Singleton v. Georgetown, City of et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 17 Motion for Summary Judgment Signed by Honorable David C Norton on February 13, 2017.(span, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
CITY OF GEORGETOWN,
JANET GRANT, individually and
as an employee of the City of Georgetown, )
RICKY MARTIN, individually and as an )
employee of the City of Georgetown,
ROBERT O’DONNELL, individually and )
as a magistrate for the City of Georgetown, )
This matter is before the court on the City of Georgetown (“Georgetown”),
Janet Grant (“Grant”), Ricky Martin “Martin”), and Robert O’Donnell’s
(“O’Donnell”) (collectively, “Defendants”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No.
17. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants in part and denies in part
defendants’ summary judgment motion.
This case arises out of a citation levied on a piece of property (“the Lot”) in
the City of Georgetown, South Carolina. Compl. ¶ 4. The citation charged Willie
Singleton (“Singleton”) with violating City of Georgetown Municipal Code Article II
of Public Nuisance § 11-26 (“Section 11-26”), which categorizes lots with “excessive
overgrowth with a dilapidated structure” as a public nuisance subject to citation. Id.
¶¶ 47–51, 56. The relevant text of Section 11-26 identifies a public nuisance as:
(3) Any building or part of any building which, on account of its
condition, its occupancy or use, may endanger life or health; …
(7) Any property, whether occupied or vacant, upon which grass,
weeds, or undergrowth exceeding eighteen (18) inches in height, trash,
garbage, offal, stagnant water, building materials, glass, wood, metal
or other matter deleterious to good health and public sanitation is
permitted or caused to accumulate in any manner which is or may
become a nuisance causing injuries or sickness to the public or
(8) Any property which, because of its condition, may promote the
breeding of harborage of flies, [rats], snakes, vermin or other insects
As an initial matter, the parties seem to have a markedly different
understanding of the facts forming the underlying dispute. Georgetown contends that
this case centers on a 2010 citation levied on Singleton for the overgrowth on the Lot.
Defs.’ Mot. 3. Singleton argues that this case is “actually” about Georgetown’s
selective prosecution against him arising out of (1) O’Donnell’s 1995 representation
of Alex Alford, Sr., who fraudulently sold Singleton the Lot; (2) Singleton’s history
of levying complaints against O’Donnell for his fraudulent transference of the Lot;
(3) Singleton’s history of levying complaints against Georgetown for allowing Grant
to engage in code enforcement without being properly licensed; (4) Singleton’s 2009
complaint for the allegedly illegal demolition of his home located on Front Street in
Georgetown, South Carolina. Pl.’s Resp. 8–14. Despite this confusion and for the
purposes of this motion only, the court takes Singleton’s version of the facts to be
Grant sent a series of letters regarding the overgrowth on the Lot beginning in April
2009, but ultimately issued a citation for violation of Section 11-26 in September 16,
2010. Defs.’ Mot. 2.
Singleton appeared at the municipal court hearing for his citation and
requested a jury trial. Id. Singleton did not show up at his trial, set for July 13, 2011,
and was found guilty of violating Section 11-26. Id. at 3. O’Donnell was the
municipal court judge presiding over the trial. Compl. ¶ 38. Singleton was fined
$1,092.00, consisting of a $500.00 fine and the remainder in court fees. Defs.’ Mot.
3. Singleton appealed his conviction to the South Carolina Circuit Court on July 29,
2011, which affirmed his conviction. Id. at 4. Singleton then appealed to the South
Carolina Court of Appeals, which found on January 7, 2015 that Singleton’s original
appeal to the circuit court was untimely and so the circuit court lacked appellate
jurisdiction over the appeal. Id., Ex. H, S.C Ct. App. Op. No. 2012-212102. The
result of the South Carolina Court of Appeals ruling is that the Circuit Court’s
decision was vacated, and the original municipal court judgment against Singleton
Singleton, who is African-American, alleges that Georgetown chose to
prosecute him for the overgrowth of his lot because of his race and Singleton’s
history of lodging complaints against Georgetown and various city employees.
