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Jenkins v. Bittinger

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

October 31, 2016

Bobby C. Jenkins, Plaintiff,
v.
Mr. Bittinger, Eric S. Hooper, Charles West, Walter Marin, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, recommending summary dismissal of all claims against Defendants Martin, Bittinger, and West, and summary dismissal of policy-violation claims against Defendant Hooper. For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the Report and Recommendation and dismisses those claims.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Bobby Jenkins, proceeding pro se, alleges he was falsely charged with and disciplined for an incident occurring on March 1, 2016. He alleges that Defendant West improperly filed several disciplinary charges against him, that Defendant Bittinger improperly "stacked" the charges and conducted an unconstitutional disciplinary hearing resulting in a loss of good-time credits and other sanctions, that Defendant Hooper did not follow South Carolina Department of Corrections policy when handcuffing Plaintiff in the "Alpha" area of Evans Correctional Institution, and that Defendant Hooper used excessive force by spraying chemical munitions in Plaintiffs face and by striking him. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief including removal of the disciplinary convictions from his prison record and placement into the general prison population. He also requests compensatory and punitive damages.

         II. Legal Standard

         The 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 Report and Recommendation 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. § 636(b)(1). This Court may also "receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Id.

         When a proper objection is made to a particular issue, "a district court is required to consider all arguments directed to that issue, regardless of whether they were raised before the magistrate." United States v. George, 971 F.2d 1113, 1118 (4th Cir. 1992). However, "[t]he district court's decision whether to consider additional evidence is committed to its discretion, and any refusal will be reviewed for abuse." Doe v. Chao, 306 F.3d 170, 183 & n.9 (4th Cir. 2002). "[A]ttempts to introduce new evidence after the magistrate judge has acted are disfavored, " though the district court may allow it "when a party offers sufficient reasons for so doing." Caldwell v. Jackson, 831 F.Supp.2d 911, 914 (M.D. N.C. 2010) (listing cases).

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows the court to dismiss the case upon finding that the action is "frivolous or malicious, " "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, " or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B), A finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). Under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte "at any time." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989).

The PLRA, at 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) contains a "three strike" provision:
In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.

         "[I]f a prisoner has already had three cases dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted, the prisoner generally may not proceed [in forma pauperis] but rather must pay up-front all filing fees for his subsequent suits." Blakely v. Wards, 738 F.3d 607, 609 (4th Cir. 2013). After receiving three strikes, a plaintiff must pay the full filing fee for almost any non-habeas civil action he might wish to file. Id. at 610.

         With respect to a failure to state a claim, "Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 326. The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. "Unless otherwise specified, a dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is presumed to be both a judgment on the merits and to be rendered with prejudice." McLean v. United States, 566 F.3d 391, 396 (4th Cir. 2009).

         Pro se pleadings are given liberal construction and are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus,551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); De'Lonta v. Angelone,330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003). However, giving "liberal construction" does not mean that the Court can ignore a prisoner's clear failure to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. "Principles requiring generous construction of pro se complaints, .. [do] not require .. . courts to ...


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