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Washington v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 14, 2017

Burl Washington, Plaintiff,
United States, Mrs. Cruz, Warden, Loranth, Clinical Director, Massa, Chronic Care Provider, Meeks, Warden, Lepaine, Clinical Director, and Garcia, Chronic Care Provider, Defendants.


          Kaymani D. West, United States Magistrate Judge

         Burl Washington (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se at the time, brought this action alleging violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order/Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed pro se on March 23, 2017. ECF No. 37-2; see Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 271 (1988) (pro se prisoner's pleading is deemed “filed” at moment of delivery to prison authorities for forwarding to district court).[1] On motion filed by Plaintiff and finding that exceptional circumstances exist as a result of Plaintiff's physical impairment of blindness, the undersigned appointed legal counsel for Plaintiff on April 11, 2017. ECF Nos. 42, 43. Defendants filed a response opposing Plaintiff's Motion on July 18, 2017, ECF No. 57. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review pretrial matters in cases civil rights cases challenging prison conditions or conditions of confinement and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court.

         I. The Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order

         A. Plaintiff's Contentions

         In his consolidated Motion, Plaintiff complains about having to be housed in the general population at FCI-Estill because he believes that his condition of total blindness places him “in imminent danger of assault by [an] inmate or staff . . . .” ECF No. 37 at 1. Plaintiff contends that the imminent danger arises from “denial of timely and adequate medical care/ denial of adequate assistance with ambulation, medication administration and routine daily activities and retaliatory acts by staff.” Id. at 4. Plaintiff states that Defendants Lepaine and Garcia “continue to deny” him adequate assistance with ambulation and “totally denies” him “assistance with medication administration . . . in part as retaliation” for the filing of grievances and administrative claims. Id. at 5.

         Plaintiff asserts that recommended glaucoma surgery was denied to him in December 2014 and June 2015 and that he was denied access to a “glaucoma specialist” from June 10, 2015 to October 18, 2016. ECF No. 37-4 at 12. He states that he was sexually assaulted in 2015 and threatened with sexual assault in November 2016, was subjected to false and retaliatory disciplinary charges in October 2016, and was denied a refill on his eye drops in December 2016 when he dropped the bottle and spilled its contents while trying to self-administer his medication. ECF No. 37-4 at 15, 17. Plaintiff states that he was placed in the SHU under protective custody on February 12, 2017, and states that he told several corrections officers the next day that he needed protection from “staff.” Id. at 7; ECF No. 37-4 at 13-14. Plaintiff states multiple times that staff is the perceived threat to him, and states that he was placed in a cell with a mentally unstable inmate “for the purpose of causing injury” to him. ECF No. 37 at 8-10. Plaintiff also alleges that from February 27 to March 5, 2017 he was placed in a cell that was contaminated with feces, urine, and blood, but that staff refused to clean the area or move him to a clean cell. Id. at 11. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he received injuries and a threatened assault from another inmate while walking with a companion inmate on January 3, 2017 and December 26, 2016. ECF No. 37-4 at 17.

         Plaintiff requests a transfer to the closest Federal Medical Center/Camp and provision of a proctor and/or nurse to provide assistance with ambulation, medication administration, and routine daily activities. ECF No. 37-3 at 1. Plaintiff further requests evaluation by a certified low vision therapist, scheduling of glaucoma surgery, and placement in a single-person cell among only lowest security risk inmates. Id. at 2; ECF No. 37-4 at 2.

