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South Carolina
Judicial Department
2011-UP-180 - Sanders v. SCDC


In The Court of Appeals

Cleveland Sanders, Appellant,


South Carolina Department of Corrections, Respondent.

Appeal From Richland County
James R. Barber, Circuit Court Judge

Unpublished Opinion No. 2011-UP-180
Submitted April 1, 2011 – Filed April 19, 2011   


Cleveland Sanders, pro se, for Appellant.

Heath McAlvin Stewart, III, of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Cleveland Sanders appeals the trial court's order dismissing his civil action against the South Carolina Department of Corrections­­­ (the Department).  On appeal, Sanders argues the trial court erred in: (1) finding the action under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act (the Act) was barred because the two-year statute of limitations had run; (2) granting the Department's motion for summary judgment on his gross negligence claim under the Act; (3) dismissing his claim regarding access to outside dental care; and (4) denying his motion for a declaratory judgment.  We affirm.[1] 

1.  As to whether the trial court erred in finding Sanders's action was barred under the Act because the two-year statute of limitations had run:  The trial court properly held Sanders's action was barred by the statute of limitations because Sanders's second complaint was not filed within two years after the date of loss. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-110 (2005).   Although the exact date of loss is not established in the record, we know Sanders's alleged date of loss occurred between November 11, 2001, and August 23, 2002, the time he was placed in administrative segregation.  The statute of limitations, therefore, tolled no later than August 23, 2004.  Furthermore, evidence in the record suggests Sanders knew of the alleged loss by February 21, 2003, because he filed his initial complaint in state court that day.  Additionally, Sanders failed to timely file after the District Court dismissed his initial complaint on February 11, 2004.  In fact, he did not file his second state complaint until almost eighteen months after the District Court dismissed his complaint.  See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d) (1990) (noting the statute of limitations for a claim asserted under this section is tolled for thirty days after it is dismissed by the federal courts unless state law provides for a longer tolling period).   Accordingly, Sanders's action under the Act was barred by the statute of limitations.[2]

2.  As to whether the trial court erred in dismissing his claim regarding access to a private dentist: We affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment on Sanders's access to outside dental care claim.  Government has an "obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration."  Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). "An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met."  Id.  "In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical 'torture or a lingering death,' … In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering   . . . ."  Id.  (internal citation omitted).  "The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency as manifested in modern legislation codifying the common-law view that it is but just that the public be required to care for the prisoner, who cannot by reason of the deprivation of his liberty, care for himself."  Id. at 104. (quotation marks and citations omitted). The Eighth Amendment prohibits a "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners."  Id. This deliberate indifference "constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment."  Id.  (citation omitted).  "In order to state a cognizable claim, a prisoner must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs."  Id. at 106. 

Here, Sanders failed to make any allegations of deliberate indifference.  In his complaint, Sanders sought injunctive relief for the Department's denial of his request to visit a private dentist.  However, this allegation alone fails to demonstrate acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.  Furthermore, Sanders is not guaranteed the right to medical treatment of his choice.  See Leatherwood v. Ozmint, No. 2:10-cv-00048-RBH, 2010 WL 4751398, at *2 (D.S.C. November 16, 2010) ("The United States Constitution requires that prisoners be provided with a certain minimum level of medical treatment, but it does not guarantee to a prisoner the treatment of his choice.").

3. As to whether the trial court erred in denying his motion for a declaratory judgment:  We find the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Sanders's request for a declaratory judgment. "[T]he granting of a declaratory judgment [is] a matter resting in the sound discretion of the trial court to be reasonably exercised in furtherance of the purposes of the statute; and the fact that other remedies are available does not preclude the granting of a declaratory judgment, but are factors to be considered by the court in the exercise of its discretion."  Bank of Augusta v. Satcher Motor Co., 249 S.C. 53, 58, 152 S.E.2d 676, 678-79 (1967).  "Declaratory relief will however ordinarily be refused where a special statutory remedy has been provided, or where another remedy will be more effective or appropriate under the circumstances."  Id. at 58-59, 152 S.E.2d at 679 (quotation marks and citation omitted).   Here, the trial court properly found declaratory judgment improper because more appropriate avenues of relief existed for Sanders's claims.  For his escape charge, Sanders had access to the prison grievance system as well as the administrative law court.  Additionally, Sanders had the opportunity to seek relief in federal and state courts regarding his constitutional claims.

For the foregoing reasons, the decision of the trial court is



[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2] Because the statute of limitations barred any claims under the Act, we decline to address Sanders's issues regarding the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the gross negligence claim and the dismissal of the private dental claim.  See Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, Inc., 335 S.C. 598, 613, 518 S.E.2d 591, 598 (1999) (noting an appellate court does not have to address issues when the disposition of a prior issue is dispositive).