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Gibert v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 24, 2019

Michael Gibert, Plaintiff,
South Carolina Department of Corrections; Grealin Frazier; Fletcher McBride; Chris Golden, in his official capacity as Investigator with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division; Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Michael Gibert, a state prisoner who is represented by counsel, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the named defendants. 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 motions to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment filed by the defendants. (ECF Nos. 88 & 89.) Gibert filed responses in opposition (ECF Nos. 108 & 109), and the defendants replied (ECF Nos. 110 & 111). Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court finds that the Complaint should be dismissed because Gibert failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.[1]


         This action arises out of two incidents: (1) an occasion where one of the defendant corrections officers used pepper spray on Gibert's cellmate, through which Gibert contends he also was sprayed with chemical munitions; (2) the alleged exposure of Gibert as a confidential informant against another inmate who stabbed someone and the defendants' alleged inaction to protect him from danger from other inmates as a result of that exposure.


         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 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)).

         Under 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.

         B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         The defendants argue that Gibert failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to his claims. A prisoner must exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), specifically 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Section 1997e(a) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” This requirement “applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Generally, to satisfy this requirement, a plaintiff must avail himself of every level of available administrative review. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731 (2001); but see Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850 (2016) (describing limited circumstances where exhaustion may be excused). Those remedies neither need to meet federal standards, nor are they required to be plain, speedy, and effective. Porter, 534 U.S. at 524 (quoting Booth, 532 U.S. at 739). Satisfaction of the exhaustion requirement requires “using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90 (2006) (quoting Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002)). Thus, “it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). The defendant has the burden of establishing that a plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Custis v. Davis, 851 F.3d 358, 361 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008)).

         Pursuant to South Carolina Department of Corrections policy (see SCDC Policy GA-01.12 “Inmate Grievance System”, ECF No. 108-1), an inmate seeking to complain of prison conditions generally must first attempt to informally resolve his complaint. Next, an inmate may file a “Step 1 Grievance” with designated prison staff. If the Step 1 Grievance is denied, the inmate may appeal to the warden of his facility via a “Step 2 Grievance.” Moreover, subject to certain exceptions not applicable here, review from the South Carolina Administrative Law Court (“ALC”), a state executive-branch tribunal, is generally part of the available administrative remedies an inmate must exhaust. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-500 (“There is created the South Carolina Administrative Law Court, which is an agency and court of record within the executive branch of the government of this State.”) (emphasis added); see Furtick v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 649 S.E.2d 35, 38 (S.C. 2007) (reaffirming that “the ALC has jurisdiction over all inmate grievance appeals that have been properly filed”) (citing Slezak v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 605 S.E.2d 506 (S.C. 2004)); (SCDC Policy GA-01.12 “Inmate Grievance System” at § 13.9, ECF No. 108-1).

         The only recognized exception to the PLRA's requirement to exhaust administrative remedies stems from the statutory language itself: an inmate need not pursue administrative remedies if they are not “available.” Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1858; see Moore, 517 F.3d at 725 (“[A]n administrative remedy is not considered to have been available if a prisoner, through no fault of his own, was prevented from availing himself of it.”). However, “a prisoner does not exhaust all available remedies simply by failing to follow the required steps so that remedies that once were available to him no longer are.” Moore, 517 F.3d at 725 (citing Woodford, 548 U.S. 81).

         Courts have recognized that generally the burden is on the defendant to prove that there was an available administrative remedy that the prisoner did not use, and that the burden then “shifts to the prisoner to come forward with evidence showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him.” Albino v. Baca,747 F.3d 1162, 1172 (9th Cir. 2014); see also Tuckel v. Grover,660 F.3d 1249, 1254 (10th Cir. 2011) (“Once a defendant proves that a plaintiff failed ...

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