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Smith v. Norris

December 18, 2009

JAMES SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHARLES NORRIS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

MEMORANDUM*fn1

I. INTRODUCTION

This civil rights action filed under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, was initiated by James Smith, the plaintiff in this case. Smith is currently incarcerated in a Pennsylvania state correctional institution. On July 7, 2008, Smith filed with this Court a complaint against Charles Norris, a now retired corrections officer at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Rockview"). (Rec. Doc. No. 1).

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In his complaint, Smith asserts that Officer Norris, then a corrections officer at SCI-Rockview, violated Smith's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when Officer Norris handcuffed Smith during transport to Rockview after Smith had undergone surgery on his rotator cuff. Smith is seeking from Officer Norris both compensatory and punitive damages.

On September 23, 2008, Officer Norris filed an answer to Smith's complaint. (Rec. Doc. No. 5). Almost a year later, on August 19, 2009, Officer Norris filed a motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 13). On August 31, 2009, Officer Norris filed the requisite statement of material facts (Rec. Doc. No. 14) and brief in support of his motion for summary judgment (Rec. Doc. No. 15). Smith filed a brief in opposition to Officer Norris's motion for summary judgment on September 28, 2009. (Rec. Doc. No. 18). Attachment 1 to Smith's brief was his statement of material facts, filed pursuant to Middle District Local Rule 56.1. (Rec. Doc. No. 18-2). Officer Norris filed a reply brief on October 15, 2009. (Rec. Doc. No. 25). Therefore, the matter is now ripe for disposition.

Now, for the following reasons, we will deny Officer Norris's motion for summary judgment.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, plaintiff Smith, the facts are as follows. Currently, Smith, who has been incarcerated based on a homicide in the second degree conviction, is serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania state correctional institution. At the time of the incident at issue in this case, Smith was imprisoned at SCI-Rockview.

In January of 2006, Smith injured his right shoulder while weight-lifting approximately 400 pounds. A subsequent MRI evidenced a complete tear of the supraspinatus tendon, or rotator cuff, located in Smith's right shoulder. Surgery was recommended to repair the tear. In light of this recommendation, prison officials transported Smith to the State Correctional Institution at Somerset ("SCI-Somerset") in October 2006 for Smith to have surgery on his rotator cuff.

Smith obtained surgery on his rotator cuff on October 11, 2006. On October 17, 2006, prison officials transported Smith back to SCI-Rockview from SCI-Somerset, with a stop in between at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield ("SCI-Smithfield"). Smith began his trip from SCI-Somerset at 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.,*fn2 at which time his right arm was in a harness with a sling, which plaintiff refers to as a "shoulder immobilizer."*fn3 Smith also alleges that he had a bandage on his shoulder that was about four inches tall and four inches wide. According to Smith, Nurse Terrance Riffle informed those corrections officers responsible for transporting the prisoners from SCI-Somerset to SCI-Rockview that the arms of those prisoners wearing shoulder immobilizers should not be restrained. Defendant points to Nurse Riffle's own testimony, in which he stated that he did not recall Smith and could not say whether he gave any such instructions to corrections officers transporting the plaintiff. For the part of the trip from SCI-Somerset to SCI-Smithfield, Smith's right arm was left unrestrained,

Plaintiff claims that his doctor had written on a DOC form, which plaintiff refers to as a Consultation Record, "Do not remove immobilizer!" (Rec. Doc. No. 18-2 at 5). Plaintiff notes, however, that corrections officers involved in a routine transport of inmates would only receive as paperwork a body receipt and a van trip sheet, which contains no information as to the medical condition of the inmate being transported. with his jumpsuit hanging over his shoulder.

During the stop at SCI-Smithfield, Smith was detained with other inmates in a holding cell at SCI-Smithfield for about an hour, after which officials were ready to transport Smith and other prisoners to SCI-Rockview. Officer Norris, as well as at least one other prison official, Corrections Officer Michael Guenot, were responsible for transporting Smith and the other inmates from SCI-Smithfield to SCI-Rockview. Smith and the other inmates being transported were searched by Officer Norris and another corrections officer; these officers also placed Smith and the other inmates in restraining hardware that plaintiff denies was customary. Uncontested is the fact that neither a superior officer nor the control center for the institution had informed Officer Norris, via a special order or any medical precautions, that the corrections officers should deviate from those procedures normally used in handcuffing and shackling inmates being transported on October 17, 2006.

While Officer Norris claims that "[t]he only person who told plaintiff anything about plaintiff's shoulder was plaintiff himself"*fn4 (Rec. Doc. No. 14 at 3), plaintiff claims that William Bowen, another corrections officer, did inform Officer Norris as to Smith's medical condition. It is uncontested that Smith conveyed to Officer Norris his belief that he should not be restrained. Smith additionally claims, though, that before he was restrained, and after Officer Norris had asked him about his shoulder, Smith had informed Officer Norris that he had recently undergone surgery on his shoulder, that two other ...


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