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Patrick v. Cartledge

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 4, 2016

Tyrone Patrick, Plaintiff,
Warden Cartledge; Major Earley; Captain Thoth, and Captain Golden, Defendants.


          Kaymani D. West United States Magistrate Judge

         Report and Recommendation Tyrone Patrick (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment filed on May 4, 2016. ECF No. 29. Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court entered a Roseboro[1] order on May 4, 2016, advising Plaintiff of the importance of such motions and of the need for him to file adequate responses. ECF No. 31. Plaintiff responded to the Motion for Summary Judgment on June 1, 2016, ECF No. 46, and Defendants filed a Reply on June 9, 2016, ECF No. 53. 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 Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) and (e), D.S.C. Because this motion is dispositive, a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) is entered for the court's review.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff was an inmate at Perry Correctional Institution (“Perry”) during the time period relevant to his Complaint. ECF No. 1. In his Complaint, Plaintiff maintains causes of action against Defendants for alleged absence of outdoor recreation in the Restrictive Housing Unit (“RHU”) at Perry since November 17, 2015 and for alleged excessive force in connection with a January 11, 2016 incident. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff states that he is bringing causes of action for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. Id. at 2.[2] Plaintiff seeks: an injunction against Defendants to “stop the on-going conduct of prison officials subjecting inmates to cruel and unusual punishment by not giving lock-up inmates out-door exercise, ” $20, 000 in compensatory damages from each Defendant and $200, 000 from the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”), costs, and any additional relief this court deems just, proper, and equitable. Id. at 5.

         II. Standard of Review

         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 a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that summary judgment is appropriate; if the movant carries its burden, then the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If a movant asserts that a fact cannot be disputed, it must support that assertion either by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials;” or “showing . . . that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248. Further, while the federal court is charged with liberally construing a Complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case, see, e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts that set forth a federal claim, nor can the court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact when none exists. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         III. Analysis: Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         A. The Parties' Contentions

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because Plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). ECF No. 29-1 at 2-5. Specifically, Defendants state that Plaintiff filed a grievance on December 29, 2015 related to alleged lack of outdoor exercise since he became housed in the RHU on November 17, 2015 as a sanction for a disciplinary violation. Grievance No. PCI-1238-15. Defendants state that the grievance form was not processed and was returned to Plaintiff on December 31, 2015 because he violated SCDC policy by attaching two additional pages of legal argument to the grievance.[3] Id. at 4. According to Defendants, Plaintiff was granted five days to re-submit the grievance in compliance with prison policy, but he did not do so. Id.

         In his Response to Defendants' Motion, Plaintiff states that he did re-submit his grievance, but asserts that he did not receive a response to it. ECF No. 46 at 20.[4] Plaintiff contends that because he did not receive a response to his grievance, he was entitled to proceed with this civil action. Id. at 21-24. Plaintiff asserts that his December 29th grievance form was not processed for “trivial” reasons and that the SCDC grievance rules are “excessively technical.” He asserts that, therefore, his failure to complete the SCDC grievance process should not preclude this court's consideration of the merits of his claims. Id. at 25-26.

         In their Reply, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claim that he filed another grievance after Grievance No. PCI-1238-15 was returned to him unprocessed lacks evidentiary support where SCDC records do not contain another such grievance. Defendants also factually distinguish case law cited by Plaintiff in support of his arguments that lack of administrative response excuses the exhaustion requirement and that administrators cannot reject grievances for trivial errors and then say the prisoner did not exhaust. Defendants stress that Plaintiff did receive a response to his grievance and contend that SCDC's grievance rules are not trivial, but are necessary for the operation of the system. ECF No. 53 at 1-5.

         B. Applicable Law

         Section 1997e(a) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” This requirement “applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they No. 29-3 at 7. Defendants do not discuss that notation and focus only on the notation about excessive writing. involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). To satisfy this requirement, a plaintiff must avail himself of all available administrative remedies. See Booth v. ...

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