Compl. ¶ 9. Singleton argues that the Lot was a “naturalized lot”2 containing an
unoccupied house, but that Grant—an employee of Georgetown—nonetheless issued
According to Singleton, after an unspecified period of time an overgrown lot
becomes “naturalized” such that it no longer requires maintenance of the yard or of
any structures that are on the lot. Defs.’ Mot. 7, Ex. A, Singleton Deposition 49:2–4.
a municipal citation for violating Section 11-26. Id. ¶¶ 47–51, 56. Singleton
contends that Section 11-26 is inapplicable to naturalized lots. Defs.’ Mot., Ex. A,
Singleton Deposition 51:15–18.
He filed this suit against defendants in the Court of Common Pleas of
Georgetown County, South Carolina on May 14, 2015. ECF No. 1. The case was
removed to this court on June 26, 2015 because it contained a 42 U.S.C. § 1983
claim. Id. Singleton asserts the following claims: (1) taking of his property as to all
defendants;3 (2) deprivation of substantive and procedural due process based on
defendants’ failure to give Singleton notice and an opportunity to be heard, and
failure to follow prescribed statutory procedures governing condemnation of
dilapidated properties as to all defendants; (3) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as to
Martin, Grant, and O’Donnell; (4) gross negligence as to all defendants; (5)
Conversion of property without proper compensation as to all defendants; (6)
Violation of the Administrative Procedures Act by wrongfully condemning and
ordering the removal of the building on the Lot as to all defendants;4 (7) Negligence
in failing to follow proper procedures; (8) Violation of Singleton’s equal protection
rights as to all defendants.
Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on June 1, 2016, ECF No.
18, which Singleton responded to on July 11, 2016. ECF No. 26. The motion is now
ripe for the court’s review.
At the hearing on this motion, Singleton conceded that there was no viable
takings claim, so the court does not analyze it.
At the hearing on this motion, Singleton conceded that there had been no
condemnation of the structure on the Lot so the court does not address this claim.
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows 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). “Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure requires that the district court enter judgment against a party who, ‘after
adequate time for discovery . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.’” Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 190
(4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Any
reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Webster
v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 685 F.3d 411, 421 (4th Cir. 2012). However, to defeat
summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify an error of law or a genuine
issue of disputed material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); see also Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc.,
346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003).
Although the court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party, the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory
allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference upon another, or the mere
existence of a scintilla of evidence. See Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252; Stone, 105 F.3d
at 191. If the adverse party fails to provide evidence establishing that the factfinder
could reasonably decide in his favor, then summary judgment shall be entered
“regardless of ‘[a]ny proof or evidentiary requirements imposed by the substantive
law.’” Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 522 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
Defendants move for summary judgment5 on the following grounds: (1) the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits federal district court review of a state court
judgment; (2) the statute of limitations precludes Singleton’s action; (3) no
cognizable U.S.C. § 1983 claim; (4) no cognizable equal protection claim; (5) no
cognizable Fifth Amendment takings claim; (6) no cognizable procedural due process
claim; (7) no cognizable substantive due process claim. Defendants also contend that
they should be awarded summary judgment because of the following affirmative
defenses: (1) Georgetown is not liable under the doctrine articulated in Monell v.
Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (2) Grant, Martin, and
O’Donnell are protected by qualified immunity; (3) the South Carolina Tort Claims
Act bars all of Singleton’s state law causes of action; (4) O’Donnell is protected by
judicial immunity. The court analyzes each argument in turn.
Defendants contend that Singleton impermissibly seeks to obtain appellate
review of a final judgment from a South Carolina state court decision, violating the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Defs.’ Mot. 5. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits
the United States District Courts, with the exception of habeas corpus actions, from
“sit[ting] in direct review of state court decisions.” D.C. Court of Appeals v.
