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Patterson v. McCall

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 19, 2016

Eugene D. Patterson, Jr., Plaintiff,
Michael McCall, Brian Durant, Bruce Oberman, Ass. Warden James Dean, Mr. Elbert Pearson, and Sgt. Long, Defendants.


          KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, a pro se prisoner, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights. This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on July 1, 2015. ECF No. 53. Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) the court advised Plaintiff, on July 2, 2015, of the dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to Defendants' Motion. ECF No. 54. On August 26, 2015, after receiving an extension, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion, ECF No. 60, and on September 4, 2015, Defendants filed a Reply, ECF No. 61. This case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all pretrial proceedings pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) and (e), D.S.C. Because the Motion for Summary Judgment is dispositive, a Report and Recommendation is entered for the court's review.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is an inmate in the South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC"), and was housed at Lee Correctional Institution ("LCI") when the facts giving rise to his Complaint occurred. ECF No. 1 at 1-2. Plaintiff filed his Complaint on November 18, 2014, and alleged causes of action for certain due process violations. Id. at 2. Specifically, Plaintiff maintains that on May 31, 2012, he was taken from his SMU[1] cell to appear before the Institutional Classification Committee ("ICC") regarding his security detention. Id. at 3. During his hearing, Plaintiff maintains that Sgt. Long ("Defendant Long") turned off the tape recorder and asked that Captain Commander have an officer retrieve all of his mail and any piece of paper from his cell. Id. Plaintiff alleges that he was placed in a holding cell while the ICC Board members searched his property. Id. After the search, Plaintiff represents that he returned to the conference room where he "observed a plastic trash bag (with [his] name written on it, containing [his] personal mail, legal mail, and a few pictures that were included in [his] personal mail) positioned by [Defendant] Long while he held some papers' in his hands." Id.

         Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Long told him they had retrieved a "Kite" letter from his cell that was written by a "five-percenter." Id. Though Plaintiff alleges he was told that nothing linked him personally to being affiliated with the organization (that is allegedly a security threat group "STG"), it placed him in possession of STG material. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Long informed Plaintiff that certain pieces of paper were believed "to be connected to the five-percenter organization (but in actuality clearly represents [his] love and connection to Christianity as [his] system of beliefs)." Id. at 4.

         After the ICC Board considered whether to allow Plaintiff to return to general population, Plaintiff was informed that the Board recommended he remain on security detention for an additional two years. Id. At that point, Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Long informed Plaintiff that all of his belongings would be placed in the property room inside of his property bag and all his legal mail and legal materials would be returned to him. Id. However, Plaintiff alleges that he was only returned a few items of his legal mail. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff maintains that Captain Commander told him that Defendant Long took all his personal belongings contained in the plastic bag except for a few legal mail items which Defendant Long left with Captain Commander. Id. at 4-5.

         Plaintiff alleges that on September 8, 2013, he submitted a "Request to Staff" to Defendant Pearson of the Special Investigation Unit ("SIU") concerning the "illegal confiscation, " but Defendant Pearson has refused to respond to Plaintiff's inquiry. Id. at 5. Plaintiff maintains that he submitted a similar request to Defendant Long on June 2, 2014, and to Defendant Durant on June 4, 2014, and there has been no response. Id. Plaintiff indicates that Mr. Oberman informed him on the same day of the incident that he would ensure Plaintiff received his property back. Id. Plaintiff details the communications he has sent in his attempts to resolve the issue and have his property returned. Id. Finally, Plaintiff represents:

Let it be noted that a part of the legal mail contained inside the plastic bag are a lot of letters from my trial counsel in criminal (sic) case, I need those letters ASAP because I'm presently awaiting an "evidentiary hearing" in my pending post-conviction relief case and I'm proceeding under "Ineffective Assistance of Counsel." A few of those letters I intend to utilize as exhibits.


         Plaintiff requests that the court impose an "injunction' and/or declaratory judgement (sic) against defendants, specifically that [his] property be returned to [him] and that Plaintiff be released into general population, as Plaintiff renounced former affiliations (to Folk Nation) as S.I.U.' investigator Mr. Pearson can attest." Id. at 6. Additionally, Plaintiff asks that the court make defendants pay for his court filing fees, and he seeks $500.00 in punitive damages from each Defendant. Id.

         On December 22, 2014, after an initial review of the case, the undersigned recommended that the district court partially dismiss the Complaint "insofar as it seeks relief for continued placement in the [LCI] SMU." ECF No. 11 at 5. Based on this recommendation, the undersigned instructed that Defendants "respond only to those portions of the Complaint that do not involve the SMU-placement issue." Id. Plaintiff filed no objections to the undersigned's Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), and on January 21, 2015, the District Court accepted the undersigned's R&R. ECF No. 17. There, the court ordered that Plaintiff's Complaint be partially dismissed "insofar as it seeks relief for continued placement in the Lee SMU and directed [Defendants] to respond only to those portions of the Complaint that do not involve the SMU-placement issue." Id. at 2. Defendants filed this Motion on Plaintiff's due process, access to court, and supervisory liability allegations. ECF No. 53.

         II. Standard of Review

         A federal court must liberally construe pleadings filed by pro se litigants to allow them to fully develop potentially meritorious cases. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to decide issues of fact, but to decide whether there is an issue of fact to be tried. The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth a claim. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990). Nor can the court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The movant "bears the initial burden of pointing to the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Temkin v. Frederick Cnty. Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). If the movant carries its burden of showing there is an absence of evidence to support a claim, then the plaintiff must demonstrate by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324-25. An issue of fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Issues of fact are "material" only if establishment of such facts might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing substantive law. Id. A complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the plaintiff's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. Moreover, a "mere scintilla of evidence" in support of an essential element will not forestall summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251.

         III. Analysis

         Defendants filed a Summary Judgment Motion arguing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to all of Plaintiff's claims. The undersigned will address each of Defendants' arguments in turn.

         A. Defendant Robert Durant

         Defendants request that "Defendant Robert Durant" be formally dismissed as a party to this action because "Plaintiff has conceded that Robert Durant is not a proper defendant in this case." ECF No. 53-1 at 3. As Defendants indicate, on May 13, 2015, the undersigned granted Plaintiff's Motion to Amend his Complaint to change the then-named Defendant from "Robert Durant" to "Brian Durant." ECF No. 48. Based on the May 13, 2015 order, Defendant Robert Durant was dismissed as a party to this action. Further, as the current docket reflects, Defendant "Robert Durant" is no longer listed as a party. However, to the extent Defendants seek a formal dismissal, the undersigned recommends Defendant Robert Durant be dismissed as a party to this action.[2]

         B. Administrative Exhaustion

         Defendants maintain that "Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and therefore, his Complaint should be dismissed." ECF No. 53-1 at 4. Defendants represent that Plaintiff has filed five grievances, and one was returned unprocessed. Id. at 6. Further, Defendants argue "[t]he remaining grievances were denied by the Inmate Grievance Board at the Step 2 level and Plaintiff was informed of the requirements to file an appeal to the Administrative Law Court." Id. Defendants assert that because Plaintiff failed to appeal ...

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