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Inabinet v. Greenville County Sheriff's Office

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

September 3, 2019

Cheryl Inabinet, personally and as Personal Representative for the Estate of Joseph Inabinet, Brittany Inabinet, Valerie Inabinet, and Seth Inabinet, Plaintiffs,
The Greenville County Sheriff's Office, Former Sheriff Will Lewis, Greenville County, Master Deputy Kevin James Azzara, Master Deputy Ivan Rodriguez, Deputy Jared Randall Oliver, and Deputy Juan Jose Olalde, Defendants.



         This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the alternative, Motion for a More Definite Statement. (ECF No. 4). Plaintiffs' complaint alleges various state law claims as well as a federal claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that the Defendants violated the constitutional rights of the decedent and Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 1-1). The action was originally filed in the Court of Common Pleas for Greenville County, and Defendants removed the case to this court based on federal question jurisdiction. (ECF No. 1). All parties are represented by counsel. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), which recommends that the court construe Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and that the court grant summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' state law claims. (ECF No. 17). The magistrate judge notified the parties of their right to file objections to the Report. Id. at 7. Plaintiffs filed timely objections to the Report. (ECF No. 18). Defendants did not file objections, but they responded to Plaintiff's objections. (ECF No. 21). The time for objections has now run, and the matter is now ripe for review.

         The recommendations set forth in the Report have no presumptive weight, and this court remains responsible for making a final determination in this matter. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Greenville County on March 25, 2019.[1] Plaintiffs then filed an Amended Complaint alleging claims for (1) common law liability for negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness as to all Defendants; (2) negligent hiring, supervision, and retention as to Defendants Greenville County, Greenville County Sheriff's Office, and Former Sheriff Will Lewis; (3) violation of constitutional rights as to the U.S. Constitution and South Carolina Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as to all Defendants; (4) survival action pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 15-5-90 as to all Defendants; and (5) wrongful death as to all Defendants. (ECF No. 1-1).

         The magistrate judge set forth a detailed account of the factual allegations in Plaintiffs' complaint. (ECF No. 17 at 2-3). Briefly, Plaintiffs allege that Greenville County deputies shot and killed the decedent, Joseph Inabinet, at the residence of his estranged wife, Plaintiff Cheryl Inabinet (“Cheyrl”).[2] (ECF No. 1-1 at 3-4). Plaintiffs allege the deputies knew or should have known that the decedent did not pose a danger to them based on the deputies' previous encounters with the decedent. Id.

         On this occasion, Cheryl called law enforcement after the decedent came to her house, began knocking on her doors and windows, and told Cheryl to call the police. Id. at 3. Cheryl told the police dispatcher that her husband wanted to commit “suicide by cop, ” and explained his mental instability. Id. The Complaint asserts that when deputies arrived, the decedent began to yell “I'm armed! Why aren't y'all firing?” Id. Plaintiffs allege that at that time, instead of trying to resolve the dispute peacefully, the deputies “pulled their firearms and fired at least 29 times” at decedent, killing him. Id. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants drove them to the station immediately thereafter and insisted that they give statements regarding the events. Id. at 4. Plaintiffs allege that the police took Cheryl's phone and downloaded its contents prior to letting them leave the station. Id. According to the complaint, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division later determined that “the decedent was unarmed at the time the defendants killed him and the decedent only had a BB gun.” Id. Plaintiffs claim that Cheryl tried many times to obtain police reports regarding the incident, but her requests have been denied. Id.

         Defendants filed the instant motion, moving for dismissal of Plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement pursuant to 12(e). (ECF Nos. 4; 4-1). Defendants claim that Plaintiffs' state law claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitation (“SOL”) set forth in the South Carolina Tort Claims Act (“SCTCA”), SC Code Ann. § 15-78-110. (ECF No. 4-1 at 2-4). Plaintiffs argue the SOL provision in SCTCA applies but assert that the claims were timely under such provision. (ECF No. 11). The parties disagree on when the SOL began to run. See (ECF Nos. 4-1; 11) The magistrate judge filed a Report, which recommended that this court grant Defendants summary judgment as to Plaintiffs state law claims because the claims are barred by the SOL. (ECF No. 17). Plaintiffs filed timely objections (ECF No. 18), and Defendants replied (ECF No. 21). The matter is now ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD

         While Defendants' motion was initially filed as a Motion to Dismiss, in considering the motion, the court has relied on various affidavits that were not attached to the pleadings. When “matters outside the pleadings are presented and not excluded by the court, ” a motion to dismiss “must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party may support or refute that a material fact is not disputed by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Rule 56 mandates entry of summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly 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.” Id. at 248. The moving party has the burden of proving that summary judgment is appropriate. Once the moving party makes this showing, however, the opposing party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but rather must, by affidavits or other means permitted by the Rule, set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), (e); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.


         The parties agree that the two-year SOL period[3] in the SCTCA applies to Plaintiffs' state law claims.[4] However, the parties disagree on when the two-year SOL period began to run. Additionally, the parties agree that the incident occurred on March 4, 2017, which is the date listed in the Coroner's Report. (ECF Nos. 4-1 at 3-9; 11 at 1). Defendants argue that the SOL period began to run on the date of decedent's death, March 4, 2017. (ECF No. 21 at 3). Plaintiffs contend that the SOL period did not begin to run until they “were able to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the shooting” and that the fact that Cheryl was unable to obtain any documents regarding the incident precluded any such inquiry. (ECF No. 11 at 4-5).

         The magistrate judge determined that the SOL “began to run on March 4, 2017, the date of the incident, as Cheryl . . . was on notice that she had a claim when the decedent was shot and killed.” (ECF No. 17 at 6). Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended that this court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' state law claims. Id. In their objections, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants should not benefit from withholding documents from Plaintiffs and that it was only through reasonable inquiry into those documents that Plaintiffs could have known ...

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