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Latulas v. Smith

December 22, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Jones)



Joseph Latulas ("Plaintiff" or "Latulas"), an inmate presently confined at the United States Penitentiary, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USP-Lewisburg"), initiated this pro se civil rights action.*fn1 Service of the complaint was previously ordered.

Named as Defendants are the following seventeen (17) USP-Lewisburg officials: Warden Joseph Smith; Lieutenants T. Hooper and M. Rios; Captain Becky Clay; Psychologist T. Lyn; Counselor Tim Ranck; Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Lewis; Treatment Specialist E. Holencik; Associate Wardens T. R. Sniezek and Troy Levi; and Correctional Officers George Kulago, Bruce Heiser, S. Puckey, J. Dressler, T. Crawford, T. Leisenfeld, and H. Gottshell.

Plaintiff initially states that he requested to speak with unidentified correctional staff members while in the prison's shower room on April 20, 2004. Defendant Heiser allegedly responded by directing that tear gas be used against Latulas. According to the complaint, Lieutenant Hooper subsequently sprayed tear gas on Latulas' face and body "causing me to burn all over." (Rec. Doc. 1, ¶ IV(1)). Plaintiff asserts that he was then hogtied by Defendants Heiser, Puckey, Leisenfeld, Crawford, and Kulago and carried to a dry strip cell. During this transfer, those correctional officers purportedly dropped Latulas on the floor a few times and hit his head against a door frame several times. After being placed in the dry strip cell, Plaintiff states that he was thrown face down on a metal bed. The complaint contends that in addition to the tear gas induced burns, Latulas also suffered a bruised right shoulder, wrist lacerations, and the tear gas aggravated his chronic asthma to the point that he suffered an asthmatic attack. He also maintains that Defendant Lewis denied him adequate medical treatment for his injuries.

The second part of the complaint asserts that on June 4, 2004, Latulas became distraught when informed that he was to be placed "in the S.M.U. program" and made "an irrational statement that I would hurt myself." Id. at (2). As a result, Latulas was placed in a strip cell where he was purportedly subjected to verbal harassment and unconstitutional conditions of confinement including denial of meals and showering privileges. He was also placed in physical restraints for several days until he agreed to take a cell mate. While housed in the strip cell on July 1, 2004, Officer Gottshell allegedly provided Plaintiff with a razor and suggested that he commit suicide. Latulas further claims that Defendant Gottshell subjected him to repeated verbal harassment following the April 20, 2004 incident. As relief, Plaintiff seeks removal from the S.M.U. program, a transfer to another federal correctional facility as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

In response to the complaint, Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss or in the alternative for Summary Judgment ("the Motion"). (Rec. Doc. 16). The Motion is unopposed.

Standard of Review:

Defendants' Motion is accompanied by evidentiary materials [documents] outside the pleadings which are relevant for purposes of both determining the issue of administrative exhaustion as well as their alternative arguments. Rule 12(b) provides in part as follows:

If, on a motion asserting the defense numbered (6) to dismiss for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). The Court will not exclude the evidentiary materials [documents] accompanying Defendants' Motion. Thus, their Motion will be treated as solely seeking summary judgment.

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. Discussion:

A. Exhaustion

Defendants' initial argument maintains that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his claims regarding the alleged events of April 20, 2004 and his contention that Correctional Officer Gottshell ...

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