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Aiken v. Strickland

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

November 4, 2019

Jelani Rondell Aiken, Plaintiff,
Andy Strickland, Shane Roberts, Colleton County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.


          Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff, a pretrial detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and submit findings and recommendations to the district court.

         The plaintiff's complaint was entered on the docket on September 23, 2019 (doc. 1). By order filed September 25, 2019, the plaintiff was given a specific time frame in which to bring his case into proper form for judicial screening (doc. 9). The plaintiff complied with the court's order, bringing his case into proper form. On October 10, 2019, the undersigned issued an order informing the plaintiff that his complaint was subject to dismissal as drafted and providing him with fourteen days to file an amended complaint and correct the deficiencies noted in the order (doc. 14). The plaintiff was informed that if he failed to file an amended complaint or cure the deficiencies outlined in the order, the undersigned would recommend that his claims be dismissed (id.). The plaintiff has failed to file an amended complaint within the time provided; accordingly, the undersigned recommends that the instant matter be dismissed.


         The plaintiff is a pre-trial detainee confined in the Colleton County Jail (“CCJ”) (doc. 1). He alleges that he has been denied access to legal research materials because CCJ does not have a law library (id. at 5). He seeks an order from the court requiring CCJ to provide a law library, and monetary damages to compensate him for his inability to prepare for his upcoming trial (id.).


         The 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, the plaintiff is a prisoner under the definition of 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 the plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court is charged with screening the 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.

         As a pro se litigant, the plaintiff's 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 (2007) (per curiam). 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).

         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).


         As noted above, the plaintiff filed the instant action pursuant to § 1983, seeking damages from the defendants. However, for the reasons that follow, the plaintiff's complaint is subject to summary dismissal.

         Denial of Access to the Courts Claim

         The plaintiff alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated, as he has been denied legal research privileges and access to a law library for his upcoming trial (doc. 1). Such a claim for denial of access to the courts must be pled with specificity. Cochran v. Morris, 73 F.3d 1310, 1317 (4th Cir. 1996). Moreover, pretrial detainees, temporarily held in a county facility while awaiting trial, do not have a constitutional right to a law library, as the Constitution guarantees a right to reasonable access to the courts, not to legal research or a law library. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. at 351; Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 838 (1977); see also Jones v. Lexington Cty. Det. Ctr., 586 F.Supp.2d 444, 448 (D.S.C. 2008) (noting that “the law is quite clear that those being temporarily detained in county facilities awaiting criminal trial do not have a constitutional right to a law library”) (citing Magee v. Waters, 810 F.2d 451, 452 (4th Cir. 1987)). In any event, to maintain a valid constitutional claim for denial of access to the courts, a prisoner must show actual injury. Cochran, 73 F.3d at 1317; see Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349. The plaintiff has made no such showing. Further, according to the Colleton County Court of General Sessions public docket, the plaintiff is awaiting trial for murder and domestic violence, appointment of an attorney was ordered by that court on September 6, 2018, and Helen Rose Roper Dovell, Esquire, has noticed an appearance as counsel on the plaintiff's behalf.[1] See Colleton County Public Index, (enter the plaintiff's name and 2018A1510100379, 2017A1520300407) (last visited November 4, 2019). As such, he has access to legal information from his attorney. Accordingly, in light of the foregoing, the plaintiff's denial of access to law library claim is subject to summary dismissal.

         Colleton County ...

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