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Epting v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

July 18, 2019

Betty Frances Taylor Epting, as personal representative of the Estate of Thomas Edgar Taylor, Sr., Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Corrections, Minnie Macon, Arthur Butler, Linda McNutt, Aaron Pellum, Dr. Mohan Sridaran, Defendants. Betty Frances Taylor Epting, as personal representative of the Estate of Thomas Edgar Taylor, Sr., Plaintiff,
v.
Dr. Mohan Sridaran, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DONALD C. COGGINS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 102.[1] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition, and Defendants filed a reply. ECF Nos. 106, 107. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), (D.S.C.), this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pre-trial proceedings and a Report and Recommendation (“Report”). On May 16, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that the Motion for Summary Judgment be granted with respect to Plaintiff's federal causes of action. ECF No. 109. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the Report and the serious consequences if they failed to do so. Plaintiff, through counsel, filed objections to the Report, and Defendants filed a reply. ECF Nos. 111, 112.

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the Report of the Magistrate Judge to which a specific objection is made. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The Court will review the Report only for clear error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating that “in the absence of timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” (citation omitted)).

         The Magistrate Judge provided a thorough recitation of the procedural history, facts, and applicable law in the case, which the Court incorporates by reference. Plaintiff's objections focus primarily on her claim against Dr. Sridaran, which is discussed below. As to the remaining Defendants, Plaintiff contends "there is still a question of fact as to whether Mr. Pellum was ever placed back on the mental health roster." ECF No. 111 at 5. In support of this, Plaintiff argues, "[i]f a change in the MEDCLASS screen occurred then the inference can be drawn that Defendants Macon, Butler, and McNutt were deliberately indifferent because then they would be aware of a change in the MEDCLASS screen and intentionally ignored that Mr. Pellum was not a proper roommate for Mr. Taylor." Id. While Mr. Pellum's classification in the MEDCLASS screen was certainly a proper subject of discovery, Plaintiff has not offered any evidence that creates a factual question as to that issue. Indeed, her response in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment contains documents that state that MEDCLASS information must be considered when evaluating a cell assignment request; however, Plaintiff has not directed the Court to any documentary evidence showing Pellum's MEDCLASS information.[2] Accordingly, the Court overrules Plaintiff's objection as there is no evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact.

         Turning to the § 1983 claim against Dr. Sridaran, the Magistrate Judge recommended that summary judgment be granted. In her objections, Plaintiff argues that there was sufficient evidence in the record that Dr. Sridaran had knowledge that without treatment and medication Pellum would be a risk of harm to himself and others and that Plaintiff provided sufficient evidence that Dr. Sridaran's lapse of treatment caused Pellum to murder Mr. Taylor. The Court notes that Plaintiff relies heavily on the expert report which the Magistrate Judge did not specifically address other than one citation in her Report.

         With respect to Plaintiff's causation argument, the Court has thoroughly examined the expert report and Dr. Sridaran's provided deposition testimony. The Court notes that the expert report states that Dr. Sridaran's deviation from the standard of care “directly led to Mr. Taylor's demise.” However, while this conclusion may be sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact with respect to negligence, Dr. Sridaran is entitled to summary judgment as to the claim that he was deliberately indifferent to Mr. Taylor's safety. This case revolves around the transfer of Pellum into Mr. Taylor's cell which ultimately resulted in his death. There is no evidence that Dr. Sridaran had any knowledge or input regarding Pellum's housing placement such that he should have been aware of an increased risk of harm to another inmate. Moreover, the statement in the expert report that Pellum “would never have been deemed by classification to be an appropriate cellmate for Mr. Taylor” if Dr. Sridaran had properly treated Pellum and had predesignated him as “mental health” for classification purposes is too attenuated to establish causation. Accordingly, Plaintiff's allegations do not rise to the level of deliberate indifference.[3] See Brice v. Va. Beach Corr. Ctr., 58 F.3d 101, 105 (4th Cir.1995) (holding that, in the Eighth Amendment context, deliberate indifference “lies somewhere between negligence and purpose or knowledge: namely, recklessness of the subjective type used in criminal law.”).

         Plaintiff fails to make any other specific objections to the Report. After considering the record in this case, the applicable law, and the Report of the Magistrate Judge, the Court finds no clear error and agrees with the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge with respect to all other claims raised by Plaintiff.

         Finally, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims. In making this decision, the Court has considered “convenience and fairness to the parties, the existence of underlying issues of federal policies, comity, and considerations of judicial economy.” See Shanaghan v. Cahill, 58 F.3d 106, 110 (4th Cir. 1995). The Court finds that there are no remaining underlying issues of federal policy and judicial economy will not be served by keeping this action in federal court. Accordingly, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims.

         CONCLUSION

         Accordingly, the Court adopts as modified the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. Defendants' motion for summary judgment [102] is GRANTED. Defendant Pellum's motion for appointment of counsel [64] is FOUND as MOOT. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims. Accordingly, Plaintiff's remaining state law claims are REMANDED to the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina.

         IT IS SO ORDERED.

---------

Notes:

[1] For clarity, the Court will use the docket entry numbers from the 2016 filed case for citations ...


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