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Belcher v. United States

July 25, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure



The plaintiff, a pro se prisoner currently confined at the Federal Medical Center, Lexington, Kentucky ("FMC-Lexington"), filed this action alleging civil rights and Federal Tort Claim Act ("FTCA") claims against several defendants. After we dismissed plaintiff's civil rights claims, only plaintiff's FTCA claim against the United States of America remained. Plaintiff alleges that the United States negligently failed to protect him from an attack from another inmate, which resulted in a significant eye injury. Defendant contends there is no evidence that defendant breached its duty to protect plaintiff, and that even if defendant did breach its duty, such a breach was not the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries.

On November 15, 2006, defendant filed its motion for summary judgment, which is now ripe. For the following reasons, we will grant defendant's motion.


I. Standard of Review

It is appropriate for a court to grant a motion for summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Material facts" are those which might affect the outcome of the suit. Id.; Justofin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004).

"If the nonmoving party has the burden of persuasion at trial, 'the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the court will draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the record in favor of the nonmoving party. Am. Flint Glass Workers Union v. Beaumont Glass Co., 62 F.3d 574, (3d Cir. 1995). The nonmoving party, however, cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment by merely offering general denials, vague allegations, or conclusory statements; rather the party must point to specific evidence in the record that demonstrates that there is a genuine issue as to a material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 32; Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).

II. Statement of Facts

Initially, we note that plaintiff has not substantially challenged defendant's statement of material facts. In an attempt to comply with Local Rule 56.1, plaintiff did file an affidavit responding to defendant's statement of facts, but that document appears only to add facts plaintiff believes are relevant. It does not materially challenge the veracity of defendant's statement of facts. Therefore, defendant's statement of facts are deemed admitted.

Plaintiff's claims arise out of events occurring while he was an inmate of the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In December 2000, plaintiff was involved in a disturbance with another inmate in the dining hall. A third inmate had told plaintiff that the other inmate was spreading rumors about him, which angered the plaintiff. After being questioned about the incident, plaintiff refused to disclose who had spread the rumors, but assured Bureau of Prison ("BOP") officials that he would not act against the other inmate. Nevertheless, plaintiff was placed on administrative detention in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") pending a Special Investigative Services ("SIS") investigation into the incident.

Lieutenant Bunch conducted the investigation and concluded that rumors of Belcher's gambling debts, alleged homosexual activity, and friction with the Rastafarian inmates meant plaintiff could not function on the "compound" (the open inmate population) and as a result he should remain in administrative detention. Bunch recommended that plaintiff be transferred to another facility. As a result of this investigation, the inmate that had spread rumors about the plaintiff was listed as a "keep away from" on plaintiff's "Special Housing Unit Record."

During this same time period, plaintiff was undergoing psychological evaluation by the prison staff regarding his recent placement in the SHU. The psychologist concluded that plaintiff seemed "like the least likely to engage in assaultive behavior or be a victim of ...

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