Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Simpson v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

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

September 7, 2019

Keith Simpson,
v.
South Carolina Department of Corrections, et al. Brandon Bartlett
v.
South Carolina Department of Corrections, et al. Chris Ford
v.
South Carolina Department of Corrections, et al. Cedric Robinson,
v.
South Carolina Department of Corrections, et al.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge.

         Before 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.)[1] 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.

         I. Background

         These 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. 34).

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Review of the R&R

         The 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).

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary 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)).

         III. Discussion

         A. The Prison Litigation Reform Act and SCDC Grievance Process

         Defendants 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).

         The 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.

         First, "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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.