United States District Court, D. South Carolina
RICHARD M. GERGEL, District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on the Report and
Recommendation ("R & R") of the Magistrate Judge
recommending that the Court deny Defendant's motion for
summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 54 at 1). Defendant has filed
objections to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation.
(Dkt. No. 40). For the reasons set forth below, the Court
ADOPTS the R & R as the order of the Court. Accordingly,
Defendant's motion for summary judgment is
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility for making a final determination remains with
this Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71
(1976). This Court is charged with making a de novo
determination of those portions of the R&R to which specific
objection is made. Additionally, the Court may "accept,
reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C.
Â§ 636(b)(1). This Court may also "receive further
evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment should
be granted "only when it is clear that there is no
dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the
inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam
Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir.
1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been
raised, the court must construe all inferences and
ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party."
HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross,
101 F.3d 1005, 108 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking summary
judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the
court that there is no issue of material fact. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
the moving party has made this threshold demonstration, the
non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment,
may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings.
Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must
demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give
rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard,
"[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice,
nor does a mere scintilla of evidence'" in support
of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v. Potomac
Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Phillips v. CSX Transp., Inc., 190 F.3d
285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).
is an inmate at Georgetown County Detention Center. He brings
a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Â§ 1983, alleging that Defendant
used excessive force against him while Plaintiff was
handcuffed in the back of a police car. (Dkt. No. 1 at 3-4).
He specifically alleges that Defendant "grabbed [him] by
the throat with excessive force and choked [him] for several
seconds until [he] almost passed out." ( Id. at
3). Plaintiff reported the incident to the Georgetown Police
Department and the State Law Enforcement Division. (Dkt. No.
46-2 at 3). Because he alleges he had difficulty talking and
breathing after the incident, he was examined by a physician.
(Dkt. No. 46-2 at 2).
subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging
that Plaintiff had recanted the allegations in his complaint
in a letter to Defendant. (Dkt. No. 40). Plaintiff filed a
response, denying that the letter recanted his allegations
and instead maintained the allegations in the Complaint are
true. (Dkt. No. 46).
Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending that the Court
deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No.
54 at 5). Defendant timely filed objections. (Dkt. No. 59).
reasons stated in the R & R, the Court agrees with the
Magistrate Judge that Plaintiff has produced sufficient
evidence such that a reasonable jury could find his
allegations credible. (Dkt. No. 54 at 3-5). The facts alleged
in the complaint, the videos, and the audio from the
incident, when taken together, create a genuine issue of
material fact regarding whether Defendant used excessive
force. In the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the facts
could support a finding of excessive force. Accordingly,
summary judgment is not appropriate at this juncture. (Dkt.
No. 54 at 4-5). Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (in ruling on summary judgment,
"the nonmoving party's evidence is to be believed,
and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in that
has filed two objections to the R & R. (Dkt. No. 59).
Defendant's first objection asserts that Plaintiff has
not provided credible evidence of any injury as a result of
Defendant's actions. (Dkt. No. 59 at 4-5). The Court is
satisfied that Plaintiff has alleged, at a minimum, a de
minimis claim for injury based on the alleged choking.
De minimis injury does not bar a plaintiff from
asserting a Fourth Amendment excessive force claim because
"the severity of injury resulting from the force used
has always been but one consideration in determining whether
force was excessive." Smith v. Murphy, No.
14-1918, 2015 WL 7351758, at *3 (4th Cir. Nov. 20, 2015)
(quoting Jones v. Buchanan, 325 F.3d 520, 530 (4th
Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Therefore,
Defendant's objection does not change the Count's
conclusion that there is sufficient evidence that a
reasonable jury could find Plaintiff's allegations
second objection to the R & R asserts that Defendant is
entitled to qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 59 at 5-7). The
Court disagrees. The most Plaintiff-friendly version of
events is that Defendant needlessly choked Plaintiff for
several seconds while Plaintiff was already in handcuffs and
sitting in the back of a police car. And the question for the
factfinder to answer is "whether a reasonable officer
would have determined that the degree of force used was
justified by the threat presented." Smith, 2015
WL 7351758, at *2. If a jury were to find Defendant's use
of force to be unreasonable, qualified immunity would not
apply because an excessive use of force such as this falls
squarely within the ambit of clearly established law.
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001) ("The
relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right