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Crane v. Samsung Washing Machine Plant

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 1, 2019

Tracy Lee Crane, Plaintiff,
Samsung Washing Machine Plant, Defendant.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Tracy Lee Crane, (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff is a detainee at the Berkeley County Detention Center (the “Detention Center”) in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. He files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A. 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. Having reviewed the Complaint in accordance with applicable law, the undersigned finds that this action is subject to summary dismissal.


         Plaintiff alleges that, on April 30, 2017, he was approached by Newberry detectives, who explained that he was not under arrest and that they needed to speak to him. [Doc. 1 at 3.] While he was standing there, a Samsung Security Officer came up behind him, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a candy canister. [Id.] The Samsung Security Officer opened the candy canister and stated to police, “Officer look what we have here drugs.” [Id.] The officers did not arrest Plaintiff for the thing they were questioning him about, but they said their hands were tied regarding the drugs. [Id.] Plaintiff was taken to jail, and then to prison, and was sentenced to one year. [Id.] For his relief, Plaintiff asks that the Court grant an award of attorneys' fees, payment for his home that he lost, $20, 000 for each day he was in prison, and for his job back at the plant. [Id.] Plaintiff also asks for an award of $50, 000 to be paid to Boom Recycling for the contract they lost because of these events. [Id.]


         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute. This statute 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 is 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 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, Plaintiff's Complaint is 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).

         Although the Court must liberally construe the pro se Complaint and Plaintiff is not required to plead facts sufficient to prove his case as an evidentiary matter in the Complaint, the Complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (explaining that a plaintiff may proceed into the litigation process only when his complaint is justified by both law and fact). “A claim has ‘facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Owens v. Baltimore City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 388 (4th Cir. 2014).


         Plaintiff filed his Complaint 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).

         Here, the Complaint is subject to summary dismissal because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief. Plaintiff attempts to assert a claim for “illegal search [and] seizure by Samsung Security.” [Doc. 1 at 2.] However, Plaintiff's allegations fail to state a claim for relief for the following reasons.

         First, the crux of this action appears to be a challenge to the lawfulness of Plaintiff's arrest and incarceration at the Detention Center. To the extent Plaintiff seeks release from prison, such relief is not available in this civil rights action. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 481 (1994) (stating that “habeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier release, even though such a claim may come within the literal terms of § 1983”); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 487-88 (1973) (attacking the length of duration of confinement is within the core of habeas corpus). Further, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks money damages based on his allegedly unlawful arrest or confinement, his claim fails because he has not alleged facts showing that his sentence and conviction have been invalidated, and he has therefore failed to meet Heck's “favorable termination” requirement. See Wilson v. Johnson, 535 F.3d 262, 263 (4th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, his claims for money damages are barred by Heck, 512 U.S. at 481.

         Second, the only named Defendant in this action, Samsung Washing Machine Plant, is subject to dismissal because it is not a party that is amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As noted, to state a § 1983 claim, Plaintiff must allege that he was deprived of a constitutional right by a person acting under the color of state law. Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998). It is well-settled that “[a]nyone whose conduct is ‘fairly attributable to the state' can be sued as a state actor under § 1983.” Filarsky v. Delia, 566 U.S. 377, 383 (2012). However, purely private conduct, no matter how wrongful, is not actionable under § 1983. See Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 936 (1982); Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310 (4th Cir. 2001).

         Here, Defendant is not a state actor for purposes of § 1983. Thus, Plaintiff's claims against Defendant are subject to dismissal because Defendant was not acting under color of state law. See, e.g., Chiles v. Crooks, 708 F.Supp. 127, 131 (D.S.C. 1989) (explaining plaintiff's allegations against private security guards failed to establish joint action to satisfy the Fourteenth Amendment's state-action requirement or § 1983's “color of state law” requirement). “Private security officers do not become state actors simply by being at the scene of an arrest or seizure.” Cox v. Duke Energy, Inc., 176 F.Supp.3d 530, 545 (D.S.C. 2016), aff'd, 876 F.3d 625 (4th Cir. 2017); see also Grant-Davis v. Fortune, No. 2:15-cv-4211-PMD-MGB, 2015 WL 12868172, at *3 (D.S.C. Nov. 20, 2015) (“Generally, the acts of private security guards, hired by a store, do not constitute state action under § 1983.”) (internal quotation marks omitted), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2015 WL 12868171 (D.S.C. Dec. 7, 2015), aff'd, 645 Fed.Appx. 288 (4th Cir. 2016). Plaintiff has failed to allege facts showing that the Samsung Plant's Security Department was “endowed by law with plenary police powers such that they [we]re de facto police officers, [to qualify them] as state actors under the public function test.” United States v. Mayes, No. 2:12-cr-00501-DCN-1, 2013 WL 267770, at *4 (D.S.C. Jan. 24, 2013) (internal quotation ...

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