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Porter v. King

August 3, 2009

ROBERT R. PORTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
A. KING, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter involves a claim by Plaintiff Robert R. Porter (hereinafter "Plaintiff" or "Porter"), a former prison inmate, that corrections officers Defendants Aaron King, William Orenbaun II and Charles Connor (hereinafter "Defendants" or "King," "Orenbaun," and/or "Connor") used excessive force against him in violation of his constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment while he was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene (hereinafter "SCI-Greene") in Greene County, Pennsylvania. A non-jury trial of this claim was conducted on February 17, 18 and 19, 2009 before the undersigned Judge. After the conclusion of the trial, the parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. (Docket Nos. 155, 157). Upon consideration of the trial record and the parties' submissions, and based on the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, judgment will be entered in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT

The Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. FED.R.CIV.P. 52.

A. Procedural History

This action was filed by Plaintiff pro se on August 17, 2004 (Docket No. 1) and the matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan. Judge Lenihan granted Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, and his Complaint was filed on September 9, 2004. (Docket No. 3). Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint on October 26, 2004. (Docket No. 8).

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contained two section 1983 claims against several corrections officers at SCI-Greene and their supervisors, alleging that they violated his constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment. Id. The claims arose from alleged incidents which occurred on separate dates, September 16, and September 26, 2002. Id. The September 16, 2002 count alleged that Defendants King and Orenbaun used excessive force against him by removing him from his cell and engaging him in a fight. Id. Plaintiff also alleged that Defendant Connor facilitated their use of force by opening his cell after being directed by King and Orenbaun to do so, permitting King and Orenbaun to engage Plaintiff. Id.; (see also Docket No. 78). The September 26, 2002 count alleged that Defendant King used excessive force against Plaintiff while King was escorting Plaintiff to the law library and that Sergeant Durco failed to intervene and protect him from King's use of force. Id. Plaintiff further alleged that Sergeant Durco, unit manager Defendant Capozza, Lieutenant Ball, and Sergeant Negley failed to adequately train Defendants King and Orenbaun as corrections officers. Id.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss both claims. (Docket Nos. 28, 29). Magistrate Judge Lenihan filed a Report & Recommendation on October 24, 2006, recommending that the motion be denied. (Docket No. 36). No objections to the Report and Recommendation were filed and Judge Thomas M. Hardiman entered an order adopting it as his opinion and denying the motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 37).

On May 7, 2007, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff filed his response to same on May 21, 2007. (Docket Nos. 70, 73, 74). Thereafter, Magistrate Judge Lenihan filed a Report & Recommendation on October 30, 2007, recommending that the motion for summary judgment be granted. (Docket No. 78). Plaintiff filed objections to the Report & Recommendation on November 13, 2007. (Docket Nos. 79, 81). Then, on December 17, 2007, this Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment except as to Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Defendants Connor, King and Orenbaun for the alleged incident on September 16, 2002. (Docket No. 89).

On March 31, 2008, Judge Lenihan granted Plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel. (Docket No. 93). Plaintiff then elected to have his case randomly assigned to a United States District Judge (Docket No. 95) and this case was referred to the undersigned Judge (Docket No. 102). After a series of attorneys declined requests to represent Plaintiff in this matter, Kristi L. Johnson, Esquire accepted a pro bono appointment to represent Plaintiff at trial and entered her appearance on September 12, 2008. (Docket No. 103). Co-counsel Robert J. Ridge, Esquire entered his appearance on September 18, 2008. (Docket No. 106).

Prior to the trial, the parties submitted joint factual stipulations and joint exhibits to be used at trial. (Docket Nos. 136, 143). The Court also ruled on several motions in limine, and resolved objections to the disputed exhibits. (Docket Nos. 138, 142). After pretrial proceedings were concluded, Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Defendants Connor, King and Orenbaun stemming from the alleged September 16, 2002 incident was tried before this Court on February 17, 18, and 19, 2009. (Docket Nos. 142, 143, 148-52). Proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law followed. (Docket Nos. 155, 157). The Court now turns to its findings.

