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Mitchell v. Stirling

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

May 23, 2018

Courtney Ray Mitchell, #363135, Plaintiff,
Bryan Stirling, South Carolina DOC; Warden Dunlap, Warden of Kershaw; and Lavern Cohen, Warden of Ridgeland, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Courtney Ray Mitchell's objections to United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges' report and recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF Nos. 44 & 40). The Magistrate Judge recommends denying Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint, granting Defendants' motion to dismiss, and dismissing Plaintiff's claims with prejudice.


         The R & R accurately described the long procedural history of Plaintiff's claim, but the Court repeats and supplements that history to clarify the many opportunities Plaintiff has had to properly present his claim. Plaintiff filed his original complaint on August 8, 2017. On August 22, the Magistrate Judge directed Plaintiff to bring his claim into proper form, instructing him to describe his claims with specificity and include as much detail as possible. Plaintiff supplemented his claim with a proper form order on September 7. Defendants filed a first motion to dismiss on October 18, arguing that they could not be held liable in their official capacities under § 1983, and that Plaintiff had failed to state a claim. Plaintiff responded on October 27 and indicated he wished to amend his complaint. On November 8, the Magistrate Judge filed an R & R recommending that the Court grant Plaintiff's request to amend his complaint and deny Defendants' motion to dismiss as moot. Plaintiff claims that on November 14, just before he was transferred to another facility, he received a package that he believes contained the R & R. He claims that as a result of the transfer, he was unable to read the R & R. On November 29, the Court adopted the R & R and directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint by December 8. Plaintiff did not respond.

         On December 15, Defendants again moved to dismiss, renewing their argument that they cannot be held liable in their official capacities and that Plaintiff failed to state a claim. On December 18, the Magistrate Judge issued a Roseboro order that instructed Plaintiff to respond with his version of the facts, if it differed from Defendants' version, and explained the consequences of an inadequate response. On January 16, 2018, Plaintiff submitted a letter to the Court explaining that he was transferred multiple times between November 14 and December 8, 2017, and that, as a result, he never got to read the documents[1] in the November 14 package. In his January 16 letter, he also asked for an extension to respond and requested that the Court send a copy of the documents he received on November 14 to his brother. On January 18, 2018, the Magistrate Judge granted the extension, set a deadline of February 20 for Plaintiff to respond to Defendants' motion to dismiss and to amend his complaint, and explained that the Court cannot contact Plaintiff's family members.

         On February 6, Plaintiff responded to Defendants' motion to dismiss and moved to amend his complaint. On February 15, Defendants responded to Plaintiff's motion to amend. On February 22, the Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending that the Court deny Plaintiff's motion to amend as futile and grant Defendants' motion to dismiss. Then, on March 5, Plaintiff requested that the Court provide him with copies of all materials that he sent to the Court. On March 8, Plaintiff objected to the R & R. Defendants replied on March 16. Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss, Plaintiff's motion to amend, and Plaintiff's motion for copies of documents are ripe for review.


         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). Parties may make written objections to the R & R within fourteen days after being served with a copy of it. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a specific objection is made, and it may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. A party's failure to object is taken as the party's agreement with the Magistrate Judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which no specific objection is made-this Court “must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         Pro se filings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and federal district courts must construe such pleadings liberally to allow the development of potentially meritorious claims, see Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (per curiam). The liberal construction requirement, however, does not mean courts can ignore a clear failure to allege facts that set forth claims cognizable in federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         1. Plaintiffs Objections to the R & R

         The Magistrate Judge recommends denying Plaintiffs motion to amend as futile and granting Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Magistrate Judge explained that the November 8 R & R instructed Plaintiff that his complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), that he must allege facts that support a claim for relief, Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003), and that his complaint must do more that make conclusory statements, see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677‒78 (2009). However, Plaintiffs proposed amended complaint fails to provide these necessary details and merely asserts that Defendants violated Plaintiffs civil rights. Consequently, the Court agrees that the proposed amendment is futile and that Defendants' motion should be granted.

         Plaintiff argues that he never received the November 8 R & R due to his transfers. However, this was hardly the only document that explained to Plaintiff how he must state his claim. As discussed above, Plaintiff was already given the opportunity to amend his original complaint to bring it into proper form, and amended his complaint. Following that amendment, his claim against Defendant Stirling was that he had “failed to administer staff under his direction to provide proper security, safety, and mental health care.” (Complaint, Statement of Claim per Proper Form Order, ECF No. 1-4, at 1.)[2] His claim against Defendant Dunlap is that he

failed to provide proper security, safety, and mental health services to [Plaintiff] and others that are mentally ill. Allowed [Plaintiff] to be a victim of excessive force. Did not inform proper authorities when grabbed by genitals by officer under his authority, allowed ...

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