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Williams v. Jones

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 24, 2014

Nicholas S. Williams; Stephen M. Hause; and Henry P. Vesey, Plaintiffs,
Major Jones, Supt. Lexington County Detention Center; James Metts, Sheriff; Lexington County Sheriff's Dept.; and William Miles, MD, Lexington County Detention Center; in individual and official capacities, Defendants.


BRISTOW MARCHANT, Magistrate Judge.

This is a civil rights action filed by three pretrial detainees, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, who desire to litigate issues concerning the conditions of their confinement in the Lexington County Detention Center ("LCDC") in Lexington, South Carolina. Plaintiffs, Nicholas S. Williams ("Mr. Williams"), Stephen M. Hause ("Mr. Hause"), and Henry P. Vesey ("Mr. Vesey") (collectively "Plaintiffs"), filed their Complaint (ECF No. 1), labeled as a "Class Action, " on March 10, 2014, alleging "severe unconstitutional overcrowding and conditions of confinement." Complaint, ECF No. 1, p. 2. Together with the Complaint, which was dated March 3, 2014 and signed by all three Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs filed separate, individually-signed Applications to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Affidavits (Forms AO 240), which are construed as Motions for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (ECF Nos. 3, 4, and 5), a jointly-signed "Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 6), and a jointly-signed Motion to Certify Class (ECF No. 7). Pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P."), Plaintiffs seek to prosecute this action on behalf of themselves and all current LCDC pretrial detainees. See Complaint, ECF No. 1, p. 6. Plaintiffs filed a proposed summons (ECF No. 8) for the three named Defendants, but did not file Forms USM-285, so the case is not in proper form, with respect to the necessary service documents.

Mr. Williams and Mr. Vesey are currently confined in the LCDC and allege that they have been held there as pretrial detainees since August 2012 and July 2012, respectively. Mr. Hause alleges that he, too, has been a pretrial detainee in LCDC since August 2012. The undersigned takes judicial notice, however, that Mr. Hause filed Notices of Change of Address on March 20, 2014, in three other cases which he currently has pending in this Court, noting that he had been released from custody. See Notice of Change of Address, ECF No. 20, Hause v. Jones, C/A No. 9:14-275-RMG-BM (D.S.C.); ECF No. 19, Hause v. Bastian, et al., C/A No. 9:13-3531-RMG-BM (D.S.C.); ECF No. 160, Hause v. Miles, et al., 9:13-1271-RMG-BM (D.S.C.). Mr. Hause has informed the Court that his address changed, effective March 10, 2014, to 92 Mariner's Pointe Rd., Prosperity, South Carolina 29127.[1]

Because Plaintiffs are pretrial detainees (or, in the case of Mr. Hause, was a pre-trial detainee at the time this action was filed), the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), applies to this case. See 28 U.S.C. § § 1915(e); 1915A(c). The undersigned has therefore made a careful review of the pro se pleadings pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A and in light of the following precedents: Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519 (1972); and Gordon v. Leeke , 574 F.2d 1147 (4th Cir. 1978). Section 1915 permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. However, to protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss a case upon a finding that the action is "frivolous or malicious, " "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, " or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(I), (ii), (iii). Hence, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319 (1989). Additionally, although this Court is required to liberally construe pro se documents, Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97 (1976), holding them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Hughes v. Rowe , 449 U.S. 173 (1980) (per curiam), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court, or that are otherwise not in a proper posture for litigation. Weller v. Dep't. of Soc. Servs. , 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).


Mr. Williams alleges that he has been confined in LCDC for nineteen months, during which time he has been forced to sleep on a cell floor in a one man cell with one to two other inmates who were also forced to sleep on the floor. He alleges that he has been locked in his overcrowded cell in excess of twenty hours per day, denied all access to a law library and/or legal research materials, and denied adequate medical care and recreation. He also alleges that he has been "punished" without due process on several occasions when staff/guards have placed him on "confinement" for several days, made him wear a black and white striped uniform, and taken away his recreation time, canteen, books, etc. See Complaint, ECF No. 1, p. 4. Mr. Hause makes similar allegations with respect to his claim of overcrowding, denial of access to a law library, recreation, and adequate medical care, although he does not allege any unconstitutional punishment. Mr. Hause also alleges a medical indifference claim, charging that he has been denied adequate care for his anxiety/epilepsy, severe acute pain disorder, broken right shoulder, and severe deteriorating spine/back, all of which has caused pain and possible permanent physical injury. Id . Finally, Mr. Vesey alleges that he has been in LCDC for over twenty months and that he has been subjected to overcrowding, denial of adequate medical care, recreation, and access to law library/legal research materials. Mr. Vesey also alleges that he has been denied adequate food, and that he has been punished without due process by being arbitrarily placed in confinement and made to wear a black and white uniform, etc. Id. at p. 4-5.