Defendants seem to be asserting some sort of Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) claims in this motion, as evidenced by language such as
“[Singleton] fails to state a recognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983.” Defs.’ Mot. 7.
Since this matter is before the court on a summary judgment motion, the court
analyzes each claim under the summary judgment standard regardless of the language
that Defendants use.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 483 (1983). The doctrine extends not only to constitutional
claims presented or adjudicated by the state courts but also to claims that are
“inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment. Id. at 486–87. An issue is
“inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment when it “was not actually
decided by the state court but where success on the . . . claim depends upon a
determination that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Brown &
Root, Inc. v. Breckenridge, 211 F.3d 194, 198 (4th Cir. 2000).
The key issue determining if the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this court
from considering Singleton’s claims is whether the injuries that Singleton alleges
resulted from the municipal court judgment or whether they are independent claims.
Defendants contend that this lawsuit stems from the original municipal decision of
July 13, 2011 finding Singleton guilty of violating Section 11-26, a final state court
decision. Defs.’ Mot. 5. Singleton, however, is not seeking a review of the $1,092.00
fine levied against him by the municipal court decision. Instead, he is contending that
his property was singled out for enforcement because of his race and as retaliation for
his history of speaking out against Georgetown and city employees. Pl.’s Resp. 23.
The municipal court made no determination on Singleton’s selective prosecution or
equal protection claims, and the success of Singleton’s claims does not depend on this
court determining that the municipal court wrongly decided the issue of Singleton’s
violation of Section 11-26. This renders the Rooker-Feldman doctrine inapplicable.
Statute of limitations
Defendants next argue that Singleton had three years in which to file a § 1983
action in this court, which he did not do, and so the § 1983 claim is barred. Defs.’
Mot. 6. Defendants contend that the statute of limitations commenced when
Singleton received the summons for the Section 11-26 violation on September 17,
2010, and Singleton did not file this case until May 14, 2015—four and a half years
after the summons was served and almost four years after his July 13, 2011
conviction. Id. Singleton counters that the statute of limitations commenced on
January 7, 2015, when the final adjudication of his appeal was made by the South
Carolina Court of Appeals. Pl.’s Resp. 27.
There is no statute of limitations for actions under § 1983, but it is well settled
that the limitations period for § 1983 claims is determined by the analogous state law
statute of limitations for a personal injury claim. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387
(2007). In South Carolina, the general statute of limitations for personal injury claims
is codified in S.C. Code Ann. § 15–3–530(5), which provides that the statute of
limitations is three years for “an action for assault, battery, or any injury to the person
or rights of another, not arising on contract and not enumerated by law.” This threeyear statute of limitations has been held to be the applicable limitations period for §
1983 claims in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina in
several cases. See Ward v. Parole, Probation, and Pardon Bd., 2007 WL 3377163
(D.S.C. 2007); see also Rowe v. Hill, 2007 WL 1232140 (D.S.C. 2007); Huffman v.
Tuten, 446 F. Supp. 2d 455 (D.S.C. 2006).
The accrual date of a § 1983 cause of action, on the other hand, is a question
of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388.
The standard rule is that “[accrual occurs] when the plaintiff has ‘a complete and
present cause of action.’” Bay Area Laundry and Dry Cleaning Pension Trust Fund
v. Ferbar Corp. of Cal., 522 U.S. 192, 201 (1997) (quoting Rawlings v. Ray, 312 U.S.
96, 98 (1941)). In other words, the accrual date is the date that a plaintiff could file
suit and obtain relief. To determine the accrual date for a particular § 1983 claim, the
court looks to the common-law tort that is most analogous to the § 1983 claim and
determines the date on which the limitations period for this claim would begin to run
under state law. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388; see also Varnell v. Dora Consol. Sch.
Dist., 756 F.3d 1208 (10th Cir. 2014) (noting that “[f]ollowing Wallace, we
determine the accrual date of Plaintiff's claim by looking to the accrual date for the
common-law tort most analogous to her § 1983 claim”). For most common-law torts,
a plaintiff’s cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of
his injury. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388.
