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Henderson v. Kerns-Barr

May 21, 2008

ELLA MAE HENDERSON, PLAINTIFF
v.
MRS. KERNS-BARR AND OFFICER RIPPEY, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

This is a § 1983 civil rights actionin which plaintiff Ella Mae Henderson ("Henderson"), a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, asserts that two prison officials violated her due process rights and subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment. Defendants Hearing Examiner L.S. Kerns-Barr ("Kerns-Barr") and Corrections Officer Brenda Rippey ("Rippey") move for summary judgment with respect to these claims. (See Doc. 27.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment, and will close this case.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

The dispute in this case centers around an encounter between Henderson and Rippey that occurred on the afternoon of January 23, 2006. On that date, Rippey was posted outside of the prison infirmary and was monitoring the inmate medication line. (Doc. 30 ¶ 4; Doc. 41 ¶ 4.)*fn2 When Henderson entered the line to receive her medication, Rippey approached her to inquire about whether she was wearing her state-issued brown t-shirt. Henderson replied that she was and opened her coat to show the t-shirt to Rippey. (Doc. 41 ¶ 6; Doc. 50 at 4.)

Thereafter, the parties' accounts diverge markedly. Henderson alleges that she simply asked Rippey's name before calmly entering the infirmary to receive her medication. (Doc. 41 ¶¶ 7, 9; Doc. 1 at 2.) Rippey alleges that Henderson ran toward her in a threatening manner with her fists clenched. When she came within one foot of Rippey, Henderson screamed, "What the hell is your name? I'm fucking sick of this shit." (Doc. 30 ¶ 5.)Fearing that Henderson was about to assault her, Rippey stepped back and assumed a defensive position. She then gave Henderson direct orders to retrieve her medication and return to her housing unit. Henderson complied only after receiving the third such order. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.)

Rippey memorialized her version of the events in a misconduct report that charged Henderson with: (1) threatening an employee or his or her family with bodily harm, (2) using abusive, obscene or inappropriate language to an employee, and (3) refusing to obey an order. (Doc. 30 ¶ 8; Doc. 41 ¶ 8.) Henderson was placed in administrative confinement pending a disciplinary hearing on the misconduct report. (Doc. 30, Ex. A.) That hearing was conducted on January 25, 2006 by Kerns-Barr. (Doc. 30 ¶ 9; Doc. 41 ¶ 9.) Henderson pled not guilty to all charges and testified on her own behalf. (Doc. 30, Ex. C.) Henderson also requested permission to present other witnesses, but her request was denied because Kerns-Barr determined that additional witnesses were "not necessary to establish guilt or innocence." (Id.) During the hearing, Kerns-Barr reviewed surveillance camera footage of the incident. (Id.) Finding the footage inconclusive, Kerns-Barr credited Rippey's version of the events, found Henderson guilty, and sentenced her to ninety days' disciplinary custody. (Id.; Doc. 30 ¶ 10; Doc. 41 ¶ 10.) Henderson appealed the decision to the program review committee and to the prison superintendent. The decision was affirmed on both levels of review. (Doc. 30 ¶ 11; Doc. 41 ¶ 11.)*fn3

On May 23, 2007, Henderson filed the instant action, alleging that Rippey and Kerns-Barr violated her due process rights and subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment.*fn4 (See Doc. 1.) On December 7, 2007, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, alleging that Henderson has failed to prove that she suffered an unconstitutional deprivation of rights. (See Doc. 27.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.*fn5

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact" and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). 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

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

Id. Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but merely a method to vindicate violations of federal law committed by state actors. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To establish a claim under this section, a plaintiff must show a deprivation of a "right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States . . . by a person acting under color of state law."*fn6 Id. (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).

In the instant case, Henderson alleges that defendants violated her due process rights and subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment. The ...


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