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Williams v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

August 8, 2019

Darrell Williams, Plaintiff,
Bryan Stirling, et al, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Darrell Williams brought this pro se action alleging violations of his Equal Protection rights while incarcerated at Lieber Correctional Institution in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. ECF No. 1. This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, or for summary judgment, filed February 28, 2019. ECF No. 123. Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Magistrate Judge entered an order pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising him of the importance of Defendants' summary judgment motion and the need to file an adequate response. ECF No. 124. On April 30, 2019, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition after several extensions. ECF No. 146. Defendants filed a reply. ECF No. 147.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (B)(2)(d), D.S.C., the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker for pre-trial proceedings. On May 21, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending the court dismiss this action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies or, in the alternative, grant summary judgment. ECF No. 149. The Magistrate Judge advised Plaintiff of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the Report and the serious consequences if he failed to do so. Plaintiff filed objections on June 25, 2019. ECF No. 157. Defendants filed a reply. ECF No. 158.

         1. Standard

         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. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews 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 a 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.'”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         2. Discussion

         The Magistrate Judge concluded Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to the claim regarding the assault at Lieber, his conditions of confinement claim, access to law library, and remaining claims. ECF No. 149 at 8-14. The Report therefore recommends dismissal without prejudice due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Id. at 14. In the alternative, the Report recommends Plaintiff's constitutional claims be dismissed on the merits. Id. at 19-35. The Report also recommends any claims against Defendants in their official capacities be dismissed with prejudice based on Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. at 15.

         Plaintiff offers numerous objections to the Report. As to exhaustion, Plaintiff “concedes both magistrate, defendants are correct in their analysis, that under the Prison Litigation Reform Act inmates must exhaust remedies before filing 1983 complaint.” ECF No. 157 at 2 (errors in original). However, Plaintiff then discusses only the standards for a motion for temporary restraining order (“TRO”), which he acknowledges was denied by the court, and notes he will “address each claim individually that entitled him to relief under Rule 65(a)(b) which exempts him from section 1997e(a).” Id. at 4.

         The entirety of Plaintiff's objections regarding his individual claims are intertwined with allegations and standards regarding Plaintiff's TRO motions.[1] Plaintiff also submits “affidavits” of two inmates regarding various complaints such as access to the law library and use of phones and showers. ECF No. 157-1. Also attached are copies of grievances and requests to staff members regarding the assault on Plaintiff and access to law libraries and showers, as well as the grievance policy and programming lists. Id.

         Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections, arguing Plaintiff “unquestionably and inexcusably failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this action.” ECF No. 158 at 2. They further address several other points regarding Plaintiff's claims, and request the court grant their motion for summary judgment and dismiss this case with prejudice. Id.

         a. Analysis

         Plaintiff appears to believe motions for preliminary injunctions or TROs are exempt from the requirement of exhaustion of administrative remedies under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). However, regardless of whether exhaustion is required for a TRO or preliminary injunction, at this point in the litigation, Plaintiff's motions for preliminary injunctions and TROs have been denied. See ECF No. 110. The instant Report recommends a disposition of Plaintiff's entire case, in which he has requested compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction. Therefore, Plaintiff's arguments regarding exhaustion as to a TRO or preliminary injunction do not apply to this Report, which does not concern either of those. The PLRA exhaustion requirements apply to Plaintiff's claims.

         The exhaustion requirement at SCDC is as follows:

1. Request to Staff Member (RTSM) or Automated Request (ARTSM) through the kiosk for informal resolution attempt ...

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