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McClain v. Alveriaz

October 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ronald L. Buckwalter, S.J.


Currently pending before the Court is: (1) a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, filed by Defendant Mark Fishtein, M.D.; (2) a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings by Defendants Sanchez, Alveriaz, Doyle, Shovlin, and Severa; and (3) a Motion to Dismiss by Defendant Thomas. For the reasons which follow, all of the Motions are granted and judgment is entered against Plaintiff on his Amended Complaint.


According to the facts set forth in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Ralph William McClain, Jr. was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, during the time period relevant to this case. (Am. Compl. 1.) At approximately 8:00 a.m. on December 29, 2005, Defendant Sargeant Alveriaz came to Plaintiff's cell and told him he had an appointment to see the psychiatrist, Defendant Mark Fishtein, M.D. (Id. at 14.) Plaintiff responded that he did not feel like going to the infirmary, since it would have entailed being handcuffed and walking in the rain. (Id.) He stated that if Dr. Fishtein wished to speak to him, he would have to come to his cell. (Id.)

Sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., Defendant Correctional Officer ("C.O.") Huesby went around to each cell with a shower list and Plaintiff requested that his name be added. (Id.) Defendant C.O. Shovlin and Sgt. Alveriaz came to Plaintiff's cell at around 9:30 to 9:45 a.m. and told him it was time for his shower. Plaintiff stripped down to his undershorts, put on his shower shoes, wrapped a towel around his waist, and grabbed his washcloth and soap. (Id.) He was cuffed behind his back and led out his cell door. (Id.) As Plaintiff started to go through the B-wing door on the right, Sgt. Alveriaz blocked Plaintiff and told him to go through the D-wing door to the left, since the showers on B-wing were full. (Id.)

When Plaintiff got to the door to the hall between A-wing and D-wing, Sgt. Alveriaz held the door open for Plaintiff. (Id. at 15.) There were several officers on the other side when Plaintiff entered. (Id.) Suddenly, Sgt. Alveriaz slammed Plaintiff into the door, grabbed his arms from behind, and held him with his face smashed against the window. (Id.) While he was held up on the A-wing door, looking through the glass, Plaintiff saw C.O. Sanchez sitting and watching the events from her desk. (Id. at 15-16.) Defendant Lieutenant Doyle was in the control room and came out at this turn of events. (Id. at 15.) Lt. Doyle said Plaintiff was not getting a shower, but was going to see Dr. Fishtein whether he liked it or not. (Id.) Plaintiff stated that he had a right to refuse to go to a doctor's appointment and that he was not going to go out in the rain in his underwear. (Id.) In response, Lt. Doyle instructed his officers to lead Plaintiff out of the block. (Id.) When Plaintiff would not walk, Doyle directed the officers to "take him down." (Id.)

At these words, multiple officers, including Defendant C.O.s Severa and Huesby, rushed Plaintiff and slammed him on the floor. (Id.) After being thrown to the floor, he starting cursing at the officers and was punched in the back of the head several times. (Id. at 16.) Plaintiff tried to kick one of the officers, after which his legs were restrained by leg irons and he started receiving kicks to the body and punches to the back. (Id.)

Thereafter, several Defendants picked up and carried Plaintiff, ramming his head into the walls three or four times, and then dropping him on the floor because he was twisting and too heavy for the guards. (Id.) Upon dropping Plaintiff, Defendant officers starting punching and kicking him again. (Id.) One of the officers then whistled for a vehicle at the end of the walkway and instructed the driver to come up on the grass. (Id.) The officers dropped Plaintiff on the concrete and held him down on his stomach, wearing just his boxers and shower shoes. (Id.) Someone threw a pillowcase over his head, picked him up, and put him in the seat of the vehicle. (Id.) An officer sat behind him, put his arm around Plaintiff's neck, and held his head to the back of the seat, strangling him and making it hard to breathe. (Id. at 17.)

