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Conklin v. Venango County Prison

August 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Baxter



A. Relevant Procedural and Factual History

On March 10, 2008, Plaintiff Gerald Conklin, a prisoner formerly incarcerated as a pretrial detainee at the Venango County Prison in Franklin, Pennsylvania,*fn1 filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following Defendants: Venango County Prison "(VCP"); Mr. Smith, Warden at VCP ("Smith"); Foster Lyles, Chief Deputy Warden at VCP ("Lyles"); Ms. Emigh, corrections officer at VCP ("Emigh"); Ms. Morrison, corrections officer at VCP ("Morrison"); Mr. Hunter, corrections officer at VCP ("Hunter"); Corporal Taylor, staff corporal at VCP ("Taylor"); Sgt. Buchannan, staff sergeant at VCP ("Buchannan"); and Mr. Winters, corrections officer at VCP ("Winters"). [Document # 8]. Plaintiff later filed an amended complaint, essentially removing VCP as a Defendant and replacing it with the Venango County Prison Board of Directors ("VCP Board").*fn2

In his pro se Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, while incarcerated at VCP, he was placed in a housing unit with an inmate named Jesse Wolfgang ("Wolfgang"), who had allegedly been diagnosed as having permanent physical and psychological damage that allegedly caused him to "act[] out in periods of violent distemper." (Document # 8, "Formal Statement of Complaint," at p. 1). Plaintiff claims that, on or about April 25, 2007, he was "cleaning A block" when Wolfgang began screaming at him. According to Plaintiff, Defendants Emigh, Morrison, Hunter, and Taylor, "came on the block to find out what Mr. Wolfgang's problem was," and allegedly overheard Wolfgang state that "he was going to kill and beat the crap out of the plaintiff." (Id. at p. 2). Plaintiff claims that he also "informed the guards of the problem, but still nothing was done to protect the well being of the plaintiff." (Id.). Apparently later that same day, after dinner, Wolfgang entered Plaintiff's cell "at a time when the said guards ... are suppose [sic] to secure cell doors for block cleaning, which never happened, and resulted in Mr. Wolfgang willfully causing bodily injury, as well as, permanent disfigurement to the Plaintiff, by punching the plaintiff in the face and slamming his facial area ... into the steel metal desk located in the ... cell." (Id. at p. 1). As a result, Wolfgang was arrested and charged with assaulting another inmate, and Plaintiff was taken to the local hospital and treated "for several injuries." (Id.).

Plaintiff claims that "[a]ll of the incident could have been prevented by staff of the Venango County Prison doing the proper procedures to prevent this from happening and listening to the plaintiff and the situation at the time." (Id. at p. 2). Thus, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. As relief for his claim, Plaintiff seeks an award of monetary damages "for pain and suffering as well as permanent disfigurement." (Complaint at Section VI).

On February 13, 2009, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment [Document # 35], arguing that Plaintiff has admitted that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and in any event, has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff has filed several responses to Defendant's motion claiming that he did not need to file any grievances pertaining to his claim, and essentially restating the allegations of his complaint. [Document ## 40, 43, 44, 45]. The parties have consented to having a United States Magistrate Judge exercise jurisdiction over this matter. [Document ## 2, 28]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Standards of Review

1. Motion to Dismiss

Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a pleading must set forth a claim for relief which contains a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will prevail at the end but only whether he should be entitled to offer evidence to support his claim. Neitzke; Scheuer v. Rhodes, 419 U.S. 232 (1974). As the United States Supreme Court recently held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), a complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, ___, ___ S.Ct. ___, ___ 2009 WL 1361536 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act). The court must accept as true all allegations of the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). The Court, however, need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

2. Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(e) further provides that when a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party." Id.

A district court may grant summary judgment for the defendant when the plaintiff has failed to present any genuine issues of material fact. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Krouse v. American Sterilizer Co., 126 F.3d 494, 500 n.2 (3d Cir. 1997). The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership Composed of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3d Cir. 1990). Further, "[R]ule 56 enables a party contending that there is no genuine dispute as to a specific, essential fact 'to demand at least one sworn averment of that fact before the lengthy process of litigation continues.'" Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990) quoting Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990).

The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3d Cir. 1989)(the non-movant must present affirmative evidence - more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance -which supports each element of his claim to defeat a properly presented motion for summary judgment). The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show specific facts by affidavit or by information contained in the filed documents (i.e., depositions, ...

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