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Ferola v. McCall

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

February 7, 2017

Michael J. Ferola, Plaintiff,
v.
Michael McCall, Levern Cohen, Sgt. Michael Washington, Dennis Paterson, D. Mervin, and Bernard McKie, Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Michael J. Ferola, proceeding pro se, [1] brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the six above-captioned Defendants, five of whom have filed motions to dismiss. See ECF Nos. 28 & 48. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.[2] See R & R, ECF No. 52. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court grant in part and deny in part the motions to dismiss. R & R at 12. Plaintiff has filed timely objections to the R & R. See Pl.'s Objs., ECF No. 55. No Defendants have filed objections to the R & R.

         Standard of Review[3]

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The Court must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

         Discussion[4]

         In his verified complaint, Plaintiff alleges Defendants acted with deliberate indifference by failing to protect him from assaults by other inmates while he was incarcerated at Ridgeland Correctional Institution, thereby violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. See Complaint [ECF No. 1] at ¶¶ 21-37. Plaintiff identifies “at least” three assaults by Inmate Coltran Miller that allegedly occurred on July 28, 2015, September 8, 2015, and February 5, 2016. Id. at ¶¶ 23-27, 32. Plaintiff has attached several exhibits to his complaint, including copies of grievances that he filed with prison officials. See ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff names six prison officials as defendants: Michael McCall, Levern Cohen, Sgt. Michael Washington, Dennis Paterson, D. Mervin, and Bernard McKie. Id. Five of these six Defendants-McCall, Cohen, Washington, Paterson, and McKie-have filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See ECF Nos. 28 & 48. The Magistrate Judge recommends granting in part and denying in part these motions. R & R at 12. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommends: (1) granting the motion to dismiss filed by Washington, Paterson, and McKie; and (2) denying the motion to dismiss filed by McCall and Cohen. Id. Plaintiff has filed timely objections to the R & R. See Pl.'s Objs. [ECF No. 55]. No Defendants have filed objections or a reply to Plaintiff's objections.

         Plaintiff objects to the dismissal of Paterson and McKie as defendants.[5] In the R & R, the Magistrate Judge found that Plaintiff

has failed to set forth a “plausible claim” for failure to protect against the Defendants Washington, Paterson, or McKie. . . . Plaintiff's only allegations against Paterson and McKie are his general and conclusory claim that they were aware that RCI [Ridgeland Correctional Institution] is understaffed and that the lack of security posed a severe risk of injury to inmates. Complaint, ¶ 37. This allegation is not sufficient to establish the level of knowledge or responsibility required to maintain a failure to protect claim.

R & R at 7-8. In his objections, Plaintiff contends Paterson and McKie can be held liable under a theory of supervisory liability based on Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368 (4th Cir. 1984), [6] and Wellington v. Daniels, 717 F.2d 932 (4th Cir. 1983). Pl.'s Objs. at 1-2. Plaintiff refers to grievances that he filed with prison officials, and he claims Paterson and McKie were on notice of the threat to his safety by virtue of these grievances.

         I. Paterson

         In his objections, Plaintiff states, “In a grievance I filed over officers leaving their assigned post a year prior to the assault[, ] I placed defendant Patterson on notice of inmates being assaulted as a result of no officer. Defendant Patterson closed out said grievance and signed it [and] thus can be held liable under both” Farmer and Slakan. Pl.'s Objs. at 1 & n.1. Plaintiff is referring to a grievance form[7] that he Dated: May 30, 2014; he attached this grievance to his complaint as Exhibit L and refers to it in paragraph 37 of his complaint.[8] See Compl. at ¶ 37; ECF No. 1-1 at 26 (Exhibit L). The grievance describes how “officers are permitted to leave their assigned post for hours at a time, ” which “makes available chances for inmates . . . to be . . . assaulted.” Id. The grievance also contains a section entitled “Responsible Official's Decision and Reason” with a negative response[9] and an illegible signature; according to Plaintiff, the signature is Paterson's.

         When deciding a motion to dismiss made under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pled facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir. 2009). A court must “also consider documents that are explicitly incorporated into the complaint by reference, Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007), and those attached to the complaint as exhibits, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c).” Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 166 (4th Cir. 2016). “ A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Because the grievance was explicitly incorporated into Plaintiff's complaint by reference and attached as Exhibit L, and because this Court must assume Plaintiff's pro se allegations are true and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6), the Court finds Paterson should not be dismissed at this time. Similar to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation concerning Cohen and McCall (who are not being dismissed), Plaintiff “has set forth facts to establish a ‘plausible claim for relief'” because Paterson “had been specifically made aware by the Plaintiff through the grievance system . . ., prior to his being assaulted on July 28, 2014, that officers were leaving their assigned posts, but [Paterson] took [no] corrective action to resolve this problem; and that this is exactly what led to his being assaulted by Miller.” R & R at 9-10 (citing Compl. at ¶¶ 24-26, 37); cf. Id. at 10 (“Giving Plaintiff's Complaint the liberal construction to which he is entitled as a pro se litigant, these allegations state a claim against Cohen and McCall sufficient to survive a Rule 12 motion to dismiss at this time.”). Significantly, the grievance was ...


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