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Heleva v. Kunkle

February 21, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is a second motion for summary judgment, filed by defendants Sandra Kunkle ("Officer Kunkle"), David Keenhold ("Keenhold"), Paul Jennings ("Jennings"), Michael Taeberry ("Taeberry") and Gary McFarland ("McFarland"), on plaintiff Daniel Heleva's ("Heleva") Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim. (Docs. 95, 98.) Heleva alleges that defendants failed to protect him from an attack by another inmate resulting in a serious neck injury. Defendants counter that judgment should be entered in their favor because Heleva failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The court agrees, and will grant the motion.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

Heleva alleges that, on July 14, 2002, while incarcerated at Monroe County Correctional Facility ("MCCF"), he was attacked by another inmate and rendered unconscious. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 12-14.) Officer Kunkle was in charge of the Unit when Heleva was attacked. (Doc. 97 ¶ 4.) Prior to the incident, Officer Kunkle briefly left the Unit. (Doc. 97 ¶ 5.) Officer Kunkle was never more than twenty feet away from the inmates during the time period in question. (Doc. 96 ¶ 12.) Upon witnessing the attack, Officer Kunkle immediately restrained the attacker, called for assistance, and summoned medical assistance from a nurse. (Doc. 97 ¶¶ 14, 16-17; Doc. 100 ¶¶ 14, 16-17.) Upon examination,*fn2 Heleva's neck was red and bruised and the right, back area of his head was painful to the touch. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 4.) Heleva was monitored for the remainder of the day by MCCF personnel who kept him under a fifteen-minute watch to assure that he stayed awake. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 4; Doc. 74 ¶ 8.) The following day, Dr. Prakashschandra Shah ("Dr. Shah"), a medical doctor who provides services to inmates at MCCF (Doc. 18, Exs. B, C), examined Heleva. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 5, Ex. C ¶ 4.) Dr. Shah determined that Heleva had suffered a sprain. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 5, Ex. C ¶ 4.) Dr. Shah then ordered a cervical x-ray and prescribed a muscle relaxer. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 5, Ex. C ¶¶ 5-6.) The x-ray results were negative for fractures.*fn3 (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 5, 24.) Dr. Shah subsequently prescribed a muscle relaxer, an anti-inflammatory and pain medication to treat Heleva's injury. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 6, Ex. C ¶¶ 8-9.) Dr. Shah continued to examine Heleva through September 2004. (Doc. 18, Ex. A at 6, Ex. C ¶ 7; Doc. 73 ¶ 18.)

In July 2004, Heleva commenced the instant action against officials at MCCF, and Dr. Shah, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) The complaint raises Eighth Amendment claims,*fn4 as well as various claims under the Pennsylvania Constitution.*fn5 It seeks an injunction requiring proper diagnosis and treatment and prohibiting defendants and their agents from harassing, threatening, punishing, or retaliating against plaintiff, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

On October 13, 2004, Dr. Shah filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that his diagnosis and treatment of Heleva did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.*fn6 (Doc. 17.) Heleva filed a brief in opposition, contending that Dr. Shah was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. (Doc. 75.) Dr. Shah's motion for summary judgment was granted by order of court dated September 27, 2005. (Doc. 82.)

On August 22, 2005, the remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting, inter alia, that plaintiff did not file grievances or exhaust available administrative remedies for Eighth Amendment claims of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need and serious risk of harm brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 69.) The court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need and with respect to plaintiff's state constitutional claims. (Doc. 94.) The court otherwise denied the motion for summary judgment. The court permitted defendants to file a second motion for summary judgment on the Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim, including any failure-to-exhaust argument. (Doc. 94.) On April 21, 2006, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment and supporting documents. (Docs. 95, 96, 97, 98.) Heleva subsequently filed his opposition. (Docs. 99, 100, 101.) The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue of material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986.) This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e.) Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides: 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 exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In order to exhaust his administrative remedies, Heleva was required to file a grievance raising his present claims against defendants. See Curry v. Scott, 249 F.3d 493, 505 (6th Cir. 2001) (stating that exhaustion requires the inmate to "file a grievance against the person he ultimately seeks to sue"). Defendants properly raised Heleva's failure to exhaust in their answer to the complaint (Doc. 12) and in the instant motion for summary judgment. See Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287, 295 (3d Cir. 2002) (holding that defendants must plead and prove the exhaustion issue as an affirmative defense).

The Third Circuit in Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F. 3d 218, 230 (3d Cir. 2004), held, in a civil rights action that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement includes a procedural default component. The SpruillCourt indicated that federal courts should evaluate a prisoner's procedural default within the applicable prison grievance system, i.e., "in the course of an existing and fully developed grievance," rather than "ascertaining whether a prisoner's undeveloped grievance would be futile." Id. at 231 n.10. Further, the prison's grievance system's procedural requirement may not be imposed in a way that offends the Constitution or federal policy as contained in §1997e(a), and "compliance with the administrative remedy scheme will be satisfactory if it is substantial." Id. at 232 (citation omitted).

The first inquiry, according to Spruill, is whether the plaintiff literally exhausted his administrative remedies, that is, whether there are "further avenues of relief available to him within the prison's inmate grievance process." Id. In the matter sub judice, the MCCF grievance procedure provides for five levels of appeal of a prisoner's ...

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