United States District Court, D. South Carolina
David Warrick; Jarvis Jeter; Kevin Micheal Anderson; Kewayne Lee; Curtis Scott; Anthony Glenn; Matthew Franks Thomas; and Christopher Montgomery, Plaintiffs,
South Carolina Department of Corrections; Warden Willie Eagleton, individually and/or in his official capacity as warden of Evans Correctional Institution; and Associate Warden Annie Sellers, individually and/or in her official capacity as associate warden of Evans Correctional Institution; Major Charles West, SCDC Correctional Officer, individually and/or in his official capacity as an employee of SCDC, Defendants.
J. Gossett, United States Magistrate Judge.
plaintiffs, who are all current or former state prisoners at
the South Carolina Department of Corrections, filed this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations
of their constitutional rights, as well as asserting various
state law claims. 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 pretrial proceedings.
31, 2018, the court held a status conference in this matter
at which time it held in abeyance the defendants' motion
to sever (ECF No. 25) pending resolution of the
defendants' motion for summary judgment on the issue of
exhaustion of administrative remedies. (See Minute
Entry, ECF No. 32.) By Order issued February 19, 2019, the
court granted in part and denied in part the defendants'
motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 73.) As a result, seven
plaintiffs remain in this action, as captioned above. The
court now turns to the defendants' motion to sever, which
has been fully briefed by the parties. (See ECF Nos.
25, 26, & 27.)
defendants seek to sever the claims and causes of action
asserted by each separate plaintiff. Rule 20 governs
permissive joinder of parties and provides that
“[p]ersons may join in one action as plaintiffs if: (A)
they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the
alternative with respect to or arising out of the same
transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or
occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to
all plaintiffs will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
20(a)(1). “Rule 20 grants courts wide discretion
concerning the permissive joinder of parties.”
Aleman v. Chugach Support Servs. Inc., 485 F.3d 206,
n.5 (4th Cir. 2007). Additionally, “the impulse is
toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action
consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims,
parties and remedies is strongly encouraged.”
United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715,
provides that a court may “sever any claim against a
party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. “Under Rule 21, ‘a
court has virtually unfettered discretion in determining
whether or not severance is appropriate.' ”
Grayson Consulting, Inc. v. Cathcart, No.
2:07-CV-02992-DCN, 2014 WL 1512029, at *2 (D.S.C. Apr. 8,
2014) (quoting 17th St. Assocs., LLP v. Markel Int'l
Ins. Co. Ltd., 373 F.Supp.2d 584, 604 n.9 (E.D. Va.
2005)). The court should consider the following factors in
determining whether severance is proper: “(1) whether
the issues sought to be tried separately are significantly
different from one another; (2) whether the separable issues
require different witnesses and different documentary proof;
(3) whether the party opposing severance will be prejudiced
if it is granted; and (4) whether the party requesting
severance will be prejudiced if the claims are not
severed.” Grayson, 2014 WL 1512029, at *2
(quoting Equal Rights Ctr. v. Equity Residential,
483 F.Supp.2d 482, 489 (D. Md. 2007)).
the applicable factors, the court finds that at this time,
the plaintiffs have made a sufficient showing that their
claims arise out of a series of transactions or occurrences
by the defendants and have alleged common questions of law or
fact with regard to claims against the defendants.
Specifically, the plaintiffs have alleged that, although
their alleged assaults occurred at different times and in
different factual settings, the claims against the defendants
arise from the same set of alleged improper actions by the
court is aware that several other judges in this district
have severed the plaintiffs' claims in cases presenting
similar scenarios to the one here and finds no fault with
their exercise of the substantial discretion afforded them by
the rules. However, the court views the plaintiffs'
claims differently: those orders focused on the specific
incidents where a prison guard allegedly was deliberately
indifferent to a plaintiff's safety, which all occurred
on different days at different times with different guards.
However, while the claims in the complaints filed in this
case have evolved since it was initially removed, it appears
that the claims the plaintiffs are seeking to raise are
supervisory ones, requiring a distinct set of elements and
proof from the claims that would have been raised against the
guards themselves. Here, the plaintiffs-who are suing only
the warden, assistant warden, and a guard with alleged
supervisory responsibilities over security-would have to show
(1) that the supervisory official was actually or
constructively aware of a risk of constitutional injury, (2)
that the official was deliberately indifferent to that risk,
and (3) that an affirmative causal link exists between the
supervisor's inaction and the particular constitutional
injury suffered by the plaintiff. Carter v. Morris,
164 F.3d 215, 221 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Shaw v.
Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 799 (4th Cir. 1994)). The court
concludes that these supervisory claims arise out of
the same transactions or occurrences or series thereof,
raising many common questions of law and fact regarding
administrators' knowledge and actions or inactions
pertaining to inmate safety.
the court does not find the plaintiffs are misjoined at this
time. Moreover, applying the factors regarding severance, the
court currently perceives sufficient overlap of issues and
witnesses with respect to the federal claims to maintain this
action as one action, assuming that discovery is properly
directed at those supervisory claims. The prejudice factors also
appears to weigh in favor of denying the defendants'
motion to sever at this stage of the litigation, as severing
the plaintiffs' claims at this stage could impede their
ability to obtain meaningful discovery supporting their
theory of the case. But, depending on what discovery yields,
the court anticipates that the prejudice analysis may
conceivably shift in favor of the defendants with respect to
trying the claims before a jury. The court therefore
expressly reserves ruling on whether the plaintiffs'
claims should be severed for trial. Cf. Kough v. South
Carolina Dep't of Corrs., C/A No. 0:17-2938-JFA- PJG
(D.S.C.) (Order Denying without Prejudice Motion to Sever
(filed Mar. 7, 2018 at ECF No. 37); Renewed Motion to Sever
(filed Apr. 12, 2019 at ECF No. 81)).
on the foregoing, the defendants' motion to sever is
denied at this time.
IS SO ORDERED.
 The defendants removed this matter
from the Marlboro County Court of Common Pleas.
 Because there is no respondeat
superior liability under § 1983, the guards' actions
would not be a proper focus of discovery; rather, the
relevant evidence to the federal claims brought here would
pertain to the named defendants' knowledge and action or
inaction with regard to the safety of the remaining
plaintiffs at this facility. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (“Because vicarious liability
is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a
plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant,
through the official's own individual actions, has
violated the Constitution.”); Wright v.
Collins,766 F.2d 841, 850 (4th Cir. 1985) (“In
order for an individual to be liable under § 1983, it
must be ‘affirmatively shown that the official charged
acted personally in the ...