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Barndt v. Pucci

March 3, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Thomas Barndt ("Plaintiff" or "Barndt"), a state inmate currently housed at the Dallas State Correctional Institution ("SCI-Dallas"), Dallas, Pennsylvania, commenced this pro se action with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that, on June 22, 2004, Defendant Michael Pucci ("Defendant" or "Pucci"), a corrections officer employed by SCI-Dallas, hit Plaintiff in the face and slammed his face into a wall four to five times while Plaintiff was handcuffed behind his back. (Dkt. Entry 1 at 2, Section IV, ¶ 1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant then falsely charged him with assault. (Id.) He asserts an Eighth Amendment claim for excessive use of force and a due process claim with respect to discipline he received for a misconduct charge resulting from his encounter with Defendant Pucci. Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, and exemplary damages as well as a transfer to a correctional institution closer to his five grandchildren in Lebanon County. (Id. at 3.)

Presently pending is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. Entry 47.) For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied as to the excessive use of force claim, but granted as to the due process claim.

II. Statement of Facts

On June 22, 2004, as inmates at SCI-Dallas were returning from their morning meal, Pucci and Corrections Officer Ronald Pruitt were monitoring them to ensure that they properly returned to their cells. (Dkt. Entry 49, Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 4; Exh. 1, Pucci Decl., ¶ 7; Exh. 2, Pruitt Decl., ¶ 7.) When inmates return from their morning meal, they are allowed to bring one piece of fruit from the cafeteria to their cells. (Dkt. Entry 49, ¶ 5; Exh. 1, ¶ 8 (citing Inmate Handbook, Section H, ¶ 7 g., attached as Exh. A to Exh. 1.)) As the inmates returned to their cells, Pucci and Pruitt performed random checks of the inmates. (Id., ¶ 6; Exh. 1, ¶ 9; Exh. 2, ¶ 8.) Department of Corrections Policy DC-ADM 203 provides that every inmate is subject to search at any time and that staff may conduct pat searches in any area of the facility. (Id., ¶ 7; Exh. 1, ¶ 10 (citing DC- ADM 203, page 6, Section G, attached as Exh. B to Exh. 1.)) During a search, an inmate is required to remove all items from his or her pockets and place them in a suitable place. The inmate is to stand still with his or her feet apart and arms extended outward, palms upward, and follow the verbal direction of the staff member conducting the search. (Id., ¶ 7; Exh. 1, ¶ 11 (citing Exh. B, page 6, Section G, 1.))

As Barndt returned to his cell, he was wearing a winter coat. (Id., ¶ 8; Exh. 1, ¶ 12.) Pucci contends that he noticed a large container in Barndt's pocket, and therefore asked Barndt to stop at a desk. (Id.; Exh. 1, ¶ 13.) Pruitt also noticed a large bulge in Barndt's pocket. (Id.; Exh. 2, ¶ 10.) Barndt admits that he had an ice cream container containing dry cereal in his left coat pocket. (Dkt. Entry 55, Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 8.) Barndt began walking up the steps to his cell, but returned after Pucci again requested that he come back to the desk. (Dkt. Entry 49, ¶ 8, 9; Exh. 1, ¶¶ 15-16; Exh. 2, ¶¶ 11-12; Dkt. Entry 55, ¶ 8.) Barndt contests Pucci's averment that Barndt then yelled "Stop fucking with me." (Dkt. Entry 49, ¶ 9; Exh. 1, ¶ 17; Exh. 2, ¶ 13; Dkt. Entry 55, ¶ 9.) Pucci contends that he told Plaintiff to calm down and asked him what was in his coat, but Barndt continued to scream at Pucci to leave him alone. (Dkt. Entry 49, ¶ 9; Exh. 1, ¶ 18; Exh. 2, ¶ 14.) Pucci then informed Barndt of the rules and regulations and again told him to calm down. (Id., ¶ 10; Exh. 1, ¶ 19.) Barndt denies that Pucci informed him of the rules and regulations. (Dkt. Entry 55, ¶ 10.)

