United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
November 15, 2005.
DION JETTER, Plaintiff
JEFFREY BEARD, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHRISTOPHER CONNER, District Judge
Presently before the court are defendants' motions for summary
judgment (Docs. 62, 66), on the claims of plaintiff Dion Jetter
("Jetter") brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docs. 1, 19).
For the following reasons, the motions will be granted.
I. Statement of Facts*fn1
Jetter, an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional
Institution at Huntingdon ("SCI-Huntingdon"), was placed on
disciplinary status effective January 10, 2001, and was housed in
the Restrictive Housing Unit ("RHU"), a unit utilized by the
Department of Corrections to house inmates who have disciplinary
or behavioral problems. (Doc. 73, p. 15).
According to an Extraordinary Occurrence Report*fn2 dated
August 29, 2001, Jetter smeared the contents of his meal tray
over the window of his RHU cell door and covered it with tissue paper and the liner from his meal
tray. (Doc. 66-4, p. 20). Obstructing the correctional officers'
view into the cell constituted a violation of prison rules.
Consequently, Jetter was twice directed to remove the materials
from the window. He ignored both directives.
During the course of events, Jetter threatened to hurt himself.
The RHU lieutenant contacted the medical department to report
Jetter's threat. A nurse then spoke with Jetter at his cell and
he indicated that he was going to hurt himself with anything in
the cell. (Doc. 73, p. 53). The nurse contacted defendant
Polmueller to inform him of the situation.*fn3 (Doc. 73, p.
58). Based on his prior psychiatric treatment of Jetter,
Polmueller concluded that Jetter was not at risk to harm himself
such that he needed to be placed in a psychiatric observation
cell.*fn4 However, he recommended that objects or property
with which Jetter could attempt to harm himself, such as razors
and cloth, be removed from the cell by the correctional officers.
(Doc. 73, pp. 53, 60-61). Polmueller did not order that Jetter's
cell be stripped. Notably, other than ordering placement in a psychiatric
observation cell, Polmueller had no authority regarding cell
placement or assignment of inmates at SCI-Huntingdon. (Doc. 73,
p. 59). Nor did he have the authority to specify the clothing or
property an inmate could have in the RHU. Only correctional
employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections had such authority. (Doc. 73, p. 59).
A cell extraction team was assembled to achieve the removal of
Jetter from his cell. (Doc. 73, p. 54). When the team gathered
outside the cell, Jetter agreed to be handcuffed and left his
cell without the use of force. He was given an immediate medical
examination which revealed no physical injuries. He requested to
see a psychologist and was informed that Polmueller would see him
the following day. He also complained to the nurse that he did
not have a blanket or mattress in his cell. It was noted in the
medical records that both items were removed from the cell for
security reasons as Jetter had used them to block the cell door.
(Doc. 73, p. 55).
In Jetter's absence, the cell was cleaned and cleared of all
items which could be used to cover the cell door window. Jetter
alleges that Polmueller authorized strip cell
confinement.*fn5 According to Jetter, his cell was stripped
and he was left there nude and remained nude and without basic
necessities for a number of days. Conversely, defendants contend that he was not left nude, or
forced to remain nude in his cell at any time. (Doc. 66, p. 22).
Defendant Polmueller called on Jetter in his cell on August 30,
2001. (Docs. 73, p. 61, Doc. 83, p. 5). Jetter was clothed and
the temperature in the cell was tolerable. (Doc. 73, p. 61).
Jetter denied being suicidal, but requested to be placed on
psychiatric observation so that the deputy warden would have to
come and talk to him about his complaints. (Id.). Polmueller
concluded that it was not necessary for him to be placed in a
psychiatric observation cell. This was the last time Polmueller
rendered treatment to Jetter. (Doc. 73, p. 61).
In November 2001, Jetter filed a "petition for review" in the
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania concerning the above events.
(Doc. 78, p. 4, Doc. 82, p. 9). Although there is no decision in
the record, it appears that this petition was denied.
Thereafter, Jetter filed a grievance concerning the above
events via the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Inmate
Grievance System which provides inmates access to a formal
procedure through which the resolution of problems or other
issues of concern arising during the course of confinement may be
sought. (Doc. 66-4, p. 9). The Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections Administrative Directive (DC-ADM) 804 Part VI in
effect at the time provided that "[g]rievances must be submitted
by an inmate for Initial Review to the Facility Grievance
Coordinator within fifteen (15) working days after the events
upon which the claims are based." (Doc. 66-4, p. 10). Jetter's grievance alleging the August 29, 2001 placement in an
RHU strip cell, which was assigned grievance number 35629, was
not filed until November 8, 2002. (Doc. 66-4, p. 18). "Because
DC-ADM 804 requires prisoners to file a grievance within fifteen
working days after the events upon which the claims were based
and Jetter filed grievance number 35629 more than one year after
the events upon which his claims were based, [the Grievance
Coordinator] rejected his grievance as untimely." (Doc. 66-4, p.
