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Brown v. Nations

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division

July 10, 2019

Joseph Myles Brown, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Charles Nations, M B Blackmon, Defendants.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. MCDONALD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment (doc. 37). The plaintiff, a state prisoner[1], filed this action pro se and in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (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's complaint was entered on the docket on May 9, 2018 (doc. 1). On October 4, 2018, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (doc. 37). On the same date, the court issued an order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising the plaintiff of the summary judgment/dismissal procedure and of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion (doc. 38). On October 15, 2018, the plaintiff filed a response in opposition (doc. 42), and on October 22, 2018, the plaintiff filed an additional response to the motion (doc. 44). On June 24, 2019, the undersigned instructed the parties to provide additional briefing with respect to the application of the Supreme Court's holding in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) to the instant action (doc. 50). On July 3, 2019, the defendants filed their additional brief (doc. 53). The plaintiff filed his additional brief on July 8, 2019, along with a motion to stay (docs. 54; 55). Accordingly, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is now ripe for review.

         ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his rights during an encounter that included a search of his residence, resulting in drug charges against him and others. The defendants are investigators with the Laurens County Sheriff's Office. The plaintiff contends that while in his home, he learned that law enforcement officers were on his property. When he opened the door and stepped outside, he was immediately handcuffed and read his rights (doc. 1 at 5-6, 7). Inv. Nations went inside the house, then came back out to send for a search warrant (id. at 6, 7). The plaintiff alleges that Inv. Blackmon then signed an affidavit in support of the warrant, which falsely stated that the plaintiff “allowed” the officers to enter the house, and that the plaintiff was “in the bathroom area [where] a confidential source said narcotics were hidden” when the plaintiff was found (id. at 4, 6, 7). The plaintiff also points to other purported discrepancies in the affidavit as proof the affidavit was false, resulting in an improper search warrant.

         While the plaintiff does not appear to deny the presence of drugs (and indeed has pled guilty to related drug charges as addressed below), he takes issue with the defendants' actions, specifically alleging that the defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering his home, and presenting false information to the magistrate to obtain the search warrant (id. at 4). He seeks monetary damages to compensate him for lost income and stress (id. at 6).

         APPLICABLE LAW AND ANALYSIS

         This 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, 566 U.S. 356, 361 (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).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 states, as to a party who has moved for summary judgment: “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As to the first of these determinations, a fact is deemed “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings; rather, he must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion. Ross v. Communications Satellite Corp., 759 F.2d 355, 365 (4th Cir. 1985), overruled on other grounds, 490 U.S. 228 (1989). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         Heck v. Humphrey

         With respect to the plaintiff's civil claims that his rights were violated by the defendants on May 25, 2017, it appears they are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that in order to recover damages for imprisonment in violation of the Constitution, the imprisonment must first be successfully challenged. The Court stated:

We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, . . . a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.

Id. at 486-87 (footnote omitted). This is known as the “favorable termination” requirement. See Wilson v. Johnson,535 F.3d 262, 263 (4th Cir. 2008). As noted in the publicly-available online records for the Laurens County Eighth Judicial Circuit (as well as documents filed with the defendants' motion for summary judgment), the plaintiff pled guilty to manufacturing methamphetamine 2nd offense, and the disposal or assistance in disposal of methamphetamine waste 2nd or subsequent offense (case No. 2017A3010100501 and 2017A3010100506) in exchange for the dismissal of other charges, including some arising from the same incident (attempt to possess unlawful substances; possession of less than one gram of ice crank or crack cocaine, 3rd or subsequent offense; possession with intent to distribute drugs near a school; and possession of marijuana charges (case No. 2017A3010100485, 2017A3010100502, 2017A3010100503, and 2017A3010100504)) (docs. 37-3; 53 at 2). See Laurens County Public Index, https:// publicindex.sccourts.org/Laurens/PublicIndex/PISearch.aspx, (enter the plaintiff's name) (last visited July 9, 2019). In his response to the undersigned's June 24, 2019, order, the plaintiff appears to ...


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