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Knauss v. Shannon

February 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


Plaintiff Joseph Ronald Knauss ("Knauss") initiated this civil rights action on September 15, 2008 with a complaint filed pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Doc. 1), as amended September 25, 2008 (Doc. 9), while confined at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette, in LaBelle, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Fayette"). Knauss sets forth allegations against several employees of the State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Frackville"), his former place of confinement.*fn1 He contends that Defendants violated his constitutional rights when he was assaulted by Defendant Hannon on June 12, 2008, and subsequently denied food trays, recreation, and showers when placed in administrative custody while prison officials investigated the June 12 incident. Plaintiff further claims that on July 15, 2008, Defendant Shannon destroyed his legal books, legal mail, and grievances in connection with the June 12 incident and his subsequent placement in administrative custody. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of Defendants. (Doc. 87.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted as to Defendants Shannon and Wagner. Further, the motion will be denied as to Defendant Hannon.

I. Background

The following facts are related to Knauss' claims. The court notes any factual disputes between the parties by presenting both parties' contentions.

A. June 12 Incident

On June 12, 2008,*fn2 at approximately 7:05 p.m., Knauss was called out of his cell by Corrections Officer ("CO") Megan White through the housing unit's intercom system. (Doc. 9 ¶ 8; Doc. 91 ¶ 2.) Upon exiting his cell, Knauss was met by Defendants Hannon and Wagner, who searched him and then took him to the Unit Manager's office and shut the door. (Doc. 9 ¶¶ 11-14; Doc. 91 ¶ 2.)

Knauss alleges that once they were in the office, Defendant Hannon punched him in the chest, knocking him into a chair, and verbally threatened him because Knauss had been discussing CO White in a personal way, such as addressing her by her first name, in order to be transferred to another institution. (Doc. 9 ¶¶ 16-28; Doc. 91 ¶ 3.) Knauss claims that he then went back to his cell and showed inmates Thomas Shock and Mike Benson the injury to his chest. (Doc. 9 ¶ 29; Doc. 91 ¶ 4.) He also claims that inmates Shock and Benson witnessed part of the incident. (Id.)

Knauss reported the incident to the shift commander, security and medical departments, and United States District Judge J. Curtis Joyner.*fn3 (Doc. 9 ¶ 30; Doc. 91 ¶ 5.) Photographs of his chest injury were taken, medical reports processed, and he was treated for redness and soreness on his chest. (Id.)

On June 13, 2008, Intelligence Captain David Kneal initiated an investigation into the incident at the request of Superintendent Shannon. (Doc. 9 ¶ 31; Doc. 91 ¶ 8.) As part of the investigation, interviews were conducted and statements taken from Defendants Hannon and Wagner, as well as various other corrections officers and inmates Knauss, Shock and Benson. (Doc. 90-2 ¶ 4, Ex. A, Unsworn Decl. Of Captain D. Kneal; Doc. 91 ¶ 9.)

Knauss provided written statements of his account of the June 12th exchange. In one statement taken on the evening of June 13, 2008, Knauss stated:

On 6/12/08 at 7:05 p.m., I was woke up by my cellmate Thomas Shock... and he told me that CO White called me out to the A-block bubble off A-A-9 cell. I walked out to the A-block bubble and CO Wagner and Sgt Hannon was standing outside the A-wing door, Sgt Hannon put me up against the A-wing door and kicked my feet apart and pat searched me, he then told me to shut up and walk to Unit Manager Miranda's office, and he said you'll go head first to the ground if you try anything. I opened the door and went in the UM's office. After I went in and CO Wagner and Sgt Hannon went in, CO Wagner shut the door. Sgt Hannon said sit down, he then without warning punched me in my chest and I fell into the chair. He sat down and said I want the fucken truth, what did you tell somebody about CO White. He asked me if I knew her sister Cory and I said no. He asked me how I knew her name was Megan, also he asked how I knew his name was Joseph and CO Wagner's name was Winston, I told him an ex-inmate Yaronicky told me. He said does security know about Ms. White. I said no. He said I know what your trying to do, your trying to use her to get transferred out of SCI-Frackville. He said I outa knock you the fuck out. He then said if I here any other stuff about this or you tell your celly or any staff member or security I will put a hole in your chest. He also stated you'll get out of here after I get down with you. I then told him I understand. He also stated to me that if I tell security about his assaulting me in the UM's office he will kill me. (Doc. 90-2 at 20-22, Knauss statement, June 13, 2008.)

