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Aikens v. Boyter

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

October 8, 2019

Mister Aikens, Plaintiff,
v.
Officer Boyter, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Mister Aikens (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Officer Boyter (“Defendant”) violated his Fourth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Plaintiff filed this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d), D.S.C., the undersigned Magistrate Judge is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. For the reasons explained below, the Complaint is subject to summary dismissal.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee and is currently incarcerated at the Greenwood County Detention Center. [Doc. 1-2 at 2.] Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a single-page, hand-written Complaint. [Doc. 1.] Pursuant to this Court's Order dated September 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Complaint on the standard form. [Doc. 1-2.] The Court construes both documents together as the Complaint in this matter.

         Plaintiff makes the following allegations. On January 29, 2019, Defendant falsely accused Plaintiff of driving a car that he was not driving. [Doc. 1 at 1.] Defendant charged Plaintiff with driving under suspension, failure to stop for blue light, driving without a seatbelt, and possession of cocaine base. [Id.] Plaintiff exited the passenger side of the car and ran, and, during the ensuing foot chase, Defendant said, “stop, Demarcus Carroll.” [Id.] There were two people in the car and Demarcus Carroll was the driver and Plaintiff was the passenger. [Id.] Defendant said that Plaintiff crossed over from the driver side to the passenger side and exited the car while the car was still moving. [Id.] Plaintiff contends the video from the police car dash cam and from Defendant's body camera will show that Defendant's account is a lie. [Id.] Later, Defendant pulled the same car over with Carroll driving and Plaintiff in the back seat. [Id.] Defendant arrested Carroll and told him that he knew he was driving the night he locked Plaintiff up. [Id.] Plaintiff was locked up and given a $100, 000 bond on charges for crimes that he did not commit. [Doc. 1-2 at 5.] For his relief, Plaintiff seeks $200, 000 in damages for pain and suffering, false imprisonment, and slander. [Id.]

         The Court takes judicial notice that Plaintiff has been charged in the Greenwood County Court of General Sessions with the following offenses, which remain pending against him at this time: (1) driving under suspended license, third offense, at case number 20191110080563; (2) seatbelt violation at case number 201911100805634; (3) seatbelt violation at case number 20191110080565; (4) driving under suspension at case number 2019A2420100006; (5) manufacturing or distributing cocaine base, third offense, at case number 2019A2420100090; (6) weapons violation at case number 2019A2420100091; and (7) resisting arrest at case number 2019A2420100092. See Greenwood County Eighth Judicial Circuit Public Index, available at https://publicindex.sccourts.org/ Greenwood/PublicIndex/PISearch.aspx (search by Plaintiff's first and last name) (last visited Oct. 4, 2019); see also Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (explaining that courts “may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record”); Colonial Penn Ins. Co. v. Coil, 887 F.2d 1236, 1239 (4th Cir. 1989) (“We note that ‘the most frequent use of judicial notice is in noticing the content of court records.'”).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute, which authorizes the district court to dismiss a case if it is satisfied that the action “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” is “frivolous or malicious, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Further, Plaintiff appears to be a prisoner under the definition in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and “seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court would still be charged with screening Plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the Complaint if (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, his pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. 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 Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the Court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         DISCUSSION

         The 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) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). 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).

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. [Doc. 1-2 at 3.] Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant falsely accused him, committed perjury, slandered his name, and falsely imprisoned him. [Id. at 3-5.] Despite these allegations, the Complaint is subject to summary dismissal for the reasons below.

         The crux of this action appears to be a challenge to Plaintiff's arrest and incarceration for the charges noted above. Liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint appears to assert a claim for false arrest and/or false imprisonment and a claim for slander. For his relief, Plaintiff purports to seek money damages.[1]

         To the extent Plaintiff brings a claim based on the Fourth Amendment alleging false arrest, he fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. The constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is well settled. Merchant v. Bauer, 677 F.3d 656, 662 (4th Cir. 2012). To state a claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he was arrested without probable cause. Sowers v. City of Charlotte, 659 Fed.Appx. 738, 740 (4th Cir. 2016). The state court records noted above reflect that a grand jury issued indictments in the criminal actions pending against Plaintiff and that a judge in the state court issued warrants for Plaintiff. Accordingly, because Plaintiff was indicted on the state charges about which he complains in this case and because warrants were issued, his allegations of false arrest fail to state a claim. A grand jury indictment is affirmative evidence of probable cause sufficient to defeat claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution under § 1983. See Durham v. Horner, 690 F.3d 183, 189 (4th Cir. 2012) (explaining that an indictment, fair upon its face, returned by a properly constituted grand jury conclusively determines the existence of probable cause); see also Provet v. South Carolina, No. 6:07-1094-GRA-WMC, 2007 WL 1847849, at *5 (D.S.C. June 25, 2007) (explaining ยง 1983 claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution were precluded because of indictment). Therefore, Plaintiff fails to allege a plausible claim for false arrest, ...


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