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Reardon v. Lee

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

July 10, 2019

John Thomas Reardon, Plaintiff,
S. Lee, Edgar Morales, Mr. Mont Alvo, Ms. Ramos, P. Walton Battle, Cynthia Coleman, Donardo Fonte, Mr. Sizemore, Defendants.[1]


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment filed by Defendants. [Doc. 72.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., the undersigned magistrate judge is authorized to review this case and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint on November 10, 2017, [2]alleging that prison officials refused to provide him with medical care in violation of his civil rights. [Doc. 1.] The Clerk docketed an Amended Complaint on April 18, 2018.[3] [Doc. 31.] According to Plaintiff, all Defendants named in the Amended Complaint allegedly contributed to the denial to Plaintiff of appropriate medical treatment, either at Coleman Low Federal Correctional Institution in Florida (“FCI Coleman”) or Edgefield Federal Correctional Institution (“FCI Edgefield”). [Doc. 31-1 at 4.] All Defendants are named in an individual capacity, not in an official capacity. [Docs. 31 at 2; 31-1 at 1, 4.] Plaintiff alleges claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by exhibiting deliberate indifference to his medical needs. [Doc. 31 at 4;Doc. 31-1 at 1.]

         On November 9, 2018, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (“Defendants' motion”). [Doc. 72.] On November 13, 2018, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised to respond to the motion and of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond. [Doc. 73.] The Clerk docketed a response from Plaintiff to this motion on June 3, 2019. [Doc. 90.] The motion is now ripe for review.

         BACKGROUND [4]

         The events giving rise to his claim began in January 2016 and occurred at Coleman Low Federal Correctional Institution in Florida (“FCI Coleman”) and FCI Edgefield. [Docs. 31 at 5, 7; 31-3 at 3-4.] According to Plaintiff, he was injured in January 2016 in his dorm unit at FCI Coleman. [Doc. 31-1 at 2.] While attempting to step down the ladder from his upper bunk, he “fell violently to the floor and hurt [his] back.” [Id.] An appointment with a doctor was set for later that week, and he was diagnosed with appendicitis within a few days of the original injury. [Id.] He was checked into a hospital in Leesburg, Florida. [Id.] He received blood work, an x-ray, a CT scan, and an MRI. [Id. at 3.] The MRI revealed a “T-10 and T-11 bul[]ging disk, ” as well as a severe staff infection throughout his entire spine. [Id.] He then spent 10 days in the hospital on various medications, which was followed by a 60-day medicine treatment at the prison. [Id.] According to Plaintiff, “[t]he staff infection was thankfully cured and I am thankful everyday for the efforts of the prison and hospital staff for saving my life.” [Id.]

         Nevertheless, Plaintiff has continued to endure severe pain due to the bulging discs in his back. [Id.] He has been to “sick call more times than [he] can count.” [Id.] He pursued administrative remedies at FCI Coleman in hopes of addressing his condition but all of his requests for assistance have been denied. [Id.] Plaintiff was transferred to FCI Edgefield in March 2017. [Id.] He received a notice of final denial of his administrative remedies in June 2017. [Id.] According to Plaintiff, he has continued to address his pain by “going to sick call only to be told there is nothing that can be done for [him].” [Id.] Accordingly, Plaintiff filed this action requesting that the Court order the Bureau of Prisons to provide a back surgical specialist, permitting Plaintiff to explore all available medical remedies, including surgery, to address his severe back pain. [Id. at 7.] Plaintiff also seeks a transfer to a qualified Bureau of Prisons facility. [Id.]


         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); 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. Even under this less stringent standard, however, the pro se complaint is still subject to summary dismissal. Id. at 520-21. 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. 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 Bivens

         In Bivens, the Supreme Court established a direct cause of action under the Constitution of the United States against federal officials for the violation of federal constitutional rights. 403 U.S. at 389. A Bivens claim is analogous to a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; federal officials cannot be sued under § 1983, however, because they do not act under color of state law. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 814-20 (1982). Case law involving a § 1983 claim is applicable in a Bivens action and vice versa. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 511 U.S. 511, 530 (1985); Turner v. Dammon, 848 F.2d 440, 443-44 (4th Cir.1988). To establish a claim under Bivens, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) the defendant deprived the plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and (2) the defendant did so under color of federal law. See Mentavlos v. Anderson, 249 F.3d 301, 310 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (setting forth requirements for a § 1983 claim under color of state law); see also Bivens, 403 U.S. at 389 (“In [a previous case], we reserved the question whether violation of [the Constitution] by a federal agent acting under color of his authority gives rise to a cause of action for damages consequent upon his unconstitutional conduct. Today we hold that it does.”).

         Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a claim should be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the court “need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts” nor “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Further, for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may rely on only the complaint's allegations and those documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference. See Simons v. Montgomery Cty. Police Officers, 762 F.2d 30, 31 (4th Cir. 1985). If matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion is treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         With respect to well-pleaded allegations, the United States Supreme Court explained the interplay between Rule 8(a) and Rule 12(b)(6) in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” in order to “give the Defendants fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnote and citations omitted); see also 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004) (“[T]he pleading must contain something more . . . than a bare averment that the pleader wants compensation and is entitled to it or a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion that the pleader might have a legally cognizable right of action.”).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the Defendants is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a Defendants has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard reflects the threshold requirement of Rule 8(a)(2)-the pleader must plead sufficient facts to show he is entitled to relief, not merely facts consistent with the Defendants's liability. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a Defendants's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557)). Accordingly, the plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to articulate facts that, when accepted as true, demonstrate that the plaintiff has stated a claim that makes it plausible the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         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 ...

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