The version of the events that next transpired differ markedly. Pucci's version is as follows:

When Barndt arrived at the desk, Pucci advised him to take off his coat, place it on the desk, and put his hands on the wall near the desk to be searched. (Dkt. Entry 49, ¶ 11; Exh. 1, ¶ 20; Exh. 2, ¶ 15.) Plaintiff put his coat on the desk and yelled, "Why don't you fuck with the blacks?" which prompted Pucci to again tell Plaintiff to calm down and comply with his order. (Id., ¶ 12; Exh. 1, ¶¶ 21-22.) Pucci then told Plaintiff to face the wall and put his hands on the wall to be searched. (Id., ¶ 13; Exh. 1, ¶ 23.) Plaintiff faced the wall and put his hands on it, but as Pucci approached him, he kept turning around, taking his hands off the wall and yelling not to take his stuff; therefore, Pucci directed Plaintiff to remain facing the wall and to keep his hands on the wall. (Id., ¶ 15; Exh. 1, ¶¶ 24, 25.) As Pucci went to search Barndt's coat, Barndt turned and came at Pucci without provocation (Id., Exh. 2, ¶ 18) wildly swinging his hands and arms at Pucci. (Id., ¶ 16; Exh. 1, ¶ 26.) As a result, Pucci took a defensive stance and blocked Plaintiff's strikes. (Id., ¶ 16; Exh. 1, ¶ 27; Exh. 2, ¶ 19.)

At that point, Corrections Officer Pruitt called the Control Center to inform the officers there that Pucci had been assaulted. (Id., ¶ 16; Exh. 1, ¶ 28; Exhibit 2, ¶ 20.) Pucci grabbed Barndt's hand and made him stand with his body against the wall, but Barndt continued to struggle. (Id., ¶ 17; Exh. 1, ¶¶ 29, 30.) Pruitt then assisted Pucci in handcuffing Barndt with his hands behind his back and held him against the wall until help arrived. (Id., ¶ 18; Exh. 1, ¶ 31; Exh. 2, ¶ 21.) A few minutes after Pruitt contacted the Control Center, Lieutenant McClosky and other Corrections Officers arrived to assist. (Id., ¶ 20; Exh. 1, ¶ 33; Exh. 2, ¶ 23; Exh. 3, McClosky Decl., ¶¶ 10-11.) McClosky and Corrections Officer Yale escorted Barndt to the SCI-Dallas Infirmary. (Id., 21; Exh. 1, ¶ 34; Exh. 2, ¶ 24; Exh. 3, ¶ 12.)

In contrast, Barndt sets forth the following version of events:

After Pucci directed Barndt to stop walking to his cell and to return to the desk, Barndt placed the ice cream container on the desk and Pucci remarked that Barndt was "trying to get fucking smart with him," and then told Barndt to put his coat on the desk and hands against the wall. (Dkt. Entry 55, ¶ 11). Barndt never yelled or said "Why don't you fuck with the blacks?" (Id., ¶ 12.) After Barndt told Pucci that there was just dry cereal in the container, Pucci told him to face the wall. (Id., ¶ 13.) Barndt put his hands on the wall and then was handcuffed behind his back. (Id., 14.) Barndt did not yell or say not to take his stuff because he already had given Pucci the cereal container and all he had left were a couple of ketchup packets. (Id., ¶ 15.) Barndt did not swing his arms and fists wildly or in any other way. (Id., ¶ 16.) Barndt already was handcuffed when Pucci slammed his head against the wall. (Id.) After Pucci slammed Barndt's head against the wall, Barndt turned his head and saw Officer Pruitt making a phone call to the Control Center. (Id.)

The facts submitted by each party surrounding Barndt's treatment in the infirmary also differ considerably. Pucci's version of the facts is as follows:

At the SCI-Dallas Infirmary, Registered Nurse Scott Thomas examined Plaintiff. (Dkt. Entry 49, 23; Exh. 3, ¶ 14; Exh. 4, Thomas Decl., ¶ 7.) During the examination, Thomas noticed that Barndt had a small "pea-sized" abrasion on his right cheek that was bleeding slightly. (Id., Exh. 4, ¶¶ 7, 8.) Barndt denied having any other injuries, and Thomas did not note any. (Id.. Exh. 4, ¶ 9.)Barndt was very hostile to Thomas during the examination, refused to have his vital signs taken, and denied experiencing any pain. (Id., Exh. 4, ¶¶ 10, 12.) Thomas treated Barndt's abrasion by cleansing it with peroxide and water followed by ...

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