Singleton v. Brown
ORDER adopting Report and Recommendations of Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant; granting 66 Motion for Summary Judgment and DISMISSING this action (ECF No. 1). Signed by Honorable J Michelle Childs on 3/10/2017.(cwhi, ) (Main Document 114 replaced on 3/10/2017) (cwhi, ). Modified on 3/10/2017 to replace with corrected document (cwhi, ).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Sterling L. Singleton, #339777,
Patricia Brown, Lieutenant,
Civil Action No.: 9:15-cv-02723-JMC
ORDER AND OPINION
Plaintiff Sterling L. Singleton (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis,
filed this instant action (“Complaint”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant
Patricia Brown (“Defendant”) violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights through the use of
excessive force. (ECF No. 1 at 6.) Defendant filed an Answer (ECF No. 22) and a Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 66).
In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02, the matter was
referred to United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant for pre-trial handling.
September 14, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report,” ECF
No. 102) recommending the court grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
66), and dismiss the Complaint (ECF No. 1). This review considers Plaintiff’s Objections to the
Report and Recommendation (“Objections”) filed December 1, 2016. (ECF No. 110.) For the
reasons set forth herein, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge’s Report (ECF No. 102),
GRANTS Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 66), and DISMISSES this
RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate
Judge’s factual synopsis is accurate and incorporates it by reference. This court will thus focus
on the facts pertinent to the analysis of Plaintiff’s Objections.
Plaintiff is presently incarcerated at the Lieber Correctional Institution (“Lieber”) of the
South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”). Plaintiff alleges that on July 29, 2013,
after returning to his Special Management Unit (“S.M.U.”) cell from a meeting with a prison
counselor, his escort officer allowed him to keep on a jumpsuit he was wearing at the time.
(ECF No. 1 at 3.)1 Plaintiff alleges that, shortly after, Defendant approached his cell and asked
why he had a jumpsuit, then sprayed him with chemical munitions “without warning.” (Id. at 34.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant left him for a brief time, before returning, spraying him
again, and having a Force Cell Movement Team (“F.C.M.T.”) remove the jumpsuit from him.
(Id. at 4.) Plaintiff then asserts that Defendant returned again with an F.C.M.T., “dragged [him]
out of the cell naked,” and strapped him into a restraint chair. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges he was in
the restraint chair for over six hours. (Id. at 5.) The Magistrate Judge categorized and addressed
Plaitniff’s complaints as follows: the use of excessive force in removing him from his cell and
spraying him with chemical munitions, placing him in a restraint chair, and failing to
decontaminate him after the use of chemical munitions.
Plaintiff seeks compensatory and
punitive damages totaling $650,000.00.
Plaintiff filed the instant action on July 9, 2015, alleging Eighth Amendment
constitutional violations because of Defendant’s use of excessive force. (ECF No. 1 at 6.)
Defendant, after filing an Answer (ECF No. 22) on October 19, 2015, filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment on April 26, 2016 (ECF No. 66). After multiple time extensions, Plaintiff
Plaintiff was currently under Crisis Intervention (“C.I.”) (ECF No. 1 at 3), and under such
conditions, prison procedures do not allow inmates to have jumpsuits in their cells.
filed his Response in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on July 5, 2016.
(ECF No. 91.)
On September 14, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report, recommending the court
grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint. (ECF No.
102 at 46.) In response to the Magistrate Judge’s Report, Plaintiff filed his Objections on
December 1, 2016. 2 (ECF No. 110.) Defendant filed a response on December 15, 2016. (ECF
No. 111.) Plaintiff filed an Affidavit of Facts Giving Judicial Notice, Filing Objections to
Defendant’s Response to Plaintiff’s Objections to the Report & Recommendation on December
27, 2016. (ECF No. 113.)
The Magistrate Judge’s Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and
Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge’s Report is only
a recommendation to this court, and has no presumptive weight—the responsibility to make a
final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71
(1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the
Report to which specific objections are made. Id. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in
whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation or recommit the matter with
instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
The court notes that Plaintiff’s Objections were not stamped by Lieber’s mailroom until
November 28, 2016. A pro se prisoner’s pleading is deemed “filed” at the moment of delivery to
prison authorities for forwarding to the district court. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 271
(1988). Plaintiff’s Objections were due on November 27, 2016. (ECF No. 108.) Plaintiff
argues that he delivered his Objections to the mailroom on Friday, November 25, 2016, and they
simply were not stamped until the following Monday. (ECF No. 113 at 2.) Nonetheless,
because November 27, 2016 fell on a Sunday, Plaintiff did not have to file the objections until
Monday, November 28, 2016. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(a)(C). Thus, Plaintiff’s Objections were
Objections to a Report and Recommendation must specifically identify portions of the
Report and the basis for those objections. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). “[I]n 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.’” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 316 (4th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 72 advisory committee’s note). Failure to timely file specific written
objections to a Report will result in a waiver of the right to appeal from an order from the court
based upon the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985); Wright v.
