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China v. Coles

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

March 31, 2017

Antoine Jarmaine China, Plaintiff,
v.
Ofc. Armet Coles; Sgt. Dustin Mincey; and Warden Fred B. Thompson, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Antoine Jarmaine China (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, filed this action (“Complaint, ” ECF No. 1) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendants Armet Coles, Dustin Mincey, and Fred B. Thompson (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Defendants”) used excessive force against Plaintiff in violation of his constitutional rights. (ECF No. 1.) Defendants responded by filing an Answer (ECF No. 29) and a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 46.)

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pre-trial handling. On December 13, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report, ” ECF No. 56) recommending the court grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 46), but only to a certain extent. This review considers Defendants' Objections to the Report and Recommendation (“Objections”) filed December 28, 2016. (ECF No. 58.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report (ECF No. 56), and GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, but only to the extent Defendants seek dismissal of claims against them stemming from their official capacities, and to the extent that Defendant Thompson is named as a Defendant (ECF No. 46). Defendants' Motion is otherwise DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         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 is no longer incarcerated within the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”).[1] Plaintiff alleges that on October 17, 2012, his roommate flooded his cell in order to get the attention of the Supervisor because Plaintiff believed “[his] life [was] in danger.”[2] (ECF No. 1 at 3.) In response to the flooding, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Coles and Mincey sprayed an excessive amount of chemical munitions on his back, after already spraying his cell a few minutes prior, and slammed the cell door on his finger.[3] (ECF No. 1 at 3.) Plaintiff also alleges that someone “cut off the water” after Defendant Coles first sprayed chemical munitions into the cell. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks a jury trial, $500, 000.00 in punitive damages from each Defendant, and an additional $500, 000.00 settlement, along with an early release from his parole. (Id. at 6.)

         On May 20, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (“Motion”). (ECF No. 46.) Thereafter, the Magistrate Judge sent an Order on May 23, 2016, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 538 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the importance of such motions and the need for him to file an adequate response. (ECF No. 47.) On July, 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed his Response in Opposition (ECF No. 53), and on August 8, 2016, Defendants filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response (ECF No. 54).

         On December 13, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report, recommending that Defendants' Motion (ECF No. 46), be granted only to the extent that Defendants seek dismissal of claims against them stemming from their official capacities, [4] and to the extent that Defendant Thompson is named as a Defendant. Otherwise, the Magistrate Judge's Report recommended that Defendants' Motion be denied. Although Judge West's Report found that some application of force was needed (ECF No. 56. at 8), the Report questioned the reasonability of Defendants Coles and Mincey's actions[5] (id. at 10), noted that the facts relative to the threat Plaintiff posed were in dispute (id. at 10-11), and found that Defendants Coles and Mincey did not appear to have made any attempt to mitigate their chemical munitions usage, and thus use force in good faith (id. at 11-12). The Report recommended Defendant Thompson be dismissed as a party to the action, stating “there is simply no proof of personal involvement or knowledge and tacit approval of the other Defendants' action.” (Id. at 16.) The Report also recommended that Defendants Coles and Mincey not be granted qualified immunity. (Id. at 18.) On December 28, 2016, Defendants filed timely Objections to the Report. (ECF No. 58.) Plaintiff did not file objections to the Report.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Magistrate Judge's Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. “The Court is not bound by the recommendation of the magistrate judge but, instead, retains responsibility for the final determination.” Wallace v. Hous. Auth., 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992) (citing Matthews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 271 (1976)). Moreover, the court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of a report and recommendation to which specific objections are made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, a magistrate judge's recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Objections to a Report and Recommendation must specifically identify portions of the Report and the basis for those objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). “[I]n the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 316 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note). Failure to timely file specific written objections to a Report will result in a waiver of the right to appeal from an order from the court based upon the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985); Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841 (4th Cir. 1985); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91 (4th Cir. 1984). If the plaintiff fails to properly object because the objections lack the requisite specificity, then de novo review by the court is not required.

         Additionally, pro se filed documents should be “liberally construed, ” held to a less stringent legal standard than those complaints or proceedings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, even liberally construed, objections to a Report must specifically identify portions of the Report and the basis for those objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In the absence of Plaintiff's Objections to the Report, the court is not required to provide an explanation for adopting the Report's recommendation in regard to granting Defendants' Motion in the context of claims against Defendants in their official capacities, and to the extent that Defendant Thompson is named as a Defendant. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Rather, “in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must ‘only satisfy itself that there is not clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendations.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 72 advisory committee's note). The court concludes that there was no clear error in the Magistrate Judge's Report in regard to its recommendations for Defendant Thompson, and Defendants Coles and Mincey's actions in their official capacities under the Eleventh Amendment.

         Here, the court need only address Plaintiff's excessive force accusations against Defendants Coles and Mincey, and determine whether Defendants Coles and Mincey are entitled to qualified immunity. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) “the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States” and (2) this violation “was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). To establish a claim of excessive force under the Eighth Amendment, an inmate must show that “the prison official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind (subjective component) and ... the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted on the inmate was sufficiently serious (objective component).” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008).[6] Whether there is an Eighth Amendment violation in the context of a prison disturbance depends upon “whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, ...


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