5). Jetter does not dispute that the grievance was untimely and
it is not clear whether the grievance was pursued any further.
Although Jetter represents that he exhausted his administrative
remedies through the available procedures, he has not provided
any supporting documentation to the court. (Doc. 76, p. 1).
II. Standard of Review
"Summary judgment serves as a minimal but important hurdle for
litigants to overcome before presenting a claim to a jury."
Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 314 (M.D. Pa.
2004). Faced with such a motion, the adverse party must produce
affirmative evidence, beyond the disputed allegations of the
pleadings, in support of the claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Corneal
v. Jackson Township, 313 F. Supp. 2d 457, 464 (M.D. Pa. 2003),
aff'd, 94 Fed. Appx. 76 (3d Cir. 2004). "Such affirmative
evidence regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial
must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in
the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance." Saldana v.
Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester,
891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989). Only if this burden is met can the
cause of action proceed. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); EMatsushita Elec. Indus. Co. V. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see FED. R. CIV. P.
A. Motion filed on behalf of defendants Beard, Kyler,
Williamson, Patrick, and Harris
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires prisoners to
present their claims through an administrative grievance process
before seeking redress in federal court. The act specifically
provides as follow:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison
conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any
other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any
jail, prison, or other correctional facility until
such administrative remedies as are available are
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Prisoners must exhaust administrative
remedies as to any claim that arises in the prison setting,
regardless of any limitations on the kind of relief that may be
gained through the grievance process. See Porter v. Nussle,
534 U.S. 516
, 532 (2002): Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731
n. 6 (2001). "[I]t is beyond the power of [any] court . . . to
excuse compliance with the exhaustion requirement." Nyhuis v.
Reno, 204 F.3d 65
, 73 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Beeson v.
Fishkill Corr. Facility, 28 F. Supp. 2d 884, 894-95 (S.D.N.Y.
The PLRA requires not only technical exhaustion of the
administrative remedies, but also substantial compliance with
procedural requirements. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 227-32 (3d Cir. 2004); see also
Nyhuis, 204 F.3d at 77-78. A procedural default by the
prisoner, either through late or improper filings, bars the
prisoner from bringing a claim in federal court. Spruill,
372 F.3d at 227-32.
In the instant case, it is clear that Jetter has procedurally
defaulted his claim because he failed to file his grievance in a
timely fashion.*fn6 It is undisputed that he filed the
grievance more than one year after the events at issue. Moreover,
Jetter has failed to produce any record evidence to show his
exhaustion of administrative remedies. For these reasons, Jetter
has failed to demonstrate compliance with the administrative
exhaustion requirement set forth in § 1997e(a). Consequently,
defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.
B. Motion filed on behalf of defendant Polmueller*fn7
1. Eighth Amendment claim
Although the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and
unusual punishment demands that prison officials do not house
inmates under conditions that deprive them of one or more basic
human needs, Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32, (1993), it does not mandate that prisons be free of
discomfort. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992). "No
static test determines whether conditions of confinement are
`cruel and unusual.' These terms must `draw [their] meaning from
the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a
maturing society.'" Tillery v. Owens, 719 F. Supp. 1256, 1262
(W.D. Pa. 1989) (citing, Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346
(1981)). Conditions that are not cruel and unusual under
contemporary standards are constitutional. Rhodes,
452 U.S. at 348, 101 S.Ct. at 2400.
To sustain an Eighth Amendment claim, the inmate must also show
that the person or persons responsible for the conditions of
confinement acted with "a sufficiently culpable state of mind."
Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). Specifically, an
inmate must prove that the defendant demonstrated "deliberate
indifference" to a serious risk of harm to which the inmate was
exposed. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 836-37 (1994); see
also Ostrander v. Horn, 145 F. Supp. 2d 614, 620 (M.D.Pa.
2001), aff'd, 49 Fed. Appx. 391 (3d Cir. 2002). "[T]he 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." Id. "The question . . . is whether
prison officials, acting with deliberate indifference, exposed a
prisoner to a sufficiently substantial `risk of serious damage to
his future health.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843.
