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Haynesworth v. South Carolina Department of Mental Health SCVTP

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

January 31, 2018

Alphonso Haynesworth, PLAINTIFF,
South Carolina Department of Mental Health SCVTP, Kimberly Poholchuk, Cynthia Helff, Holly Scaturo, and Versie Bellamy, DEFENDANTS.



         The Plaintiff, pro se, brings this action against the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (“DMH”) and several of DMH's employees. The Plaintiff is currently in the custody of the DMH pursuant to the South Carolina Sexually Violent Predator Act, SC Code §§ 44-48-10 through 170 (“SVPA”). This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 35.) This matter is referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for consideration. For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned recommends that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 35) be granted.

         The Plaintiff brought this action on July 25, 2016, in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) The Defendants removed this case to federal court on November 14, 2016, (Dkt. No. 1.) The Plaintiff has vigorously pursued discovery in this case and has filed several motions to compel (Dkt. Nos. 18, 22, 53), which have been ruled on by the court. (Dkt. Nos. 49, 54, 77, 91, 99.) The Defendants filed Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on April 4, 2017. (Dkt. No. 35.) On the same day, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the Plaintiff was advised of the dismissal procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. (Dkt. No. 37.) The Plaintiff responded to the Defendants' Motion in several filings on April 27, 2017; May 4, 2017; and May 12, 2017. (Dkt. Nos. 40, 42, 45.) The DMH filed a reply brief on May 4, 2017. (Dkt. No. 43.)

         Factual Background

         The Plaintiff is civilly committed under the SVPA and housed at the Broad River Correctional Institute pursuant to a contract between DMH and the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”). (Dkt. Nos. 1-1, 35-1 at 1.) The Plaintiff alleges that on or about February 26, 2016, Plaintiff reported to his job within the SVPA program in the clothing room of the Edisto Unit. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 9.) While there, two other residents came into the clothing room, one of whom assaulted Plaintiff. (Id.) The resident who assaulted Plaintiff was on temporary room restriction (“TRR”), which Plaintiff contends required constant monitoring of the individual by DMH staff and for the individual to be confined to his room. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges DMH staff did not properly monitor the individual, which allowed the resident to leave his room and attack the Plaintiff. (Id. at 10-12.) The Plaintiff contends this failure on the staff's part was a result of their deliberate indifference. (Id.)

         Plaintiff further contends he was punished by Defendants Poholchuck and Huff as he was referred to the Behavioral Management Committee (“BMC”) for this incident. (Id. at 9-10.) The Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Poholchuck and Huff, through their positions on the BMC, accused Plaintiff for working in the clothing room when he was supposed to be on leave, blamed him for the attack, blamed him for allowing other residents into the clothing room when they are not permitted to do so, and claimed that he failed to report the residents or the attack to staff. (Id. at 10-2.) The Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Scaturo and Bellamy upheld the decision by the BMC. (Id. at 9.)

         The Plaintiff also claims that the named defendants covered up the DMH staff's negligence by failing to properly monitor the assailant while he was on TRR, and that then each Defendant falsified incident reports regarding the matter. (Id. at 10-12.) Additionally, Plaintiff claims he was suspended from his job assignment as a result of this incident. (Id. at 12.) Finally, Plaintiff states the responses to his grievance appeal further show that he was blamed for the incident. (Id. at 11.)

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment “shall” be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” The News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010)(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “‘the nonmoving party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in that party's favor.'” Id. (quoting Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999)); see also Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123-24 (4th Cir. 1990).


         The Complaint is organized into various “causes of action, ” but many cite multiple statutes from the United States Code and from the South Carolina Code. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Some of these causes of action are not clear as to what action the Plaintiff is attempting to bring. Broadly construing the Complaint (Dkt. No. 1-1), the Plaintiff brings the following causes of action against all of the Defendants:

1. Federal Claims
a. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims
i. Cruel and Unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment
ii. Equal Protection and Due Process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment
b. 42 U.S.C. § 1985 conspiracy claim
c. 42 U.S.C. § 1986
2. State Law Claims
a. Gross Negligence
b. Civil conspiracy
c. Defamation
d. Breach of bond required to be posted by public officials

         1. Federal Claims

         Before addressing the substance of the Plaintiff's federal claims, the court concludes that the DMH cannot be liable under §§ 1983, 1985, or 1986. DMH is a state agency. Therefore they are not a “person” that may be liable under §§ 1983, 1985, or 1986. Coffin v. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 562 F.Supp. 579, 586 (D.S.C. 1983) (dismissing plaintiff's claims against South Carolina Department of Social Services (“DSS”) and its board because “neither DSS nor the Board of DSS is a ‘person' within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and 1986.”). see also Spellman v. City of Columbia Police Dep't, No. 9:12-cv-2376-TMC-BM, 2012 WL 5409626, at *2 (D.S.C. Sept. 28, 2012) report and recommendation adopted, C/A No. 9:12-2376-TMC, 2012 WL 5408023 (D.S.C. Nov. 6, 2012) (holding “The City of Columbia Police Department is a group of officers in a building and, as such, is not subject to suit under § 1983. Buildings and ...

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