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Robinson v. Onstott

February 14, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lisa Pupo Lenihan U.S. Magistrate Judge

Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan


Darrin Robinson, (Plaintiff) is a state prisoner who filed a civil rights suit asserting an Eighth Amendment violation based on the Defendants' alleged failure to protect him from a prisoner assault. All defendants except one, Robert Onstott, have been granted summary judgment on the basis of Plaintiff's failure to have exhausted his available administrative remedies by failing to name them in his initial grievance filed pursuant to the administrative remedies provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim. An appropriate order follows.

A. Standard of Review - Summary Judgment

Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant have filed motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 56 (doc. nos. 46 & 48). 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). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying evidence that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. 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). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). The inquiry, then, involves determining " 'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.' " Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097, 1111 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1218 (1991) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). If a court concludes that "the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative," then summary judgment may be granted.

Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

B. Material Facts

Instantly, the parties dispute the legal significance of essentially undisputed facts. Namely, they dispute whether Defendant Onstott was deliberately indifferent to a known risk of harm when he followed DOC policy of removing handcuffs from RHU prisoners one at a time after they were locked into outside exercise cages. The following are the relevant facts.

In June of 2002, Plaintiff was an inmate in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) at SCI-Pittsburgh. The RHU houses inmates in Administrative Custody (AC) (inmates believed to be a danger to persons in the institution) and those in Disciplinary Custody (DC) (inmates found guilty of misconducts). Inmates in the RHU are more violent than those in general population; they already are in prison for breaking the rules and cannot conform their behavior while serving their time. Consequently, violence in the RHU is not uncommon.

Allowing prisoners the opportunity to exercise in prison is required both by the United States Constitution and DOC policy. In the RHU, DOC practice requires inmates to undergo a complete strip search prior to being allowed outside into the exercise cages.*fn1 Specifically, inmates are required to remove all of their clothing in their cell while they are observed through a window by a guard standing outside. Their clothing is given to the guard who pats it down before giving it back to the inmate. After the inmate is clothed, he is handcuffed and escorted to the exercise cages where up to four or five inmates are placed inside each one. Placement inside the cages typically is governed by the order of the inmates coming into the yard following their strip search. After all of the inmates are locked inside the cage, an RHU guard removes the inmates' handcuffs one at a time through an opening in the exercise cage door; there is only one opening per cage. The first inmate to the door gets his handcuffs removed first. After the handcuffs are removed, the inmate is supposed to go to the back of the cage while the rest of the inmates' cuffs are removed.

On June 26, 2002, Plaintiff and inmate Keith Cooper both were housed in AC in the RHU. On that date, both inmates requested to be taken to exercise in one of the outside exercise cages. When Defendant Onstott came into the yard, inmates Robinson and Cooper, along with two other inmates, were locked into exercise cage EY-01. When Defendant came to the cage to remove handcuffs, inmate Cooper was closest to the door. Defendant Onstott proceeded to remove Cooper's handcuffs. Before Onstott could remove the next inmate's handcuffs, Cooper attacked Plaintiff with a homemade shank made from a broken piece of a plastic food tray. Cooper repeatedly stabbed Plaintiff who was unable to protect himself because his handcuffs had not been removed. Plaintiff suffered stab wounds to the face, neck, arms and hands before the guards were able to enter the cage and subdue Cooper. Plaintiff suffered injuries serious enough to require that he be taken to a hospital for treatment. It was later determined by DOC personnel that Defendant Cooper had hidden the shank in a wrist guard and that he had pretended to be friendly towards Plaintiff in order to set him up for attack due to a rivalry between North and South Philadelphia gangs.

C. Liability under Section 1983

Plaintiff's complaint seeks recovery under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must meet two threshold requirements: 1) the alleged misconduct must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law; and 2) the defendants' conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor, 45 ...

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