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Johnson v. Thomas

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

June 25, 2018

Richard Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
Corporal Thomas, Tim McCullough, and Officer Watts, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MARY GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., all pretrial matters in cases involving pro se litigants are referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for consideration.

         This matter is before the Court upon a Motion for Summary Judgment filed on February 14, 2018 by Defendants Corporal Thomas and Officer Watts. (Dkt. No. 41.) By order filed February 15, 2018, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the Plaintiff was advised of the summary judgment procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. (Dkt. No. 42.) The Plaintiff has responded to the motion filed by Defendants Thomas and Watts. (See Dkt. No. 46; Dkt. No. 51; Dkt. No. 67.) For the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned recommends granting the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Corporal Thomas and Officer Watts as to all of Plaintiff's federal claims, and dismissing without prejudice any state-law claim Plaintiff attempts to assert.[1]

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Kershaw Correctional Institution of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”). The instant action, however, arises out of events that occurred while he was a pretrial detainee at the Chesterfield County Detention Center (the “Detention Center”). (See generally Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated at the Detention Center, he “had been receiving threats from Inmate Tim McCullough for some time, ” and although the staff members at the Detention Center “had full knowledge of these threats, ” they “refused to acknowledge them.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 5-6 of 13.) Plaintiff alleges that he was “fed up with the threats to [his] family and [him]self, ” so on August 19, 2017, he “approached” Inmate McCullough “in a one-on-one fight.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 6 of 13.) Plaintiff alleges that “[a]s [he] got positioned for combat [he] felt a major pain in [his] back as [he] fell face first to the floor.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 6 of 13; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1.) Plaintiff states (verbatim),

Corporal Thomas had football tackled me from behind and held me down while the inmate beat me. I then broke . . . loose from Cpl. Thomas and he grabbed me again and continued to hold me while the inmate beat me. At some point Officer Watts came to assist. Please note I am 5 foot 7 195 pounds and CPL. Thomas is 6 foot 2 280 pounds. A properly trained officer would've stepped between us and separated us, not hold one inmate down while the other continue assaulting him. He could have tased one and grabbed the other, or allowed them to fight until he got back up.

(Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Thomas and Inmate McCullough are both African-American and “are close friends”; Plaintiff alleges he was the only Indian in the Detention Center. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) According to Plaintiff, he was “discriminated against due to [his] race.” (Dkt. No. 1-1.) He alleges that “[t]hey didn't charge the inmate for beating [him] while the officer held [Plaintiff] down, ” and “[t]hey refused to allow [him] to file criminal charges[] and lied and said they allowed [him] to speak with a magistrate.” (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Plaintiff alleges that he “was the only one placed in solitary confinement, ” he lost all of his privileges, and he was not “given a disciplinary hearing or allowed to appeal, denying [him] due process.” (Dkt. No. 1-1.) According to Plaintiff, “They didn't do anything to the inmate for assaulting [him].” (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Plaintiff's complaint against Officer Watts is that Officer Watts “never did an incident report on CPL. Thomas” even though he witnessed Thomas' “misconduct.” (Dkt. No. 1-1.) In the “relief” section of his Complaint, Plaintiff states that he seeks an injunction separating him from Corporal Thomas and Inmate McCullough, and he “ask[s] that [he] be allowed to see a magistrate judge to file a warrant against all defendants.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 6 of 13.) He further “ask[s] that they stop denying [him] due process by not providing [him] with disciplinary hearings, ” and he states that he seeks $500, 000 in damages as well as $250 “for every day [he] spent in solitary confinement.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 6 of 13.)

         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).

         DISCUSSION

         As noted above, Defendants Thomas and Watts seek summary judgment in the instant action. (See Dkt. No. 41.)[2] Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment for several reasons. First, Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment[3] and that Plaintiff “has failed to plead a constitutional deprivation.” (Dkt. No. 41-1 at 6-7.) In addition, as to Plaintiff's failure-to-protect claim, Defendants assert that “[t]he clear evidence in this case establishes that the Defendant[s] . . . had no knowledge of a threat of harm to the Plaintiff, or any conflicts between the Plaintiff and the other inmate, ” and “[t]here was clearly no information that the Plaintiff would be assaulted, since the Plaintiff was the one who initiated the fight in this incident.” (Dkt. No. 41-1 at 11.) Defendants contend that there is “no evidence of racial discrimination against the Plaintiff by these Defendants.” (Dkt. No. 41-1 at 11.) The undersigned first addresses Plaintiff's failure to protect claim.

         A. Failure to Protect

         Plaintiff appears to contend that Defendants Thomas and Watts violated his constitutional rights in failing to protect him from an assault by a fellow detainee, Tim McCullough. Because Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time of the incident in question, this court evaluates his § 1983 claim for failure to protect under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979). In the context of a detainee's failure to protect claim, the Fourth Circuit has noted, however, that “[a]s a practical matter, . . . [the court] do[es] not distinguish between the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. . . . ” Ervin v. Mangum, 127 F.3d 1099, at *4 (4th Cir. 1997) (citing Hill v. Nicodemus, 979 F.2d 987, 990-92 (4th Cir. 1992); Belcher v. Oliver, 898 F.2d 32, 33 (4th Cir. 1990)). Although such a claim is analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment, case law interpreting the standard of “deliberate indifference” under the Eighth Amendment is instructive. See, e.g., Brown v. Harris, 240 F.3d 383, 388 (4th Cir. 2001).[4]

         “The Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials ‘to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.'” Brown v. N.C. Dep't of Corrs., 612 F.3d 720, 722-23 (4th Cir. 1994) (quoting Farmer v. ...


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