Jones v. South Carolina, State of et al
AMENDED ORDER adopting in part and modifying in part the 61 Report and Recommendation. The Defendants' 57 motion for summary judgment is granted as to all pending federal claims and also granted as to Jones' action for gross negligence. The gross negligence claim is dismissed with prejudice based upon the applicable statute of limitations. Signed by Honorable Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. on 3/22/2017. (bgoo)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Quanjay Jaculb Jones,
C/A No. 3:16-706-JFA-PJG
State of South Carolina; The County of
Richland; The Humane SPCA,
Quanjay Jaculb Jones (“Jones”) filed this action asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
1981, 1983, and 1985, as well as a state law claim for gross negligence against the remaining
defendants in this case; the State of South Carolina and the County of Richland.1 In accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., the case was referred to the
Magistrate Judge. On November 23, 2016, Defendants State of South Carolina and The County of
Richland2 (“Defendant” or “Richland County”), submitted a motion for summary judgement. (ECF
No. 57). Plaintiff responded by conceding to a dismissal of all federal claims, but opposing a
dismissal of the remaining state law claim for gross negligence. (ECF No. 59).
The Magistrate Judge assigned to this action3 prepared a Report and Recommendation
(“Report”) and opines that Jones’ federal claims should be dismissed and the remaining state law
These claims were also alleged against Defendant Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals (“SPCA”), but all claims against that defendant were dismissed by previous order of
this court. (ECF No. 55).
Although named as two separate entities, it appears that the State of South Carolina and the
County of Richland actually refers to one defendant-Richland County. (ECF No. 57-1 p. 2–3).
The Magistrate Judge’s review is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local
Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.). The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this
claim should be remanded to the Richland County Court of Common Pleas4. (ECF No. 61). Both
Defendant and Plaintiff objected to the report. Defendant objects to the extent that the Magistrate
Judge recommends a remand of the state law claim and request that this court retain jurisdiction
over the remaining issue. (ECF No. 62). Plaintiff similarly objects to the Report because “it would
be a waste of time and judicial resource for this matter to be remanded to State Court.” (ECF No.
The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report
to which specific objections are made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in
part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge
with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, a district court is only required to conduct
a de novo review of the specific portions of the Magistrate Judge’s Report to which an objection
is made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b); Carniewski v. W. Virginia Bd. of Prob. &
Parole, 974 F.2d 1330 (4th Cir. 1992). In the absence of specific objections to portions of the
Report of the Magistrate, this Court is not required to give an explanation for adopting the
recommendation. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983).
court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final
determination remains with the court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is
charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report and
Recommendation to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter
to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
This case originated in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas and was subsequently
removed to this Court on March 3, 2016. (ECF No. 1).
A review of the record indicates that the remaining claim for gross negligence can be easily
adjudicated by this court, thereby obviating any need for remand. Accordingly, a brief recitation
of the factual history and relevant law is warranted.
This matter arises out of the prosecution of Plaintiff for animal cruelty. According to Jones,
he was wrongly arrested for that offense in 2007, and when other family members provided
exculpatory statements to the SPCA’s investigator Steve Stevenson, Stevenson drafted a letter
requesting that Defendant Richland County withdraw the warrants against Jones. Allegedly, in
July 2007, Stevenson called Jones and informed him that all charges had been dropped. However,
this was apparently not the case, as Jones was tried in his absence and convicted in 2009 by
Defendant Richland County. Jones learned of the conviction in 2013 and retained counsel,
ultimately succeeding in having the conviction reversed. However, charges apparently remained
pending and, despite Jones’s providing Stevenson’s letter to authorities, the prosecution against
Jones proceeded to another trial in 2014, at which Jones was acquitted. Jones then filed this action
in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas on February 1, 2016.
B. Legal Standard
Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper when
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A material fact is one that
“might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass,
242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986)). A dispute of material fact is “genuine” if sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving
party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248–49.
The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of
material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets that burden and a properly
supported motion is before the court, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to “set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323. All inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party,
but he “cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of
one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985).
