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Roberts v. Powell

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

June 7, 2019




         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers, III's report and recommendation (“R&R”), ECF No. 96, that the court grant Captain Joseph Powell (“Captain Powell”), Sergeant Eric Doe (“Sergeant Doe”), and Officer Frederick Doe's (“Officer Doe”) (collectively, “defendants”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 68. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and grants defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case are set forth fully in the R&R, and as such, the court refrains from a lengthy recitation here. In summary, this case arises out of plaintiff Christopher Roberts' (“Roberts”) incarceration at Ridgeland Correctional Institution (“Ridgeland”). Roberts alleges that after arriving at Ridgeland, he was placed in an unlocked cell in a dangerous dormitory and was subsequently robbed and assaulted in that cell by other inmates. Roberts brought this action on June 12, 2017, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants-officers who worked at Ridgeland-violated his constitutional rights by their deliberate indifference to his safety. On September 25, 2018, defendants a motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 68, to which Roberts responded on October 26, 2018, ECF No. 79. On March 29, 2019, the R&R granted the motion for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) Roberts failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this federal action, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”); and (2) Roberts failed to present sufficient evidence to support the merits of his Eighth Amendment claim that defendants failed to protect him from harm while at Ridgeland. Roberts filed his objections to the R&R on April 12, 2019. ECF No. 97. Defendants have not filed a response to these objections or any objections of their own, and the deadline for such filings has passed.


         This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's report to which specific, written objections are made, and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendations contained in that report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The magistrate judge's recommendation does not carry presumptive weight, and it is the responsibility of this court to make a final determination. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). A party's failure to object may be treated as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. The court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Id. at 255.


         Roberts objects to the R&R's conclusion that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this suit and that he failed to present sufficient evidence to support the merits of his Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim. Because the court agrees with the R&R that summary judgment should be granted on exhaustion grounds, it refrains from addressing the merits of Roberts' claim.

         The PLRA was enacted to stem the flood of prisoner litigation suits in federal court and requires 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In other words, before filing a federal lawsuit, a prisoner must follow the administrative procedures set out by the prison system for filing a grievance within the system. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (“The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.”) Only once a prisoner has exhausted the internal administrative procedures may he seek relief in federal court. This exhaustion requirement applies even when a plaintiff, such as Roberts, is seeking monetary damages for harm he suffered at the prison. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001) (“Congress has mandated exhaustion clearly enough, regardless of the relief offered through the administrative procedures.”).

         The South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) has set forth the grievance policy that all inmates like Roberts must follow and exhaust before seeking relief in court. See SCDC Policy GA-01.12, Inmate Grievance System, May 12, 2014, Ex. A to Aff. S. Anderson, ECF No. 68-8.[1] This policy requires first that inmates “make an effort to informally resolve a grievance by submitting a Request to Staff Member Form . . . within eight (8) working days of the incident.” Id. ¶ 13.2. The Institutional Grievance Coordinator (“IGC”) will then conduct an investigation into the situation and make recommendations to the Warden regarding how to resolve the matter. Id. ¶ 13.3. However, “[a]ny grievance which alleges criminal activity will be referred immediately to the Chief/designee, Inmate Grievance Branch.” Id. ¶ 15. The next official step is for the inmate to file SCDC Form 10-5, Step 1, which is the first official grievance an inmate makes. Id. The inmate may then appeal any decision on Step 1 by filing SCDC Form 10-5a, Step 2, and the “responsible official will render the final decision on the grievance within 90 days from the date that the IGC received the appeal of the Warden's decision.” Id. ¶¶ 13.5-13.7. Finally, the inmate may appeal a final answer on the grievance to the South Carolina Administrative Law Court. Id. ¶ 13.9.

         Defendants submitted to the court the records of Roberts' SCDC grievance history from September 21, 1995 to September 12, 2017, the date the records were pulled from the SCDC system. See SCDC Offender Management System, All Grievances Filed By An Inmate, Ex. B to Anderson Aff., ECF No. 68-10. The court's review of those records shows that Roberts did not file any Step 1 grievances after the alleged incident of November 18, 2016. However, SCDC's Offender Management System and Roberts' own testimony demonstrates that he filed an informal Inmate Request on December 1, 2016, the day after he was transferred from Ridgeland to Allendale Correctional Institution (“ACI”). According to Roberts, he “put it in the kiosk as soon as [he] was able to get to the kiosk and fill the paperwork out when I was at Allendale.” Roberts Dep. at 155:14-18. His Inmate Request details, with original spelling and punctuation retained, are as follows:

I would like to know what to do about filing paperwork on officers at Ridgeland who house me in the wrong cell. And no counts was being done to show where I was I was robbed and violated two inmates is charged on a PREA case unit was on lock down but officer allowed inmates to run freely and left my door unlocked because the toilet did not work and no lights he said I was on the roll call sheet for cell 40 but was put in 24 due to him just allowing inmates to move on their own I got their on Friday from McDougal and was robbed and violated next evening. His SGT admitted his officer was in the wrong but I would like to know what I can do to have officer held accountable I was emergency transfer to Allendale yesterday. Thank you.

         Roberts Inmate Request, ECF No. 68-10. On December 16, 2016, the IGC issued the following response to the request: “Inmate Roberts: [ ] You can submit your grievance for review. [ ] In accordance to SCDC Policy, GA-01.12 Inmate Grievance System, Section 15, grievances alleging criminal activity will be forwarded to the Chief, Inmate Grievance Branch, for possible investigation by the Division of Police Services.” Id. However, there is no record of Roberts submitting a grievance after receiving this ...

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