United States District Court, D. South Carolina
TIMOTHY M. CAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Robert Eugene Mitchell, Jr., (“Mitchell”), a
state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this action against
Defendants Bryan Sterling and Michael McCall alleging claims
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1). In accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02,
D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for
pretrial handling. Before the court is the magistrate
judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”),
recommending that the court grant Defendants' motion for
summary judgment (ECF No. 33). (ECF No. 46). Mitchell timely
filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 50), and he
subsequently supplemented his objections (ECF No. 54).
Thereafter, Defendants filed a reply to Mitchell's
objections. (ECF No. 55). Mitchell also filed a document
captioned as a reply to Defendants' objections. (ECF No.
Report has no presumptive weight and the responsibility to
make a final determination in this matter remains with this
court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71
(1976). The court need not conduct a de novo review when a
party makes only “general and conclusory objections
that do not direct the court to a specific error in the
magistrate's proposed findings and
recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In that case, the court reviews the
Report only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life
& Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir.
Report, the magistrate judge concludes that Mitchell has
failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and recommends
that Defendants' summary judgment motion be granted. (ECF
No. 46 at 10). Defendants raised additional grounds, but
because the magistrate judge recommends granting summary
judgment on the exhaustion issues, she did not address the
merits of the other grounds. Id. at n.4. In his
objections, Mitchell contends that he could not exhaust his
administrative remedies because he was placed in a medical
holding cell at Ridgeland Correctional Institution on the
date of the incident, and then sent to the CSU Unit at Broad
River Correctional Institution for eleven days. (ECF No. 50
at 1). He argues that he was prevented from complying with
the SCDC grievance procedure, which requires that an inmate
file a Request to Staff Member form within eight days of the
incident. (ECF No. 54 at 2).
Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) mandates
that an inmate exhaust “such administrative remedies as
are available” before bringing suit under § 1983.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (“No 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). Moreover, exhaustion
is required even when a prisoner seeks remedies, such as
money damages, that are not available in the administrative
proceedings. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731,
740-41 (2001). To satisfy this requirement, a plaintiff must
avail himself of every level of available administrative
review, which means “using all steps that the agency
holds out, and doing so properly.” Woodford v.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 91 (2006) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). “Proper exhaustion demands
compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical
procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function
effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the
course of its proceedings.” Id. “An
inmate's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an
affirmative defense to be pleaded and proven by the
defendant.” Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health
Servs., 407 F.3d 674, 683 (4th Cir. 2005).
administrative remedies are dictated by the prison. See
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). In SCDC, an
inmate seeking to complain of prison conditions must first
attempt to informally resolve the complaint within eight
working days of the incident by filing a Request to Staff
Member form. SCDC Policy/Procedure, Inmate Grievance System,
GA-01.12 § 13.2 (May 12, 2014),
http://www.doc.sc.gov/policy/GA-01-12.htm.pdf. If the
inmate's complaint is not resolved by filing a Request to
Staff Member form, the inmate must file a Step 1 grievance
within five working days of receiving a response.
Id. The inmate must attach a copy of the Inmate
Request to Staff Member form to his Step 1 grievance.
Id. If an informal resolution is not possible, an
inmate must file a Step 1 grievance with prison staff within
five working days of the incident. Id. If an inmate
is not satisfied with the Step 1 response, he may appeal the
Step 1 decision by filing a Step 2 grievance with the warden.
Id. Further, SCD policy provides that “[a]n
inmate will submit a grievance within the time frames
established in the policy.” Id.
contends that he was placed in the medical holding cell after
the incident on March 4, 2018, and he never returned to
Ridgeland Correctional Institution (“RCI”). (ECF
No. 50 at 1). He alleges that he was transferred to Broad
River Correctional Institution (“BRCI”) where he
remained for eleven days, and then he was transferred to
MacDougal Correctional Institution (“MCI”).
Id. He states that while in BRCI, he was placed in a
special housing unit and stripped of all of his belongings
and clothes. Id. at 2. He argues that he was
prevented from timely complying with the SCDC grievance
procedure, which requires that an inmate file a Request to
Staff Member form within eight days of the incident. (ECF No.
54 at 2). In response, Defendants argue that Mitchell had
three months after the alleged incident to file a grievance.
(ECF No. 55 at 3).
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.” Moore v.
Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008). Viewing the
evidence in a light most favorable to Mitchell, Mitchell
could not have timely filed a Request to Staff Member form or
even a Step 1 grievance, and SCDC grievance policy requires
that an inmate submit his grievance within the time frame set
forth in the policy. GA-01.12 § 13.2. Moreover, the SCDC
grievance policy requires a Request to Staff Member form be
attached to a Step 1 grievance. Id. Reviewing the
record here, and considering the parties' arguments, the
court finds that issues of material fact remain on the issue
of exhaustion, which preclude the granting of summary
judgment for Defendants at this time. Based on the record,
Defendants have failed to show that the administrative
grievance process was available to Mitchell and that he
simply failed to take advantage of it. The record must be
further developed to determine whether the grievance
procedures were unavailable to Mitchell. Therefore, the court
denies Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the
ground of exhaustion.
on the foregoing, the court declines to adopts the Report
(ECF No. 46), and instead denies Defendants' summary
judgment on the ground that Mitchell failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies. This matter is recommitted to the
magistrate judge for her to consider the remaining grounds on
which Defendants seek summary judgment. Therefore,
Defendants' summary judgment motion (ECF No. 33) is
DENIED in part.
It is well-established that the court
may take judicial notice of SCDC's Grievance Policy, SCDC
Policy GA-01.12. See Malik v. Ward, No.
8:08-cv-01886-RBH, 2010 WL 936777, at *2 n.4 (D.S.C. Mar. 16,
2010) (holding that “[t]he Court may take judicial
notice of the SCDC ...