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Straws v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

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

October 30, 2018

Jabbar Straws, Plaintiff,
South Carolina Department of Corrections, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Jabbar Straws (“Straws”), an inmate with the Defendant South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”), filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging SCDC violated his constitutional rights. This matter is before the court on SCDC's Motion for Summary Judgment filed on June 8, 2018. ECF No. 28. As Straws is proceeding pro se, the court entered a Roseboro order[1] on June 11, 2018, advising Straws of the importance of such motions and of the need for him to file adequate responses. ECF No. 29. Straws filed a Response in Opposition to SCDC's Motion for Summary Judgment on July 18, 2018. ECF No. 36.[2] SCDC did not file a Reply. This case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all pretrial proceedings pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) and (e), D.S.C. Because the Motion is dispositive, a Report and Recommendation is entered for the court's review.

         I. Background

         Straws has been incarcerated in the SCDC since July 5, 2006. ECF No. 28-1 at 1. On January 5, 2018, Straws filed a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas in Richland County, South Carolina. ECF No. 1-1 at 2. In his Complaint, Straws alleges that he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because the “[d]efendant [is] punishing him for another prisoner's actions.” ECF No. 1-1 at 2. Straws alleges pain and suffering arising out of the acts of others that preceded his incarceration and that ultimately resulted in SCDC's prohibition of conjugal visits. ECF No. 1-1 at 2. Straws also alleges that he is being discriminated against because “the government has passed a law which allows same sex marriage. Prisoners of the SAME SEX are allowed to get married and consecrate their marriage.” ECF No. 1-1 at 3. Although he is not married, Straws alleges that should he ever get married, SCDC's conjugal visitation policy will prevent him, as a heterosexual male, from consummating a possible marriage. ECF No. 1-1 at 2. Straws alleges that he is consequently suffering “physically, mentally, and emotionally.” ECF No. 1-1 at 2. For relief, Straws asks the court to issue an injunction that would enable all SCDC inmates the right to conjugal visits. ECF No. 1-1 at 3. In addition, Straws sought monetary damages in the sum of $250, 000.00. ECF No. 1-1 at 4.

         On March 26, 2018, Straws filed a Motion to amend his pleadings, ECF No. 14, that was granted by the court on May 7, 2018. ECF No. 25. In his amended pleadings, Straws alleges what he believes to be the cruel and unusual nature of the SCDC's prohibition on conjugal visits. ECF No. 14 at 2-4. Straws also alleges that the marriages of some inmates are ending in divorce and that inmates are turning to homosexuality because they are not allowed conjugal visits. Id. at 3. Straws reiterates his allegation that the SCDC policy is a violation of his and other inmates' fundamental rights because sex is an integral part of marriage and he will neither be able to marry nor will he be able to consummate a marriage. ECF No. 14 at 3-4.

         Straws seeks the relief requested in his original Complaint except that he asks the court to suspend his original request for $250, 000.00 in damages. ECF No. 14 at 4. SCDC filed answers to Straws's original and amended Complaints and in doing so denied all allegations. ECF Nos. 7, 27. SCDC did not contest Straws's request to withdraw his demand for money damages. Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         The court shall grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that summary judgment is appropriate; if the movant carries its burden, then the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). If a movant asserts that a fact cannot be disputed, it must support that assertion either by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials;” or “showing . . . that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, 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. 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, 323 (1972), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts that set forth a federal claim, nor can the court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact when none exists. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         III. Law and Analysis

         a. Statute of Limitations

         Federal courts adopt the forum state's statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261 (1985), superseded by statute on other grounds in Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369 (2004); see also Owens v. Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, 767 F.3d 379, 388 (4th Cir. 2014) (“Section 1983 does not contain a statute of limitations . . . to determine the timely filing of a § 1983 claim, courts borrow the statute of limitations from the most analogous state-law cause of action. For § 1983 suits, that cause of action is a personal- injury suit.”) Under South Carolina law, the statute of limitations for a personal injury claim is three years. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-530(5). Thus, the statute of limitations period for this action is three years.

         SCDC maintains that Straws's claims are barred by the statute of limitations, and it asserts two alternative dates on which Straws's claims accrued. ECF No. 28 at 4. The first possible date is July 5, 2006, the date Straws began serving his sentence, because Straws was not subject to the SCDC policy preventing conjugal visits until that time. Id. at 3, 4. Based on this date, the statute of limitations would have expired on July 5, 2009. SCDC also proposes June 11, 2010 as the second possible date on which Straws's claims accrued. ECF No. 28 at 4. This is the date on which a state statute prohibiting conjugal visits took effect. The statute provides that “[a] prisoner who is incarcerated within the state prison system or who is being detained in a local jail, local detention facility, local correctional facility, or local prison camp, whether awaiting a trial or serving a sentence, is not permitted to have conjugal visits.” S.C. Code Ann. § 24-3-81, 2010 Act No. 237 § 9, eff. June 11, 2010. Applying this date, Straws would have had until June 11, 2013 to file his Complaint.

         In his Response, Straws makes two arguments. ECF No. 36 at 1-3. In the first, Straws contends that the statute of limitations does not apply when the injury suffered is daily and continuous. ECF No. 36 at 1. In support of this argument, Straws relies on Hemingway v. Shull, 286 F.Supp. 243 (D.S.C. 1968). Hemingway involved an action for wrongful death under S.C. law and addressed the issues whether the then six year statute of limitations was tolled because of the minority of the decedent's beneficiaries and whether a delay in appointing a personal representative to administer the estate tolled the statute of limitations. Id. at 244-45. The court held that neither the minority of the beneficiaries nor the delay in appointing a personal representative tolled the statute of limitations. Id. at 247-49. Instead, the court found ‚Äúthat the cause of action accrued at the time of plaintiff's intestate's ...

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