir. 1985)["It has long been settled that a judge is absolutely immune from a claim for damages arising out of his judicial actions."]; see also Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226 (1991) [immunity presents a threshold question which should be resolved before discovery is even allowed]; accord Bolin v. Story, 225 F.3d 1234 (11th Cir. 2000)[discussingjudicial immunity of United States District Judges and United States Circuit Judges].

         As for Plaintiffs claims against Defendants Solicitor Warren B. Giese, Assistant Solicitor Lawrence G. Wedekind. Assistant Solicitor Kathryn Luck Campbell, and Assistant Solicitor Jill C. Andrews, since Plaintiffs claims involve the prosecution of his criminal cases, these Defendants are protected from Plaintiffs claims for damages by prosecutorial immunity. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (l985)[absolute immunity "is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability"]: see also Bernard v. County of Suffolk, 356 F.3d 495, 502 (2d Cir. 2004)[immunity extends to "persons working under [a prosecutor's] direction, when they function as advocates for the state" and are clearly associated with the judicial process]. Prosecutors have absolute immunity for activities performed as "an officer of the court" where the conduct at issue was closely associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. See Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 341-343 (2009). For example, when a prosecutor "prepares to initiate a judicial proceeding," "appears in court to present evidence in support of a search warrant application," or conducts a criminal trial, bond hearings, grand jury proceedings, and pre-trial "motions" hearings, absolute immunity applies. Id. at 343; see also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993); Dababnah v. Keller-Burnside, 208 F.3d 467 (4th Cir. 2000).

         Defendant Robert W. Mills, who appears to have been Plaintiffs attorney at the time of the alleged incidents, is entitled to summary dismissal as a Defendant because an attorney, whether retained, court-appointed, or a public defender, does not act under color of state law.[3] Plaintiff has alleged no facts to indicate that Defendant Mills acted under color of state law. See Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81, 91 (2009) [noting that a publicly assigned or privately retained counsel for a criminal defendant is not ordinarily considered a state actor]; Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317-324 nn. 8-16 (1981)["A lawyer representing a client is not, by virtue of being an officer of the court, a state actor 'under color of state law' within the meaning of § 1983."]; Hall v. Ouillen, 631 F.2d 1154, 1155-1156 & nn. 2-3 (4th Cir. 1980)[court-appointed attorney]; Peas v. Potts, 547 F.2d 800 (4th Cir. l976)[private attorney].

         As for the Defendant Bryan P. Stirling, the Director of SCDC, Plaintiff has not made any specific allegations against Defendant Stirling other than to state that Stirling "is being placed on notice for the Accountability of the [SCDC]". (ECF No. 1 at 13). He has not provided any specific factual information to support a claim that Defendant Stirling violated any of his constitutional rights. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 [requiring, in order to avoid dismissal, '"a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests'" (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). In order to proceed under § 1983, a plaintiff must affirmatively show that a defendant acted personally in the deprivation of his constitutional rights; Vinnedee v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977); and when a complaint contains no personal allegations against a defendant, that defendant is properly dismissed. See Karafiat v. O'Mally, 54 Fed.Appx. 192, 195 (6th Cir. 2002); Curtis v. Ozmint C/A No. 3:10-3053-CMC-JRM, 2011 WL 635302 at *4 n. 5 (D.S.C. Jan. 5, 2011); Whaley v. Hatcher, No. 1:08CV 125-01-MU, 2008 WL 1806124, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Apr.18, 2008). Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts about Defendant Stirling that would show that he was personally involved in any purported constitutional deprivation. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 [providing that a plaintiff in a § 1983 action must plead that the defendant, through his own individual actions, violated the Constitution]; Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841, 850 (4th Cir. 1985) ["In order for an individual to be liable under § 1983, it must be 'affirmatively shown that the official charged acted personally in the deprivation of the plaintiffs rights. The doctrine of respondeat superior has no application under this section.'"](quoting Vinnedge v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d at 928).

         Additionally, to the extent Plaintiff alleges claims for false arrest and illegal search and seizure, these claims are further barred by the applicable statute of limitations.[4] State law concerning limitation of actions applies in claims brought under § 1983; see Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266 (1985), partially superseded by statute as stated in Jones v. R .R. Donnelly & Sons. Co., 541 U.S. 369, 377-380 (2004); and in South Carolina, the applicable statute of limitations is generally three years, see S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-530. Conversely, federal law governs the question of when a cause of action accrues: see Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007); and under federal law, the running of the statute of limitations begins when a plaintiff knows or has reason to know of his injury. Id. Here, Plaintiff had reason to know of his claims for false arrest at the time of his arrest in January 2000. which is more than three years prior to his filing of this action in December 2018. The statute of limitations for an arrestee's § 1983 false arrest or false imprisonment claim begins at the time of arrest. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 389 ["[T]he statute of limitations upon a § 1983 claim seeking damages for a false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, where the arrest is followed by criminal proceedings, begins to run at the time the claimant becomes detained pursuant to legal process."]. It is also clear that Plaintiff knew about the allegedly invalid search warrant at the time he filed his petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, see Goodman v. Cartledee, No. 9:07-3517-MBS, 2008 WL 4458159 (D.S.C. Sept. 30, 2008), which is also more than three years prior to the filing of this action.

         Defendants Hudnell, Peay, Giese, Wedekind, Campbell, Maccaulay, Andrews, SCDC Director Bryan P. Stirling, and Sheriff Leon Lott[5] in their official capacities are also entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as to any claims against them for monetary damages. 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, its integral parts, or its officials in their official capacities, by a citizen of South Carolina or a citizen of another state.[6]See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999); College Savs. Bank v. Florida Prepaid Educ. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666 (1999); Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (l996)freaffirming Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10(1890) [holding that a citizen could not sue a state in federal court without the state's consent]; Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (l984)[although express language of Eleventh Amendment only forbids suits by citizens of other States against a State, Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a State filed by its own citizens]; Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 61-71 (1989); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974) [stating that "when the action is in essence one for the recovery of money from the state, the state is the real, substantial party in interest and is entitled to invoke its [Eleventh Amendment] sovereign immunity from suit even though individual officials are nominal defendants"](quoting Ford Motor Co. v. Dep't. of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459, 464 (1945)); 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); Coffin v. South Carolina Dep't of Social Servs., 562 F.Supp. 579, 583-85 (D.S.C. 1983); Belcher v. South Carolina Bd. of Corrs., 460 F.Supp. 805, 808-09 (D.S.C. 1978). While the United States Congress can override Eleventh Amendment immunity through legislation, Congress has not overridden the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases. See Quern v. ...


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