United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge.
the Court is the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation ("R & R") that Defendants'
motion for summary judgment for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies be granted in part and denied in
part. (Dkt. No. 31.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court
adopts the R & R as the order of the Court to grant in
part and deny in part Defendants' motion.
actions are brought by incarcerated persons who allege they
were injured by inmate stabbings or attacks at Lieber
Correctional Institution ("Lieber") in 2016 to
2017. Plaintiffs allege that Lieber has a policy and practice
of understaffing correctional officers, failing to keep
weapons away from inmates, and allowing inmates to move
freely within Lieber, in violation of South Carolina
Department of Corrections ("SCDC") policy,
Plaintiffs' constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, and the South Carolina Tort Claims Act
("SCTCA"). (Dkt. No. 2 ¶¶ 13-22.) These
actions were assigned to the Magistrate Judge for all
pretrial proceedings, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73(B)(2)(d), D.S.C. After hearing
Defendants' arguments on the issue, the Magistrate Judge
issued an order severing the claims into these separate
actions (Dkt. No. 1), which this Court affirmed (Dkt. No.
Review of the R&R
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court
that has no presumptive weight and, therefore, the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71
(1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in
whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the
magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). In the
absence of objections, the Court reviews the R & R to
"only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the
face of the record in order to accept the
recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory
committee's note; see also Camby v. Davis, 718
F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983) ("In the absence of
objection ... we do not believe that it requires any
explanation."). Where there are specific objections to
the R&R, the Court "makes a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specified
proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is
made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
Motion for Summary Judgment
judgment is appropriate if the movant "shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and it is
therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment should therefore be
granted "only when it is clear that there is no dispute
concerning either the facts of the controversy or the
inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam
Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir.
1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been
raised, the court must construe all inferences and
ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party."
HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross,
101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking
summary judgment has the initial burden of demonstrating 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-movant must
demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give
rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. For this
showing, "[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not
suffice, nor does a 'mere scintilla of
evidence'" in support of the non-moving party's
case. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d
645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSX
Transp., Inc., 190 F.3d 285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).
The Prison Litigation Reform Act and SCDC Grievance
move for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiffs failed
to satisfy the exhaustion requirement of the Prison
Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") before bringing
suit. The PLRA mandates that an inmate exhaust "such
administrative remedies as are available" before
bringing suit under § 1983. 42 U.S.C. § 1997(e)(a)
("No action shall be brought with respect to prison
conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other
Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or
other correctional facility until such administrative
remedies as are available are exhausted."); see also
Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health Servs., 407 F.3d 674, 677
(4th Cir. 2005). The administrative remedies are dictated by
the prison. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218
(2007). A prison grievance procedure is "available"
if it is "capable of use to obtain some relief for the
action complained of." Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct.
1850, 1855 (2016).
PLRA, therefore, has a "built-in exception to the
exhaustion requirement: A prisoner need not exhaust remedies
if they are not 'available.'" Id. at
1855. The prisoner bears the burden of demonstrating that an
administrative remedy is unavailable. See Graham v.
Gentry, 413 Fed.Appx. 660, 663 (4th Cir. 2011)
("[I]n order to show that a grievance procedure was not
'available,' a prisoner must adduce facts showing
that he was prevented, through no fault of his own, from
availing himself of that procedure.") (internal citation
omitted). Specifically, an administrative remedy is not
"available"-meaning, the remedy, "although
officially on the books, is not capable of use to obtain
relief-in at least three circumstances. Ross, 136
S.Ct. at 1859.
"an administrative procedure is unavailable when
(despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise)
it operates as a simple dead end-with officers unable or
consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved
inmates." Id. Meaning, the "administrative
officials have apparent authority, but decline ever to
exercise it." Id. Second, a remedy is
unavailable where the "administrative scheme might be so
opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of
use." Id. In other words, "some mechanism
exists to provide relief, but no ordinary prisoner can
discern or navigate it." Id. Last, an
administrative remedy is not available "when prison
administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a
grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or
intimidation." Id. at 1860. In this situation,
"officials might devise procedural systems (including
the blind alleys and quagmires just discussed) in order to
trip up all but the most skillful prisoners" or threaten
the inmate. Id. (internal quotation marks ...