United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 15, 2005.
ALLEN P. BRANTHAFER, JR., Plaintiff
DUANE I. BLACK, ET AL., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN E. JONES, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Allen Branthafer ("Plaintiff"), an inmate presently confined at
the State Correctional Institution, Graterford, Pennsylvania,
filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are the following officials at the
Plaintiff's prior place of confinement, the Huntingdon County
Correctional Facility, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania: Warden Duane
Black; Deputy Warden Darrell Bair; Nurse Judy Hoffmaster;
Sergeant Joe Booher; and Correctional Officers George Green,
Ronnie Stewart, Fred Morgan, Chris Woodward, and Dale Morgan.
The complaint initially alleges that on or about July 16, 2000,
Plaintiff "slipped in water coming from the shower it [sic] the
booking area." Doc. 1, ¶ IV(1). Branthafer states that he fell
against the bars of his cell and injured his eye. He generally alleges that he was denied medical treatment "at that
time" by unidentified prison officials. Id. His resulting
injuries purportedly included vison loss and a scar.*fn1
In his second claim, Plaintiff avers that after "seeking legal
help about my eye" Sergeant Booher transferred him to an unheated
holding cell on January 23, 2001. Id. at (2). He remained in
this holding cell along with two other inmates until "about"
January 30, 2001.*fn2 Id. at (3). Unnamed correctional
officers also purportedly retaliated against Branthafer on
January 23, 2001 by removing his blanket, privileged legal
documents, and personal hygiene items from the cell. Plaintiff
adds that the holding cell was so cold that he and his cellmates
were unable to sleep for five (5) days. The unidentified officers
returned his legal documents and hygiene items the next day.
However, his mattress was removed from the holding cell by
unidentified officers later that same day. During this same time
period, Branthafer further claims that his clothing was taken and
the water in the holding cell was turned off.
On January 28, 2001, Correctional Officers Stewart and Green
allegedly threw Plaintiff against the wall outside of his cell.
Branthafer lacerated his arm against a button on the wall.
Plaintiff notes that his arm "sustained two long scars as a
result." Id. at (4). Next, Branthafer contends that Defendants
Booher, Green, Fred Morgan, Woodward, and Dale Morgan "either threw or failed to protect me
from the others throwing me head first into the visiting room."
Id. As a result, his head and back slammed into steel seats
located in the visiting room, bruising his back and ankle. Those
correctional officers also purportedly confiscated his hygiene
items and personal legal documents. His complaint also sets forth
claims that the inmate living quarters were: dirty; had
malfunctioning toilets; and lacked sufficient lighting.
Plaintiff's final contention is that the prison's law library
By Memorandum and Order dated September 17, 2003, this Court
partially granted Defendants' motion requesting entry of summary
judgment. Specifically, summary judgment was granted in favor of
Warden Black and Deputy Warden Bair and also with respect to
Plaintiff's claims of: denial of access to the courts; lack of
medical care following his July 16, 2000 slip and fall; and his
request for compensatory damages regarding the conditions of
Presently pending before the Court is the remaining Defendants'
second motion for summary judgment. See doc. 56. The motion has
been briefed and is ripe for consideration.
The remaining Defendants claim entitlement to entry of summary
judgment on the grounds that: (1) Plaintiff has not shown that he
suffered any physical injury as a result of the alleged
unconstitutional conditions of confinement; (2) the conditions of his holding cell confinement were constitutionally acceptable;
(3) defendant Hoffmaster is entitled to entry of summary judgment
based on the prior dismissal of Plaintiff's claim of deliberate
indifference to any serious medical needs; and (4) Branthafer's
allegations of retaliation are insufficient because there was a
legitimate penological interest for the actions taken against him
and his cellmates.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate if the "pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, together with
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry
of summary judgment, after adequate time for
discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails
to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's
case, and on which that party will bear the burden of
proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be "no
genuine issue as to any material fact," since a
complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily
renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party
is "entitled to a judgment as a matter of law"
because the nonmoving party has failed to make a
sufficient showing on an essential element of her
case with respect to which she has the burden of
proof. "[T]he standard [for granting summary
judgment] mirrors the standard for a directed verdict
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). . . ."
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317
, 322-23, (1986). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating
the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the
record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. The moving party can discharge that burden by
"`showing' . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support
the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, supra,
106 S.Ct. at 2553 and 2554. Once the moving party has satisfied its burden,
the nonmoving party must present "affirmative evidence" to defeat
the motion, consisting of verified or documented materials.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242
, 257 (1986).
Issues of fact are "genuine only if a reasonable jury,
considering the evidence presented could find for the nonmoving
party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir.
1988). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of
the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Id. In
evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the entire record must
be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
The remaining Defendants correctly state that the only claim
asserted against Defendant Nurse Judy Hoffmaster was that she was
deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs. They argue
that since this Court's September 17, 2003 Memorandum and Order
concluded that Branthafer's claim of deliberate indifference to
his medical needs was insufficient for purposes of § 1983,
summary judgment should be entered in favor of Nurse Hoffmaster. This Court agrees that since summary judgment was previously
granted in Defendants' favor with respect to the claim of failure
to provide adequate medical treatment, Defendant Hoffmaster is
entitled to entry of summary judgment.
