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Sarratt v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

July 2, 2019

Michael Anthony Sarratt, a/k/a Michael A. Sarratt, a/k/a Goddess Shuggar Sarratt, Plaintiff,
v.
Bryan P. Stirling, Director, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant. [Doc. 134.] Plaintiff, who provides an alias of Goddess Shuggar Sarratt, alleges that she is a transgender woman incarcerated within the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) and housed at Broad River Correctional Institution (“BRCI”), a male correctional facility. [Docs. 1 at 2; 1-1.] Plaintiff seeks medical treatment for Gender Dysphoria and various accommodations relating to her status as a transgender woman. [Doc. 1-1.] Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of her constitutional rights by SCDC and two of its employees, Bryan P. Stirling (“Stirling”) and Sandra R. Barrett (“Barrett”) (collectively, “Defendants”).[1] [Doc. 1.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges she has Gender Dysphoria (“GD”), a condition under which a person feels strongly that he or she is not the gender of his or her biological sex. [See Doc. 1-1 at 1.] Plaintiff states that while she was born male, she identifies as female, making her transgender. [Id. at 1-2] In her § 1983 Complaint, Plaintiff alleges violations of her First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. [Doc. 1 at 4.] Plaintiff requests no monetary relief but seeks treatment for GD, protection in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act standards, and protection equal to that which SCDC provides for female inmates. [Id. at 6.] Plaintiff asserts that because she is not receiving proper treatment for GD, she is receiving cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and she is being denied equal protection or due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. [Doc. 1-1 at 1-2.] Plaintiff also alleges that because SCDC houses inmates based on their genital organs, transgender inmates such as herself are placed in danger in violation of her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. [Id. at 2] Further, Plaintiff alleges that, “[a]s the result of [SCDC] not acknowledging [her] as transgender, ” she is subjected to body cavity searches by male corrections officers in violation of her Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. [Id. at 3.] She also alleges that her showers are “given by male officers” and she must share bathroom facilities with male inmates and use those facilities “in the presence of male officers and male inmates, ” which violates her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as a transgender woman. [Id.] Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that her rights under the First and Eighth Amendments are being violated because she is a transgender woman and is being forced to follow a grooming policy designed for male inmates, to wear male garments, and to use male hygiene items. [Id. at 4.] Last, Plaintiff alleges a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments based on SCDC's failure to assist with the changing of her name to a female name. [Id. at 4-5.]

         Plaintiff filed this action on October 21, 2016.[2] [Doc. 1.] Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on April 19, 2018. [Doc. 90.] On August 31, 2018, the undersigned issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the claims against Barrett in her official capacity be dismissed as moot and that Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part: granted as to Plaintiff's claim that she is being denied medical treatment for GD in violation of the Eighth Amendment; denied as to all other claims against Stirling in his official capacity; and granted as to all claims against SCDC and all claims against Stirling and Barrett in their individual capacities. [Doc. 104.] The Honorable Donald C. Coggins, Jr., accepted the undersigned's recommendations except with regard to the claims as to which the undersigned recommended denying summary judgment. [Doc. 119.] Regarding the claims as to which Judge Coggins denied the summary judgment motion, he granted Stirling (“Defendant”) leave to refile his summary judgment motion within 45 days. [Id.]

         On February 22, 2019, the Clerk docketed Plaintiff's motion for emergency pretrial injunctive relief. [Doc. 123.] Plaintiff contended (1) that she had not yet seen an endocrinologist, or received any form of treatment for her GD; (2) that although Defendants had represented that SCDC policy was to accommodate transgender inmates who prefer to be searched by female officers, Plaintiff continued to be “forced to endure pat down and strip searches by male officers” because “female staff members [we]re refusing to search Plaintiff”; and (3) that although Defendants had represented that SCDC policy would allow Plaintiff to shower while the male inmates are locked down, Plaintiff in fact was not being allowed to shower when the male inmates are locked down. [Id. at 2-3.]

