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Harris v. Nix

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

May 22, 2019

Kevin Harris, Plaintiff,
v.
Captain Marvin Nix and Sheriff Rick Clark, Defendants.

          ORDER AND NOTICE

          Shiva V. Hodges, United States Magistrate Judge

         Kevin Harris (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Eighth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. 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 pretrial detainee at Pickens County Detention Center (“PCDC”) and brings this action against PCDC captain Marvin Nix (“Nix”) and Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark (“Clark”) in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff challenges the conditions of his confinement at PCDC, including alleged exposure to black mold, overcrowding, no access to a law library, inability to have a private conversation with his attorney, clogged shower drains, and denial of access to mental health care. [See ECF No. 1 at 5-7, 9-10]. Plaintiff asserts he has lower back pain from sleeping on the floor, shortness of breath due to black mold, and an eye injury from slipping in a clogged shower. Id. at 12. He seeks monetary damages. Id. at 13.

         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 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.

         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).

         1. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         The Eleventh Amendment provides, “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. The United States Supreme Court has long held the Eleventh Amendment also precludes suits against a state by one of its own citizens. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-63 (1974). This immunity extends not only to suits against a state per se, but also to suits against agents and instrumentalities of the state. Cash v. Granville Cnty. Bd. of Ed., 242 F.3d 219, 222 (4th Cir. 2001).

         Because the defendants in this case are employees of a South Carolina county, when acting in their official capacities, they are considered an arm of the state and not a “person” within the meaning § 1983. See Pennington v. Kershaw Cnty., S.C., No. 3:12-1509-JFA-SVH, 2013 WL 2423120, at *4 (D.S.C. June 4, 2013) (citing S.C. Code Ann. § 4-1-10 and applying the Eleventh Amendment to a county as “a political subdivision of the State”); Chisolm v. Cannon, C/A No. 4:02-3473-RBH, 2006 WL 361375, at *5-6 (D.S.C. Feb. 15, 2006) (finding Charleston County Detention Center entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as an arm of the state); Cone v. Nettles, 417 S.E.2d 523, 525 (S.C. 1992) (employees of a county Sheriff are state ...


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