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Harrison v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

May 11, 2018

Julius L. Harrison, Plaintiff,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Jacquelyn D. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, filed by Defendant. [Doc. 20.] Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brought this action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (?FTCA”). [Doc. 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 this case and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         Plaintiff filed this action on September 26, 2017.[1] [Doc. 1.] On January 26, 2018, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. [Doc. 20.] The same day, the Court issued an Order pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the dismissal procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. [Doc. 21.] Plaintiff's response in opposition was entered on the docket on March 5, 2018. [Doc. 30.] Accordingly, the motion is ripe for review.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff is a federal prisoner, and he alleges he was injured on December 18, 2016, while incarcerated at FCI Williamsburg in Salters, South Carolina. [Doc. 1 ¶¶ 7-8.] He alleges he slipped and fell in his cell because of water on the floor that had leaked from the ceiling because of rain the previous night. [Id. at ¶ 8-9.] He asserts that he possibly re-injured a pre-existing back injury when he fell. [Id. at ¶ 8.] Medical staff and others picked Plaintiff up and moved him by wheelchair to the medical area. [Id. ¶ 11.]

         Plaintiff arrived at FCI Williamsburg on December 16, 2016, and was not warned that the buildings had a substantial leaking problem whenever it rained. [Id. ¶ 12.] Plaintiff alleges the buildings continue to leak, and many cells have mold and other microbial buildup, which has caused Plaintiff and other inmates to develop an uncontrollable cough. [Id. ¶¶ 13-14.] Plaintiff further contends that the leakage problem has existed for years and staff have been aware of the leakage and mold problems, but they have done nothing to address the problems or warn of the potential hazard. [Id. ¶¶ 15-17, 24-25.] Plaintiff further alleges that he has been denied effective treatment and MRIs for the injuries related to his slip and fall. [Id. ¶ 38.]

         Plaintiff asserts that as a result of FCI Williamsburg's employees' negligence, he has suffered "exa[]cerbated physical injuries as well as the mental distress, discomfort, and oppression/depression associated with not rec[ei]ving effective medical treatment” and "will continue to experience pain for said injuries into the future.” [Id. ¶ 52.] He seeks $5, 000, 000 in compensatory damages. [Id. ¶ 54.]

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint

         Plaintiff brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Estelle, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); 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. Even under this less stringent standard, however, a pro se complaint is still subject to summary dismissal. Id. at 520-21. The mandated liberal construction means that only if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the complainant could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the complainant'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).

         Rule 12(b)(6) Dismissal Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a claim should be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the court “need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts” nor “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Eastern Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Further, for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may rely on only the complaint's allegations and those documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference. See Simons v. Montgomery Cty. Police Officers, 762 F.2d 30, 31 (4th Cir. 1985). If matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion is treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         With respect to well-pleaded allegations, the United States Supreme Court explained the interplay between Rule 8(a) and Rule 12(b)(6) in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnote and citations omitted); see also 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004) (“[T]he pleading must contain something more . . . than a bare averment that the pleader wants compensation and is entitled to it or a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion that the pleader might have a legally cognizable right of action.”).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard reflects the threshold requirement of Rule 8(a)(2)-the pleader must plead sufficient facts to show he is entitled to relief, not merely facts consistent with the defendant's liability. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557)). Accordingly, the plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to articulate facts that, when accepted as true, demonstrate that the plaintiff has stated a claim that makes it plausible the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). If on a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment.

         Summary ...


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