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Collins v. Riddell

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

July 2, 2019

Michael Alexander Collins, Plaintiff,
Lt. Eric Riddell, Lt. Hettich, Lt. Bowman, Deputy McDuffie, Deputy Moore, Deputy Starks, Deputy Authers, Deputy Hettich, Corporal Kudron, Deputy Nightengale, Corporal Brodus, Sgt. Whittaker, Aiken County Detention Center, Sherry Shuttersworth a/k/a Sherry Shutters, Defendants.[1]



         Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging denial of medical care and retaliation. [Doc. 1.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d), 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.

         On February 18, 2019, Defendant Shutters[2] filed a motion for summary judgment, and the remaining Defendants filed a summary judgment motion on the same day. [Docs. 124; 125.] The next day, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised to respond to the motions and of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond. [Doc. 126.] The Clerk docketed responses from Plaintiff to these summary judgment motions on April 8, 2019, May 17, 2019, and May 20, 2019.[3] [Docs. 130; 144; 145; 149.] The Clerk docketed the first of these responses as a motion to strike [Doc. 130], and docketed another of Plaintiff's responses as a motion for extension of time [Doc. 144].[4] Defendants filed responses to the motion to strike on April 23, 2019 [Docs. 139; 140], and Defendant Shutters filed both a reply to Plaintiff's responses to her summary judgment motion and a response to Plaintiff's motion for extension. [Docs. 150; 151.] Accordingly, Defendants' summary judgment motions and Plaintiff's motions to strike and for an extension are ripe for review.

         On May 17, 2019, the Clerk also docketed Plaintiff's motion for sanctions and a motion in limine. [Docs. 142; 143.] And on May 20, 2019, the Clerk docketed a motion by Plaintiff to disqualify the undersigned from this case. [Doc. 148.] Defendant Shutters filed a response opposing Plaintiff's motion to disqualify on June 3, 2019. [Doc. 152.] These three motions are also ripe for review.


         Plaintiff alleges he has been at the Aiken County Detention Center since April 3, 2017. [Doc. 34 at 1.] He alleges that he has been denied medical treatment, punished for his condition, and harassed, resulting in deliberate indifference to his medical needs. [Doc. 34.] According to Plaintiff, since April 9, 2018, he “has been locked out of [the] sick call portion of the kiosk” system and is restricted as well in his ability to submit sick calls on paper forms. [Id. at 2.] When he is able to submit a sick call, “it is never answered” and Plaintiff's medical problems are not addressed. [Id.] He has a bullet stuck in his head, his left knee has a meniscus tear that is causing him significant pain, and he has medical conditions that are not being treated. [Id. at 2-3.] For his injuries, Plaintiff alleges that he is getting constant damage to his knee every day and he needs surgery, he has constant headaches, dizziness, nosebleeds, nausea, chest pain, mental stress, and panic attacks. [Id. at 3.] He is receiving only mild medications that are barely helping. [Id. at 3-4.] He has not received a CAT scan or MRI. [Id. at 3.]. For his relief, Plaintiff requests “injunctive relief in the form of medical care for all inmates of the Aiken County Detention Center” and $1, 000 for each day he has to suffer from this pain. [Id. at 4, 9-10.] Plaintiff alleges he has attempted to exhaust his administrative remedies by filing grievances through the kiosk at the prison, but that the grievances have not met with any results, and he has instead been punished and “locked out” of the ability “to place sick calls, medical grievances, facility requests, or facility grievances.” [Id. at 6-8.]


         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). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Even under this less stringent standard, however, the pro se complaint is still subject to summary dismissal. The mandated liberal construction means only that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him. See 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).

         Requirements for a Cause of Action Under § 1983

         Section 1983 provides a private cause of action for plaintiffs alleging constitutional violations by persons acting under color of state law. Section 1983 provides, in relevant part,

[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) that the defendant “deprived [him] of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States” and (2) that the defendant “deprived [him] of this constitutional right under color of [State] statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage.” Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The under-color-of-state-law element, which is equivalent to the “state action” requirement under the Fourteenth Amendment,

reflects judicial recognition of the fact that most rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement by governments. This fundamental limitation on the scope of constitutional guarantees preserves an area of individual freedom by limiting the reach of federal law and avoids imposing on the State, its agencies or officials, responsibility for conduct for which they cannot fairly be blamed.

Id. at 310 (quoting Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, 145 F.3d 653, 658 (4th Cir. 1998)) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, “the deed of an ostensibly private organization or individual” may at times be treated “as if a State has caused it to be performed.” Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn. Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 531 U.S. 288, 295 (2001). Specifically, “state action may be found if, though only if, there is such a ‘close nexus between the State and the challenged action' that seemingly private behavior ‘may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.'” Id. (quoting Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974)). State action requires both an alleged constitutional deprivation “caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible, ” and that “the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982). A determination of whether a private party's allegedly unconstitutional conduct is fairly attributable to the State requires the court to “begin[ ] by identifying ‘the specific conduct of which the plaintiff complains.'” Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 51 (quoting Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982)).

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states, as to a party who has moved for summary judgment:

The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect disposition of the case under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. When determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude granting the summary judgment motion. Id. at 248. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. Further, Rule 56 provides in pertinent part:

         A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). Accordingly, when Rule 56(c) has shifted the burden of proof to the non-movant, he must produce existence of a factual dispute on every element essential to his action that he bears ...

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