After Plaintiff got out of the vehicle, he agreed to walk to avoid further beatings. (Id.) The pillowcase was taken off of his head and multiple guards escorted him to the infirmary. (Id.) When they arrived at the psychiatric cell, the handcuffs and shackles were removed and he was stripped of his underwear. (Id.) The whole time, Plaintiff was cursing the guards for what they were doing. (Id.) Defendant C.O. Severa called Plaintiff a "nigger" and swung at Plaintiff's face. (Id.) Plaintiff fought back, a melee ensued, and several guards joined the fight. (Id.) He was taken down on the floor again and, while he was being held down, he was punched, kicked, and had his arms twisted. (Id.) After he was let up and left alone in the cell, he asked to speak to a nurse. (Id.) Defendant Nurse Priscilla Thomas came and Plaintiff reported his injuries, but she said she could do nothing about it. After the shift change, he asked the new nurse for help, to no avail. (Id.) He was left in the cell naked and without a blanket until he was returned to his own unit the next day. (Id.) According to the Complaint, this attack was prompted by Dr. Mark Fishtein, who ordered that the officers seize Plaintiff by force and throw him into a psychiatric cell without any clothes. (Id. at 12.)

On December 31, 2007, Plaintiff commenced the present federal litigation against Sgt. Alveriaz, Lt. Doyle, C.O. Shovlin, C.O. Huesby, C.O. Severa, C.O Sanchez, C.O. Doe, C.O. Doe 2, C.O. Doe 3, and Mark Fishtein, M.D. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleged violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. With leave of Court, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on September 26, 2008, adding Defendants Nurse Thomas and Nurse Heather and offering a more detailed account of the facts. Defendant Fishtein moved to dismiss this Amended Complaint on October 9, 2008 and, by way of Memorandum and Order dated November 25, 2008, this Court dismissed only the Fourteenth Amendment claim against Fishtein.

Subsequently, Defendant Thomas moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on the grounds of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Due to the perceived failure of Plaintiff to respond in timely fashion, the Court issued an Order, dated March 11, 2009, granting the motion and dismissing the Amended Complaint as against Defendant Thomas. On March 12, 2009, the Court received Plaintiff's response to that motion. In the meantime, on March 9, 2009 and March 12, 2009 respectively, Defendant Fishtein filed: (1) a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(c) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and (2) a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Prosecution under Rule 41(b). Plaintiff timely responded to both motions and also moved to strike the Order granting Defendant Thomas's motion. Thereafter, on April 8, 2009, Defendants Sanchez, Alveriaz, Doyle, Shovlin, and Severa also filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings based on Plaintiff's alleged failure to exhaust, and Plaintiff timely responded.

Via Order dated May 15, 2009, this Court addressed all of the above pending motions. First, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the March 11, 2009 Order dismissing Defendant Thomas in light of the fact that, under the prisoner mailbox rule, Plaintiff had timely filed a response, which the Court had failed to consider. Second, the Court denied Defendant Fishtein's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Prosecution. Finally, as to (a) Defendant Thomas's reinstated Motion to Dismiss; (b) Defendant Fishtein's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment; and (c) Defendants Olivarez, Severa, Shovlin, Sanchez, and Doyle's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, the Court found a genuine issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff's non-exhaustion of his administrative remedies was excused by prison officials' failure to properly transmit to Plaintiff the denials of his administrative grievances. Accordingly, the Court notified all parties that the motions would be converted into summary judgment motions and that an evidentiary hearing would be held to resolve the remaining factual questions.

On October 6, 2009, this Court conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Plaintiff's failure to properly exhaust administrative remedies was excused by the prison's failure to properly transmit his grievances to him. The Court heard testimony from both Wendy Shaylor, the Grievance Coordinator at Graterford Correctional Institution ("Graterford"), and from Plaintiff. In addition, Defendant introduced several new exhibits into evidence. Having considered the parties' briefs, together with the evidence ...

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