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Moore v. Moss

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

December 3, 2019

Rodney R. Moore, Plaintiff,
Officer C. Moss, Defendant.


          Kevin F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss (doc. 20). The plaintiff, a former pretrial detainee who is proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(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 Section 1983 and submit findings and recommendations to the district court.


         The plaintiff filed his complaint here on June 4, 2019 (doc. 1). He alleges that while housed in the Charleston County Detention Center (“CCDC”)[1] in June 2018, he was sitting down speaking to CDCC's Officer Moss at her desk, when inmate Swinton assaulted him from behind with an electric razor, causing him to suffer serious head injuries (id., p. 5). He alleges that Officer Moss failed to protect him from the assault, and he seeks monetary damages (id., pp. 4, 8; see also doc. 1-2, pp. 4-6).

         The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff (with the assistance of counsel), sued for his injuries in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas (see Moore v. Charleston County Sheriff's Office, C/A 18-CP-10-5117) in October 2018 and settled that case with a full release of all claims in May 2019 (doc. 20). Attached to the defendant's motion are the plaintiff's state court complaint (doc. 20-2), the state court's consent order dismissing the case as settled (doc. 20-3), a full and final release (doc. 20-4), and the stipulation of dismissal (doc. 20-5). As relevant here, the release sets forth that, in exchange for the payment of $2, 000.00, the plaintiff “releases and forever discharges” the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and its employees and officers from “any and all claims, demands, damages, actions, or causes of action, in law or in equity, under state law or federal law” arising from the allegations set forth in the state case C/A 18-CP-10-5117. The last page of the release reads “THIS ENDS ALL CLAIMS” and bears the purported signature of the plaintiff over his printed name, along with the signature of his state court attorney, Mark A. Peper (doc. 20-4). Officer Moss argues that the plaintiff is barred from seeking recovery against her, as she was an employee of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office at the time of the incident and was covered by the release in state court, and that the legal doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel apply here to bar this case.

         By order filed August 15, 2019, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the plaintiff was advised of the motion to dismiss/summary judgment procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to the motion (doc. 24). After an extension, the plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the defendant's motion on October 24, 2019 (doc. 33), and the defendant filed a reply on October 29, 2019 (doc. 35). In his response in opposition, the plaintiff states that the signature on the release form is not his but rather a forgery by his attorney and that he never consented to dismiss the state court case (doc. 33). The plaintiff also provides an inventory document from the CCDC dated July 25, 2019, purporting to account for his many legal documents, though no mention is made in the inventory of a specific release form (doc. 33-1). With her reply in support (doc. 35), Officer Moss provides the affidavit of Mr. Peper, who attests that he signed the plaintiff's name on the release with the plaintiff's consent after notifying the plaintiff of the settlement offer and receiving his authorization to accept it and execute the release on his behalf (doc. 35-1, Peper aff. ¶¶ 3-8). Mr. Peper explains that because the plaintiff was still confined in the CCDC, the plaintiff's net settlement proceeds were delivered to him in care of the CCDC on June 12, 2019, and the plaintiff later expressed his satisfaction with the settlement to Mr. Peper (id., ¶¶ 9-11). Also submitted are commissary records from the CCDC showing that a deposit was in fact made on June 12, 2019, in the amount of $1, 024.00. The records further show that the plaintiff purchased various items, drawing this money from his credited account, until he was released on August 9, 2019, at which time he was provided a check for the remaining balance of $308.16 (doc. 35-2).


         Summary Judgment Standard

         In response in opposition to Officer Moss' motion to dismiss, the plaintiff submitted materials outside the pleadings comprised of CCDC inventory records (see doc. 33-1), and the plaintiff replied with the affidavit of Mr. Peper and CCDC commissary records (docs. 35-1, -2). The court has not excluded these materials from consideration. When “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the [12(b)(6)] motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). See Laughlin v. Metro. Washington Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 260- 61 (4th Cir. 1998). As noted above, the plaintiff was specifically advised in the Roseboro order that submission of materials outside the pleadings would convert the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment if the materials were considered by the court (doc. 48). Because the court has reviewed and relied upon documents filed outside of the pleadings, it will treat the pending motion as a motion for summary judgment.

         A motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and supporting documents “show[ ] that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As to the first of these determinations, a fact is deemed “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings; rather, he must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion. Id. at 248. “Only 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.

         Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel

         The evidence submitted here plainly demonstrates that the plaintiff previously filed suit in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas in C/A 18-CP-10-5117 for this same incident and that the case was dismissed as settled (docs. 20-2, -3, -4, -5). In addition, the settlement was accompanied by a binding release that was signed by the plaintiff's attorney Mr. Peper on his behalf after he was authorized to do so by the plaintiff (doc. 35-1). While the plaintiff argues that his signature was not authorized and thus was forged, he has presented nothing to contradict the sworn affidavit of Mr. Peper, nor the CCDC records showing that he received and spent the resulting settlement proceeds (doc. 35-2). As the state court has already entered judgment in C/A 18-CP-10-5117, the plaintiff is precluded from attempting to relitigate his claims here.

         Res judicata precludes the assertion of a claim after a judgment on the merits is reached in a prior suit by parties or their privies based on the same cause of action. SeeMeekins v. United Transp. Union, 946 F.2d 1054, 1057 (4th Cir. 1991). The doctrine bars litigation of all claims or defenses that were available to the parties in the previous litigation, regardless of whether they were asserted or determined in the prior proceeding. To apply res judicata, “(1) the parties must be the same or in privity with the original parties; (2) the claims in the subsequent litigation must be substantially the same as those in the prior litigation; and (3) the earlier litigation must have resulted in a final judgment on the merits.” Shoup v. Bell & Howell Co., 872 F.2d 1178, 1179 (4th Cir. 1989). All three elements are met here. First, the parties are the same in both C/A 18-CP-10-5117 and here, as Officer Moss was in privity with her employer, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, which was named in the previous litigation. Second, the claims in both actions are essentially the same, as the plaintiff seeks damages for his injuries here arising out of the same occurrence that was the subject of the prior state court case. Third, the earlier state court case ended with an ...

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