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Griffin v. Brown

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

July 24, 2018

Terrance Griffin, Plaintiff,
Kareem H. Brown, Sr.; Elizabeth A. Holcomb; John B. McRee; Lee C.I. Medical Department, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Terrance Griffin, a self-represented state prisoner, filed this civil rights action against the named defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.) for a Report and Recommendation on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 38.) Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Griffin of the summary judgment and dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to the defendants' motion. (ECF No. 39.) Griffin responded in opposition to the defendants' motion (ECF No. 57; Suppl., ECF No. 59), and the defendants replied (ECF No. 60). Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the defendants' motion should be granted.


         The following facts are either undisputed or are taken in the light most favorable to Griffin, to the extent they find support in the record. Griffin alleges that, on or about April 13, 2015, while housed at Lieber Correctional Institution, he was in a holding cell when he suffered an anxiety attack and began to think about committing suicide, which “made him climb into the ceiling.” (Compl., ECF No. 1 at 8.) Defendant Kareem Brown, along with two other corrections officers, observed that Griffin had crawled into the ceiling duct and was observed to be destroying the ductwork. (Brown Aff. ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 38-3 at 1.) Griffin concedes he refused multiple directives to come down, and that a 10-15 minute “standoff” ensued during which Griffin requested to see his mental health counselor. (Compl., ECF No. 1 at 8.) According to the defendants, the situation was seen as a potential escape, which thus presented a very serious security risk. (Brown Aff. ¶ 4, ECF No. 38-3 at 1.) Brown again ordered Griffin to come down from the ceiling and warned Griffin that if he did not comply, Brown would deploy chemical munitions, to which Griffin responded by threatening and swearing at the corrections officers. (Id.) After Griffin again refused directives from Brown, Brown deployed one burst (52 grams) of chemical munitions into the cell. (Id., ECF No. 38-3 at 1-2; Compl., ECF No. 1 at 8.) According to Brown, even then, Griffin did not initially come down from the ceiling, and when he finally did he refused to be cuffed, and was only ultimately restrained after a forced cell movement team was deployed. (Brown Aff. ¶ 4-5, ECF No. 38-3 at 1-2.) Following this incident, Griffin was evaluated by a nurse who noted no injuries. (Id. at 5.)

         Griffin also alleges that Defendant Elizabeth A. Holcomb, a nurse practitioner, and John B. McRee, a physician, were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs when they failed to provide necessary and proper treatment for Griffin's eyes.[1] As more fully discussed below, Griffin specifically alleges that Defendant Holcomb failed to convey his diagnosis regarding a stye on his eyelid to an opthamologist so that he could receive necessary medical care. (Id., ECF No. 1 at 9.) He further alleges that Defendant McRee denied him appropriate medical treatment for his eyes, which he alleges resulted in a loss of vision. (Id., ECF No. 1 at 10-13.)

         As previously construed by the court, Griffin alleges that Defendant Brown used excessive force against him and that Defendants Holcomb and McRee were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, both in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. (Order, ECF No. 12 at 1-2.)


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party may support or refute that a material fact is not disputed by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Rule 56 mandates entry of summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248.

         The moving party has the burden of proving that summary judgment is appropriate. Once the moving party makes this showing, however, the opposing party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but rather must, by affidavits or other means permitted by the Rule, set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. Further, while the federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case, see, e.g., Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth 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 Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         1. Official Capacity Claims

         To the extent that Griffin is suing the defendants in their official capacities for monetary relief, they are entitled to summary judgment. The Eleventh Amendment states that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. Sovereign immunity protects both the State itself and its agencies, divisions, departments, officials, and other “arms of the State.” See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989); see also Regents of the Univ. of California v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429 (1997) (“[I]t has long been settled that the reference [in the Eleventh Amendment] to actions ‘against one of the United States' encompasses not only actions in which a State is actually named as the defendant, but also certain actions against state agents and state instrumentalities.”). As arms of the state, the defendants, who are all South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) employees, are entitled to sovereign immunity and cannot constitute “persons” under § 1983 in that capacity. See Will, 491 U.S. at 70-71. Although a State may waive sovereign immunity, Lapides v. Bd. of Regents, 535 U.S. 613 (2002), the State of South Carolina has specifically denied this waiver for suit in federal district court. See ...

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