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Coney v. Laurens County Sheriff Department

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

March 19, 2018

VICTOR L. CONEY, Plaintiff,
LAURENS COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT; DANIEL LAMPP, Deputy Sheriff; STEVEN CADY, Deputy Sheriff; SHERRY MANGUM, Deputy Sheriff; WILSON BUSH, Deputy Sheriff; and DEIDRE BYRD, Investigator, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Georgia Diagnostic & Classification State Prison in Jackson, Georgia, commenced the above-captioned case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 regarding events alleged to have occurred in Laurens County, Georgia. Because he is proceeding 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. App'x 733, 736 (11th Cir. 2006).


         A. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff names as Defendants (1) Laurens County Sheriff Department; (2) Daniel Lampp; (3) Wilson Bush; (4) Deidre Byrd; (5) Steven Cady; and (6) Sherry Mangum. (Doc. No. 7, pp. 2-5.) 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 October 29, 2015 at approximately 3:30 p.m., Plaintiff was a passenger in Christopher Smith's vehicle, which Laurens County Sheriff deputies stopped on S. Washington St. in front of RAWL's. (Id. at 7-8.) During the stop, Smith admitted to smoking marijuana and consented to a search of his vehicle. (Id. at 8.) Defendant Lampp searched the vehicle and found “alleged contraband” in the console. (Id.) Despite Smith admitting to Defendant Byrd the contraband was his, Defendant Lampp arrested Plaintiff because he was seated closest to the console. (Id.) After arresting Plaintiff, Defendants Lampp, Byrd, and Cady took Plaintiff to his residence on S. Jefferson St., where they met Defendants Mangum and Bush. (Id.) Defendants conducted a warrantless search of Plaintiff's residence. (Id.)

         B. DISCUSSION

         1. Legal Standard for Screening

         The 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, or 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, 325 (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. App'x 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 complaint must “state a claim to 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. A 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 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)).

         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. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, this liberal construction does not mean that the court has a duty to re-write the complaint. Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).

         2. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim Against Laurens County Sheriff Department.

         Plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to state a claim against Laurens County Sheriff Department, which is not subject to liability in a § 1983 suit. According to Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(3), the general rule is 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: “[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). “Sheriff'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 Laurens County Sheriff Department because it is not a legal entity subject to liability in a § 1983 suit.

         3. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim for ...

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