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Watkins v. Cross

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 8, 2019

Marshall Leon Watkins, Plaintiff,
v.
Kevin Cross, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Marshall Leon Watkins, a self-represented state prisoner, alleges claims against the named defendant pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] 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 Cross's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 181). 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 defendant's motion. (ECF No. 182.) Watkins responded in opposition to the defendant's motion. (ECF No. 188.) Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the defendant's motion should be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The court granted Watkins leave to file a Third Amended Complaint to raise a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment against Defendant Cross. (Order and R&R, ECF No. 150 at 10.) 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 Institution, Nurse Jones distributed incorrect medication to Watkins through the door flap. (3d Am. Compl., ECF No. 155 at 5; Med. Summ., ECF No. 112-10 at 22.) Watkins alleges that he swallowed the medication which then caused him to fall into a paralyzed sleep. (3d Am. Compl., ECF No. 155 at 4.) Watkins further alleges that Defendant Cross knew that Watkins had taken incorrect medication, but nonetheless used chemical munitions on Watkins while Watkins was asleep. (Id. at 4-5.) Watkins alleges that his skin was burned, and that he continues to have sinus and eyesight problems from the chemical munitions. (Id. at 6.) Watkins seeks monetary damages.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         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 Cross's Motion for Summary Judgment

         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, Watkins 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, 298-300 (1991)). “What must be established with regard to each component ‘varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation.' ” Williams, 77 F.3d at 761 (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992)).

         2. Eighth Amendment-Excessive Force

         The “core judicial inquiry” in an excessive force claim under the Eighth Amendment is “not whether a certain quantum of injury was sustained, but rather ‘whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.' ” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (2010) (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7). “[N]ot . . . every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9. However, the objective component is “contextual and responsive to ‘contemporary standards of decency.' ” Id. at 8 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)). Accordingly, “the extent of injury suffered by an inmate is one factor that may suggest whether the use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary in a particular situation, ” and it may also provide an indication of the amount of force that was applied. Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 37 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7). In an excessive force analysis, “[w]hen prison officials maliciously and sadistically use force to cause harm, . . . contemporary ...


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