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Backus v. Ridgeland Correctional Institution

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

May 9, 2018

Kevin Backus, #296578, Plaintiff,
Ridgeland Correctional Institution, Defendant.



         This is a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is a state prisoner incarcerated at Ridgeland Correctional Institution in South Carolina. He is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”). Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.), the United States Magistrate Judge is authorized to review the complaint and to submit findings and recommendations to the United States District Judge. After careful review, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Complaint be summarily dismissed, without prejudice, and without issuance and service of process, based on the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

         I. The Present Lawsuit

         Plaintiff filed a hand-written Complaint. (DE# 1 at 1). He also submitted a pre-printed Complaint form. (Id. at 3-15).[1] He alleges that on July 26, 2017, he was charged with assaulting another inmate. As a result, he was removed from the general prison population and placed in the restricted housing unit (“RHU”). Plaintiff alleges that on August 2, 2017, he received written notice that he was charged with “striking another inmate with or without a weapon.” (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that the charging officer indicated in the incident report that Plaintiff was seen on video assaulting another inmate. (Id. at 2). Plaintiff indicates he went to the hearing before the disciplinary hearing officer (“DHO”) on August 7, 2017. According to Plaintiff, the DHO asked the charging officer at the disciplinary hearing “was his report true, which he stated yes.” (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that that the officer indicated at the hearing that Plaintiff had assaulted the inmate by striking him with a pole. (Id.). Plaintiff disputes the evidence and complains that he was not “able to face the accused or question all witness[es] involved in the incident that occurred on 7-10-2017 to help clear his name to prove he was not involved.” (Id.). Plaintiff generally alleges that “proper procedures were not followed in which administration violated policy OP-22.14 which are guidelines set forth to make sure inmates receive equal an (sic) proper due process rights.” (Id.). After the hearing, Plaintiff was found guilty of the disciplinary charge. Plaintiff disputes that the evidence established his guilt and asserts that he is innocent of the disciplinary charge. (Id.). For relief, he asks this Court to reverse the disciplinary conviction, reinstate his good-time credits, and order the prison to place him back in the general population. Plaintiff does not seek monetary damages.[2]

         II. Relevant Law

         A. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, the Magistrate Judge has reviewed this pro se prisoner complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and in light of the following precedents: Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147 (4th Cir. 1978).

         Plaintiff filed this complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which permits an indigent litigant to bring an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the action. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows the court to dismiss the case upon finding that the action is “frivolous or malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B). A finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). A claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte “at any time” under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B). Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 319. The statute “is designed largely to discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits.” Id. at 326. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) also provides for the screening of complaints “in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         B. Liberal Construction

         Pro se pleadings are given liberal construction and are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Jehovah v. Clarke, 798 F.3d 169, 176 (4th Cir. 2015). However, “[t]he ‘special judicial solicitude' with which a district court should view ... pro se filings does not transform the court into an advocate. United States v. Wilson, 699 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 2401 (2013). Only those questions which are squarely presented to a court may properly be addressed.” Weller v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., City of Baltimore, 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Giving “liberal construction” does not mean that the Court can ignore a prisoner's clear failure to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. “Principles requiring generous construction of pro se complaints ... [do] not require ... courts to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1088 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a complaint must allege: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The United States Supreme Court has instructed that a complaint “must plead facts sufficient to show that [a] claim has substantive plausibility.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346 (2015) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)). Plaintiff's Complaint fails to meet this minimal pleading standard.

         A. Ridgeland Correctional Institution is not a “person” under § 1983

         Ridgeland Correctional Institution is part of the state prison system operated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”). The United States Supreme Court has held that “neither a state nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.” Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). In Will, the United States Supreme Court held that because the Eleventh Amendment provides an absolute immunity for the states against all suits, the “person” referred to in § 1983 cannot include ...

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