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Hunsberger v. Duran

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

July 23, 2019

Julio A. Hunsberger, #959417, Plaintiff,
v.
Randy Bobby Duran, Marvin English, Roger Lowe, Rick Hubbard, Alton Eargle, Ervin Maye, Frank Young, Donald Myers, Alan Wilson, John McIntosh, Donald Zelenka, and Melody Jane Brown, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Julio A. Hunsberger, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking an award of money damages against each Defendant for the denial of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. (ECF No. 1 at 5, 10). Defendants Rick Hubbard, Alton Eargle, Ervin Maye, Frank Young, Donald Myers, Alan Wilson, John McIntosh, Donald Zelenka and Melody Jane Brown (the “Prosecutor Defendants”) filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 24), and Defendants Randy Bobby Duran, Marvin English and Roger Lowe (the “Sheriff's Department Defendants”) filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 54). Plaintiff filed a response opposing both motions. (ECF Nos. 57, 68). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (B)(2)(c), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending that both motions be granted. (ECF No. 70 at 13). Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Report. (ECF No. 72).

         The Report has no presumptive weight and the responsibility to make a final determination in this matter remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). In the absence of objections, this court is not required to provide an explanation for adopting the Report. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Where there is no “timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note). Furthermore, failure to file specific written objections to the Report results in a party's waiver of the right to appeal the district court's judgment based upon that recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985); Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841 (4th Cir. 1985); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91 (4th Cir. 1984).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated in Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia. (ECF No. 1 at 1). In 2002, Plaintiff was arrested for the murder of Samuel Sturrup in South Carolina. Id. at 5. He was also charged in connection with the kidnapping, which occurred in Georgia, leading up to the murder. (ECF No. 24-1 at 1-2). In February 2005, Plaintiff was released to Georgia to be tried first on the kidnapping charges, for which he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Id. at 2.

         In September 2011, Plaintiff was returned to South Carolina to stand trial on the murder charge. Id. at 3. The case was ultimately tried in January 2012, when Plaintiff was convicted for murdering Sturrup. (ECF No. 1 at 5). Between Plaintiff's arrest for murder in 2002 and his trial in 2012, Plaintiff's counsel filed two speedy trial motions, both of which were denied by the trial court. Id.

         Plaintiff appealed his conviction to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, arguing in part that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was abridged by the ten-year delay between his arrest and his trial. State v. Hunsberger, No. 2012-206608, 2014 WL 5772563, at *3 (S.C. Ct. App. Nov. 5, 2014). The Court of Appeals rejected Plaintiff's speedy trial argument and affirmed his conviction. Id. at *5. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, granted certiorari on the speedy trial issue and reversed Plaintiff's conviction in a 3-2 decision. State v. Hunsberger, 794 S.E.2d 368, 377 (S.C. 2016). Subsequently, the State unsuccessfully sought certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court. South Carolina v. Hunsberger, 137 S.Ct. 2295 (2017).

         On July 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to § 1983 alleging that Defendants violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and seeking money damages. (ECF No. 1 at 5-6, 10). As to the Sheriff's Department Defendants, Plaintiff alleges that they investigated him for Sturrup's murder and then testified for the State at trial and, therefore, “contributed to the prosecution and subsequent conviction of Plaintiff for crimes he did not commit.” Id. at 2, 5. As to the Prosecutor Defendants, Plaintiff alleges that each of them “contributed to the prosecution and subsequent conviction of Plaintiff for crimes he did not commit” or “contributed to the prolongment of the Plaintiff's imprisonment for a void conviction.” Id. at 2-4. Specifically, Plaintiff identifies the constitutionally offensive conduct to be as follows: that Defendants Hubbard, Maye, and Young, in their capacity as assistant solicitors, opposed Plaintiff's speedy trial motions prior to trial, id. 5-6; and that Defendant Wilson, in his capacity as South Carolina Attorney General; Defendant Myers, in his capacity as Solicitor; and Defendants McIntosh, Zelenka, and Brown, in their capacities as assistant attorneys general, opposed Plaintiff's speedy trial argument during appeal in state court and sought certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court. Id. at 6.

         The Prosecutor Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 24), arguing that the are entitled to absolute, prosecutorial immunity as all the allegations against them stem from actions within the scope of their official duties (ECF No. 24-1 at 6-11), that they are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the extent they are being sued in their official capacities, id. at 11, that they are not “persons” subject to suit under § 1983, id. at 11-12, and that, alternatively, they are entitled to qualified immunity in this case, id. at 12-16. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 57), and the Prosecutor Defendants filed a reply (ECF No. 65).

         The Sheriff's Department Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 54), arguing that Plaintiff's claims against them are barred by the statute of limitations (ECF No. 54-1 at 3), and that, to the extent Plaintiff's claims are asserted against them in their individual capacities, they are not proper parties under S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-70, id. at 3-4. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 68).

         On February 22, 2019, the magistrate judge issued the Report recommending that both the motion for judgment on the pleadings and the summary judgment motion be granted. (ECF No. 70 at 13). The magistrate judge concluded that all Defendants are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment “as to any claims for money damages asserted against them in their official capacities.” Id. at 11. The magistrate judge further concluded that the Prosecutor Defendants are entitled to absolute immunity because “all of the conduct on which Plaintiff bases his claims . . . were actions these Defendants took in prosecuting a criminal case against Plaintiff.” Id. at 12. Additionally, the magistrate judge concluded that Plaintiff failed to state a Sixth Amendment claim against the Sheriff's Department Defendants because “Plaintiff neither alleges nor points to any evidence indicating that the Sheriff's Department Defendants played any role in denying him a speedy trial.” Id. at 13.

         Finally, the magistrate judge concluded that neither of the dispositive motions was premature on the basis that the parties had not conducted discovery. Id. at 10 n.6. The magistrate judge determined that none of the issues for which Plaintiff sought discovery-whether the actions of the Sheriff's Department Defendants directly contributed to the prosecution and conviction of Plaintiff for crimes he did not commit; whether the actions of all Defendants directly contributed to the “prolongment of Plaintiff's conviction for a void conviction”; and whether the statute of limitations for Plaintiff's claims began running upon the denial of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court-are material to Defendants' entitlement to judgment. Id. (emphasis added).

         Plaintiff filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 72). The Prosecutor Defendants submitted a reply to ...


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