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Collins v. Williams

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

October 18, 2018

Robbie Collins, #290946, Plaintiff,
v.
Warden C. Williams, M.C.I.; Byron Stirling, SCDC Director; and S. Williams, Grievance Coordinator, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MARY GORDON BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brought this action pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983. This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Warden C. Williams, Byron Stirling, and S. Williams (collectively, “Defendants”). (Dkt. No. 22.) 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. For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned recommends that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights (Dkt. No. 1), and attached a list of issues (Dkt. No. 1-1); inmate grievance forms from the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 1-10, 13-14, 16-17); emergency procedures under the SCDC Inmate Grievance System (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 15); and the Declaration of James Brawner (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 11-12). On June 6, 2018, the undersigned issued an Order giving Plaintiff a specified period of time to bring the instant case into proper form. (Dkt. No. 8.) Plaintiff complied with that Order and filed an Amended Complaint on June 25, 2018. (Dkt. No. 11.) Plaintiff attached only the Declaration of James Brawner and an SCDC Request to Staff Member (“RTSM”) form to his Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 11-1.) Although this case is proceeding upon Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the Court also incorporates by reference the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's original Complaint as if included fully herein.

         Plaintiff names the following Defendants in his Amended Complaint: C. Williams, Warden at McCormick Correctional Institution (“MCI”); Byron Stirling, Director of SCDC; and S. Williams, Grievance Coordinator at MCI. (Dkt. No. 11 at 2-3.) More specifically, Plaintiff alleges: (1) Defendant Warden C. Williams denied Plaintiff his right to medical treatment and outdoor recreation;[1] (2) Defendant Stirling denied Plaintiff his First Amendment right to freedom of religion; and (3) Defendant S. Williams denied Plaintiff access to the SCDC grievance process. (Dkt. No. 11 at 4.)

         A. Medical Treatment

         Plaintiff alleges that he broke his ribs on April 4, 2018, after being attacked by a group of inmates. (Id. at 5.) According to Plaintiff, the correctional institution's doctor ordered Plaintiff an X-ray and told him that he would receive a “bind, ” but Plaintiff was transferred to MCI before he received any treatment. (Id.) On April 10, 2018, Plaintiff visited health services at MCI and notified the nurse of his broken ribs. (Id.) After reviewing Plaintiff's file, the nurse told Plaintiff that he would receive an X-ray, and instructed him to fill out a “sick-call request, ” which he did. (Id.; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1.)

         On April 11, 2018, Plaintiff was placed in the Restrictive Housing Unit (“RHU”) for “protective concerns.” (Dkt. No. 11 at 5.) While in the RHU, Plaintiff claims he suffered from excruciating pain and, despite asking to see MCI's medical staff, was not treated. (Id.) Plaintiff claims he then submitted an RTSM[2] to Defendant Warden C. Williams seeking medical attention for his broken ribs. (Id.) On April 20, 2018, having received no response from the Warden, Plaintiff filed an emergency Step 1 Grievance (“Grievance No. 0301-18”), stating that Plaintiff had yet to receive medical attention for his ribs, was experiencing increasing stomach pains, and was defecating and urinating blood. (Id.; Dkt. 1-2 at 1.) Plaintiff also indicated in Grievance No. 0301-18 that he “wrote a staff request to Medical” in an attempt to resolve the issue informally, but had not received a response. (Dkt. 1-2 at 1.) Plaintiff requested that he be taken to the hospital as soon as possible. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that the Grievance Coordinator, Defendant S. Williams, “refused to process” Plaintiff's Grievance No. 0301-18.[3] (Dkt. No. 11 at 5.)

         On May 1, 2018, Plaintiff went to see the nurse about his ribs and the manner in which they were healing. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1.) According to Plaintiff, the nurse was “shocked” at the manner in which Plaintiff's ribs were “protruding out of [his] side, ” and instructed Plaintiff to file a grievance. (Id.) Plaintiff filed an emergency Step 1 Grievance that same day (“Grievance No. 0236-18”), reiterating that he “sent a Staff Request to Medical” regarding his broken ribs, but had not received any medical attention. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 3.) Plaintiff then filed an additional emergency Step 1 Grievance on May 6, 2018 (“Grievance No. 0317-18”), stating that he was in excruciating pain and that his ribs were not healing properly. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 5.) Plaintiff further noted in Grievance No. 0317-18 that he had submitted “a Staff Request to the Warden on April 17, 2018, ” about his broken ribs, but had not received a response. (Id.)