         B. Defendants' Response

         Defendants oppose Plaintiff's Motion, arguing that Plaintiff's Motion is moot because it seeks relief against persons who are not employed at the prison where Plaintiff was transferred on July 12, 2017: FCI-Edgefield. ECF No. 57 at 3-4. Alternatively, Defendants address the merits of Plaintiff's requests in two separate classifications: 1) medical and life-care requests and 2) request for transfer to single person cell among low risk inmates and/or to a medical center institution. First, regarding Plaintiff's requests for assistance in ambulation, medication administration, and activities of daily living, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's current medical records show that he is now receiving “timely, adequate medical care and assistance from BOP staff to accommodate his activities of daily living.” Id. at 6. According to Defendants and supported by the Affidavit of Patina Walton-Battle, the Health Services Administrator at FCI-Edgefield, ECF No. 57-2 (“Walton-Battle Affidavit”), Plaintiff has five trained medical companions to assist him with movement and reading and writing and personal hygiene on a daily basis, is receiving his medication and eye drops from a nurse or medical assistant on a pill line, and, despite some disagreement with how the eye drops were administered, was scheduled to see an ophthalmologist on August 2, 2017. Id. In light of Plaintiff's current access to these medical and life-care services, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits of his Bivens claims[2] because “mere disagreement between an inmate and a physician over the appropriate form of treatment is not an actionable constitutional claim.”[3] Id. Defendants point out that Plaintiff has not presented any evidence to dispute the propriety of the medical decisions made by Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) officials. Id. at 7. Defendants also argue that Plaintiff cannot show a likelihood of success on his request for transfer to a medical center because such transfers are left to the discretion of the BOP and a prisoner has no protected liberty interest in any particular housing location. Id. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has presented no evidence to show that he would suffer irreparable harm without the requested injunction while Defendants would be harmed by an order interfering with their discretion regarding housing placement for inmates such as Plaintiff. Id. at 8. Defendants assert that in light of the discretion afforded prison officials, the balance of equities lies with them and “public interest dictates . . . the courts should [not] interfere with the orderly running of the prison.” Id. at 9. Plaintiff did not file a reply to Defendants' Response.

         II. Standard of Review

         “[P]reliminary injunctions are extraordinary remedies involving the exercise of very far-reaching power to be granted only sparingly and in limited circumstances.” MicroStrategy Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 245 F.3d 335, 339 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). “A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). A plaintiff does not have an automatic right to a preliminary injunction and such relief should be used sparingly. The primary purpose of injunctive relief is to preserve the status quo pending a resolution on the merits. Injunctive relief which changes the status quo pending trial is limited to cases where “the exigencies of the situation demand such relief.” Wetzel v. Edwards, 635 F.2d 283, 286 (4th Cir. 1980).

         III. Mootness

         Initially, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's Motion is moot and, therefore, this court is without jurisdiction to consider it. The Walton-Battle Affidavit shows that Plaintiff was transferred from FCI-Estill, where he was housed when this case was filed, to FCI-Edgefield on July 12, 2017. ECF No. 57-2 at 2. Ms. Walton-Battle lists numerous instances of medical care and life-care assistance that Plaintiff experienced along with the transfer. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff does not dispute the facts provided in the Walton-Battle Affidavit. As a result, it appears that Plaintiff is no longer being subjected to the same conditions of confinement that he was experiencing when he filed the Complaint.

         At the time he filed his Complaint and his Motion, Plaintiff was housed at FCI-Estill. The remaining Defendants in this case are all employees and/or officials at FCI-Estill and Plaintiff's Complaint allegations are limited to the conditions that he encountered at FCI-Estill.[4] According to Defendants, Plaintiff was transferred to FCI-Edgefield on July 12, 2017. Plaintiff does not dispute this fact. Therefore, the record before the court reflects that Plaintiff is no longer housed at FCI-Estill, and thus, his request for injunctive relief is moot. “[A]s a general rule, a prisoner's transfer or release from a particular prison moots his claim for injunctive and declaratory relief with respect to his incarceration there.” Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 186 (4th Cir. 2009). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “the transfer of an inmate from a unit or location where he is subject to the challenged policy, practice, or condition, to a different unit or location where he is no longer subject to the challenged policy, practice, or condition moots his claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, even if a claim for money damages survives.” Incuma v. Ozmint, 507 F.3d 281, 286-87 (4th Cir. 2007). Upon ...

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