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Wright v. Newsome

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

June 25, 2019

Travis J. Wright, Plaintiff,
K. Newsome, and Lt. Vetter, Defendants.



         This action has been filed by Plaintiff, pro se and in forma pauperis, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his constitutional rights during his time as a federal pretrial detainee at the Lexington County Detention Center (“LCDC”) in Lexington, South Carolina. Specifically, Plaintiff sues two LCDC officials regarding the food service at LCDC-Aramark America Food Service[1] employee, K. Newsome, and grievance coordinator, Lt. Vetter. Plaintiff is now at FCI-Butner in Butner, North Carolina. This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Lt. Vetter's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 60.) Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., all pretrial matters in cases involving pro se litigants are referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for consideration. For the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned recommends granting Defendant's motion.


         This action arises from certain alleged deficiencies with respect to the food served at LCDC and Defendants' alleged failure to properly address and process Plaintiff's grievances complaining of these deficiencies. (Dkt. No. 36.) Specifically, the Complaint alleges that on a “regular basis, ” Plaintiff was “served hot food below serving temp[erature]”; the food that was “not sanitized”; and food lacked “nutritious balance.” (Id. at 7-8.) The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff submitted several grievances complaining of these conditions and that grievance coordinator, Defendant Lt. Vetter, essentially ignored the grievances. (Id. at 8-9.) The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff “may have suffered [] a threat of life and death due to [Lt. Vetter's] unprofessional ways.” (Id. at 9.) The Complaint also alleges that Defendant K. Newsome failed to resolve the food deficiencies after receiving notice of Plaintiff's grievances. (Id. at 8.) Under “injuries, ” the Complaint states, “mental stress; weight loss; digestion difficulty; illness to no avail due to internal damage may occur, with proper medical examination.” (Id. at 10.) The Complaint alleges constitutional violations in that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of due process and their deliberate indifference constituted cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 9-10.)

         Lt. Vetter attached to his Motion for Summary Judgment the apparent grievances at issue. (Dkt. No. 60-5.) These grievances establish the following: On March 3, 2018, Plaintiff submitted a grievance complaining of “a repeat of hot food being serve[d] below temperature, of proper serving portion[s] not be[ing] nutrion[ally] balance[d], and food (veg) not being properly prep[ped] (rotten spots in cook and served veg).” (Id. at 5.) The grievance further states “This is an issue which can be dangerous to human stomach.” (Id.) K. Newsome responded to this grievance on April 12, 2018, stating, “We will monitor tray periodically to ensure they are leaving the kitchen at 140 [degrees] or above.” (Id.)

         On March 3, 2018, Plaintiff also submitted a separate grievance complaining that “I've been requesting the veg diet since day one . . .” (Id. at 4.) The grievance states that Plaintiff has made this request several times and has not received a “response to any request.” (Id.) The grievance asks that “the issue . . . [be] resolve[d] and [Plaintiff] gets the nutritional[ly] balance[d] veg meal” that he requests. (Id.) The grievance form indicates that the grievance was received by an officer on April 3, 2018. (Id.) It states that a response is required from Medical. (Id.) No. response is stated on the form. (Id.)

         On April 2, 2018, Plaintiff submitted another grievance complaining of “(1) diet meals; (2) legal law material; (3) temp and food serving portions.” (Id. at 3.) The grievance requests “a transfer to a better facility, that can provide [Plaintiff] with adequate necessities as needed.” (Id.) Lt. Vetter responded to this grievance on April 3, 2018, stating, “Please submit one grievance per form, per issue so we can assign your concern to the appropriate person. Please include more details to explain what exactly you are grieving.” (Id.)

         Lt. Vetter has provided certain emails he sent to “Khrislynn Newsome” and “Christy Frame” on April 6, 2018 and April 9, 2018, asking that they please answer Plaintiff's grievances. (Dkt. No. 60-6.) Lt. Vetter has also provided request forms submitted by Plaintiff-however, these forms do not relate to the claims in this action. (Id. at 6-9 (asking “to see psychology, ” stating money was taken out of his account for foot cream, asking for foot cream).) Lt. Vetter has also provided records which show that Plaintiff was incarcerated at LCDC from March 5, 2018 through June 13, 2018-a little over three months. (Dkt. No. 60-7 at 4.)

         Plaintiff filed this action on June 11, 2018. He filed an Amended Complaint on November 30, 2018. (Dkt. No. 36.) On March 25, 2019, the undersigned issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant K. Newsome be dismissed with prejudice for Plaintiff's failure to execute service under Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[2] On February 25, 2019, Defendant. Lt. Vetter filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 60.) The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


         A. Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint

         Plaintiff brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520. The mandated liberal construction means that only if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the complainant could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the complainant's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court “conjure up questions never squarely presented.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         B. Summary Judgment Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” The News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “‘the nonmoving party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable ...

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