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Watkins v. Jones

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 31, 2018

Marshall Leon Watkins, Plaintiff,
Nurse Jones; Lieutenant Smith; Lieutenant Surratt; Sgt Lawiss; Lieutenant Blackwell; Lt. Taylor; Ms. Phyall; James Simmons, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Marshall Leon Watkins, 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 Defendant Jones's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 91), and a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Lawless, [1] Simmons, and Smith (ECF No. 112).[2] Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Watkins of the summary judgment and dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to the defendants' motions. (ECF Nos. 93 & 113.) Watkins responded in opposition to the defendants' motions (ECF Nos. 101 & 117), and the defendants replied (ECF Nos. 102 & 119).[3] Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the defendants' motions should be granted.


         The following facts are either undisputed or are taken in the light most favorable to Watkins, to the extent they find support in the record. Watkins alleges that on or about May 20-21, 2016, while housed in the restricted housing unit (“RHU”) of Perry Correctional Institute (“PCI”), Defendant Nurse Jones awoke Watkins and distributed medication to him through the door flap. Watkins swallowed the medication. (2d Am. Compl., ECF No. 53-2 at 5-6.) According to a Step 1 grievance attached to his Complaint, [4] Watkins alleges that after taking the medication, he became dizzy and had to lie down, and that his body “locked up” in a “paralytic state.” (Step 1 Grievance, ECF No. 53-5 at 4.) Watkins further alleges that unnamed corrections officers came to his cell door and called for him, and when he didn't respond, the officers[5] sprayed him with chemical munitions. (Id.) The officers then entered the cell and took Watkins to shower and wash off the chemical munitions, and they informed Watkins that he had been given the incorrect medication. (Id.) Watkins alleges that he suffered burn marks to his face and around his eyes and that he continues to have adverse reactions from the wrongfully-distributed medication. (2d Am. Compl., ECF No. 53-2 at 6.) The court construed Watkins's Complaint, as amended, as bringing claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment against Defendants Smith, Surratt, Lawless, Blackwell, and Taylor; for deliberate indifference to medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment against Defendant Jones; and for violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteen Amendment against Defendants Phyall and Simmons. (Order, ECF No. 72 at 1.) Watkins seeks monetary damages.


         A. Applicable Standards

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) examines the legal sufficiency of the facts alleged on the face of the plaintiff's complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible when the factual content allows the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The court “may also consider documents attached to the complaint, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c), as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic.” Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Blankenship v. Manchin, 471 F.3d 523, 526 n.1 (4th Cir. 2006)).

         Pursuant to Rule 56, 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., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), 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. Defendant Jones's Motion to Dismiss

         As summarized above, Watkins alleges that Nurse Jones was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment when she gave him the wrong medication, which caused his body to “lock-up.”

         1. Eighth Amendment Generally

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. To proceed with his claim under the Eighth Amendment, Griffin must demonstrate: (1) objectively, the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted was “sufficiently serious, ” and (2) subjectively, the prison officials acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 761 (4th Cir. 1996). “These requirements spring from the text of the amendment itself; absent intentionality, a condition imposed on an inmate cannot properly be called ‘punishment,' and absent severity, such punishment cannot be called ‘cruel and unusual.' ” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, ...

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