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Gunnells v. Goodman

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

June 23, 2015

James Allan Gunnells, Plaintiff,
Jonathan Goodman, Officer Dillman, James Jenkins, Ms. Sharon Patterson, Defendants.


JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants. [Doc. 24.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed this action on May 15, 2014, [1] against Defendants Jonathan Goodman ("Goodman"), Officer Dillman ("Dillman"), James Jenkins ("Jenkins"), and Ms. Sharon Patterson ("Patterson"; collectively "Defendants"), alleging Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights. [Doc. 1.] Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on September 29, 2014. [Doc. 24.] By Order filed September 30, 2014, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised of the dismissal/summary judgment procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. [Doc. 26.] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion on October 14, 2014. [Doc. 30.] On October 24, 2014, Defendants filed a reply and a supplement to their motion for summary judgment. [Docs. 32, 33.] Plaintiff filed a sur reply on March 25, 2015.[2] [Doc. 38.] The motion is now ripe for review.


At all times relevant to this action, Plaintiff was in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC") and housed at Lee Correctional Institution ("Lee") [Doc. 1 at 3]; Plaintiff is currently housed at Perry Correctional Institution [ id. at 2]. Plaintiff alleges that on November 17, 2010, his cellmate, Terrion Warren ("Warren"), was taken to a disciplinary hearing in the Darlington Unit's Lieutenant office.[4] [ Id. at 3.] Warren's charges were heard by Patterson, the hearing officer. [ Id. ] Warren was found guilty and walked out of the hearing "making indirect comments" and went back into the cell he shared with Plaintiff. [ Id. ] Plaintiff then went into his hearing. [ Id. ] Once inside the Darlington Unit's Lieutenant office, Patterson, Goodman, and Jenkins told Plaintiff that Warren had said he would stab Plaintiff if he returned to the cell. [ Id. ] Plaintiff alleges they were discussing the matter in a joking manner. [ Id. ] Patterson asked Plaintiff if he wanted to come with her, and Plaintiff asked her what she meant. [ Id. ] Patterson told Plaintiff, "If I were you[, ] I wouldn't go back in that room." [ Id. ] Plaintiff maintains that because they were talking about the situation in a joking manner, he did not take them seriously and walked back to his cell.[5] [ Id. ]

Once Plaintiff returned to his cell, he began talking to his co-defendant through the vents. [ Id. ] Dillman locked Plaintiff and Warren inside the cell. [ Id. at 3-4.] While Plaintiff was talking to his co-defendant, Warren tried to throw boiling liquid on Plaintiff. [ Id. at 4.] They began tussling, and Plaintiff noticed Warren had a shank in his hand. [ Id. ] Warren then began stabbing Plaintiff. [ Id. ] Plaintiff contends that Dillman was standing at the door watching the incident. [ Id. ] Dillman then entered the cell, walked back out, and locked the door to the cell. [ Id. ] Dillman told Plaintiff and Warren to break it up but did not administer chemical munitions or call for backup. [ Id. ] A few of the other inmates told Dillman to get on his radio and call first response. [ Id. ] Even after he had been told what to do, Dillman stood and watched Plaintiff being attacked for at least two minutes before he made the call for assistance. [ Id. ]

Once backup officers arrived and administered chemical munitions, Dillman also administered chemical munitions. [ Id. ] Eventually, the situation was brought under control, and Plaintiff was helicoptered to Richland County Memorial Hospital. [ Id. ] Plaintiff maintains that only one officer was on the wing and the security was inadequate. [ Id. at 5.] Plaintiff alleges that after he was stabbed, Goodman failed to properly secure Plaintiff's personal property and, as a result, several of his belongings went missing. [ Id. ] Plaintiff further alleges that as a result of Defendants' deliberate indifference to his safety, he suffered stab wounds; second and third degree burns on his shoulder, back, and neck; a dental impression scar on his arm; a cut and scar on his eyeball; nerve damage; and a psychological condition that requires medication. [ Id. ]

Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants' acts and omission violated his constitutional rights; this relief is sought against Defendants in their official capacities. [ Id. at 6.] Plaintiff further requests replacement or reimbursement for his personal property; $75, 000 in compensatory damages against each Defendant, jointly and severally, only in their individual capacities; $50, 000 in punitive damages against each Defendant, jointly and severally, only in their individual capacities; a jury trial; recovery of the costs of this action in Defendants' individual capacities; and any other relief this Court deems just, proper, and equitable. [ Id. at 5-6.]


Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint

Plaintiff brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520. The mandated liberal construction means only that if the Court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court "conjure up questions never squarely presented." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

Requirements for a Cause of Action Under § 1983

This action is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a private cause of action for constitutional violations by persons acting under color of state law. Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). Accordingly, a civil action under § 1983 allows "a party who has been deprived of a federal ...

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