Hunsberger v. Myers, No.: 8:18-cv-02548-TMC-JDA

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtJacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge
Docket NumberNo.: 8:18-cv-02548-TMC-JDA
PartiesAlexander Louis Hunsberger, Plaintiff, v. Donald Myers; Ervin Maye; Frank Young; Alton Eargle, Jr.; Rick Hubbard; Randy B. Duran; Roger Lowe, Defendants.
Decision Date22 February 2019

Alexander Louis Hunsberger, Plaintiff,
v.
Donald Myers; Ervin Maye; Frank Young;
Alton Eargle, Jr.; Rick Hubbard;
Randy B. Duran; Roger Lowe, Defendants.

No.: 8:18-cv-02548-TMC-JDA

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA ANDERSON/GREENWOOD DIVISION

February 22, 2019


REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment and a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Defendants in this civil action. [Docs. 20; 21.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in this case.

Plaintiff brought this action on August 7, 2018, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.1 [Doc. 1.] Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his constitutional rights. [Id.] On November 26, 2018, Defendants Randy B. Duran and Roger Lowe (the "Sheriff's Department Defendants")2 filed a motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 20.] On the same day, Defendants Alton Eargle, Jr., Rick Hubbard, Ervin Maye, Donald

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Myers, and Frank Young (the "Prosecutor Defendants")3 filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. [Doc. 21.] On November 28, 2018, this Court issued an Order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the summary judgment/dismissal procedure and of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motions. [Doc. 22.] On January 31, 2019, Plaintiff's response in opposition to both motions was docketed. [Doc. 29.] On February 5, 2019, the Prosecutor Defendants filed a reply. [Doc. 31.] Both motions are now ripe for review.

BACKGROUND4

Plaintiff is a state prisoner incarcerated at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia. [Doc. 1 at 1.] In 2002, he was arrested for the murder of Samuel J. Sturrup and held without bond. [Id. at 2, 4-5.] Plaintiff alleges that his arrest was based in part on Defendant Duran's statement made under oath that "to the best of his knowledge Charlene A. Thatcher made a statement stating that she [had] seen the Plaintiff force Mr. Sturrup in[to] the trunk of his car and then later in a wooded area Ms. Thatcher [had] seen the Plaintiff shoot Mr. Sturrup" and "that William Harris [had] made the exact same statement as Ms. Thatcher." [Id. at 4.] Plaintiff alleges that not only was Duran's statement false but that "Cpt. Roger Lowe who supervised the investigation conducted by Lt. Duran, allowed Lt. Duran to present the false evidence under a judicial oath without correcting" him. [Id.]

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Although Plaintiff was arrested in 2002, his trial was not held until 2012. [Id. at 2-4.] During the years between his arrest and trial Plaintiff filed a motion to enforce his rights to a speedy trial and for reconsideration of his denial of bond, which the court denied based on Assistant Solicitor Maye's representation to the court "that upon Solicitor Donald Myers['] instructions the State ha[d] yet to decide if they will seek the Death Penalty on the Plaintiff." [Id. at 2-5.]

Following his trial, a jury found Plaintiff guilty of Sturrup's murder. [Id. at 2-4.] Plaintiff appealed his conviction on the basis that his right to a speedy trial was violated. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed, State v. Hunsberger, No. 2014-UP-381, 2014 WL 5772563 (S.C. Ct. App. Nov. 5, 2014), but the Supreme Court of South Carolina subsequently granted certiorari and reversed Plaintiff's conviction in a 3-2 decision, State v. Hunsberger, 794 S.E.2d 368 (S.C. 2016); id. at 377-82 (Toal, J., dissenting).5

In the present action, Plaintiff seeks money damages for the violation of his constitutional rights. He claims that Duran's presentation of false evidence, which Love knowingly allowed, "directly contributed to the prosecution and subsequent conviction of the Plaintiff" and violated his right to due process under the United States and South Carolina Constitutions. [Id. at 2, 4.] He alleges that Defendants Myers, Mayes, and Young used "the Death Penalty as a tactic to ensure that the Plaintiff was denied bond, fast and speedy trial, and Due Process," thereby prolonging his confinement and allowing him to be wrongfully convicted, and violating his right to a speedy trial and to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. [Id. 2-3, 5.] And, Plaintiff alleges that, after his conviction was

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reversed, Defendants Assistant Solicitors Hubbard and Eargle violated Plaintiff's right to due process by "refus[ing] to perform their duties to remove the conviction and sentence both written and digitally." [Id. at 3, 6.]

APPLICABLE LAW

Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint

Plaintiff brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520. The mandated liberal construction means only that if the Court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court "conjure up questions never squarely presented." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

Requirements for a Cause of Action Under § 1983

This action is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a private cause of action for constitutional violations by persons acting under color of state law. Section 1983 "'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)). Accordingly, a civil action under § 1983

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allows "a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief." City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999).

Section 1983 provides, in relevant part,

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) that the defendant "deprived [the plaintiff] of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States" and (2) that the defendant "deprived [the plaintiff] of this constitutional right under color of [State] statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage." Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310 (4th Cir. 2001) (third alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

The under-color-of-state-law element, which is equivalent to the "state action" requirement under the Fourteenth Amendment,

reflects judicial recognition of the fact that most rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement by governments. This fundamental limitation on the scope of constitutional guarantees preserves an area of individual freedom by limiting the reach of federal law and avoids imposing on the State, its agencies or officials, responsibility for conduct for which they cannot fairly be blamed.

Id. (quoting Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998)) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, "the deed of an ostensibly private organization or individual" may at times be treated "as if a State has caused it to be performed." Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn. Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 531

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U.S. 288, 295 (2001). Specifically, "state action may be found if, though only if, there is such a 'close nexus between the State and the challenged action' that seemingly private behavior 'may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.'" Id. (quoting Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974)). State action requires both an alleged constitutional deprivation "caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State . . . or by a person for whom the State is responsible" and that "the party charged with the deprivation [is] a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor." Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982). A determination of whether a private party's allegedly unconstitutional conduct is fairly attributable to the State requires the court to "begin[ ] by identifying 'the specific conduct of which the plaintiff complains.'" Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 51 (1999) (quoting Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982)).

Judgment on the Pleadings Standard

Rule 12(c) permits a party to move for judgment on the pleadings "[a]fter the pleadings are closed—but early enough not to delay trial. . . . " Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Where a Rule 12(b)(6) defense is raised by a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, the motion under Rule 12(c) is reviewed under the same standards as a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). Rodriguez v. Finan, No. 2:15-cv-2317-BHH, 2016 WL 1258314, at *7 n.2 (D.S.C. Mar. 31, 2016) (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999); Burbach Broad. Co. of Delaware v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002)).

Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a claim should be dismissed if it fails to...

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