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Wooden v. Dunlap

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 31, 2017

Damien A. Wooden, Plaintiff,
David W. Dunlap, Warden, Donnie Stonebreaker, Asst. Warden, John Lane, Correctional Officer, Lamanda Hooper, Correctional Officer, Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for judgment on the pleadings and motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants David W. Dunlap (“Dunlap”), John Lane (“Lane”), and Lamanda Hooper (“Hooper”) (collectively “the Moving Defendants”)[1]. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed this action on October 31, 2016, [2] alleging violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Doc. 1.] The Moving Defendants filed an Answer and Amended Answer on February 20, 2017 and March 1, 2017, respectively. [Docs. 20, 22.] On May 5, 2017, the Moving Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, followed by a motion for summary judgment on May 8, 2017. [Docs. 28; 29.] On May 10, 2017, the Court issued Orders in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the summary judgment/dismissal procedure and of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. [Docs. 31; 33.] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the Moving Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 36], and the Moving Defendants filed a reply [Doc. 40]. The motions are now ripe for review.


         At the time he filed this action and all times relevant to this action, Plaintiff was in the custody of the SCDC and housed at Kershaw Correctional Institution (“Kershaw”). [Doc. 1.] Plaintiff is currently housed at Tyger River Correctional Institution (“Tyger River”). [Doc. 41]. On September 11, 2016, during dinner service, Plaintiff contends that Ezekial Thomas (“Thomas”), another inmate, was responsible for pouring tea for the inmates. [Doc. 1-1 at 1.] He alleges that when Hooper delivered the meal to Plaintiff's cell that his cup was dirty so he requested that the tea be put into his bowl. [Id.] Thomas refused to put tea into Plaintiff's bowl and “made a smart comment.” [Id.] Plaintiff alleges that Thomas, in front of Lane and Hooper, cursed Plaintiff three times, threatened him, and walked away. [Id.] Hooper then took the bowl from Plaintiff and filled it with tea. [Id.]

         After dinner service had ended, Plaintiff alleges that Lane, the only individual on duty, approached Plaintiff's cell with Thomas. [Id.] He contends that Lane opened Plaintiff's cell door and told his roommate to go downstairs to watch TV. [Id.; Doc. 1-2.] Plaintiff alleges that Lane allowed Thomas to enter his cell and then closed and locked the door. [Doc. 1-1 at 1-2]. Plaintiff contends that “stuff happened” as a result of Lane's actions, and that he was verbally and physically assaulted. [Doc. 1-1 at 2.] Plaintiff alleges that after Thomas' attack he requested medical attention for his injuries, but Lane refused and “did not return to [his] room.” [Doc. 1 at 6]. Plaintiff seeks to have Lane fired and seeks to recover $300, 000.00 in damages for emotional distress, physical harm, having his life placed in danger, fearing for his life, and having medical attention refused by the SCDC. [Doc. 1 at 6.]


         Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint

         Plaintiff brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520. The mandated liberal construction means only that if the Court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court “conjure up questions never squarely presented.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         Requirements for a Cause of Action Under § 1983

         This action is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a private cause of action for constitutional violations by persons acting under color of state law. Section 1983 “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). Accordingly, a civil action under § 1983 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999).

         Section 1983 provides, in relevant part,

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) that the defendant “deprived [the plaintiff] of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States” and (2) that the defendant “deprived [the plaintiff] of this constitutional right under color of [State] statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage.” Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310 (4th Cir. 2001) (third alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The under-color-of-state-law element, which is equivalent to the “state action” requirement under the Fourteenth Amendment,

reflects judicial recognition of the fact that most rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement by governments. This fundamental limitation on the scope of constitutional guarantees preserves an area of individual freedom by limiting the reach of federal law and avoids imposing on the State, its agencies or ...

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