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Chestnut v. Comstock

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

June 29, 2015

Raymond Edward Chestnut, Plaintiff,
v.
J. Comstock, discipline hearing officer, in her individual capacity, Defendant.

ORDER

R. BRYAN HARWELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Raymond Edward Chestnut, a federal prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a complaint pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), against Defendant J. Comstock. See Complaint, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff asserts in his complaint that he was deprived of his due process rights during a disciplinary hearing conducted by Defendant. Id. at 2-4. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (R & R) of United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.[1] See R & R, ECF No. 43. The Magistrate Judge recommends the Court dismiss the action with prejudice for Plaintiff's failure to prosecute. Id. at 2.

Procedural History

Plaintiff is a frequent filer in federal court who has one strike against him pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act.[2] See Chestnut v. McCoy, No. 1:13-CV-1814-RBH, 2014 WL 4199112, at *3 (D.S.C. Aug. 20, 2014) (issuing a strike against Plaintiff in another Bivens action). He filed the current complaint on June 9, 2014, seeking relief for an incident-an allegedly unconstitutional prison disciplinary hearing held by Defendant-that occurred in December 2007 at Federal Correctional Institution, Williamsburg.[3] Complaint at 3. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment on November 18, 2014. See ECF No. 24. The next day, the Magistrate Judge issued a Roseboro [4] order notifying Plaintiff of the summary judgment/dismissal procedure, warning him of the consequences if he failed to adequately respond, and stating he had until December 23, 2014 to file any objections to Defendant's motion. See ECF No. 25 at 1.

On December 10, 2014, over six months after he filed his complaint, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend or correct his complaint. See ECF No. 29. He did not, however, file any objections to Defendant's motion seeking dismissal or summary judgment, so the Magistrate Judge issued an order on December 31 denying Plaintiff's motion to amend and directing him to advise the court whether he wished to file a substantive response to Defendant's outstanding motion or otherwise continue with the case. See ECF No. 31.

On January 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion for an extension of time to respond to Defendant's motion, seeking to extend the deadline for filing a response by over two months-to March 31, 2015. See ECF No. 33 at 1-2. The Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiff's motion and afforded him the generous two-and-a-half month extension. ECF No. 34. The docket indicates Plaintiff filed nothing by March 31, and that between January 17 and April 9, 2015, he took no action to prosecute his case.

On April 7, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued an order directing Plaintiff to advise the court whether he wished to file a response to Defendant's motion or otherwise proceed with the case. See ECF No. 36. The Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiff an extension to file his response by April 21 and advised him that if he failed to respond, she would recommend dismissal of the action with prejudice for failure to prosecute. Id. Two days later, on April 9, Defendant filed another motion for an extension of time to file a response. See ECF No. 39. The Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiff's motion, extended the deadline for him to file a response until May 15, 2015, and advised him that she would grant no further extensions. See ECF No. 40. Plaintiff filed nothing, and after waiting an additional five days beyond the May 15 deadline, the Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending the Court dismiss the action with prejudice based upon Plaintiff's failure to prosecute. R & R at 2.

On May 26, 2015, more than five months after the original due date for his response and after having had three extensions granted by the Magistrate Judge, Plaintiff finally filed a response to Defendant's motion. See ECF No. 45. Plaintiff also found time to file a timely objection to the R & R, doing so on June 4. See ECF No. 47. Plaintiff's sole objection was that the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending dismissal for failure to prosecute. Id. at 1-3. Although Plaintiff stated in his objection that he placed his response in the mail on May 15, 2015, id. at 2, the envelope in which he mailed his response shows the prison mailroom stamped the response as having been received May 19, 2015. See ECF No. 45, Attachment 1. Moreover, after Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's response on June 2, see ECF No. 46, Plaintiff continued his newfound trend of punctuality and filed a surreply to Defendant's reply on June 15, despite having never asked for leave to file a surreply.[5] See ECF No. 48.

Standard of Review

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 this Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the R & R to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

A party who fails to file a timely objection may forfeit his right to de novo review of the R & R. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The Court need not conduct a de novo review "when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." Id. In the absence of objections to the R & R, the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). The Court reviews only for clear error in the absence of a timely objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating that "in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation'" (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note)).

Discussion

Plaintiff's sole objection is that the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending the Court dismiss the case for Plaintiff's failure to prosecute. ECF No. 47 at 1-3. The Court finds the objection meritless.

"[A] federal court may invoke its inherent authority to sanction a pro se plaintiff by dismissing a complaint with prejudice sua sponte. " Zaczek v. Fauquier Cnty., Va., 764 F.Supp. 1071, 1077 (E.D. Va. 1991) (sanctioning a pro se inmate by dismissing his complaint with prejudice for failure to prosecute), aff'd, 16 F.3d 414 (4th Cir. 1993). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), a district court may dismiss a plaintiff's action with prejudice because of his failure to prosecute the case. "The power to invoke this sanction is necessary in order to prevent undue delays in the disposition of pending cases and to avoid congestion in the calendars of the District Courts." Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 629-30 (1962) (discussing Rule 41(b)). The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has formulated a four-factor test for deciding whether a Rule 41(b) dismissal is an appropriate sanction: "(1) the degree of personal responsibility of the plaintiff, (2) the amount of prejudice caused the defendant [by the plaintiff's delay ...


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