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VEGA v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

November 4, 2005.

JOSE VEGA, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ET AL., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM CALDWELL, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction.

Jose Vega, an inmate formerly housed at Lewisburg United States Penitentiary ("USP-Lewisburg"), Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,*fn1 filed this pro se civil rights action. Vega avers that on March 14, 2003, while housed at USP-Lewisburg, he assaulted Associate Warden Sniezek with a razor blade during the noon meal. (Doc. 1, Complaint; Doc. 21, Amended Complaint). In retaliation for this attack, Defendants assaulted him and then denied him medical care for his injuries. Vega seeks monetary relief from the following defendants: Warden D. Scott Dodrill, Lt. Knox, Corrections Officer ("CO") Fisher, CO Heaganbach, CO Hummer, CO Edinger, Physician Assistant Navarro, Dr. Noone, and Dr. Bussanich.

  Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment premised upon Vega's alleged failure to properly exhaust his available administrative remedies. Having carefully considered the matter, we find that Vega's claims are procedurally defaulted as he failed, without excuse, to timely file an Administrative Remedy Request pursuant to the procedure set forth in the Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") Administrative Remedy Program challenging his alleged mistreatment. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

  II. Procedural History.

  Vega filed this action on November 1, 2004, (doc. 1), and then filed a supplemental pleading on November 29, 2004. (Doc. 16). After receiving an extension of time to answer or otherwise respond to the Complaint, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, supporting brief and exhibits. (Docs. 35 and 36). Vega then filed an extension of time to respond to Defendants' motion. (Doc. 41).

  On May 31, 2005, Vega filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 43). At the same time, Vega filed "Plaintiff's Brief in Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment" (doc. 44), and "Plaintiff's Opposition and Counter Defense to Defendants' Motion, Brief, Affidavit and Exhibits" (doc. 45). Vega has not filed a brief in support of his Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn2 Defendants filed a response to Vega's motion, noting that his submissions in connection with that motion were briefs in opposition to their motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 46). More than a month later, after Vega was transferred back to the Florence facility, Vega submitted his "Exhibits in Support of his Brief Regarding Exhaustion of Remedies." (Doc. 50). Defendants then filed a Response to his submission. (Doc. 51). On August 23, 2005, Vega filed his "Response to Defendants' Response to File Opposition to his Exhibits Regarding Exhaustion of Administrative Prison Remedies." (Doc. 52). Aware of Vega's claims that he had difficulty obtaining his legal materials and legal research items while at the Springfield medical facility, we will consider all of Vega's opposition materials (docs. 44, 45, 50 and 52) and defendants' responses when resolving this motion. III. Background.

  A. Events of March 14, 2003.

  On March 13, 2003, at approximately 11:24 a.m., Vega assaulted USP-Lewisburg's Associate Warden Sniezek with a razor blade during the noon mainline meal. (Doc. 1, Complaint, and 21-2, Plaintiff's Exhibits in Support of his Amended Complaint). After temporarily holding staff at bay, Plaintiff was subdued and placed in ambulatory restraints and taken to the Lieutenant's office. Defendants Fisher, Hagenbuch, Edinger, Hummer, and Knox held Vega down while Dr. Bussanich injected him with an unknown substance rendering him physically and mentally incapacitated. (Id.) Vega was stripped naked and "assaulted by prison staff for a duration of at least an hour." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff sustained a broken rib, body and head contusions, loss of hearing in his left ear and several abrasions as a result of the attack. (Id. at ¶ 6).

  After the assault, at approximately 11:45 a.m., Vega was escorted to the prison's Health Services Department and examined by Dr. Bussanich. (Doc. 21-3, Inmate Injury Assessment and Followup Report). Although Dr. Bussanich saw the extent of Plaintiff's injuries, he failed to treat or properly document them. (Docs. 1 and 21). Vega was then taken to the Special Housing Unit. (Doc. 21-2, p. 9). PA Navarro examined Vega at approximately 12:00 p.m. (Id. at p. 10). Navarro also ignored, overlooked and failed to document Vega's injuries denying him proper medical treatment.

  Later that day Vega was transported from USP-Lewisburg to neighboring USP-Allenwood. Upon reception staff photographed and documented Vega's injuries. At approximately 2:45 p.m. Plaintiff was medically evaluated and several abrasions were noted on various parts of his body. One contusion and hematoma were also noted on the right side of his forehead. (Id. at pp. 8-14). Minor first aid was administered. (Id. at p. 12).

  B. Vega's Efforts to Exhaust his Administrative Remedies.

  Immediately upon his transfer to USP-Allenwood Vega was placed on "suicide status." (Doc. 44, Plaintiff's Brief in Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment). He remained on suicide status until March 25, 2003, when he was transferred to the United States Medical Center for Prisoners, Springfield, Missouri, for mental-health evaluation and treatment. While there, he wrote a letter to the BOP Legal Department complaining of his recent assault but received no response. Plaintiff also "made informal efforts to execute his complaints by discussing them with `Springfield's' Correctional Counselor, Mr. Cunningham, who advised Vega that because he was seeking compensation — he (meaning Vega) would have to file a Federal Tort Claim." (Doc. 44, Plaintiff's Rebuttal to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, at ¶ 13; and Doc. 45-1, Plaintiff's Opposition and Counter Defense to Defendants' Motion, Brief, Affidavit and Exhibits, p. 8). Plaintiff returned to USP-Allenwood on June 25, 2003. (Doc. 44).

  On or about July 3, 2003, Vega received a "fabricated" misconduct for assaulting USP-Lewisburg's Associate Warden. (Doc. 44). On July 5, 2003, Vega was charged in the Middle District of Pennsylvania with assaulting a corrections employee. These proceeding terminated in February 2005 after Vega plead guilty to the charge.*fn3

  From July 18, 2003, through October 23, 2003, while housed at USP-Allenwood, Vega filed various grievances challenging a variety of issues. (Id. at ¶ 17). In March 2004, Vega filed an administrative tort claim with the BOP regarding the March 14, 2003, assault and his ...


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