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Wolfgang v. Smithers

July 21, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure



Remaining Plaintiff Eric John Wolfgang ("Plaintiff") contends that he was subjected to unconstitutional working conditions while employed as an inmate worker in the Laundry Department at the Retreat State Correctional Institution, Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Retreat"). Remaining Defendants are three (3) employees of Correctional Industries ("CI"): Laundry Supervisor Carl Swithers, Director Susan Kuzminski, and President Linda Morrison.*fn1

A telephonic case management conference was conducted by this Court on March 24, 2008. Following the conference, an Order was issued which granted Remaining Defendants leave to file a further summary judgment motion. See Record document no. 261.

On April 3, 2008, Remaining Defendants timely submitted a third motion for summary judgment. See Record document no. 263. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.


Remaining Defendants claim entitlement to entry of summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) Plaintiff cannot prove either the objective or subjective element of a deliberate indifference claim; (2) Defendant Kuzminski had no personal involvement with respect to the conditions which allegedly existed in the SCI-Retreat Laundry Department; and (3) the claims against Defendant Morrison are improperly premised on a theory of respondeat superior.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); See also, Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001).

A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992).

Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. "'Such affirmative evidence -- regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial -- must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.'" Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).

Remaining Defendants' initial summary judgment argument contends that because Wolfgang's sole expert witness has been precluded from testifying as to the cause or nature of his rash, Plaintiff cannot establish that the rash resulted from a condition of confinement (working in the prison laundry) which posed a substantial risk of serious harm. Relying on Oliver v. Bucks Co. Correctional Facility-Warden, 181 Fed. Appx. 287 (3d Cir. 2006), Remaining Defendants assert that since Plaintiff has failed to present medical expert evidence, he cannot establish a causal connection that he was injured as a result of working in the SCI-Retreat laundry. They additionally note that Wolfgang could have chosen to quit his laundry job if he felt that it was adversely affecting his health.*fn2

Plaintiff's opposing brief argues that the request for summary judgment should be denied because there are material facts in dispute with respect to the issue of whether the conditions in the SCI-Retreat laundry were unsafe.

The United States Supreme Court in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), set the standard for determining deliberate ...

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