Howell v. Wilson
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION: The Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation 10 of the Magistrate and hereby DISMISSES this action without prejudice and without issuance and service of process. Signed by Honorable Joseph F Anderson, Jr on 11/13/2015. (dsto, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Frederick L. Howell, #310890,
C/A No. 3:15-cv-2561-JFA-TER
Alan Wilson, Attorney General of the State of
Frederick L. Howell (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff is a South Carolina
Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) inmate incarcerated at the Turbeville Correctional
Institution (“Turbeville”). He files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This
case is subject to summary dismissal.
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 for pretrial handling. 1 On August 18, 2015, the Magistrate
Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) wherein he recommends that this Court
dismiss the action without prejudice and without issuance and service of process. (ECF No. 10).
Plaintiff filed an objection to the Report. (ECF No. 12). Thus, this matter is ripe for the Court’s
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
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this 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.
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.
Further, a de novo review of the Magistrate’s Report is unnecessary “when a party makes
general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the
magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th
Cir. 1982). In the absence of a proper objection, the court must “‘only satisfy itself that there is
no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” See Diamond v.
Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal citation omitted); see
also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 148–53 (1985).
The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter, and
the court incorporates those without a recitation.
In the matter before this Court, a large portion of Plaintiff’s objection merely restates the
numerous arguments advanced in his complaint. (Compare ECF No. 1, with ECF No. 12).
Plaintiff fails to sufficiently identify the specific points of error in the Magistrate’s legal analysis
and in some instances only makes conclusory statements. Therefore, those objections are not
sufficient to require a de novo review of the Report by this Court. Plaintiff’s remaining
objections are addressed below.
Plaintiff has lodged two objections to the Report rendered by the Magistrate Judge.
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the Magistrate Judge erred: 1) in concluding that the action
was filed pursuant to 42 USC § 1983; and 2) in concluding that the Court lacks jurisdiction
pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
§ 1983 Claim
In his objections, Plaintiff claims that “at no time” did he “File a 1983 Complaint For A
civil Rights Action.” (ECF No. 12 p. 1). Rather, Plaintiff claims that his suit was filed pursuant
to Rules 57, 38, and 39 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and that he only sought “petition
for declaratory judgment.” However, Plaintiff’s initial complaint was plainly a § 1983 action.
(See ECF No. 1-1 p. 2-3). He self-styled it as such in two places. Despite the fact that he seeks
declaratory and injunctive relief, his claim is that his due process rights were violated by a state
law. While the Court must liberally construe pro se pleadings, it cannot rewrite a petition.
Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s complaint was
filed pursuant to § 1983.
The Rooker–Feldman doctrine prevents a federal district court from exercising
jurisdiction over a case brought by a “state court loser” challenging a state court judgment
rendered before the district court proceedings commenced. Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 460
(2006); Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Implicit
in the doctrine is the recognition that only the United States Supreme Court has jurisdiction over
appeals from final state court judgments. Lance, 546 U.S. at 463; Exxon, 544 U.S. at 283; see
also 28 U.S.C. § 1257. In recent years, the Supreme Court has emphasized the narrowness of the
doctrine. See Lance, 546 U.S. at 464 (listing examples of when the Rooker–Feldman doctrine
does not apply); see also Exxon, 544 U.S. at 284.
Reacting to the Supreme Court's instruction in such cases as Exxon, the United States
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has rejected its prior test for determining whether the
Rooker–Feldman doctrine applies, which, in reliance on Feldman, examined whether the issues
raised in the federal lawsuit were so “inextricably intertwined” with the claims presented to the
state court that they could have been raised in the state proceedings. Davani v. Virginia Dep't of
Transp., 434 F.3d 712, 716 (4th Cir.2006). Post-Exxon, the Fourth Circuit identifies the pertinent
inquiry as whether the plaintiff's injury is caused by the state court judgment itself. Id. at 718.
Other courts have adopted a similar test. See, e.g., Kovacic v. Cuyahoga County Dep't of
Children & Family Servs., 606 F.3d 301, 309–310 (6th Cir.2010); Hoblock v. Albany County Bd.
of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 87–88 (2d Cir.2005); Galibois v. Fisher, 174 F. App'x 579, 580 (1st
Cir.2006); cf. Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 166 (3d
Cir.2010)(identifying this inquiry as one of four elements that must be met for the Rooker–
Feldman doctrine to apply). Thus, after Exxon, the proper inquiry examines the source of the
plaintiff's injury: if the state court judgment caused the plaintiff's injury, the claim is barred, but a
claim alleging another source of injury is an independent claim.
Accordingly, “[t]he critical task is thus to identify those federal suits that profess to
complain of injury by a third party, but actually complain of injury ‘produced by a state-court
judgment and not simply ratified, acquiesced in, or left unpunished by it.’” Great W. Mining &
Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 167 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoting Hoblock v. Albany
Cnty. Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 88 (2d Cir. 2005)). “Where a state-court judgment causes the
challenged third-party action, any challenge to that third-party action is necessarily the kind of
challenge to the state judgment that only the Supreme Court can hear.” Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 88.
In this case, Plaintiff claims that he is not challenging the prior state court judgment
itself. Rather, he claims to challenge “the PCR statute they authoritatively construed.” (ECF No.
12 p. 4). However, that is distinction without a difference. The petition asks this Court to review
his PCR application and alter the outcome based on Plaintiff’s own interpretation of the law.
This Court lacks the jurisdiction to do that. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s challenge to that action is
barred under Rooker-Feldman.
After a careful review of the record, of the applicable law, and of the Report and the
Objections thereto, this Court finds the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation is proper.
Accordingly, the Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate and hereby
DISMISSES this action without prejudice and without issuance and service of process.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
November 13, 2015
Columbia, South Carolina
Joseph F. Anderson, Jr.
United States District Judge
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