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Strickland v. Meredith Corp.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 5, 2019

Cale Marcus Strickland, Plaintiff,
v.
Meredith Corporation, Tom Harty, Defendants.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. MCDONALD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this civil defamation action (doc. 1). Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in this case and submit findings and recommendations to the district court.

         The plaintiff filed this case against the defendants on February 21, 2019 (doc. 1). Having reviewed the plaintiff's complaint, the undersigned recommends it be dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         The complaint concerns an alleged defamatory article published about the plaintiff following his arrest on December 3, 2015 (doc. 1). As an initial matter, the undersigned takes judicial notice of the plaintiff's prior defamation action against a news station owned by the defendants.[1] See Strickland v. WHNS Fox Carolina, et al., C/A No. 6:17-cv-03261-MGL, doc. 16 (D.S.C. Apr. 9, 2018). As in the prior case, here the plaintiff alleges that a defamatory report was published about him and his arrest on December 3, 2015 (doc. 1 at 6-7). Although unclear how it relates to the defendants, the plaintiff alleges that there was material on Facebook, Twitter, and Empty Net Sports about him (id. at 6). He contends that the material published about his arrest on December 3, 2015, was wrong-as well as completely made up (id. at 6-7). The plaintiff also alleges that the facts reported in the story were identical to the arrest report that the plaintiff contends was also untruthful (id. at 6). The plaintiff contends that the report was still searchable on the computer as of August 18, 2018 (id. at 7).

         The plaintiff alleges that the defendants are responsible for the actions of the news station they own, namely WHNS Fox Carolina (id. at 7). The plaintiff also contends that he is unable to eat and that the publication of the story affects his ability to work because his prior arrest keeps coming up (id. at 7-8). For his relief the plaintiff requests monetary damages in the amount of 1.65 million dollars because of the defamation caused by the article published by the news station owned by the defendants (id. at 9).

         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). Further, the plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and “seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if the plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court is charged with screening the plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the complaint if (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         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).

         DISCUSSION

         As noted above, the plaintiff filed the instant civil action seeking damages from the defendants for publishing an alleged defamatory story about the plaintiff. For the reasons that follow, the instant matter is subject to summary dismissal. The plaintiff's complaint is barred by claim preclusion

         In the instant matter, the plaintiff seeks to re-litigate a defamation claim that has already been adjudicated and decided adversely to him by the court. Under the doctrine of claim preclusion-or res judicata-a final judgment on the merits of an action bars the parties from re-litigating the issues that were or could have been raised in the prior action. See Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 354 (4th Cir. 2004). In order for res judicata to apply, there must have been (1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit; (2) the identity of the cause of action in both suits; and (3) the same parties or their privies in the two suits. Id. at 354-55 (citing Nash Cty Bd. of Educ. v. Biltmore Co., 640 F.2d 484, 486 (4th Cir. 1981)); see Orca Yachts L.L.C. v. Mollicam, Inc., 287 F.3d 316, 318 (4th Cir. 2002) (noting that claim preclusion applies when there has been a valid and final judgment-even if the matter was not actually litigated (quoting In re Varat Enters., Inc., 81 F.3d 1310, 1315 (4th Cir. 1996)). In evaluating whether the same cause of action is brought in both suits, the court ascertains whether the claim in the new litigation “arises out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the claim resolved by the prior judgment.” Pittston Co. v. United States, 199 F.3d 694, 704 (4th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Harnett v. Billman, 800 F.2d 1308, 1313 (4th Cir. 1986)). Here, the plaintiff sues the defendants[2] regarding a story published about the plaintiff's December 3, 2015, arrest (doc. 1). The plaintiff has already litigated this claim, and it was dismissed. See Strickland v. WHNS Fox Carolina, et al., C/A No. 6:17-cv-03261-MGL, doc. 16. Accordingly, the plaintiff's claims against the defendants are barred in the present matter.

         The plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim for relief

         As noted above, the plaintiff's claims for relief are barred by claim preclusion. Nevertheless, even on the merits, the ...


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