B. Factual Findings

1. Witnesses and General Description of SCI-Greene

On September 16, 2002, Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Special Management Unit (hereinafter, the "SMU") at SCI-Greene in Greene County, Pennsylvania, a maximum-security facility. Tr. 2/19/09 at 59. The SMU is a unit for severely problematic inmates that cannot function in the general population of SCI-Greene due to assaultive behavior and/or have had numerous misconduct charges filed against them by prison staff. Tr. 2/19/09 at 37. Plaintiff was held by the Department of Corrections (hereinafter, the "DOC") in custody level 5, the most confined level of custody where an inmate can be held. Tr. 2/19/09 at 39. Inmates in custody level 5 are segregated and restricted to their cells for as much as 23 hours per day. Id. Plaintiff was housed at the SMU at SCI-Greene on H-block, B pod, a two-level housing unit that contained 24 cells. Joint Exhibit 39. He was incarcerated in cell number 10, which was a single cell located on the first floor. Tr. 2/17/09 at 16. Plaintiff testified regarding his version of the events that occurred on September 16, 2002 as well as his general experiences at SCI-Greene. His testimony was not credible.*fn1

Defendant Connor was employed by the DOC from 1995 until 2008.*fn2 Tr. 2/17/09 at 105. On September 16, 2002, he was a corrections officer one (hereinafter, "CO1")*fn3 assigned to the control room on H-block in the SMU. Tr. 2/17/09 at 107. The control room was located on the second floor of H-block and overlooked the A, B, C and D pods. Tr. 2/18/09 at 152. Among other duties, Connor was responsible for overseeing the movement of inmates in the A, B, C, and D pods as well as locking and unlocking the inmates' cell doors when they were escorted to and from their cells. Id.; Tr. 2/17/09 at 107-8. He testified credibly.

Defendant King has been employed by the DOC since 1999 through the present. Tr. 2/17/09 at 126. On the date of the incident, he was a CO1 and was assigned to the H-block, B-pod, the pod where Plaintiff was housed. Tr. 2/17/09 at 127. His duties were the control, care and custody of the inmates in B-pod, including escorting the inmates to the showers to permit them to use the showering facilities. Tr. 2/17/09 at 127-28. He testified regarding his version of the events at issue and the subsequent investigation. His testimony was credible.

Defendant Orenbaun has been employed by the DOC since 2000 through the present. Tr. 2/17/09 at 186. On the date in question, he was also a CO1. Id. While he was primarily assigned to the H-block, A-pod, an adjacent pod to the B-pod, he assisted the corrections officers in the other pods when needed, including assisting Defendant King by helping to escort inmates in H-block, Bpod to the showers. Tr. 2/18/09 at 11-12. He offered credible testimony regarding the events and the subsequent investigation.

Witness Andre Jacobs is a former inmate at SCI-Greene who remains in the custody of the DOC. Tr. 2/18/09 at 36-7. On September 16, 2002, he was incarcerated in H-block, B-pod in the SMU at SCI-Greene. Tr. 2/18/09 at 38. He testified regarding the alleged events of that date. His testimony was not credible given his bias in favor of Plaintiff and against the DOC as well as the inconsistencies in his testimony as compared to Plaintiff's.

Witness David Serrano is also a former inmate at SCI-Greene who remains in the custody of the DOC. Tr. 2/18/09 at 70. He was incarcerated in H-block, B-pod in the SMU at SCI-Greene on the date of the alleged events. Tr. 2/18/09 at 63-4. He offered testimony regarding the events of that date. His testimony was not credible due to his bias against the DOC, and the inconsistencies between his testimony and the DOC's cell history records.

Witness Brian Coleman has been employed by the DOC for over 20 years. Tr. 2/18/09 at 99-100. He is currently the correctional superintendent at SCI-Fayette. Tr. 2/18/09 at 99. He was a security captain at SCI-Fayette on September 16, 2002. Tr. 2/18/09 at 102-3. His duties as security captain included handling internal investigations of inmate abuse. Id. He testified credibly regarding the investigation of the abuse ...


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