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Williams v. Eagleton

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 3, 2016

Elliot Williams, Plaintiff,
v.
Willie L. Eagleton, Warden, Evans Corr. Inst., Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Elliot Williams, a self-represented state prisoner, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.). Having reviewed the Complaint in accordance with applicable law, the court concludes that it should be summarily dismissed without prejudice and without issuance and service of process.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff, an inmate at the Evans Correctional Institution, claims he was placed in a restrictive housing unit because he was found guilty of escape in a disciplinary hearing. (ECF No. 1 at 4-6.) Other than naming him as a defendant in the caption of the Complaint, Plaintiff does not mention Defendant Willie L. Eagleton in the Complaint. He seeks $100, 000 in damages for eighteen months of wrongful confinement and the resulting pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional stress, and anxiety. (Id. at 7.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). This review has been conducted in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983).

         The Complaint has been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” “is frivolous or malicious, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.”[1] 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A finding of frivolousness can be made where the complaint “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Denton, 504 U.S. at 31. Hence, under § 1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte. Neitzke, 490 U.S. 319; Allison v. Kyle, 66 F.3d 71 (5th Cir. 1995).

         This court is required to liberally construe pro se complaints. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Such pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, id.; Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)).

         Nonetheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009) (outlining pleading requirements under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for “all civil actions”). The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so; however, a district court may not rewrite a complaint to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128 (10th Cir. 1999), construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         B. Analysis

         A legal action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). In this action, Plaintiff alleges his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated. However, as discussed below, the court finds that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed for his failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Plaintiff fails to expressly state which provisions of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments he believes were violated by the defendant, but the court construes his allegations as purporting to state a claim for violations of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process based on his confinement in a restrictive unit. However, the mere fact of Plaintiff's placement in a restrictive housing unit because of a disciplinary conviction, without more, fails to show the defendant violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. For instance, the mere placement in disciplinary housing is not sufficient to implicate a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 486 (1995) (finding inmate's placement in segregated confinement for disciplinary purposes did not present the type of atypical, significant deprivation in which a State might conceivably create a liberty interest subject to due process protections). Nor is restrictive housing, without more, itself unconstitutional. See In re Long Term Admin. Segregation of Inmates Designated as Five Percenters, 174 F.3d 464, 471-72 (4th Cir. 1999) (finding that the restrictive nature of high-security incarceration does not alone constitute cruel and unusual punishment). Therefore, Plaintiff has not alleged facts that would show a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, see City of Monterey, 526 U.S. at 707, and accordingly, Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii); § 1915A(b)(1).

         Moreover, even assuming Plaintiff stated a cognizable claim, he has not provided any facts that show he is entitled to relief against the sole named defendant, Willie L. Eagleton. Defendant Eagleton's name appears in the caption of the Complaint, but not in its body. Accordingly, Plaintiff failed to comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (“A pleading that states a claim for ...


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