United States District Court, D. South Carolina
ORDER ADOPTING IN PART THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION,
GRANTING DEFENDANT CRAIG’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT,
AND DENYING DEFENDANTS HUNT, BITTINGER, SMITH, AND
SIMS’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
filed this case as a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. The matter
is before the Court for review of the Report and
Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge
suggesting that Defendant Craig’s motion for summary
judgment be granted and Defendants Hunt, Bittinger, Smith,
and Sims’s motion for summary judgment be granted in
part and denied in part. The Report was made in accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the
District of South Carolina.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976).
The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of
those portions of the Report 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. 28 U.S.C. §
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on June 2, 2016, ECF No.
106, and on June 9, 2016, the Court appointed Mr. C. Fredric
Marcinak and Ms. Emily I. Bridges from the Greenville, South
Carolina, office of Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP as
Plaintiff’s counsel in this matter, ECF No. 108.
Plaintiff and Defendants Hunt and Bittinger filed their
objections to the Report on July 11, 2016. ECF Nos. 118, 119.
Plaintiff then filed a reply to Defendants’ objections
on July 28, 2016. ECF No. 122. The Court has reviewed the
parties’ objections, and finds Plaintiff’s to be
meritorious but finds Defendants’ to be without merit.
Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.
starting point, Plaintiff fails to object to the Magistrate
Judge’s recommendation that Defendant Craig’s
motion for summary judgment be granted. ECF No. 118 at 1.
Therefore, the Court will grant Defendant Craig’s
motion for summary judgment.
next to Plaintiff’s objections to the Report, Plaintiff
argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in suggesting that the
Court grant Defendants Smith and Sims’s motion for
summary judgment. Id. Plaintiff asserts that he has
set forth genuine issues of material fact on his Eighth
Amendment failure to protect claim against Defendants Smith
and Sims. Id. at 2-6. Specifically, Plaintiff avers
that he has satisfied the objective component of the failure
to protect claim by demonstrating a genuine issue of material
fact as to a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury
from the underlying incident. Id. at 3. Plaintiff
also contends that he has he has met the subjective component
of the failure to protect claim because the circumstantial
evidence allows the inference that Defendants Smith and
Sims’s state of mind was that of deliberate
indifference toward Plaintiff. Id. at 4. Based on
these arguments, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate
Judge’s recommendation that Defendants Smith and Sims
are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 5.
failure to protect claim under the Eighth Amendment to
survive summary judgment, a plaintiff must first
“establish a serious deprivation of his rights in the
form of a serious or significant physical or emotional
injury, ” or a “substantial risk” thereof.
Danser v. Stansberry, 772 F.3d 340, 346 (4th Cir.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). A plaintiff must also
show that the prison official had a “sufficiently
culpable state of mind, ” which, in this context,
consists of “deliberate indifference to inmate health
or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (internal
quotation marks omitted). This state of mind can be inferred
from circumstantial evidence, meaning that “a
factfinder may conclude that a prison official knew of a
substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was
obvious.” Id. at 842.
record in this case leaves the Court of the unmistakable view
that Plaintiff has presented genuine issues of material fact
on his failure to protect claim against Defendants Smith and
Sims sufficient to survive summary judgment. Taking the facts
in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court holds
that there exist genuine issues of material fact as to
whether Defendant Hunt’s actions placed Plaintiff at a
substantial risk of serious or significant physical or
emotional injury. Notably, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Hunt
twisted his arm, pushed him against a wall, and then clipped
him to the floor so that he landed on his stomach. ECF No.
23-1 at 3. Additionally, the Court holds that Plaintiff has
raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether
Defendants Smith and Sims acted with deliberate indifference
toward Plaintiff, as the circumstantial evidence permits this
inference. After all, according to Plaintiff, Defendants
Hunt, Smith, and Sims failed to follow proper protocol prior
to using excessive force against Plaintiff, because
“[n]o first responders [were called] or pepper spray
use[d, ] which is protocol if an inmate is causing resistance
and won[’]t comply.” ECF No. 98 at 1.