Plaintiffs allege that Major Jones has specifically been made aware of all of these unconstitutional conditions by way of grievances and complaints by Plaintiffs and other inmates, and that Defendants Jones, Metts, and Miles are responsible and liable for the unconstitutional policies and practices at LCDC, whereby all LCDC inmates are subjected to continuous, severe overcrowding, denial of medical care, law library, recreation, and adequate food, for long periods of confinement, as well as punishment of pretrial detainees without due process. Id. at pp. 2, 5.

In addition to class certification and appointment of counsel, Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief, enjoining the Defendants from continued, ongoing violations of Plaintiffs' rights; a declaratory judgment that the Defendants have violated Plaintiffs' rights; and monetary damages, both standardized and incidental. Id. at p. 7. Plaintiffs also request a jury trial. See Demand for Trial By Jury, ECF No. 2.

Plaintiffs allege that "this is a case(s) that require[s] affirmative steps to remedy existing unconstitutional conditions' and should be certified as [a] class action, " citing In re Visa Check , 280 F.3d 124, 141 (2d Cir. 2001), Bertulli v. Indep. Ass'n of Cont'l Pilots , 242 F.3d 290, 298 (5th Cir. 2001). See id. at p. 7. Plaintiffs' Complaint, in seeking "appointment of counsel for purposes of, inter alia, representation of class members/Plaintiffs, " alleges:

Many members of Plaintiff class are poor, illiterate, lack education and access to law library, legal representation, etc. and Plaintiff "class" is fluid and membership changes constantly for obvious reasons (i.e. inmates are pretrial detainees and are released or sent to prison, etc.). Questions of law and fact are common to all members of class as to named Plaintiffs. Claims of representative parties are typical of the claims of all class members. Plaintiffs seek appointment of counsel to fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class.

Complaint, ECF No. 1, p. 6.

Plaintiffs' Motion for Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 6) also states that "their claims regarding, inter alia, severe overcrowding (as outlined in Complaint) are meritorious, " citing cases from the First, Second, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits for the proposition that it is unconstitutional, per se, for pretrial detainees to be forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor. Plaintiffs allege that their "claims/case will require extensive discovery, use of expert witnesses, etc., and counsel should be appointed." Motion for Appointment of Counsel, ECF No. 6, p. 2.

Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (ECF No. 7) also states that "all the members of proposed class are pretrial detainees incarcerated at LCDC, " and "the Plaintiff class meets Rule 23(a)(1) in that the members of the Plaintiff class are too numerous and too fluid' by reason of being pretrial detainees who are either released from LCD. convicted and transferred out of LCDC and joinder of all class members is impracticable." Motion for Class Certification, ECF No. 7, p. 2. Plaintiffs allege that "LCDC generally houses in excess of 700 inmates the majority of which are pretrial detainees/Plaintiff class members." Id. at p. 2-3. Plaintiffs allege that "members of the proposed Plaintiff class are unlikely to bring their own or individual suits because of poverty, illiteracy, lack of education, limited access to legal representation, etc. and therefore class certification should be granted. Id. at p. 3. Plaintiffs allege that "[p]ursuant to Rule 23(a)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., there are questions of law and fact common to all proposed class members and named Plaintiffs, " and, "[p]ursuant Rule 23(a)(3), Fed. R. Civ. P., the claims of the representative parties are also obviously typical of the claims of other class members." Id. at p. 4.

Plaintiffs allege that "[p]ursuant to Rule 23(a)(4), Fed. R. Civ. P., Plaintiffs will represent and fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class through qualified counsel which Plaintiff class moves this honorable court to appoint, " and "[t]he issues herein are too involved and complex for pro se Plaintiffs and counsel should be appointed to represent the class." Id. at p. 4-5. Plaintiffs allege that "[p]ursuant to Rule 23(b)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., the parties opposing the class (Defendants) have acted and/or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class and formal injunctive relief and declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole." Id. at p. 5. Plaintiffs also allege that "[c]lass certification is also appropriate pursuant to Rule 23(b)(1), ...

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