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Mitchell v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

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

August 2, 2019

Norman Mitchell, Plaintiff,
South Carolina Department of Corrections, FNU Lee, FNU Turman, James Bell, Dewayne Campbell, Joey Tutt, Dwight Jones, Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”), FNU Lee, FNU Turman, James Bell, Dewayne Campbell, and Joey Tutt (“the Moving Defendants”). [Doc. 39.] 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.

         Plaintiff, through counsel, filed this action against Defendants SCDC and Dwight Jones on January 17, 2017, in the McCormick County Court of Common Pleas. [Doc. 1-2.] On April 29, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, adding Defendants Lee, Turman, Bell, Campbell, and Tutt, and asserting claims against them pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as a claim against SCDC for gross negligence/reckless conduct and a claim against Jones for assault and battery. [Doc. 1-1.] The Moving Defendants removed the case to this Court on May 3, 2018. [Doc. 1.]

         On April 30, 2019, the Moving Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 39.] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on May 14, 2019 [Doc. 46], and the Moving Defendants filed a reply on May 21, 2019 [Doc. 48]. Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment is ripe for review.


         At all times relevant to this action, Plaintiff was in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”) and housed at McCormick Correctional Institution (“McCormick”). [Doc. 1-1 at 3.] Plaintiff was housed in room 253 of the F2 dorm for a number of years until he was moved to room 260 of the F2 dorm in February 2015. [Doc. 39-13 at 76.] When he was moved to room 260, his assigned roommate was Defendant Dwight Jones. [Id. at 75.] The cell assignment form[1] that was completed on February 18, 2015, indicates that both Plaintiff and Jones were serving sentences for violent crimes-Plaintiff for carjacking with bodily harm and Jones for murder, both Plaintiff and Jones were classified at custody level ME3, and both Plaintiff and Jones had convictions for assault on other inmates or staff. [Id.] Based on these factors, Plaintiff and Jones were considered compatible to be in the same room. [Id. at 57:3-14; see also Doc. 39-14 at 39:18-40:7.] Plaintiff moved to room 260 on February 18, 2015. [Doc. 39-13 at 76.]

         After Plaintiff and Jones were in the same room, they had a fight and subsequently asked to be moved out of the room. [Doc. 39-12 at 53:22-25, 82:3-24.] They were told to go to classification, and when Plaintiff asked classification about a room change, he was told to wait until his annual review. [Id. at 54:1-3.] As part of his annual review, Plaintiff submitted a hardship transfer request[2] on February 19, 2015. [Doc. 39-13 at 73.] Plaintiff also requested a room change at his annual review, which was approved on February 24, 2015. [Id. at 74.]

         Once a room change is approved at an annual review, the caseworker is responsible for making the change as bed space permits. [Id. at 47:3-12.] Generally, a caseworker would have 30 days to make the room change [id. at 47:13-20]; however, it could take longer based on bed availability [Doc. 39-14 at 61:9-25]. Plaintiff testified that he asked multiple times after he had been approved for a room change why he had not yet been moved. [Doc. 39-12 at 54.] On April 28, 2015, Turman told Plaintiff that he would move him the following day; when Plaintiff saw Turman on April 29, 2015, he again asked about being moved, and Turman responded, “I got you.” [Id. at 54:14-24.]

         On April 30, 2015, Officer William Brooks found Plaintiff covered in blood and screaming for help. [Docs. 39-5; 39-6.] Plaintiff was taken to medical with numerous stab wounds and ultimately transported to Self Regional Health Care via ambulance. [Docs. 39-6; 39-7.] During the subsequent investigation, a confidential informant told McCormick employees that Jones and another inmate had assaulted Plaintiff in room 260. [Doc. 39-12 at 129.]


         Requirements for a Cause of Action Under § 1983

         This action is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a private cause of action for constitutional violations by persons acting under color of state law. Section 1983 “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). Accordingly, a civil action under § 1983 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999).

         Section 1983 provides, in relevant part,

Every 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 [the plaintiff] of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States” and (2) that the defendant “deprived [the plaintiff] 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) (third alteration in original) (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. (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 [is] 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 (1999) (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), ...

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