Consequently, because Plaintiff has established genuine
issues of material fact as to whether Defendants Smith and
Sims violated his Eighth Amendment rights, and the courts
have clearly established the law on this matter, a reasonable
person in the position of Defendants Smith and Sims would
have known their alleged failure to intervene and protect
Plaintiff violated his Eighth Amendment rights. See
Pritchett v. Alford, 973 F.2d 307, 312 (4th Cir. 1992)
(setting forth the test for qualified immunity). They are
thus unentitled to qualified immunity in their individual
capacities. Therefore, the Court declines to adopt the
portion of the Magistrate Judge’s Report, ECF No. 106,
that recommends that Defendants Smith and Sims’s motion
for summary judgment be granted and that they are entitled to
qualified immunity. Accordingly, the Court will deny their
motion for summary judgment.
Court will now turn to Defendants Hunt and Bittinger’s
objections to the Report. First, Defendant Hunt insists that
the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending that his motion
for summary judgment be denied. ECF No. 119 at 9-14. In
particular, Defendant Hunt claims that Plaintiff has not
refuted the affidavits and other supporting evidence
submitted by him, which purportedly establish that he used
only a reasonable amount of force to secure Plaintiff in
light of Plaintiff’s resistance and refusal to obey his
orders. Id. at 11. Moreover, Defendant Hunt insists
that Plaintiff’s excessive force claim must fail
because the unrefuted evidence he submitted establishes that
Plaintiff suffered no injury as a result of the force used.
Id. at 12.
Hunt’s contentions are without merit. Contrary to his
argument, Plaintiff relied on more than the mere allegations
in the Complaint to refute the evidence presented by
Defendant Hunt. Specifically, Plaintiff relied on the
incident investigation report wherein Defendant Craig
reported facts in favor of Plaintiff. ECF No. 94-5 at 3.
incident investigation report, although Defendant Craig notes
he failed to observe the events leading up to Defendant
Hunt’s use of force, he states that Plaintiff
“showed no signs of aggression and was mild
mannered.” Id. Further, Defendant Craig
“thought the actions of [Defendant] Hunt were uncalled
for.” Id. The Magistrate Judge utilized this
report in her analysis of whether the subjective component of
Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment excessive force claim met
the requirements of Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312,
321 (1986), and found in the affirmative. ECF No. 106 at
9-12. This Court holds that Defendant Craig’s
statement, taken in conjunction with Plaintiff’s
allegations, creates a genuine issue of material fact as to
whether Defendant Hunt “acted with a sufficiently
culpable state of mind.” See Iko v. Shreve,
535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (setting forth the elements of an Eighth Amendment
excessive force claim).
the objective inquiry of an excessive force claim, whether
“the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted on the
inmate was sufficiently serious, ” id.,
focuses not on the severity of any injuries inflicted, but
rather on the “nature of the force, ” which must
be “nontrivial.” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559
U.S. 34, 38-39 (2010). Although there must be some evidence
of an injury, “[i]njury and force . . . are only
imperfectly correlated, and it is the latter that ultimately
counts.” Id. at 38. Thus, it is “the
nature of the force, rather than the extent of the injury,
” that is the “relevant inquiry.” Hill
v. Crum, 727 F.3d 312, 321 (4th Cir. 2013). Where, as
here, Plaintiff’s Complaint and medical records
indicate he sought medical assistance following the incident
and that the prison medical staff saw him several times for
complaints of neck pain, ECF Nos. 94-4, 95-5, the Court holds
that Plaintiff has established a genuine issue of material
fact as to whether the objective component of
Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment excessive force claim has
been met. Consequently, because Plaintiff has established a
genuine issue of material fact regarding both the subjective
and objective components of his Eighth Amendment excessive
force claim, the Court will deny Defendant Hunt’s
motion for summary judgment.
Defendant Bittinger objects to the Magistrate Judge’s
suggestion that his motion for summary judgment be denied.
ECF No. 119 at 9-10, 14-19. Defendant Bittinger asseverates
that Plaintiff’s disciplinary hearing wherein he lost
canteen, telephone, and visitation privileges failed to
implicate a liberty interest triggering procedural due
process protections. Id. at 14. Additionally,
Defendant Bittinger urges that Plaintiff’s loss of
good-time credits cannot give rise to a claim for monetary
relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 resulting from procedural
defects at his disciplinary hearing. Id. at 16.
Further, Defendant Bittinger avouches that Plaintiff failed
to sign the charging document when served, resulting in the
waiver of his right to call witnesses at the disciplinary
hearing, pursuant to South Carolina Department of Corrections
policy. Id. at 17. Finally, Defendant Bittinger
alleges that Plaintiff has neglected to establish prejudice
by the inability to call witnesses at his disciplinary
hearing. Id. at 18.
Bittinger’s objection is likewise without merit. As set