Here, Singleton argues that Defendants engaged in selective prosecution by
choosing to issue a summons to him for a violation of Section 11-26, but sending only
warning letters to Frank Swinnie (“Swinnie”), a white property owner who owned an
adjacent lot which also had excessive overgrowth. Pl.’s Resp. at 18. This selective
prosecution, Singleton alleges, was based on his race and in retaliation for his history
of “speaking out” against the City of Georgetown. Pl.’s Mot. 23. The state law claim
most analogous to Singleton’s § 1983 action is the tort of malicious prosecution,
which redresses injuries a plaintiff sustains as a result of the defendant’s improper
initiation or maintenance of formal proceedings against him. Lambert v. Williams,
223 F.3d 257, 260 (4th Cir. 2000) (applying South Carolina law). The Fourth Circuit
has held that the statute of limitations period for a malicious prosecution claim does
not begin to run until a “truly final disposition” is achieved. Owens v. Baltimore City
State’s Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 390 (4th Cir. 2014); see also Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 483–84 (1994) (finding legality of confinement claim
analogous to the common law tort of malicious prosecution, and incorporating into
the federal § 1983 claim the common law prerequisite of termination of the prior
criminal proceeding in favor of the accused). The date of the “truly final disposition”
in this case was on January 7, 2015, when the South Carolina Court of Appeals held
that Singleton’s original appeal of his conviction to the circuit court was untimely.
S.C. Ct. App. Op. No. 2012-212102. Singleton filed this action on May 14, 2015,
within three years of the South Carolina Court of Appeal’s January 15, 2015 decision.
Thus, the court finds that the statute of limitations does not bar Singleton’s § 1983
action, and denies defendants’ motion on this ground.6
42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claim
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that he was
(1) “deprived of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of
The court notes that Singleton’s version of what the underlying injury is in
this case seems to shift based on what argument he is trying to make. In the section
of his briefing on this motion addressing the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman
abstention doctrine, Singleton argues that this suit is based on defendants’ retaliatory
prosecution because of his 2009 complaint against Georgetown regarding the
demolition of his house on Front Street as well as his 2007 letter to O’Donnell
inquiring about the fraudulent conveyance of the Lot. Pl.’s Resp. 24. However, in
the section of his response addressing the statute of limitations for his § 1983 claim,
Singleton states that it was not until he received the decision from the South Carolina
Court of Appeals, the “final adjudication” of the matter, and paid the fine that the
“actual harm” occurred. Id. at 26. Taking the response as a whole, Singleton is
ultimately arguing that defendants selectively prosecuted him in retaliation for his
many years of complaints against Georgetown and city employees, finally resulting in
the 2010 issuance of the summons. The court had this factual scenario in mind when
ruling on the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the statute of
limitations for the § 1983 action.
the United States,” and that (2) the conduct was “committed by a person acting under
color of state law.” Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145
F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Defendants argue that
Singleton has failed to state a cognizable § 1983 claim because he has not identified
any right of which he has been deprived, as there is no constitutionally protected
property interest in the overgrown status of land. Defs.’ Mot. 8. Singleton counters
that he is not contending that he has a constitutional right to a naturalized lot, but that
defendants committed acts that violated his civil rights by “selectively prosecuting
him, taking his property, and discriminating against him based on his race.” Pl.’s
Resp. 28. The court parses out the viability of a § 1983 claim premised on
Singleton’s selective prosecution and race discrimination claims.
