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Brown v. Brown

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

September 19, 2019

Kerwin E. Brown, Plaintiff,
Joseph W. Brown Jr. and Ms. Tribbles, Defendants.



         This is a civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff Kerwin Brown is a state prisoner representing himself and proceeding in forma pauperis. Under Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to review the complaint and to submit a recommendation to the United States District Judge. For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends the complaint be summarily dismissed, in part.


         Plaintiff is a federal prisoner. (Dkt. No. 12 at 12.) In his amended complaint, he alleges that in November 2017, he was housed at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, a county jail. (Id. at 14.) On November 28, jail officer Joseph Brown approached Plaintiff, used a racial slur, and then physically attacked him. (Id.) Plaintiff was in handcuffs and leg irons, which both prevented him from defending himself and caused him to fall to the floor in the attack. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges Brown's assault was reckless, malicious, and unjustified. (Id.) After other officers intervened, Plaintiff was taken to medical. (Id.) There, he spoke with Ms. Tribbles, one of the jail's nurses. (Id.) Tribbles refused to give him “the proper treatment, ” saying there was nothing wrong with him. (Id.) Brown was later arrested for attacking Plaintiff. (Id. at 16.)

         Plaintiff sustained physical and emotional injuries from Brown's attack that persist to this day. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff is suing Brown and Tribbles for allegedly violating the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 14.) Suing Defendants in both their individual and official capacities, Plaintiff demands $25, 000, 000 in punitive damages from each of them. (Id. at 12-13, 16.)


         Plaintiff commenced this case in July 2019. (Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the original complaint, the undersigned issued an order notifying Plaintiff that portions of it were subject to summary dismissal for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. No. 7.) The undersigned provided Plaintiff an opportunity to submit an amended complaint. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff has done that, and so this case is once again ripe for initial screening.


         The granting of in forma pauperis status in a case triggers a district court's duty to “sift out claims that Congress found not to warrant extended judicial treatment.” Nagy v. FMC Butner, 376 F.3d 252, 256 (4th Cir. 2004). The Court must dismiss any cases that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Those same criteria are grounds for dismissing a case filed by a prisoner. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         As to failure to state a claim, a complaint filed in federal court “‘must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court need not, however, accept as true a complaint's legal conclusions. Id. When “it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations, ” Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984), the complaint fails to state a claim.

         Because Brown is pro se, the undersigned has screened the complaint liberally and considered whether it includes any potential grounds for relief. See, e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). That does not mean, however, the Court can ignore a clear failure to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1088 (1986).


         The undersigned first addresses Plaintiff's decision to sue Defendants for damages in both their individual and official capacities. As the undersigned notified Plaintiff in her August 2 order, the Eleventh Amendment bars people from suing state officials for damages in their official capacities. E.g., Cobb v. South Carolina, No. 2:13-cv-2370-RMG, 2014 WL 4220423, at *2 (D.S.C. Aug. 25, 2014). Thus, Plaintiff's damages claim against Defendants in their official capacities should be summarily dismissed.

         The undersigned next turns to Plaintiff's citation to the Eighth Amendment. Although Plaintiff is currently a federal prisoner, it appears that when the alleged incident occurred at the jail, he was a pretrial detainee. Consequently, the standard of care is governed by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause rather than the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Hill v. Nicodemus, 979 F.2d 987, 990-91 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing City of Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, (1983)). However, a pretrial detainee's due process rights “are at least as great” as the protections the Eighth Amendment affords a convicted prisoner. Martin v. Gentile, 849 F.2d 863, 870 (4th ...

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