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Collins v. Tollison

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

March 13, 2019

Quinton Collins, Plaintiff,
Timothy Tollison, Jason Lover, Jon Hamby, Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge.

         Quinton Collins (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Defendants violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff is a pre-trial detainee incarcerated at the Pickens County Detention Center, and he files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. 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., the undersigned is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district court. For the reasons explained below, the Complaint is subject to summary dismissal.


         Plaintiff alleges the following facts in his Complaint. [Doc. 1.] Plaintiff contends that the three named Defendants, who are all officers with the Easley Police Department, committed slander against him and violated his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. [Id. at 2-4.] According to Plaintiff, on December 17, 2018, Defendants started harassing Plaintiff, his family, and his friends. [Id. at 5.] Specifically, Defendant Hamby came to Plaintiff's home, asking questions about a crime that he was investigating. [Id. at 6.] Plaintiff willingly cooperated with the investigator and answered the questions to the best of his abilities. [Id.] A couple of days later, Defendant Hamby again came to Plaintiff's home and tried to go through Plaintiff's phone without a warrant. [Id.] On February 6, 2019, Plaintiff was arrested. [Id.] Plaintiff contends that he was arrested without a warrant in violation of his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. [Id.] According to Plaintiff, he was held in a holding cell for three days, where he was interrogated and deprived of food and medication, all in an attempt to force him to confess to a crime he did not commit. [Id.] Plaintiff alleges that his arrest was not supported by “sufficient evidence” and that he is being maliciously prosecuted. [Id.]

         On February 9, 2019, Plaintiff was taken to bond court, but the judge denied bail. [Id.] News Channel 4 was present at that hearing and publicized information about Plaintiff, stating that he was “working for Easley PD, ” which Plaintiff contends “is an untrue and false statement.” [Id.] Plaintiff alleges that, on February 9, 2019, the Easley Police Department posted untrue information about Plaintiff on social media, defaming his character. [Id. at 5.] Since then, according to Plaintiff, the Easley Police Department has continued to harass Plaintiff's friends and family, threatening them with arrest if they do not cooperate. [Id. at 6-7.] Plaintiff contends that he is in fear for his life and that strange people are approaching his family making threats. [Id. at 7.] For his relief, Plaintiff asks that the charges against him be dismissed, that the misinformation published about him be publicly corrected, and that he be compensated for every day he is “detained and humiliated.” [Id. at 8.]

         The Court takes judicial notice[1] that Plaintiff has been charged with the following crimes, which remain pending against him in the Pickens County Court of General Sessions: (1) murder at case number 2019A3920400083 and (2) attempted robbery with a deadly weapon at case number 2019A3920400084.[2]


         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, Plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition in 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 Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court would still be charged with screening 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, 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, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the Court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the Court, 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 cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         The 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, 132 S.Ct. 1497, 1501 (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). Liberally construed, the Complaint appears to assert a claim for defamation and constitutional violations related to Plaintiff's arrest and pending state court criminal proceedings.

         Failure to State a Claim for Defamation

         Plaintiff's claim for defamation and/or slander against Defendants should be dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. Plaintiff's allegations relate to Defendants' misconduct in posting false information about Plaintiff on social media; however, defamation, slander, and libel fail to state a cognizable claim under § 1983. Although state law provides a right of action for slander or defamation, an alleged act of defamation of character or injury to reputation is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 697-710 & nn. 3-4 (1976); Washington v. Tilton, No. 2:10-cv-997-HFF-RSC, 2010 WL 2084106, at *3 (D.S.C. May 7, 2010), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2010 WL 2084383 (D.S.C. May 19, 2010). Civil rights statutes, such as § 1983, do not impose liability for violations of duties of care arising under a state's tort law. DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 489 U.S. 189, 200-03 (1989). Here, Plaintiff's defamation claim does not implicate the violation of any federal right. A § 1983 action may not be “based alone on a violation of state law or on a state tort.” Clark v. Link, 855 F.2d 156, 161 (4th Cir. 1988). A state law claim “does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner.” See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Thus, Plaintiff's allegations concerning a purely state law claim fail to establish a claim for a violation of a federal right as required under § 1983, and therefore his claim must be dismissed. Wilson v. Ozmint, No. 3:10-cv-2887-RMG, 2011 WL 1336391, at *1-2 (D.S.C. Apr. 7, 2011).

         Additionally, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a plausible federal constitutional claim because the First Amendment does not provide a private cause of action for defamation. See, e.g., Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 233 (1991) (“Defamation, by itself, is a tort actionable under the laws of most States, but not a constitutional deprivation.”); Sonnier v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, No. 6:16-cv-1229, 2017 WL 778153, at *3 (W.D. La. Jan. 18, 2017) (“[T]here is nothing in the First Amendment to create a private cause of action for either defamation or invasion of privacy.”), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2017 WL 778003 (W.D. La. Feb. 24, 2017); Davis v. City of Aransas Pass, No. 2:13-cv-363, 2014 WL 2112701, at *1 (S.D. Tex. May 20, 2014) (“[T]here is no federal constitutional right to be free from defamation or slander.”). It is well settled that 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the federal statute under which damage claims for constitutional violations may be raised, may not be used to assert defamation claims. See Paul, 424 U.S. at 711-12 (explaining interest in reputation alone does not implicate a “liberty” or “property” interest sufficient to invoke due process protection under § 1983); Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1343 (5th Cir. 1994) (same); Oliver v. Collins, 904 F.2d 278, 281 (5th Cir. 1990) ...

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