Collins, 766 F.2d 841 (4th Cir. 1985); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91 (4th Cir. 1984). If
the plaintiff fails to properly object because the objections lack the requisite specificity, then de
novo review by the court is not required.
Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials in the record show 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). In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court
must weigh all evidence and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-movant.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Additionally, pro se filed documents
should be “liberally construed,” held to a less stringent legal standard than those complaints or
proceedings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, even liberally construed, objections to a Report
must specifically identify portions of the Report and the basis for those objections. Fed. R. Civ.
The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the
district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See 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. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist
which give rise to a genuine issue. See id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere
scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff’s position is insufficient to withstand the summary
judgment motion. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Likewise,
conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the
summary judgment motion. See Ross v. Commc’ns Satellite Corp., 759 F.2d 355, 365 (4th Cir.
1985). “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.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) “the
violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States” and (2) this
violation “was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988). In his Objections, Plaintiff asserts the Magistrate Judge was prejudiced against
him (ECF No. 110 at 1), and that Defendant’s actions were retaliatory measures over Plaintiff
having a jumpsuit. (Id. at 4-7, 9-12). If Plaintiff’s constitutional rights were violated through
retaliation by Defendant, then Plaintiff would be allowed to seek relief under § 1983, thus giving
the court original jurisdiction under § 1331.
Plaintiff asserts that because of his past “negative history,” the Magistrate Judge was
prejudiced against him, and had already deemed Plaintiff guilty. (ECF No. 110 at 1.) For
Plaintiff to overcome Defendant’s Motion and the Magistrate Judge’s Report, Plaintiff cannot
solely rely on mere allegations or accusations. The court finds no evidence of prejudice by the
Magistrate Judge as the Magistrate Judge’s Report is based on written affidavits, incident
reports, and video evidence. (See ECF No. 102 at 4-12.)
The crux of Plaintiff’s Objections are the previously unstated accusations that Defendant,
and other prison officials, used chemical munitions, removed him from his cell, and placed him
in a restraint chair in retaliation for not disclosing how he obtained the jumpsuit. (ECF No. 110
at 4-7, 9-12.)
However, the Report correctly points out that video evidence shows Plaintiff
disobeying direct orders multiple times by refusing to “come to the door to be cuffed” (Id. at 2728, 35.) The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has mandated that claims of retaliation should be
regarded with skepticism, asserting that “in forma pauperis plaintiffs who claim that their
constitutional rights have been violated by official retaliation must present more than naked
allegations of reprisal to survive § 1915(d).” Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 74 (4th Cir. 1994). To
state a claim of retaliation under § 1983, a plaintiff must “allege either that the retaliatory act was
taken in response to the exercise of a constitutionally protected right or that the act itself violated
such a right.” Martin v. Blinkley, No. 4:13-cv-1568-DCN, 2013 WL 5316345, at *4 (D.S.C.
Sept. 20, 2013) (quoting Adams, 40 F.3d at 75).
Here, though Plaintiff asserts “clothing is a basic human right,” (ECF No. 110 at 6),
Plaintiff did not have a constitutional right to the jumpsuit. The court also finds that Defendant’s
actions did not violate Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. An inmate’s repeated refusal to comply
with an officer’s orders gives rise to the need for the use of some force. See Williams v.
Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 763 (4th Cir. 1996). An officer’s use of chemical munitions on an
inmate to prevent disorder generally does not infringe the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition
against cruel and unusual punishment so long as the quantity of chemical munitions is
commensurate with the gravity of the occasion. Bailey v. Turner, 736 F.2d 963, 968-69 (4th Cir.
1984). Additionally, though Plaintiff asserts he was effectively “torture[d]” (ECF No. 110 at 4),
as the Report notes, Plaintiff has “failed to show that he suffered any significant injury” either
from the chemical munitions or the restraint chair. (ECF No. 102 at 33, 36.)
Finally, Plaintiff claims that the Report cannot view the affidavits of Inmates Briggs &
Bacchus to be in conflict with video testimony, while simultaneously allowing the affidavits to
support Defendant’s account of the time period prior to video evidence. (ECF No. 110 at 9.)
The court is not persuaded by this argument.
Thus, the court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of retaliation under §
1983. Plaintiff also has not shown a constitutional violation in respect to his treatment by
Defendant. Plaintiff has failed to show a genuine issue of material fact to withstand summary
judgment on his claim of excessive force.
Based on the aforementioned reasons and a thorough review of the Report and the record
in this case, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge’s Report (ECF No. 102), GRANTS
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 66), and DISMISSES this action (ECF
IT IS SO ORDERED.
United States District Judge
March 10, 2017
Columbia, South Carolina
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