Here, Richland County asserts several arguments as to why the claim for gross negligence
should be dismissed. Chief among them is that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the applicable
statute of limitations. Indeed, this court previously analyzed an identical argument when deciding
to dismiss the same claim for gross negligence as against Defendant SPCA. (ECF No. 45, 55).
Plaintiff has failed to present any argument as to why this court should rule inconsistently with
that previous order.
As with Defendant SPCA, Richland County argues that Jones’ gross negligence claim was
filed outside of the applicable three year limitations period. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-530. It is
undisputed that the statute of limitations began to run when Jones “knew or by the exercise of
reasonable diligence should have known that he had a cause of action.” S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3535. South Carolina courts have interpreted the “exercise of reasonable diligence” to mean that the
injured party must act with some promptness where the facts and circumstances of an injury place
a reasonable person of common knowledge and experience on notice that a claim against another
party might exist. Dean v. Ruscon Corp., 321 S.C. 360, 363–64, 468 S.E.2d 645, 647 (1996). “The
statute of limitations begins to run from this point and not when advice of counsel is sought or a
full-blown theory of recovery developed.” Snell v. Columbia Gun Exchange, Inc., 278 S.E.2d 333,
334 (S.C. 1981). “The fact that the injured party may not comprehend the full extent of the damage
is immaterial.” Ruscon Corp. at 364, 468 S.E.2d at 647.
Here, Jones argues that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until November 2013,
when he had actual knowledge of the 2007 conviction, or August 2014, the date when Jones was
acquitted. However, use of the 2013 or 2014 date would disregard the reasonable diligence
requirement. Jones was put on notice in 2007, that as a result of Defendant SPCA’s actions, he
was wrongly prosecuted by Richland County. This fact was sufficient to put Jones on notice that
some of his rights had been invaded or that some claim might exist, regardless of the extent of the
harm that might ultimately flow from it, or whether a full-blown legal theory was then developed.
See Snell, 278 S.E.2d at 334; Ruscon Corp. at 364, 468 S.E.2d at 647. However, Jones failed to
exercise diligence to discover that the charges had not in fact been dropped by Defendants,
resulting in his conviction in absentia. Stevenson’s agreement to request withdrawal of the
warrants was insufficient to ensure the charges were actually dropped because the SPCA had no
authority over the prosecution. See S.C. Code Ann. 47-1-130(B) (SPCA has no authority to arrest
for violation of animal cruelty laws). Accepting as true that Stevenson informed Jones that the
charges had been dropped, a reasonably diligent inquiry of the officials actually in charge of the
prosecution would have revealed that not to be the case. Therefore, the limitations period began to
run in 2007, and expired well before the filing date in 2016.
Even assuming that the limitations period did not begin to run until November 2013, when
Jones had actual knowledge of the conviction, his claims against Richland County would still be
barred. Jones’ gross negligence claim arises out of his wrongful prosecution by Richland County.
Accordingly, the South Carolina Torts Claims Act is the exclusive remedy for any tort committed
by an employee of a governmental entity acting in the course and scope of his employment. S.C.
Code Ann. § 15-78-70(a). Consequently, “any action brought pursuant to this [Act] is forever
barred unless an action is commenced within two years after the date the loss was or should have
been discovered.” S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-110. Therefore, assuming that the limitations period
did not begin to run until November 2013, the time to file a claim against Richland County expired
in November 2015. Consequently, Plaintiff’s claims are barred.
Accordingly, the Court adopts the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 61) in part and
modifies the remaining portions. The Report is adopted to the extent that it recommends granting
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 57) by dismissing all pending federal
claims.5 The Report is modified to the extent that now Defendant’s motion for summary judgment
(ECF No. 57) is also granted with respect to Jones’ remaining action for gross negligence. That
gross negligence claim is dismissed with prejudice based upon the applicable statute of limitations.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
March 22, 2017
Columbia, South Carolina
Joseph F. Anderson, Jr.
United States District Judge
No objections were made to this portion of the Report and therefore no explanation for its
adoption is needed. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983).
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