United States District Court, D. South Carolina
October 2, 2014
Cliff Rouse, Plaintiff,
Georgetown County Detention Center; Lane Cribb, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.
This is a civil action filed pro se by a local detainee. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court. See 28 U.S.C. § § 1915(e); 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Cliff Rouse ("Plaintiff") is currently detained at the Georgetown County Detention Center ("GCDC"). Compl. 1, ECF No. 1. In the Complaint under review, Plaintiff alleges that the tuberculosis virus was discovered in GCDC at the end of July 2014, but that proper clean-up and quarantine protocols were not imposed in a timely manner. Id. at 2. He also alleges that the kitchen workers who were placed under quarantine were still allowed to prepare and serve food to detainees. Plaintiff does not allege that he sustained any type of physical injury because of the alleged virus and inadequate responses, but he states that he wants "compensation and problems solved." Id.
The only two Defendants named in the Complaint are the detention center and Lane Cribb, the Sheriff of Georgetown County. Id. at 1; see http://www.gcsheriff.org/sheriff.html (last consulted Oct. 1, 2014). Plaintiff states that Defendant Cribb is the "head sheriff" at GCDC, id. at 2, but he does not allege that Defendant Cribb was personally involved in the allegedly delayed reaction to the presence of the tuberculosis virus in the GCDC. At the conclusion of his Complaint, Plaintiff states that "Georgetown County detention center is negligent towards inmates health and I'd like to take immediate action." Id. at 3.
II. Standard of Review
Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of Plaintiff's pro se Complaint filed in this case. This review has been conducted pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § § 1915, 1915A, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983); Boyce v. Alizaduh, 595 F.2d 948 (4th Cir. 1979).
Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 630 n.1 (4th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that this Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Even under this less stringent standard, the Complaint filed in this case is subject to summary dismissal under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
Plaintiff's Complaint should be summarily dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted against either of the named Defendants. To state a plausible claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,  an aggrieved party must sufficiently allege that he or she was injured by "the deprivation of any [of his or her] rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the [United States] Constitution and laws" by a "person" acting "under color of state law." See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see generally 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1230 (2002). It is well settled that only "persons" may act under color of state law; therefore, a defendant in a § 1983 action must qualify as a "person." For example, several courts have held that inanimate objects such as buildings, facilities, and grounds do not act under color of state law. See Preval v. Reno, 57 F.Supp.2d 307, 310 (E.D. Va. 1999) ("[T]he Piedmont Regional Jail is not a person, ' and therefore not amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983."); Brooks v. Pembroke City Jail, 722 F.Supp. 1294, 1301 (E.D. N.C. 1989) ("Claims under § 1983 are directed at persons' and the jail is not a person amenable to suit."). Additionally, use of the term "staff" or the equivalent as a name for alleged defendants, without the naming of specific staff members, is not adequate to state a claim against a "person" as required in § 1983 actions. See Barnes v. Baskerville Corr. Cen. Med. Staff, No. 3:07CV195, 2008 WL 2564779 (E.D. Va. June 25, 2008).
GCDC is a building or group of buildings. It is an inanimate object, not a person who can act under color of state law. As such, Plaintiff fails to state a plausible claim against GCDC and the Complaint should be summarily dismissed as far as GCDC is named as a Defendant.
Plaintiff's allegations also fail to a state a plausible § 1983 claim against Defendant Cribb. In order to assert a plausible § 1983 claim against any particular public official, a "causal connection" or "affirmative link" must exist between the conduct of which the plaintiff complains and the official sued. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985); Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 699 F.2d 864, 869 (7th Cir. 1983). As a general rule, the doctrine of vicarious liability is not available to a § 1983 plaintiff as a means to create liability of a state-actor supervisor for the acts or his/her subordinate. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). There is a limited exception to the prohibition against imposing vicarious liability on supervisory personnel in § 1983 cases, which has been enunciated in cases such as Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 370-75 (4th Cir. 1984).
Supervisory officials like Sheriff Cribb may be held liable in certain circumstances for the constitutional injuries inflicted by their subordinates so long as the facts alleged satisfy the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' established three-part test for supervisory liability under § 1983: "(1) that the supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that his subordinate was engaged in conduct that posed a pervasive and unreasonable risk' of constitutional injury to citizens like the plaintiff; (2) that the supervisor's response to that knowledge was so inadequate as to show deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of the alleged offensive practices, '; and (3) that there was an affirmative causal link' between the supervisor's inaction and the particular constitutional injury suffered by the plaintiff." Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 799 (4th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). In Randall v. Prince George's County, 302 F.3d 188, 206 (4th Cir. 2002), the Fourth Circuit concluded that, "[u]nder the first prong of Shaw, the conduct engaged in by the supervisor's subordinates must be pervasive, ' meaning that the conduct is widespread, or at least has been used on several different occasions.'" Furthermore, in establishing "deliberate indifference" under Shaw's second prong, a plaintiff "[o]rdinarily... cannot satisfy his burden of proof by pointing to a single incident or isolated incidents... for a supervisor cannot be expected... to guard against the deliberate criminal acts of his properly trained employees when he has no basis upon which to anticipate the misconduct." Id. (quoting Slakan, 737 F.2d at 373); see also Green v. Beck, No.12-7279, 2013 WL 4517028, *2 (4th Cir. Aug. 27, 2013) (alleged failure of supervisory officials to investigate grievances not sufficient to establish liability under § 1983).
The Slaken exception is not adequately pleaded in this case despite Plaintiff's allegations that Defendant Cribb is the "head sheriff." Plaintiff's Complaint does not contain allegations of any personal knowledge (or even subjective knowledge) on Sheriff Cribb's part of the tuberculosis-virus-clean-up problems that Plaintiff alleges that he experienced at GCDC. Thus, regardless of how pervasive the alleged problems at GCDC might be, Sheriff Cribb cannot be found liable for them simply based on his job as the overall supervisor or "head sheriff" at GCDC.
Accordingly, it is recommended that the district court dismiss the Complaint in this case without prejudice. See Brown v. Briscoe, 998 F.2d 201, 202-04 (4th Cir. 1993); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).
IT IS SO RECOMMENDED.