First, the court finds that Singleton has not adequately alleged selective
prosecution. “To establish a selective-prosecution claim, a defendant must
demonstrate that the prosecution ‘had a discriminatory effect and that it was
motivated by a discriminatory purpose.’” United States v. Olvis, 97 F.3d 739, 741–
42 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598, 608 (1985)). This
requires the plaintiff to prove (1) that similarly situated individuals of a different race
were not prosecuted; and (2) that the decision to prosecute was invidious or in bad
faith. Id. at 739. As evidence of defendants’ selective prosecution in retaliation for
his previous complaints against Georgetown and city employees, Singleton offers his
March 3, 2009 complaint against Georgetown for the demolition of his home located
on Front Street. Pl.’s Mot. 29. Without more, this is not enough to meet Singleton’s
heavy burden of establishing discriminatory intent or effect. Georgetown’s decision
to issue a summons to Singleton for violating Section 11-26 could have been
legitimately influenced by the fact that the Lot contained an abandoned, dilapidated
structure that needed to be removed or the fact that the Lot contained excessive
overgrowth. See Franklin v. Office of Baltimore City State's Attorney, 2015 WL
799416, at *5 (D. Md. Feb. 24, 2015) (finding that plaintiff’s recitation of three cases
where Baltimore City State’s Attorney dismissed an assault charge against a white
person while continuing to prosecute against an African-American person was
insufficient to establish selective prosecution, as the prosecutors in those cases may
have made their decisions based on reasons unrelated to race).
Singleton’s selective prosecution claim is based solely on conclusory
allegations such as “[c]onsidering the history of the Plaintiff with the [City of
Georgetown] it is clear that Georgetown was out to persecute the Plaintiff.” Pl.’s
Resp. 29. Such statements are insufficient to establish a selective prosecution claim
even at the 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss stage. See Daubenmire v. City of Columbus,
507 F.3d 383, 390 (6th Cir. 2007) (“A claim of selective prosecution can survive
dismissal only when the motion alleges sufficient facts to take the question past the
frivolous state and raises a reasonable doubt as to the prosecutor’s purpose.”) (citation
Second, the court finds that Singleton has not adequately alleged race
discrimination. Singleton contends that the Lot was treated differently from adjacent
lots with white property owners. Pl.’s Resp. 26. Namely, Singleton argues that Grant
only sent warning letters to Swinnie, the white owner of a neighboring lot which also
had excessive overgrowth, while Grant issued a summons to Singleton. Id. at 18.
However, Swinnie eventually donated his property to Georgetown, which in turn
donated it to Habitat for Humanity. Defs.’ Mot. Ex. B, Grant Deposition 56:20–57:5.
Singleton does not specify any other white property owners with overgrown lots that
violated Section 11-26 who persisted in refusing to comply with warning letters and
were issued summons.
While Singleton contends that the defendants’ policy of enforcing Section 1126 had a discriminatory effect, he does not specify any facts to support a finding that
African-American property owners bore the brunt of Section 11-26 violations when
compared to similarly-situated white property owners—in fact, Singleton does not
offer enough evidence to infer any racially-motivated intent at all. Without more, the
court cannot find that Singleton has been treated unequally based on his race, and so
the court grants defendants’ motion on Singleton’s § 1983 claim.
Equal Protection Claim
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no
state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the
laws.” U.S. Const., Amdt. 14 § 1. Its central mandate is racial neutrality in
governmental decisionmaking. See Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 11 (1967). For a
viable equal protection claim, the plaintiff must establish “that the defendant’s actions
had a discriminatory effect and were motivated by a discriminatory purpose.” See
Cent. Radio Co. Inc. v. City of Norfolk, 811 F.3d 625, 634–35 (4th Cir. 2016).
Although a plaintiff need not show that discrimination was the defendant’s “sole
motive,” he “must allege the requisite discriminatory intent with more than mere
conclusory assertions.” Williams v. Hansen, 326 F.3d 569, 584 (4th Cir. 2003)
(emphasis in original). To state a valid equal protection claim, the plaintiffs must set
forth specific factual allegations that are probative of an improper motive. Id.
