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Barnette v. South Carolina Department of Correction Classification Board

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

May 21, 2019

Samuel Lamont Barnette, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Corrections Classification Board, Defendants.

          ORDER AND NOTICE

          Shiva V. Hodges, United States Magistrate Judge

         Samuel Lamont Barnette (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review such complaints for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner at Lieber Correctional Institution and is challenging action by the South Carolina Department of Corrections Classification Board (the “Board”) that he alleges wrongfully extended his sentence. [See ECF No. 1 at 5-6]. Plaintiff alleges when he was transferred from a juvenile facility to Broad River Correctional Institution in 1993, the Board added a first-degree burglary and criminal sexual conduct charge to his adult file, even though he had committed those offenses in 1989 and they should have remained in his juvenile record. Id. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and asks the court to expunge the 1993 charge from his record and “let the lower court know” he does not need to register as a sex offender. Id. at 9-10.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Plaintiff filed his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss a case upon a finding that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted or is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii). A finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). A claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989).

         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). A federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Fine v. City of N.Y., 529 F.2d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 1975). 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 the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Analysis

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although the court must liberally construe a pro se complaint, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that a plaintiff must do more than make conclusory statements to state a claim. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677‒78 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face, and the reviewing court need only accept as true the complaint's factual allegations, not its legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678‒79.

         Plaintiff's complaint challenges the execution and calculation of his sentence. Although § 1983 provides access to a federal forum for claims of unconstitutional treatment at the hands of state officials, the United States Supreme Court has held 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.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 481 (1991); see also Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973) (holding claims seeking immediate or speedier release are not cognizable under § 1983 and must be brought in a habeas corpus proceeding); In re Wright, 826 F.3d 774, 779 (4th Cir. 2016) (finding challenge to classification affecting parole eligibility governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254).

         To the extent Plaintiff seeks monetary damages under § 1983, he has failed to state an actionable claim. To state a plausible claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an aggrieved party must sufficiently allege he was injured by “the deprivation of any [of his or her] rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the [United States] Constitution and laws” by a “person” acting “under color of state law.” See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see generally 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1230 (3d ed. 2014). The Board is a public entity and not a person amenable to suit under § 1983. See Monnell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978); Harden v. Green, 27 Fed.Appx. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983); see also Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 750 F.Supp. 1131 (S.D. Fla. 1990) (dismissing city police department as improper defendant in § 1983 action because not “person” under the statute); Shelby v. City of Atlanta, 578 F.Supp. 1368, 1370 (N.D.Ga. 1984) (dismissing police department as party defendant because it was merely a vehicle through which city government fulfills policing functions).

         Plaintiff's complaint is therefore subject to summary dismissal.[1]

         NOTICE ...


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