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant S. Williams did not process Grievance No. 0236-18 or Grievance No. 0317-18, and that he was “once again denied access to the Grievance System in violation of SCDC policy.”[4] (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant S. Williams told Plaintiff that he could not file a grievance until the staff responded to Plaintiff's RTSM. (Id.; Dkt. No. 11 at 5.) Plaintiff received a response to his RTSM[5] on June 2, 2018, by which time Plaintiff was no longer an inmate at MCI. (Dkt. No. 11-1 at 3.)

         B. Outdoor Recreation

         Around the same time he was suffering from broken ribs, Plaintiff claims he developed sores in his nose as a result of not having outdoor recreation. (Dkt. No. 11 at 5.) Plaintiff claims that he wrote a separate RTSM to Defendant Warden C. Williams regarding the lack of outdoor recreation time, but that the Warden “came and told [him] personally outside recreation is a privilege not a right and that privilege was not offered at his intuition.” (Id.) On May 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Step 1 Grievance regarding the outdoor recreation policy (“Grievance No. 0309-18”), stating that he had previous injuries that required exercise. (Id.; Dkt. No. 1-2 at 13.) Plaintiff also noted in Grievance No. 0309-18 that he “sent a Staff Request to Warden C. Williams on April 11, 2018, ” in an attempt to informally resolve the issue. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 13.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant S. Williams also refused to process this grievance.[6] (Dkt. No. 11 at 5-6.)

         C. Religious Freedom

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant Stirling denied Plaintiff his First Amendment right to freedom of religion. (Dkt. No. 11 at 8.) More specifically, Plaintiff appears to identify with the Nation of Gods and Earths, which, according to Plaintiff, is not recognized as a religion by SCDC policy because it is designated as a Security Threat Group (“STG”). (Id.) On November 3, 2015, while incarcerated at Lieber Correctional Institution (“Lieber”), Plaintiff filed a Step 1 Grievance regarding the Nation of Gods and Earths' designation as an STG. (“Step 1 Grievance No. 1102-15”). (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 7.) Plaintiff noted in his grievance that he “wrote the Chaplain asking that the Nation of Gods and Earths be recognized as a religion, ” but the Chaplain denied his request. (Id.) He further stated that he was being denied “Nations materials and literature, ” as well as the right to attend formal gatherings with other members of the group, “correspond with the school, ” and observe the “holy days of the Nation.” (Id.) Plaintiff then requested that “the Nation of Gods and Earths be accepted as a religion.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff's Step 1 Grievance No. 1102-15 was denied on December 31, 2015. (Id. at 8.) According to the Warden's decision, the Nation of Gods and Earths is associated with the Five Percenters, which is identified by SCDC as an STG. (Id.) “An inmate may only possess materials/literature for this group if he/she is housed in the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) and formal gatherings will not be approved for this group regardless of where the inmate is housed.” (Id.) The decision also indicated that Plaintiff had been transferred to Lee Correctional Institution (“Lee”) since filing Step 1 Grievance No. 1102-15 and, thus, he needed to contact his new Chaplain with any additional concerns. (Id.)

         On January 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Step 2 Grievance, arguing that the Nation of Gods and Earths is not an STG, but rather, a “god-centered” culture (“Step 2 Grievance No. 1102-15”). (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff further claimed that the designation placed an “undue burden” on his right to freedom of religion. (Id.) Plaintiff's Step 2 Grievance No. 1102-15 was denied on March 23, 2016, for the same reasons expressed above. (Id.) The decision reiterated that Plaintiff needed to contract the Chaplain at Lee if he had any further concerns. (Id.) In challenging this final response to Plaintiff's grievance, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that the Nation of Gods and Earths is not an STG, and that denying him access to religious texts and gatherings is a violation of his First Amendment rights. (Dkt. No. 11 at 6.)

         D. Access to SCDC Grievance System

         In connection with the grievances Plaintiff submitted while incarcerated at MCI, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that the “Grievance Coordinator denied [him] total access to the Grievance process.” (Dkt. No. 11 at 10.) Specifically, Plaintiff seems to allege that Defendant S. Williams refused to process Plaintiff's grievances without an answered RTSM, which Plaintiff had yet to receive, and, thus, Defendant S. Williams “was maliciously using [the] Grievance process to deny any Grievance relief.” (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 2.)

         On August 29, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. No. 22.) On September 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 25), as well as a Motion Requesting a Medical Examination of Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 26.) On October 4, 2018, Defendants filed a Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's request for a medical examination.[7] (Dkt. No. 27.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a “complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “In reviewing a motion to dismiss an action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) . . . [a court] must determine whether it is plausible that the factual allegations in the complaint are ‘enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Andrew v. Clark, 561 F.3d 261, 266 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' ...


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