As the court explained above when addressing Singleton’s § 1983 claim,
while Singleton contends that the defendants’ policy of enforcing Section 11-26 had a
discriminatory effect, he does not specify any facts to support a finding that AfricanAmerican property owners bore the brunt of the Section 11-26 violations when
compared to similarly-situated White property owners. This is fatal to the viability of
his equal protection claim. Singleton offers no evidence that Defendants have a
history and practice of targeting African-American property owners for Section 11-26
violations or that any African-American property owners in Georgetown had lodged
similar complaints of race discrimination against Defendants. Additionally, during
the same time period that Grant sent Singleton warning letters requesting that he
clean up the overgrowth on the Lot, she sent warning letters to other property owners
with overgrown lots that contained dilapidated structures. Defs.’ Mot. 8. As
evidence of his equal protection claim, Singleton contends that an adjacent lot owned
by Swinnie was similarly overgrown but did not receive a summons. Pl.’s Mot. 19.
However, Grant testified that she sent numerous letters to Swinnie requesting that he
clear the overgrowth on his property and she avoided issuing him a summons for
violation of Section 11-26 until 2014 because Swinnie was responsive and
cooperative. Defs.’ Mot 8.
Singleton also offers as support for his equal protection claim the general
statement that “[t]here are several lots within the City limits that contain . . .
overgrowth that the City has not ordered cleared.” Pl.’s Mot. 19. In doing so,
Singleton cites to a number of newspaper articles about Georgetown’s use of code
enforcement to clean up buildings and properties deemed an “eyesore,” as well as
remarks by Georgetown City Councilmembers that “the problem [is] irresponsible
property owners and not enough aggression on the city’s part.” Pl.’s Resp. Ex. 18,
Lowe Letters. Singleton also includes a relatively lengthy list of property owners
who were issued letters by Grant warning that they had violated Section 11-26. Id.
However, even this list of “eyesore” properties that Georgetown was targeting to be
torn down through the issuance of Section 11-26 violations is not enough to survive
summary judgment for an equal protection claim. Even if Singleton had presented
statistical evidence that enforcement of Section 11-26 had a disparate impact on
African-American property owners—which the court notes that Singleton has not
done—a violation of the equal protection clause requires a plaintiff to prove that the
state intended to discriminate. Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cty., Md., 48 F.3d 810,
819 (4th Cir. 1995). The simple fact that a benefit was denied to one person but
conferred on another is not enough to establish that a statute was administered or
enforced discriminatorily. Id.
Here, Singleton presents only vague and unspecific allegations about the
allegedly disparate treatment of other overgrown lots in Georgetown. Singleton has
not proven a racially disproportionate impact, let alone a discriminatory animus. The
court finds that Singleton has not stated a plausible equal protection claim and grants
defendants’ motion on this count.
Procedural and Substantive Due Process
Next, defendants contend that Singleton has failed to demonstrate evidence of
a procedural or substantive due process violation. Defs.’ Mot. 13–18. Due process
contains both substantive and procedural components—procedural due process
prevents “mistaken or unjust deprivation,” while substantive due process prohibits
certain actions regardless of procedural fairness. See Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S.
113, 125–26 (1990); see also Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 259 (1978). The court
addresses each in turn.
Procedural due process requires both fair notice of an impending state action
and an opportunity to be heard. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333 (1976).
Proper notice is “an elementary and fundamental requirement of due process,” and
must be reasonably calculated to convey information concerning a deprivation.
Mullane v. Cent. Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950). Mathews
presents a three-step test for determining the adequacy of the opportunity to be heard:
(1) a balancing of the private interest and the public interest; (2) the risk of an
erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and (3) the value,
of additional or substitute procedural safeguards. 424 U.S. at 335.
Here, Singleton was given several warnings to clear out the overgrowth on the
Lot before Grant issued a summons, and even after the summons was issued
Singleton had the opportunity to avoid summons by complying with Section 11-26
and clearing the lot. Defs.’ Mot. 14. After receiving the summons, Singleton was
given the opportunity to have a jury trial in municipal court on his charge, although
he chose not to attend his trial and after his conviction in municipal court, Singleton
was able to appeal his conviction to the Court of Common Pleas as well as the South
Carolina Court of Appeals. It is unclear how much more procedural due process
Singleton believes he should have been afforded. Singleton had both fair notice of
his violation of the public nuisance code and the opportunity to be heard. Therefore,
the court grants Defendants’ summary judgment on the procedural due process claim.
