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Sharp v. Johnson

December 28, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hay, Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, Shawn C. Sharp, an inmate previously confined at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (SCIP), commenced this civil action against various officials and/or employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) at SCIP and/or the State Correctional Institution at Greene, located in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, where Plaintiff now is confined. Plaintiff asserts that he is a practicing member of the Muslim faith. He complains that the Defendants have refused to provide him with religious accommodation, specifically, Sunni Muslim services and practices.

Plaintiff seeks to assert liability against the Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn1 , claiming that the Defendants have: (1) violated his right to the free exercise of his religion as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) violated his right to the free exercise of his religion as protected through the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000cc, et seq.; (3) violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; and (4) violated the Fourteenth Amendment due to his confinement in administrative custody*fn2 for nearly thirty months.

In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, the parties consented to have a United States magistrate judge conduct all proceedings in this case, including the entry of a final judgment.*fn3

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 70) as to Plaintiff's third and fourth claims. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 56(c). Summary judgment may be granted against a party who fails to adduce facts sufficient to establish the existence of any element essential to that party's case, and for which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986) (party can move for summary judgment by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case."). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying evidence that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 464 (3d Cir. 1989)(citing Celotex Corp., supra at 322-24). Once that burden has been met, the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial or the factual record will be taken as presented by the moving party and judgment will be entered as a matter of law. Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986).

Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must meet two threshold requirements. He must allege: (1) that the alleged misconduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that as a result, he was deprived of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986). There is no dispute here that Defendants' actions were done under color of state law. Thus, we turn now to the second threshold requirement.

Eighth Amendment Claim - Cruel and Unusual Punishment Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' actions in confining him in administrative custody for over thirty months amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment*fn4 , which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, guarantees that prison officials must provide humane conditions of confinement. In this respect, prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care, and must "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)).

In order to make out a prima facie case that a prison official's actions violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, an inmate must show two elements. First, a prisoner must show that the condition, either alone or in combination with other conditions, deprived him of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," or at least a "single, identifiable human need." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991) (citing Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). Second, an inmate must demonstrate deliberate indifference to prison conditions on the part of prison officials. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297; Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347. The second prong requires a court subjectively to determine whether the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Id. "[O]nly the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quotation omitted).

Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges that he has a medical condition resulting from gastric surgery that requires him to eat six small meals a day to maintain proper health. He claims that the defendants were aware of such condition and acted with deliberate indifference by keeping him in administrative custody where his dietary needs were not met. He further complains that he was deprived of access to a telephone, denied access to visitors, suffered loss of work opportunities, loss of exercise, denied access to his personal property and art supplies and confined with disciplinary custody inmates. 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 32.

As to Plaintiff's claims concerning the conditions of administrative custody ("AC") per se, his allegations do not state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d. 703 (3d Cir. 1997) (restrictive conditions in administrative custody in the Pennsylvania state correctional institutions, in and of themselves, do not violate the Eighth Amendment).

As to Plaintiff's claim of inadequate dietary needs, the Defendants have filed documentation indicating that Plaintiff was on a medically-approved gastrectomy diet that consisted of small portions of food several times a day. Doc. 70 at Exs. G, H & I. To this end, Plaintiff was given a supplemental food bag in addition to his food tray, three times a day. Id. The content of his food trays and supplemental food bags was directed by the Clinical Dietician in Harrisburg. Id. Thus, even in administrative confinement, Plaintiff received six small meals a day in accordance with his medically-approved diet. Id. Plaintiff's complaint seems to concern the contents of his food trays and food bags. In this regard, however, Plaintiff's allegations do not state a claim of deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. See Ayers v. Uphoff, 1 Fed. Appx. 851, 854, 2001 WL 15543, *2 (10th Cir. 2001)("plaintiff's dissatisfaction ...

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