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Wilson v. Clark

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

July 2, 2019

John Ervin Wilson, Jr., #295493, Plaintiff,
v.
Mr. Clark, Major, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRISTOW MARCHANT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This action has been filed by the Plaintiff, pro se, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), alleges violations of his constitutional rights by the named Defendant.

         The Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12, Fed.R.Civ.P., arguing that Plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). As the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, a Roseboro order was entered advising Plaintiff of the importance of a dispositive motion and of the need for him to file an adequate response. Plaintiff was specifically advised that if he failed to adequately respond, the Defendant's motion may be granted, thereby ending his case. Plaintiff thereafter filed a response in opposition to the Defendant's motion, which is now before the Court for disposition.[1]

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that while he was housed at the Lieber Correctional Institution[2] he “participated in . . . 1st Amendment protected activity [by using the] grievance system”, after which the Defendant unlawfully retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff alleges that on or about July 18 or 20, 2008, the Defendant began retaliating against him by transferring him and placing him in the “worse” unit (Cooper (B) unit), where he ended up being stabbed by another inmate, and also by terminating him from his prison job. Plaintiff requests monetary damages. See generally, Plaintiff's Complaint.

         Discussion

         When considering a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, the Court is required to accept the allegations in the pleading as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. The motion can be granted only if the Plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient factual matters to state a plausible claim for relief “on its face”. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. Additionally, the Federal Court is also charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious case. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). As such, the only question before the Court at this time is whether Plaintiff's factual allegations (liberally construed), and any reasonable inferences which may be drawn therefrom, are sufficient to state a “plausible” claim that the Defendant violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. At 1949. After careful review and consideration of Plaintiff's allegations along with his arguments filed in opposition to the Defendant's motion, the undersigned concludes that Plaintiff has set forth facts sufficient to establish a “plausible claim for relief” to avoid dismissal of his claim at this time. See Slade v. Hampton Roads Regional Jail, 407 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir. 2005)[“Courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim unless ‘after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the Plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief'”], citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

         As a correctional officer, the Defendant is subject to suit for damages in his individual capacity under § 1983 if he is found to have violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); Inmates v. Owens, 561 F.2d 560 (4th Cir. 1977). To state a First Amendment retaliation claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that: “(1) his speech was protected, (2) the alleged retaliatory action adversely affected his protected speech, and (3) a causal relationship between the protected speech and the retaliation.” Raub v. Campbell, 785 F.3d 876, 885 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff has alleged that he engaged in protected speech by filing a grievance. Booker v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 855 F.3d 533, 545(4th Cir. 2017) [Prisoners have a clearly established First Amendment right “to file a prison grievance free from retaliation.”]. Plaintiff has also alleged that as a result of his having filed a grievance, the Defendant retaliated against him by transferring him to a worse Unit in the prison and by having him terminated from his prison job. These allegations state the elements of a First Amendment retaliation claim.

         Concedely, Plaintiff has set forth his allegations in a “bare boned” manner. However, “Courts are obligated to liberally construe pro se complaints, however inartfully pleaded”. Booker, 866 F.3d at 540 (internal quotations omitted); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).[3]Moreover, although claims of retaliation by prisoners should “be regarded with skepticism, lest Federal Courts embroil themselves in every disciplinary act that occurs in [ ] penal institutions”; Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 74 (4th Cir. 1994); this case is not before the Court on a motion for summary judgment, where there would be evidence to consider as to whether a genuine issue of fact is presented. Rather, as noted, this matter is before the Court only on a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, under which the standard for dismissal is much more narrow. See Austen v. Catterton Partners V, LP, 709 F.Supp.2d 172 (D.Conn. 2010) [Iqbal's plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct]]; and, of course, a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely”]; citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002)[“[W]hen [dismissal for failure to state a claim] involves a civil rights complaint, ‘we must be especially solicitous of the wrongs alleged' and ‘must not dismiss the complaint unless it appears to a certainty the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any legal theory which might plausibly be suggested by the facts alleged'”], citing Harrison v. United Postal Service, 840 F.2d 1149, 1152 (4th Cir. 1988).

         Therefore, considered under the standards for a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, and liberally construing Plaintiff's pro se allegations in order to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious case, the undersigned does not find that Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim should be dismissed at this early stage of the proceedings. Cf. Slade, 407 F.3d at 248 [“Courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim unless ‘after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the Plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief'”]; see also Vogt v. Greenmarine Holding, LLC, 318 F.Supp.2d 136, 144 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) [Finding that Plaintiffs had asserted sufficient facts to allege improper conduct by the named defendants, and that “[w]hether plaintiffs will be able to demonstrate the truth of those facts after discovery is an entirely different question, but plaintiffs are entitled to make the attempt”]; Booker, 855 F.3d at 545 [Claim of retaliation for filing a prison grievance states a First Amendment claim]; Sprouse v. Babcock, 870 F.2d 450, 452 (8th Cir. 1989).

         Conclusion

         Based on the foregoing, it is recommended that the Defendant's motion to dismiss be denied at this time for the reasons stated.

         The parties are referred to the Notice Page attached hereto.

         Notice of Right to File Objections to Report ...


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