Lack of Physical Injury
The remaining Defendants' second argument claims entitlement to
summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff failed to allege
that he suffered any actual injury as a result of the alleged
unconstitutional conditions of his confinement.
Section 1997e(e) provides that "[n]o federal civil action may
be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison or other
correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered
while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." In
Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 250 (3d Cir. 2000), the
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recognized
that where a plaintiff fails to allege actual injury, Section
1997e(e) bars recovery of compensatory damages. However, the
Court added that an inmate alleging a violation of his
constitutional rights may still pursue the action to recover
nominal and/or punitive damages even in the absence of
"Certain absolute constitutional rights may be vindicated by an
award of nominal damages, even in the absence of any showing of
injury justifying compensatory damages." Ostrander v. Horn,
145 F. Supp. 2d 614, 618 (M.D. Pa. 2001). This Court's Memorandum and
Order of September 17, 2003 addressed the same argument asserted herein and held that although Branthafer's
failure to allege any actual injury precludes an award of
compensatory damages, he may still be entitled to
non-compensatory damages under the standards announced in Allah
and Ostrander. The remaining Defendants have not provided any
basis to depart from that prior determination.
Conditions of Confinement
The remaining Defendants next assert that Plaintiff's
allegations regarding the conditions of his confinement "amounted
to mere discomfort for a limited period of time" and therefore
are insufficient for purposes of § 1983. Doc. 57, p. 6. They add
that Branthafer's placement in a holding cell was the result of
his failure to follow institutional rules. Likewise, the
subsequent deprivation of prison clothing, running water,
mattresses, sheets and blankets were caused by the intentional
clogging of the holding cell toilet by Plaintiff and his
cellmates. It is additionally asserted that those prisoners
urinated and defecated on their mattresses and personal
belongings, thus causing the removal of those items.
The remaining Defendants add that prison uniforms were returned
to Branthafer and his cellmates three (3) days later and blankets
were given to them five (5) days later. Furthermore, the holding
cell was being heated by a fully operational heater, the lighting
was adequate and operational, bagged meals were provided, and
water to the cell was restored at least once during every shift
to allow the toilet to be flushed. Finally, while in the holding cell for a period of ten
(10) days, Plaintiff was given opportunity to take five (5)
In opposition to the request for summary judgment, Plaintiff
has submitted his own affidavit. See doc. 63. Branthafer states
that while in the holding cell, he and his cellmates wore only
boxer shorts and were required to sleep on a concrete floor with
the air conditioning turned on. He adds that they were not
provided with any blankets and were fed ham sandwiches three (3)
times a day. It is noted that Plaintiff's declaration does not
indicate the exact duration of the above listed deprivations.
Branthafer also admits that he and his cellmates accidentally
overflowed the toilet in the holding cell.
A condition of confinement violates the Eighth Amendment only
if it is so reprehensible as to be deemed inhumane under
contemporary standards or such that it deprives an inmate of
minimal civilized measure of the necessities of life. See
Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992); Wilson v. Seiter,
501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). An Eighth Amendment claim against a
prison official must meet two requirements: (1) "the deprivation
alleged must be, objectively, sufficiently serious;" and (2) the
"prison official must have a sufficiently culpable state of
mind." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). In prison
conditions cases, "that state of mind is one of `deliberate
indifference' to inmate health or safety." Id. Under Farmer, deliberate indifference is a subjective
standard in that the prison official must actually have known or
been aware of the excessive risk to inmate safety. Beers-Capitol
v. Whetzel, 256 F. 3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001). This requirement
of actual knowledge means that "the official must both be aware
of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a
substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw
the inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. In Beers-Capitol, it
was also recognized that a defendant's knowledge of a risk can be
proved indirectly by circumstantial evidence.
It is undisputed that Plaintiff was held in a holding cell for
a relatively brief period of time. Branthafer indicates that he
was in the holding cell from January 23, 2001 to January 30,
2001. Defendants assert that the period of confinement lasted
from January 27, 2001 to February 6, 2001. Regardless of which
version is correct, it is undisputed that the period at issue was
less then ten (10) days. The parties acknowledge that at one
point the toilet in the holding cell overflowed. As a result,
clothing, mattresses, sheets, and blankets were removed from the
cell. The water in the holding cell was also shut off. According
to the Defendants, Branthafer and his cellmates were without
uniforms for three (3) days; blankets for five (5) days; and the
water would be turned on at least during every shift (presumably
once every eight hours) to allow the toilet to be flushed. They
add that the cell was heated by a fully operational heater, there
was adequate lighting and showering opportunities. Furthermore, because Branthafer and his cell mates threw food
onto the wall across from their cell on January 27, 2001, they
were thereafter given bag lunches at each mealtime.