         Defendant filed a response on March 8, 2019, addressing Plaintiff's allegations. [Doc. 128.] He attached an affidavit from Shekena Peeples, who is employed by SCDC as a mental health counselor. [Doc. 128-1.] Peeples' affidavit states that although Plaintiff had an appointment with an endocrinologist scheduled, Peeples “was informed . . . that Plaintiff w[ould] not be sent to the endocrinologist because there is a concern about a Budget Proviso that may prohibit SCDC from paying for an inmate to have hormone therapy where the inmate did not enter SCDC already on hormone therapy.”[3] [Id. at 2.]

         Defendant also attached an affidavit from BRCI Warden Michael Stephan. [Doc. 128-2.] Warden Stephan confirmed Plaintiff's assertion that female staff members previously had not been willing to perform strip searches of Plaintiff. [Id. at 2.] He stated, however, that “[i]n order to attempt to resolve this issue, [he] ha[d] personally met with a No. of female staff members and [was] continuing to meet with others to attempt to find female staff that are willing to perform strip searches of transgender inmates” and that so far he had “spoken with five female staff members who stated they are willing to perform strip searches on transgender inmates.” [Id. at 2.] He stated he is “hopeful that other female staff members will agree, ” and he was “attempting to make sure that at least one of the five who ha[d] agreed is present in the event Plaintiff must be strip searched.” [Id.] Warden Stephan added that “[s]trip searches are infrequent and generally only occur when an inmate leaves or returns to the institution or when they return from visitation, ” and that “[a]bsent some type of unusual or exigent circumstance, strip searches would not usually be done at night.” [Id.] Warden Stephan stated that “[w]ith this in mind, two of the five female staff members who have stated they are willing to search transgender inmates are on one day shift and three are on the other day shift, ” and he expected that that would be sufficient to accommodate Plaintiff for the time being regarding strip searches. [Id.] Warden Stephan indicated that he had not previously been “aware that there was an issue with patdown searches being performed by male staff members, ” but he expected that that issue had been resolved because he had “directed that female staff members perform patdown searches of Plaintiff unless there is some type of emergent situation where a female officer is not available and [a] search has to be done immediately.” [Id. at 2-3.]

         Warden Stephan also addressed the issue of showers, stating:

BRCI [wa]s currently on partial lockdown for security reasons. The procedure for showers at BRCI in relation to showers is that transgender inmates are offered the opportunity to shower during count time while other inmates are locked in their cells. When the Institution is not locked down, the general procedure is that transgender inmates are offered the opportunity to shower during count when other inmates are locked down. In addition, the Unit where Plaintiff is housed has individual shower stalls with shower curtains for privacy. The Unit also has showers in both the top and bottom tiers of the Unit and transgender inmates are also allowed to shower in the top tier to help ensure that no one can see down into the shower.

Id. at 1.]

         The Clerk docketed Plaintiff's reply on March 18, 2019. [Doc. 130.] All of her arguments therein pertained to Defendant's failure to provide her treatment for her GD. [Id.] She maintained that the “budget proviso” referenced in Peeples' affidavit violates her Eighth Amendment rights. [Id. at 4-5.] And she argued that denying her treatment would cause her irreparable harm and that the public interest weighed in favor of injunctive relief requiring treatment. [Id. at 5-8.]

         On March 21, 2019, the undersigned issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that preliminary injunctive relief be denied. [Doc. 133.] The undersigned explained:

Most basically, at this stage, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that she is likely to succeed on the merits of her remaining claims, which are “claims for injunctive relief against Stirling in his official capacity.” [Doc. 119.] Although Plaintiff focuses primarily on her Eighth Amendment claim regarding medical treatment for GD, the Court has already granted summary judgment against her on that claim.[2] [Doc. 119; see Doc. 104.] Furthermore, Warden Stephan indicates in his affidavit that he has taken specific measures to accommodate Plaintiff's preference that she be searched by female officers, absent emergent conditions. [Doc. 128-2 at 1-3.] Warden Stephan also explains in his affidavit that Plaintiff's need for privacy during her showers is accommodated by allowing her to use the top tier of the two-tiered shower ...

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