To give rise to a substantive due process violation, the allegedly arbitrary
action must be “unjustified by any circumstance or governmental interest, as to be
literally incapable of avoidance by any pre-deprivation procedural protections or of
adequate rectification by any post-deprivation state remedies.” Rucker v. Harford
Cnty., 946 F.2d 278, 281 (4th Cir. 1991). This is a relatively arduous standard to
meet. Singleton contends that he had a valid property interest in the Lot to “keep the
property in its natural state” and that “the Defendant was attempting to have
[Singleton] demolish the structure without the proper procedure as set forth by the
law.” Pl.’s Mot. 35. However, the structure on the Lot was never condemned.
Singleton Dep. 44:24–45:2.
To the extent that Singleton is challenging Georgetown’s power to impose
Section 11-26 altogether, the Fourth Circuit has held that a plaintiff must prove that a
state’s action “has no foundation in reason and is a mere arbitrary or irrational
exercise of power having no substantial relation to the public health, the public
morals, the public safety or the public welfare” to establish a substantive due process
violation. MLC Auto., LLC v. Town of S. Pines, 532 F.3d 269, 281 (4th Cir. 2008)
(quoting Nectow v. City of Cambridge, 277 U.S. 183, 187–88 (1928)). Grant
testified that the structure on the Lot was public safety concern because it was
structurally unsound and could collapse, and that the overgrowth on the Lot had led to
the breeding of mice and snakes such that it was a public health hazard. Defs.’ Mot.,
Ex. 6, Municipal Ct. Trial Tr. at p. 1–2. Singleton does not have a protected property
interest to maintain the Lot in a manner that it is deleterious to public health and
safety. The court grants defendants’ summary judgment motion on the substantive
due process count.
Defendants present a number of affirmative defenses, including the
applicability of the Monell doctrine to shield Georgetown from liability and the
doctrine of qualified immunity to protect the individual defendants. Def. Mot.18-20.
However, the court has now granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion on
Singleton’s § 1983 claim and his constitutional claims. Since Singleton’s claims fail
on the merits, the court does not reach the issue of affirmative defenses.
Furthermore, as the only claims remaining in the case are state law claims,7
the court finds that there is no independent basis of federal jurisdiction and the court
declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any remaining state law claims in
this action. The Supreme Court has ruled that supplemental jurisdiction is a “doctrine
of discretion, not of plaintiff’s right, and hence the power need not be exercised in
every case in which it is found to exist.” United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383
U.S. 715, 726 (1966). The Court went on to hold that “[c]ertainly, if the federal
claims are dismissed before trial, even though not insubstantial in a jurisdictional
sense, the state claims should be dismissed as well.” Id. (emphasis added). By
The court notes that it is also difficult to ascertain if Singleton is alleging
state law causes of action in the complaint. In the event that he is, the court refrains
from exercising jurisdiction over those causes of action.
deciding on the merits of the summary judgment motion in regards to Singleton’s
purported state law causes of action, the court would be hearing purely state law
claims in a case that it no longer has any original jurisdiction over. Since the federal
claims in this case have been dismissed before trial, the court follows the reasoning in
United Mine Workers and remands the state law claims to the Court of Common
Pleas for Georgetown County.
For the reasons set forth above, the court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES
IN PART Georgetown’s summary judgment motion. Specifically, the court
DENIES the motion on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and statute of limitations
grounds, and GRANTS the motion as to Singleton’s § 1983, equal protection,
procedural due process, and substantive due process claims. Given that the federal
claims in this case have been dismissed, the court exercises its discretion to refrain
from deciding the remaining state law claims and remands the state law claims to the
Court of Common Pleas for Georgetown County.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.
DAVID C. NORTON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
February 13, 2017
Charleston, South Carolina
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