Pursuant to the above discussion, there are clearly material
facts in dispute regarding Branthafer's claims that he was
subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement. For
instance, Plaintiff alleges that during the relevant time period
the air conditioning was turned on, while the remaining
Defendants contend that heat was being provided by a fully
operational heater. Such factual differences are clearly material
when attempting to establish whether the Plaintiff was subjected
to intolerable cold while housed in the holding cell during a
winter month without sheets, a mattress, clothing, or blankets.
Based on an application of the Farmer criteria to the record
to date, it is apparent to this Court that a rational trier of
fact could conclude that the totality of the conditions of
Plaintiff's confinement in the holding cell, although relatively
short term could still rise to the level of a constitutional
violation. The request for summary judgment with respect to the
conditions of confinement claims will be denied.
The remaining Defendants' final argument is that since they did
not take any adverse action against the Plaintiff for his
participation in any constitutionally protected activities, he
has failed to prove his claim of retaliation. Branthafer's
complaint claims that the unconstitutional treatment which he purportedly received
in January, 2001 was in "retaliation of seeking legal help about
my eye." Record document no. 1, ¶ IV (2).
It is well settled that retaliation for the exercise of a
constitutional right is "a violation of rights secured by the
Constitution." White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 111-12 (3d Cir.
1990). In Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 224-25 (3d Cir.
2000), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Court of Appeals stated, "government actions, while standing
alone do not violate the Constitution, may nonetheless be
constitutional torts if motivated in substantial part by a desire
to punish an individual for the exercise of a constitutional
right," (quoting Thaddeus-X v. Blanter, 175 F.3d 378, 386
(6th Cir. 1999) (en banc)). Thus, a prisoner litigating a
retaliation claim need not prove that he had an independent
liberty interest in the privileges that he was denied. Allah,
229 F.3d at 225.
A prisoner-plaintiff must initially prove that the conduct
which led to the alleged retaliation was constitutionally
protected. Rauser v. Horn, 241 F.3d 330, 333 (3d Cir. 2001). He
must then show he suffered some "adverse action" at the hands of
prison officials. Id. This requirement is satisfied by
demonstrating that the action "was sufficient to deter a person
of ordinary firmness from exercising his [constitutional]
rights." Allah, 229 F.3d at 225.
Once these two threshold criteria are met, the prisoner must
prove a causal link between the exercise of the constitutional
right and the adverse action against him. Rauser added that once a prisoner demonstrates that his
exercise of a constitutional right was a substantial or
motivating factor in the challenged decision, the prison
officials may still prevail by proving that they would have made
the same decision absent the protected conduct for reasons
reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. Id. at
In the present case, Plaintiff acknowledges that he was placed
in a holding cell for talking with two other inmates. See doc.
63, Affidavit ¶ 19. He further admits that the same punishment
was given to the other inmates. Branthafer also admits that he
and his cell mates accidentally overflowed the toilet in the
holding cell. Id. at ¶ 24. Based on the Plaintiff's own
admissions, it is apparent that his holding cell placement was
caused by his alleged commission of a disciplinary infraction and
would have occurred notwithstanding his jailhouse lawyering
activities. See Carter v. McGrady, F. 3d. (3d Cir. 2002).
Likewise, it is equally apparent that the deprivation of
clothing, mattresses, running water, and sheets would not have
taken place if the toilet in the holding cell had not overflowed.
Whether the toilet's malfunctioning was intentional or accidental
is immaterial for purposes of analyzing Branthafer's retaliation
claim. The crucial point is that the challenged actions took
placed in response to an overflow of water within the holding
cell, and not as the result of some retaliatory motive. Based on an application of Rauser to the undisputed facts, it
is apparent that the remaining Defendants are entitled to entry
of summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's speculative claim
This Court's September 17, 2003 Memorandum and Order concluded
that "Plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to warrant a
trial on the question of whether corrections officers employed
such force as to be `repugnant to the conscience of mankind.'"
Doc. 37, p. 17. The remaining Defendants' present summary
judgment motion does not address Plaintiff's excessive force
claims. Those claims will proceed.
Failure To Intervene
Plaintiff also claims that some of the named Defendants failed
to "protect me from the others throwing me head first into the
visiting room." Doc. 1, p ¶ IV (4). In the September 17, 2003
Memorandum and Order, this Court stated that "[p]ursuant to the
reasoning set forth by this Court with respect to the Plaintiff's
allegations of excessive force, these related claims of failure
to protect shall likewise proceed." Id. at p. 23. The remaining
Defendants' pending motion does not claim entitlement to summary
judgment with respect to this allegation. Thus, it will also
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT: 1. The remaining Defendants' motion requesting entry
of summary judgment (doc. 56) is granted in part.
2. The Defendants' motion for summary judgment is
granted with respect to the claims that: (1) Nurse
Hoffmaster was deliberately indifferent to
Plaintiff's medical needs; and (2) the Plaintiff was
subjected to retaliatory misconduct.
3. A Pre-trial conference shall be held on January 3,
2006, at a time to be determined, with respect to
Branthafer's surviving claims.
4. This case shall be placed on the Court's February
2006 trial term.
5. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants' Second
Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 59) is denied as
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