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China v. Marskberry

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division

September 4, 2014

Antoine J. China, Plaintiff,
Lt. Marskberry, Major Nettles, Warden Fred B. Thompson, and William R. Byars, Jr., Director, Defendants.


G. MICHALLE CHILDS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Antoine J. China ("Plaintiff") filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges violations of the Eighth Amendment on the grounds of excessive force, gross negligence, and supervisory liability by Defendants corrections officers Sgt. Lawrence Marksberry and Major Nettles, Associate Warden for Operations Fred B. Thompson, and South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC") Director William R. Byars, Jr. (collectively "Defendants"). (ECF No. 1.) This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 42).

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pre-trial handling. On June 12, 2014, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") recommending the court grant Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 54.) This review considers Plaintiff's Objection to Report and Recommendation ("Objections"), filed June 30, 2014. (ECF No. 56.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court ACCEPTS the magistrate judge's Report. The court thereby GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 42) and DISMISSES Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 1).


The court concludes upon its own careful review of the record that the factual and procedural summation in the magistrate judge's Report is accurate, and the court adopts this summary as its own. However, a recitation of the relevant facts and procedural history is warranted.

At the time of the facts giving rise to Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Lieber Correctional Institution ("LCI"), which is within the SCDC. ( Id. ) Plaintiff has since been relocated to Perry Correctional Institution. (ECF No. 54 at 2.) Plaintiff alleges excessive force and gross negligence by Defendants regarding the use of chemical munitions in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. (ECF No. 1 at 6.) Plaintiff seeks a jury trial on all claims, $100, 000 in punitive damages from each defendant, automatic departure via parole in 2014, and any additional relief the court deems appropriate. ( Id. at 7.)

Plaintiff alleges that on October 24, 2011, at approximately 5:00 a.m., Defendant Marksberry came to his cell to collect his cellmate, Horace Wright, for a medical appointment. (ECF No. 1 at 4.) Plaintiff claims Defendant Marksberry sprayed a "large amount" of chemical munitions into his cell and locked the door, leaving Plaintiff in the cell for 20 to 30 minutes. ( Id. ) At approximately 5:45 a.m., Plaintiff was seen by medical staff, during which time he told a nurse the mace was causing chest pain and was "messing with" his breathing. ( Id. )

Defendants allege that Plaintiff's cellmate refused to leave the cell or sign a medical refusal and also refused to obey officers' verbal orders. (ECF No. 42-1 at 1, see also ECF No. 42-3 at 2.) Defendant Marksberry claims that at the time he and Officer Richard Smith issued the chemical munition into the cell, he observed Plaintiff lying on his bunk, covered with a blanket. (ECF No. 42-3 at 2.) Defendant Marksberry further contends he and Officer Smith aimed the munition at Inmate Wright's facial area, and did not issue any munition at Plaintiff. ( Id. ) According to the SCDC MIN Narrative regarding the incident, a total of 35 grams of mace was used-31 grams by Defendant Marksberry and 4 grams by Officer Smith. (ECF No. 42-5 at 4, 6.)

Plaintiff filed a Step 1 Grievance with the SCDC on October 27, 2011, which was denied on September 20, 2012. (ECF No. 1-1 at 4-5.) On April 19, 2012, Defendant Thompson released a Memorandum due to complaints regarding the use of mace at LCI. (ECF No. 49-4.) The memo stated, "Let it be known that for the safety of officers and staff a few bursts of chemical munitions administered into the cell prior to entering the cell to make sure the inmate is unresponsive is permitted." ( Id. ) Plaintiff argues the memo "clearly is a cover up towards officers' behaviors." (ECF No. 1 at 5.)

On August 20, 2012, Plaintiff claims to have made a request to Defendant Nettles that he be placed in protective custody due to his "suffering from emotional dreams... and to separate [Plaintiff] from" Defendant Marksberry. ( Id. )

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on January 8, 2013. (ECF No. 1.) On September 16, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 42.) The same day, the magistrate judge entered a Roseboro Order, [1] advising Plaintiff of the importance of the motion and his need to file an adequate response. (ECF No. 43.) In response to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff filed a Memorandum to Dismiss Summary Judgment on October 7, 2013. (ECF No. 49.) Defendants filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response on October 18, 2013. (ECF No. 50.) The magistrate judge issued the Report on June 12, 2014, recommending Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. (ECF No. 54.)

On the issue of excessive force, the magistrate judge explained in the Report that to prove a claim on these grounds, a plaintiff must establish the prison official "acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind (subjective component); and [that] the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted on the inmate was sufficiently serious (objective component)." (ECF No. 54 at 6, citing Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 761 (4th Cir. 1996)).) Under the subjective component, a plaintiff must prove a defendant used force "maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm" rather than in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline. ( Id., citing Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986).) In Whitley, the Supreme Court laid out four factors to consider whether a defendant intended "maliciously and sadistically" to cause a plaintiff harm: "(1) the need for application of force; (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of force' used; (3) the extent of the injury inflicted;' and (4) the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of the facts known to them.'" ( Id. at 6-7, citing Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321.) The Report concluded that Plaintiff could not make a showing under the subjective component, reasoning that although "the version of the events giving rise to Defendant Marksberry's need for application of force' are in dispute, " none of the evidence demonstrated that any use of force was directed at Plaintiff. ( Id. at 9, 11.)

The Report also recommended summary judgment be granted to Defendants Byars, Thompson, and Nettles as to Plaintiff's claim under the doctrine of supervisory liability. ( Id. at 13.) The magistrate judge found that Plaintiff could not "demonstrate that he faced a pervasive and unreasonable risk of harm from a specified source, and that the supervisor's corrective inaction amounted to a deliberate indifference or tacit authorization of the offensive practices." ( Id. at 12-13, citing Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 854 (4th Cir. 1990), overruled in part on other grounds by Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).) The Report concluded that Plaintiff's Complaint did not allege Defendants Nettles, Thompson, or Byars had any personal involvement in the incident other than having a supervisory role and that Plaintiff's sole evidentiary offering of Defendant Thompson's memo did not demonstrate supervisory indifference nor tacit authorization of subordinate misconduct. ( Id. at 12.)

The Report further recommended granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim of Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Need, as the record did not contain facts that could demonstrate Defendants "knew of and disregarded Plaintiff's serious medical needs." ( Id. at 12-13.) The Report also recommended granting qualified immunity to Defendants, as the magistrate judge found Plaintiff could not make a showing under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982), which held that "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." ( Id. at 15.) The magistrate judge reasoned that, according ...

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