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Richardson v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 27, 2018

Jackie Richardson, Plaintiff,
Bryan Stirling, Cecilia Reynolds, Jerry Washington, Lisa Engram, Catherine Amason, Marie Leggins and John Does, Defendants.



         This action has been filed by the Plaintiff, pro se., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1]Plaintiff, an inmate with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), alleges violations of his constitutional rights by the named Defendants.

         The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss[2] pursuant to Rule 12, Fed.R.Civ.P., on October 27, 2017. As the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, a Roseboro order was entered by the Court on October 31, 2017, advising Plaintiff of the importance of a dispositive motion and of the need for him to file an adequate response. Plaintiff was specifically advised that if he failed to respond adequately, the Defendants' motion may be granted, thereby ending his case.

         Plaintiff thereafter filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss on December 1, 2017, to which the Defendants filed a reply memorandum on December 8, 2017, following which Plaintiff filed a sur reply on January 12, 2018. The Defendants' motion is now before the Court for disposition.[3]

         Allegations of the Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that on April 8, 2013 the prison mail room at the Kirkland Correctional Institution (KCI), where Plaintiff is housed, received certified mail from his mother. Plaintiff further alleges that same day he received an order to report to the north yard mail room the following day, April 9, 2013, for “legal mail”. Plaintiff alleges that he then received the certified mail from his mother on April 9, 2013, which contained legal documents relating to his criminal case that he had had her copy. Plaintiff alleges that these legal documents consisted of Plaintiff's co-defendant's indictments, which he was going to use as exhibits in his state PCR case challenging his conviction.

         Plaintiff alleges that the mail room supervisor, the Defendant Catherine Amason, scanned and read his legal documents, and that after reading these documents told Plaintiff that he could not have the documents because they did not contain his name, but contained another inmate's name. Plaintiff alleges that when he explained to Amason that these documents were the indictments of his co-defendant that he needed to use as exhibits in his PCR case, Amason told him that by policy she had to send these documents to the Correspondence Review Committee since they pertained to another inmate. Plaintiff alleges that Amason told him that she would send him an “Order to Report” to the mail room once she received a response from the Correspondence Review Committee.

         Plaintiff alleges that on April 22, 2013 he reported to the mail room pursuant to an Order to Report. Plaintiff alleges that upon arrival he gave his Order to Report to mail room personnel (“Mrs. Horton”), who told him that Amason would be handling Plaintiff's legal mail. Plaintiff alleges that Amason then told him that the Correspondence Review Committee had returned and approved Plaintiff's legal documents, but had redacted certain sensitive information from the documents. Plaintiff alleges that Amason then showed him where the Correspondence Review Committee had marked out certain sensitive information on the documents, with Plaintiff noting that the documents had been scribbled through with a black pen and marked over with a black marker. Plaintiff alleges that he thereafter wrote the Defendant Warden Reynolds a Request to Staff complaining that Amason had opened and read his certified mail, and about how his “legal documents” had been handled by Amason and the Correspondence Review Committee. Plaintiff alleges that he asked Reynolds to “look into the situation involving her mail room supervisor, Defendant Amason”.

         Plaintiff seeks an order from this Court declaring that his constitutional rights have been violated; enjoining the Defendants from censoring, committing fraud, tampering with, or in any other way interfering with Plaintiff's legal and/or non-legal mail; that Amason be temporarily suspended from her job; and that he be awarded monetary damages. Plaintiff has attached to his Complaint as Exhibits a copy of Step 1 and Step 2 grievances to be filed with the Department of Corrections, the response to his Step 2 appeal (notifying him that it had been filed incorrectly) being dated June 17, 2013. Plaintiff has also attached a copy of an Order of Dismissal issued by the Administrative Law Court (ALC) dismissing his appeal of his grievance to that court. See generally, Plaintiff's Complaint, with attached Exhibits.


         When considering a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, the Court is required to accept the allegations in the pleading as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. The motion can be granted only if the Plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient factual matters to state a plausible claim for relief “on its face”. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Additionally, the Federal Court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious case; See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); and as the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his pleadings are considered pursuant to this liberal standard. However, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts to support a federal claim, nor can the Court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. Weller v. Dep't. of Social Services, 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990). Here, after careful review and consideration of the Defendants' motion in conjunction with the applicable caselaw, the undersigned concludes for the reasons set forth hereinbelow that the Defendants are entitled to dismissal of this case.

         Among the many arguments Defendants assert for dismissal of this case, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.[4] The statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim arising in South Carolina is three years. See S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-530(5) [setting forth that the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is three years]; Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 245 (1989) [holding that the applicable statute of limitations for claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the “general or residual statute of limitations governing personal injury actions”]; see also Garrett v. Elko, No. 95-7939, 1997 WL 457667, at * 4, n. 2 (4thCir. 1997) (Williams, K., dissenting) [holding that the applicable statute of limitations for a claim brought pursuant to § 1983 is the analogous state statute of limitations], citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S.261, 266-269 (1985); cf. Hoffman v. Tuten, 446 F.Supp.2d 455, 459 (D.S.C. 2006). Therefore, in order for Plaintiff's § 1983 claim to be timely, this case must have been filed within three years of the date his claim accrued.

         The accrual date is determined by federal law. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007). Under federal law, accrual occurs when the Plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action; that is, when the Plaintiff can file suit and obtain relief. Id. See also Lekas v. United Airlines, Inc., 282 F.3d 296, 299 (4th Cir. 2002) [holding that “a cause of action accrues when it come[s] into existence as a legally enforceable claim”] (internal quotations omitted). Defendants initially argued that Plaintiff himself specifically states in his Complaint that his claim arose on April 9, 2013 (ECF No. 1, p. 5), and that as this lawsuit was filed well after three years from that date, his claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. However, in making this argument, Defendants failed to consider or address the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint relating to exhaustion of his prison administrative remedies, which is a requirement before a prison inmate can file a § 1983 lawsuit in federal court. Cannon v. Washington, 418 F.3d 714, 719 (7th Cir. 2005) [Prisoner may not file a lawsuit before exhausting his administrative remedies]. Defendants did, however, address this issue in their reply memorandum, as Plaintiff also did in his briefs opposing the Defendants' motion.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this Title, or any other federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” Plaintiff therefore first had to exhaust his administrative remedies before he could file this lawsuit. See Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002) [exhaustion required for all actions brought with respect to ...

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