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James v. Cohen

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

October 3, 2017

Anthony James, #310987, Plaintiff,
v.
Lavern Cohen; Jane Doe, Grievance Lady; John Doe, Maintenance; and Wanda Buoy Defendants.

          ORDER

          Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) (ECF No. 8), recommending that the court dismiss the Complaint (ECF No. 1) without prejudice and without issuance of process. Plaintiff was advised of his right to file objections to the Report. (ECF No. 8 at 7). Plaintiff filed objections to the Report. (ECF No. 10).

         The recommendations set forth in the Report have no presumptive weight, and this court remains responsible for making a final determination in this matter. See Matthews 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 a specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, 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). However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The magistrate judge summarized the facts of this action in her Report. (ECF No. 8). Briefly, Plaintiff is an inmate at Ridgeland Correctional Facility (“RCI”). He alleges that the showers in his unit are in poor condition because there are only four showers for 136 prisoners, that there are no dividers in the showers, and that three of the showers do not turn off, causing the water to be “almost cold.” (ECF No. 1 at 5-6). Plaintiff further alleges that the prisoners cannot clean these showers properly because the “water flow drains the chemical off the shower floor before [they] can start cleaning.” Id. Additionally, according to Plaintiff, the prisoners have a communal restroom with no running water in two of the three sinks, with the third sink only having cold water. Id. at 7. Plaintiff claims that all of the toilets are missing except one and that when that one is flushed, it leaks waste water onto the floor. Id. Plaintiff states that there is standing water resulting from this leak and that it smells strongly of urine. Id. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that the majority of the cells in his unit do not have electricity and that the lights, sockets, or both do not work. Id. at 8. Plaintiff further claims that the prisoners have no outside recreation despite the fact that there is a big recreation field adjacent to their dorm. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that the prisoners have no floor buffer to scrub the floors, no cable outlet to watch television, and no adequate supply of towels for prisoners. Id. Consequently, he claims that indigent prisoners are forced to use their same towel for twelve months. Id.

         Plaintiff contends that he wrote maintenance twice to fix the plumbing problems but that the problems were not fixed. Id. At 7. Plaintiff claims that he filed a grievance asking the committee to contact the necessary personnel to have these issues fixed, but his grievance was never processed. Id. Plaintiff states that he voiced these concerns to Defendant Buoy and Defendant Cohen, but they did not fix the issues. Id.

         Based on the foregoing facts, Plaintiff claims his dorm room is discriminated against by the prison administrators, and he seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages. Id. at 6-8. Before the court is the magistrate judge's Report on Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Rather than containing specific objections to the magistrate judge's findings, Plaintiff's objections largely restate his claims. However, the court is able to glean that Plaintiff alleges that the magistrate judge erred in finding that he had not asserted a cognizable Eighth Amendment violation under the stated facts.

         While the “Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, ” the conditions of the prisons are “subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (internal citations omitted). In order to state a claim alleging that these conditions violate constitutional requirements, a plaintiff prisoner must show “both (1) a serious deprivation of a basic human need; and (2) deliberate indifference to prison conditions on the part of prison officials.” Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 824 (4th Cir. 1991). To demonstrate that the prison's conditions deprived him of a basic human need, a plaintiff must allege that officials failed to provide him with humane conditions of confinement, such as “adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and . . . reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832 (emphasis added). Furthermore, in order to prove that the prison officials were “deliberate[ly] indifferen[t]” to the conditions, the plaintiff must show that the prison official had actual knowledge of a substantial risk of harm to a prisoner and that the official disregarded that risk. Id. at 847; see also Parrish v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 302 (4th Cir. 2004).

         In evaluating a pro se plaintiff's complaint, the court is charged with liberally construing the factual allegations of the complaint in order to allow potentially meritorious claims to go forward. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Upon review of the Plaintiff's Complaint, this court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to issuance of process of his claims for Eighth Amendment violations in regards to the toilet leaking raw sewage and the lack of electricity in the dorm room.

         A. Toilet That Leaks Sewage Water

         Plaintiff alleges that the prisoners share a communal bathroom and that in that communal bathroom, only one of the three toilets is present and usable. (ECF No. 1 at 6(a)). Plaintiff states that when prisoners flush the one remaining toilet, “it leaks waste water.” Id. Due to this leak, the Plaintiff claims that “standing water sits on the floor” and that the bathroom “smells like urine.” Id. According to Plaintiff's Complaint and his objections to the Report, the Plaintiff notified maintenance of these problems in writing, but the problems were never fixed. (ECF Nos. 1 at 6(a), 10 at 2).

         The Fourth Circuit has noted that “the denial of decent and basically sanitary living conditions and ‘the deprivation of the basic elements of hygiene' have all been found to be clear violations of the Eighth Amendment” cruel and unusual punishment standard. Hite v. Leeke, 564 F.2d 670 (4th Cir. 1977) (quoting McCray v. Sullivan509 F.2d 1332 (5th Cir. 1975)). This court determines that the leaking waste-water that is accumulating in the communal bathroom could be sufficiently unsanitary so as to potentially reach the level of being a violation of the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment standard. Furthermore, Plaintiff has plead that he has notified Defendants of these conditions and that Defendants have made no effort to remedy the situation. (ECF Nos. 1 at ...


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