United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on Magistrate Judge Paige J.
Gossett's Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”), ECF No. 48, that the court grant
defendant Warden Stevenson's (“Stevenson”)
motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 37, and defendants John
Magill (“Magill”), Kimberly Poholchuk
(“Poholchuk”), and Holly Scaturo's
(“Sacturo, ” together with Magill and Poholchuk,
the “SCDMH defendants”) separate motion for
summary judgment, ECF No. 40. For the reasons set forth
below, the court adopts in part and rejects in part the
R&R, and grants in part and denies in part
defendants' motions for summary judgment.
Mikel Christian (“plaintiff”) is involuntarily
committed to the Sexually Violent Predator Treatment Program
(“SVPTP”) pursuant to the South Carolina Sexually
Violent Predator Act. See S.C. Code Ann. §
44-48-10. Though the SVPTP is administered through the South
Carolina Department of Mental Health (“SCDMH”),
individuals committed to the SVPTP are housed at the Broad
River Correctional Institution (“BRCI”), a
facility run by the South Carolina Department of Corrections
(“SCDC”). ECF No. 37-3, Stevenson Aff. ¶ 5.
filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 on August 25, 2015, alleging numerous violations
of his constitutional rights in connection with his living
conditions, SVPTP food services, SCDMH disciplinary policies,
and other aspects of his confinement at BRCI. Plaintiff
requests declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.
February 29, 2016, Stevenson filed a motion for summary
judgment. On March 10, 2016, the SCDMH defendants filed a
separate motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff responded to
both motions on March 21, 2016. Stevenson and the SCDMH
defendants filed separate replies on March 31, 2016. On July
8, 2016, the magistrate judge issued the R&R,
recommending the court grant defendants' motions for
summary judgment. Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R
on July 26, 2016. Stevenson filed a reply on July 29, 2016,
and the SCDMH defendants filed a separate reply on August 12,
court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any
portion of the magistrate judge's R&R to which
specific, written objections are made. 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1).
The court may adopt the portions of the R&R to which the
petitioner did not object, as a party's failure to object
is accepted as agreement with the conclusions of the
magistrate judge. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140,
149-50 (1985). The recommendation of the magistrate judge
carries no presumptive weight, and it is this court's
responsibility to make a final determination. Mathews v.
Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976).
judgment is proper “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). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly
preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
“[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a
material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. At the
summary judgment stage, the court must view the evidence in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all
reasonable inferences in his favor. Id. at 255.
Pro Se Plaintiff
is proceeding pro se in this case. Federal district
courts are charged with liberally construing complaints filed
by pro se litigants to allow the development of a
potentially meritorious case. See Hughes v. Rowe,
449 U.S. 5, 9-10 (1980). Pro se complaints are
therefore held to a less stringent standard than those
drafted by attorneys. Id. Liberal construction,
however, does not mean that the court can ignore a clear
failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a
cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).
noted above, plaintiff's constitutional claims traverse a
number of issues related to his confinement. The magistrate
judge analyzed the bulk of these claims under the Due Process
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, finding no evidence that
the challenged policies and procedures fell outside the
acceptable range of professional judgment states are afforded
under that clause. R&R at 5-8. Plaintiff objected to
these findings by detailing certain restrictions and
conditions imposed by the challenged policies and procedures,
and providing two declarations in support of his contentions.
ECF No. 50, Pl.'s Objections.
involuntarily committed person's conditions of
confinement are subject to the standards set forth in
Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982). In
Youngberg, the Supreme Court recognized that
“determining whether a substantive right protected by
the Due Process Clause has been violated” requires
courts “to balance ‘the liberty of the
individual' and ‘the demands of an organized
society.'” Id. at 320 (quoting Poe v.
Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 562 (1961) (Harlan, J.,
dissenting)). In striking this balance, courts weigh
“the individual's interest in liberty against the
State's asserted reasons for restraining individual
liberty.” Id. “[D]ue process requires
that the conditions and duration of confinement [for civil
detainees] bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for
which persons are committed.” Seling v. Young,
531 U.S. 250, 252 (2001).
SVPTP detainees are not committed for purposes of punishment,
SVPTP detainees “are entitled to more considerate
treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose
conditions of confinement are designed to punish.”
Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 321-22; see also English
v. Johns, 2014 WL 555661, at *6 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 11,
2014) (“The Fifth Amendment generally prohibits the
federal government from subjecting civilly committed persons
to punitive confinement conditions.”),
aff'd, 582 F. App'x 229 (4th Cir. 2014),
cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 1564 (2015). However, the
state is not required to show that the restrictions and
conditions it imposes on civil detainees are justified by
“substantial” or “compelling”
necessity. Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 322. “To
state a claim that conditions of confinement violate
constitutional requirements, ‘a plaintiff must show
both (1) a serious deprivation of a basic human need; and (2)
deliberate indifference to prison conditions on the part of
prison officials.'” Haggwood v. Magill,
No. 5:15-cv-3271, 2016 WL 4149986, at *2 (D.S.C. Aug. 3,
2016) (quoting Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375,
1379 (4th Cir. 1993)).
are quite clearly not experts in the administration of civil
commitment programs, such as the SVPTP, or detention
facilities, such as the BRCI. Id. at 322- 23. For
this reason, courts must be careful not to encroach on, or
unnecessarily restrict, state agencies' exercise of their
professional judgment in administering, designing, and
maintaining such programs and facilities. Id.
Instead, the court's role is to ensure that such
professional judgment was, in fact, exercised. Id. A
decision pertaining to a civil detainee's conditions of
confinement, “if made by a professional, is
presumptively valid; liability may be imposed only when the
decision by the professional is such a substantial departure
from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards
as to demonstrate that the person responsible actually did
not base the decision on such a judgment.” Id.
R&R explains, defendants have provided affidavit
testimony addressing a number of the issues identified in
plaintiff's amended complaint. R&R at 6-8. The
R&R specifically cited evidence explaining the SCDC and
SVPTP policies relevant to (1) searches of SVPTP
detainees' rooms, (2) double-bunking of SVPTP detainees,
(3) SVPTP's use of personal property, and (4) the safety
of the meals served to SVPTP detainees. Id.; see
also Stevenson Aff. ¶¶ 9-12 (explaining food
safety procedures and cleaning and maintenance procedures);
ECF No. 40-2, Helff Aff. ¶¶ 3, 4 (outlining
enforcement of disciplinary policies among SVPTP committees);
ECF No. 40-5, Poholchuk Aff. ¶¶ 2, 3, 7, 10-13
(explaining policies and procedures relating to searches of
SVPTP committees' rooms, SVPTP committees' access to
legal materials, and food safety): ECF No. 40-7, Scaturo Aff.
¶¶ 10-12 (explaining policies relating to double
bunking of SVPTP committees). Though plaintiff's
objections and supporting declarations reiterate the
restrictions and conditions imposed by these policies,
plaintiff makes little, if any, attempt to show how most of
these restrictions and conditions represent a
“substantial departure” from the accepted range
of professional judgment permitted under Youngberg,
457 U.S. at 323.
certainly has not presented any evidence of how his
conditions of confinement compare to conditions imposed by
other professionals in the area of prison administration or
commitment-based treatment programs. This omission seems
forgivable enough, as plaintiff-like the court-likely has
little direct knowledge of what constitutes a reasonable
exercise of professional judgment in this area of expertise.
However, to the extent plaintiff endeavors to show that the
conditions of his confinement, in and of themselves, are
extreme enough ...