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Godbolt v. Powell

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

November 21, 2016

Sevren Da'Sean Godbolt, #341489, Plaintiff,
v.
Cpt. Joseph Powell, Lt. DeAngelo Ford, Sgt. Donovan Ford, Lt. Albert Housey, Ofc. Kurt McKinstry, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Sevren Da'Sean Godbolt (“Plaintiff”) filed this pro se and in forma pauperis action against Defendants Cpt. Joseph Powell, Lt. DeAngelo Ford, Sgt. Donovan Ford, Lt. Albert Housey, and Ofc. Kurt McKinstry (collectively known as “Defendants”), alleging he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by Defendants, and seeks monetary damages against each Defendant. (ECF No. 1.) Defendants filed an Answer (ECF No. 13), and then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 28), asking that the Complaint be dismissed. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 40), but the Motion was denied as untimely. (ECF No. 43.)

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers, III for pre-trial handling. On September 30, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending the court grant Defendants' Motion. (ECF No. 45.) This review considers Plaintiff's Objections to the Report (“Objections”) filed October 24, 2016. (ECF No. 50.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report in part, MODIFIES the Magistrate Judge's Report in part, GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 28), and DISMISSES this action (ECF No. 1) without prejudice and without issuance and service of process.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual synopsis is accurate and incorporates it by reference. This court will thus focus on the facts pertinent to the analysis of Plaintiff's Objections.

         Plaintiff alleges that on July 1, 2014, Defendants used excessive force against him, subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) On the day in question, another inmate was involved in a confrontation with a correctional officer (“Cifelli”). (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff alleges he joined the confrontation, and hit Cifelli with a scrub brush several times. (Id.) Plaintiff then alleges that after Defendants escorted him away from his cell, they proceeded to attack him by “slam[ming]” his face, throwing him repeatedly to the ground, stripping him of his shoes and socks, and spraying him in the face [with chemical munitions], before placing him outside in “extreme” weather [heat] conditions. (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiff also alleges medical care was not immediately provided to him. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff seeks $50, 000 in compensatory damages from each Defendant, and $50, 000 in punitive damages from each Defendant. (Id. at 6.)

         The Magistrate Judge's September 30, 2016 Report found that because Plaintiff failed to respond to Defendants' Motion, the Complaint should be dismissed on the basis of Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). (ECF No. 45 at 2.) The Magistrate Judge also found that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate a medical claim or an excessive force claim that could be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 45 at 13, 17.)

         In response to the Magistrate Judge's Report, Plaintiff filed a timely Objection on October 24, 2016. (ECF No. 50.) In his Objection, Plaintiff disputes the Report's recount of the facts. (Id. at 1-3.) Plaintiff objects to Defendant Housey and Defendant Powell's account of the events (Id. at ¶¶ B-E), and also asserts that medical claims were not the issue. (Id. at 2, ¶ F.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Magistrate Judge's Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge's Report is only a recommendation to this court, and has no presumptive weight-the responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objections are made. Id. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Plaintiff filed this Complaint in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which allows a federal court to proceed with a prisoner's complaint or action without the prepayment of court fees by the prisoner litigant. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). The statute attempts to restrain this privilege, and thus avoid allowing meritless lawsuits to flood the court system, by permitting a court to dismiss the case at any time upon finding that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.[1] § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials in the record show 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). In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must weigh all evidence and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist which give rise to a genuine issue. See Id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the petitioner's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Furthermore, to show that a genuine dispute of material fact exists, a party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. “Only 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.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         Additionally, pro se complaints must be held to a less stringent legal standard than those complaints or proceedings drafted by lawyers, and a pro se document should be liberally construed by a federal court. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). “Technical niceties” should not defeat a meritorious claim when it can be amended to achieve justice. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). However, while a pro se complaint may be entitled to “special judicial solicitude, ” federal courts are not required to recognize “obscure or extravagant claims.” Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985). A complaint will be dismissed, even under the lens of a liberal interpretation, “if it does not allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief.'” Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008)).

         Federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction and there is no presumption that the court has jurisdiction. Pinkley Inc. v. City of Frederick, MD., 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999). They are “constrained to exercise only the authority conferred by Article III of the Constitution and affirmatively granted by federal statute.”[2]In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998). Therefore, a federal court is required to determine if there is a valid basis for jurisdiction, “and to dismiss the action if no such ground appears.” Id. at 352. A plaintiff who seeks jurisdiction, even a pro se plaintiff whose complaint must be viewed liberally, must “allege in his pleadings the facts essential to show jurisdiction.” McNutt v. General Motors ...


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