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Haynes v. Richmond County Sheriff Office

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

May 15, 2015



BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia, commenced the above-captioned case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because he is proceeding in forma pauperis ("IFP"), Plaintiff's amended complaint must be screened to protect potential defendants. Phillips v. Mashburn, 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984); Al-Amin v. Donald, 165 F.Appx. 733, 736 (11th Cir. 2006).



In his complaint, Plaintiff names as defendants the Richmond County Sherriff's Office and Deputy Michael Garner in his individual and official capacity. (Doc. no. 1, pp. 1, 4.) Taking all of Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, as the Court must for purposes of the present screening, the facts are as follows.

On May 12, 2013, Deputy Michael Garner of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department used his patrol car to hit Plaintiff, driving at a speed of over sixty miles per hour across a church parking lot. (Doc. no. 1, p. 5.) Deputy Garner intentionally hit Plaintiff without a warning, and Plaintiff was knocked over six feet into the air, causing extensive damage to the windshield of Deputy Garner's patrol car. (Id.) As a result of the collision, Plaintiff suffered serious injuries to his neck, shoulder, back and leg and an ambulance carried him to a hospital in the Augusta area. (Id.)


1. Legal Standard for Screening

The amended complaint or any portion thereof may be dismissed if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, of if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b). A claim is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). "Failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard as dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)." Wilkerson v. H & S, Inc., 366 F.Appx. 49, 51 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997)).

To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations in the amended complaint must "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. An amended complaint is insufficient if it "offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '" or if it "tenders naked assertions' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). In short, the amended complaint must provide a "plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

Finally, the court affords a liberal construction to a pro se litigant's pleadings, holding them to a more lenient standard than those drafted by an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, this liberal construction does not mean that the court has a duty to re-write the amended complaint. Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).

2. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim against Defendant Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

Plaintiff has failed to state a viable § 1983 claim against Defendant Richmond County Sheriff's Office because it is not subject to liability in a § 1983 suit. According to Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(3), the general rule is that the "capacity to sue or be sued is determined... by the law of the state where the court is located...." Accordingly, in this case, Georgia law controls. The Georgia Supreme Court has explained that: "[i]n every suit there must be a legal entity as the real plaintiff and the real defendant. This state recognizes only three classes as legal entities, namely: (1) natural persons; (2) an artificial person (a corporation); and (3) such quasi-artificial persons as the law recognizes as being capable to sue." Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool v. Elbert County, 368 S.E.2d 500, 502 (1988) (quotation omitted). Moreover, "[s]heriff's departments and police departments are not usually considered legal entities subject to suit...." Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992) (dismissing claim against sheriff's department because department was not subject to suit under Alabama law); see Bunyon v. Burke Cnty., 285 F.Supp.2d 1310, 1328-29 (S.D. Ga. 2003) (dismissing claim against police department, reasoning it was not legal entity subject to suit). Thus, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendant Richmond County Sheriff's Office because it is not a legal entity subject to liability in a § 1983 suit.

Plaintiff's allegations are also insufficient to state a claim against Defendant Richmond County Sheriff's Office because, "the Eleventh Amendment insulates a state from suit brought by individuals in federal court unless the state either consents to suit or waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity." Stevens v. Gay, 864 F.2d 113, 114 (11th Cir. 1989) (footnote omitted, citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-100 (1984)). Arms or agencies of the state are also immune from suit. Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 781-82 (1978). When performing its duty of law enforcement, a sheriff's office is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Townsend v. Coffee Cnty., Ga., 854 F.Supp.2d 1345, 1352 (S.D. Ga. 2011) (dismissing § 1983 claims against a sheriff because the he was performing his law-enforcement function and "the state alone... has delegated to the sheriff's office the specific duty of law enforcement"). Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment shields Defendant Richmond County Sheriff's Office from liability on Plaintiff's claims.


For the reasons set forth above, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS that Defendant Richmond County Sheriff's Office be DISMISSED with prejudice for failure to state a claim.


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