Further, the test "affords considerable latitude to prison
medical authorities in the diagnosis and treatment of the medical
problems of inmate patients. Courts will `disavow any attempt to second guess the propriety or
adequacy of a particular course of treatment . . . which remains
a question of sound professional judgment.'" Little v. Lycoming
County, 912 F.Supp. 809, 815 (M.D. Pa) aff'd, 103 F.3d 691
(1996), citing Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce,
612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir. 1979), quoting Bowring v. Godwin,
551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977).
The pertinent facts reveal that there simply is no evidence
that Polmueller acted with deliberate indifference to Jetter's
basic human needs. On August 29, 2001, Polmueller was advised by
a nurse that Jetter threatened to harm himself. Based upon his
prior treatment of Jetter, Polmueller reasoned that it was not
necessary to see him, but indicated that he would visit with
Jetter the following day. Polmueller also concluded that it was
not necessary to place him in a psychiatric observation cell.
However, as a precaution, he recommended to the correctional
officers that they remove items from the cell with which Jetter
could attempt to harm himself. He did not recommend that Jetter's
cell be stripped. As promised, Polmueller met with Jetter in his
cell the following day. At that time, Polmueller was aware, based
on his review of the medical records, that Jetter's blanket and
mattress had been removed from the cell for security purposes. In
addition, contrary to Jetter's allegation that he was left naked
in a cold cell, Jetter was clothed and the cell was of a
Likewise, there is no evidence that Polmueller exposed Jetter
to a sufficiently substantial risk of serious damage to his
health. Polmueller's recommendation that potentially dangerous
items be removed from Jetter's cell was based on his medical expertise and his experience with Jetter. The court is
compelled to afford considerable latitude to Polmueller's
decisions concerning medical diagnosis and treatment. Further,
such a recommendation reveals Polmueller's concern for Jetter's
health and welfare. It is not indicative of deliberate
Based on the foregoing, defendant's motion for summary judgment
on the eighth amendment claim will be granted.
2. Fourteenth Amendment claim
Changes in confinement of an inmate will result in a
deprivation of "liberty," constituting a potential violation of
the Fourteenth Amendment, when they impose "atypical and
significant hardship . . . in relation to the ordinary incidents
of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 85 (1995);
Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 531 (3d Cir. 2003). However, a
prerequisite for a viable civil rights claim is that the
defendant directed, or knew of and acquiesced in, the deprivation
of plaintiff's federal rights. See Monell v. Dep't of Social
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694-95 (1978); Gay v. Petsock,
917 F.2d 768, 771 (3d Cir. 1990); Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195,
1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). The defendant must have been personally
involved in the events or occurrences that underlie the claim.
See Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257, 270-71 (3d Cir. 2003).
Based on Jetter's allegation in the complaint that Polmueller
authorized his placement in the RHU cell, it was initially
determined that Jetter sufficiently stated a Fourteenth Amendment
cause of action against Polmueller. (Doc. 44). However, with the
expansion of the record, it is clear that Jetter's Fourteenth
Amendment claim lacks merit. Jetter has failed to demonstrate that he was
subjected to a change in confinement. In January 2001, due to
both disciplinary and behavior problems, he was placed on
disciplinary status and assigned to a cell in the RHU. He alleges
that during the time period in question, Polmueller authorized
strip cell confinement. However, the record is completely void of
any reference to strip cell confinement. All indications are that
Jetter's status was not adjusted and that he remained assigned to
the RHU at all times.
Even if Jetter were able to demonstrate that he suffered an
atypical and significant hardship due to a change in his
confinement, in that he was placed in strip cell confinement, he
fails to establish that Polmueller was personally involved in
such a change. With the exception of his limited authority to
direct that an inmate be placed into a psychiatric observation
cell, Polmueller had no authority regarding cell placement or
assignment of inmates at SCI-Huntingdon. Nor did he have the
authority to specify the clothing or property an inmate could
have in the RHU.
Faced with a summary judgment motion, the adverse party must
produce affirmative evidence, beyond the disputed allegations of
the pleadings, in support of the claim. Jetter has not produced
evidence that Polmueller had any involvement in the Department of
Corrections' decision to place Jetter on disciplinary status and
house him in the RHU, or to assign him to strip cell confinement.
Accordingly, Jetter has failed to meet his burden with regard to
this claim. An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
AND NOW, this 15th day of November 2005, upon consideration of
the defendants' motion for summary judgment (Docs. 62, 66), it is
hereby ORDERED that:
1. Plaintiff's motion to strike (Doc. 84) is DENIED.
2. Defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs.
62, 66) are GRANTED.
3. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter JUDGMENT
in favor of defendants and against plaintiff.
4. Any appeal from this order is DEEMED frivolous and
not in good faith. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3).
5. The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this case.
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