Defendants Hannon and Wagner each provided written statements of their accounts of the June 12 incident. Defendant Hannon stated that he called Knauss into the Unit Manager's office on June 12 to discuss with him the impropriety of using corrections officers' first names in the institution. (Doc. 90-2 at 5, Ex. 1, Investigation Report.) He denied using profanity towards Knauss or threatening him. (Id. at 6.) He also denied physically striking or assaulting Knauss. (Id.) Defendant Wagner stated that Defendant Hannon had called Knauss in for the meeting to counsel him about addressing staff by their first names. (Id.) Additionally, he stated, "Sgt. Hannon did not hit the inmate. There were no threats. He was professional when dealing with the inmate. I was standing in the office between the table and the door. I didn't say anything." (Id.)

Inmate Benson also was interviewed and provided a written statement. He stated that early on June 12 Knauss told him that because he disliked CO White and Defendant Hannon, he was going to set them up by accusing Defendant Hannon of beating him and threatening him.*fn4 (Id. at 6-7.) Later that same day, when inmate Benson came in from evening yard at 7:45 p.m., Knauss told him that he had been assaulted by Defendants Hannon and Wagner. (Id. at 7.) At 8:35 p.m. that same evening, inmate Benson went to Knauss' cell, where Knauss told him that "he was hitting himself, doing push ups, hitting his chest off of the floor and used hot rags to make it look like he got hit." (Id.) In his deposition, Knauss admitted that his cell had hot water at the time of the incident. (Doc. 90-8, Ex. G, J. Knauss Dep., Apr. 28, 2009.) Further, in his brief in opposition to the instant motion, Knauss asserts that inmate Benson's statement with respect to Knauss' attempts to cause his own injuries is false. (Doc. 100 at 2-4.)

Inmate Shock also was interviewed and provided a written statement. He stated that when Knauss came back from the exchange with Defendants Hannon and Wagner on June 12, he "looked all disgusted and such.... Later on Knauss said they roughed him up, that his chest hurt.... He said Sgt. Hannon hit him." (Doc. 90-2 at 7.) In his deposition, inmate Shock stated that Knauss told him he had been thrown down on a chair, "roughed up" and "knocked." (Doc. 102-5 at 8.) Inmate Shock also recalled Knauss complaining of soreness. (Id.)

Captain Kneal completed his investigation on June 30, 2008, and determined that Knauss had used personal information about staff in order to "manipulate a situation, resulting in fabricated allegations on COII Hannon." (Id. at 8.) Based on the interviews taken and statements given,*fn5 Captain Kneal concluded that no assault had occurred, no threats were made, and no profanity used. (Id.)

B. Administrative Custody

On June 16, 2008, Knauss was placed in administrative custody in SCIFrackville's Restrictive Housing Unit ("RHU") pending the investigation by Captain Kneal. (Doc. 9 ¶ 32; Doc. 91 ¶ 7.) In his complaint, Knauss alleges that while in administrative custody, he was denied food, recreation, and showers. (Doc. 9 ¶ 33; Doc. 91 ¶ 7.) Knauss claims that he filed several grievances with respect to the conditions in the RHU, but Defendant Superintendent Shannon destroyed them on July 15, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. (Doc. 9 ¶ 33; Doc. 91 ¶ 7.)

C. July 15 Incident

Knauss claims that he was called to the RHU's property room on July 15, 2008 and questioned there by Defendant Shannon about problems he was causing in the institution and a complaint he had filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 90-8 at 24-26, 28-29.) According to Knauss, when he said something to Defendant Shannon about the Superintendent's father or another relative being killed at SCI-Graterford, Defendant Shannon began destroying Knauss' property, including his federal law books and legal mail. (Id. at 30-31.) Knauss claims Defendant Shannon's actions were recorded on the RHU's camera. (Doc. 9 ¶ 34.) Further, Knauss avers that he attempted to file a grievance regarding Defendant Shannon's actions, but a guard tore up the form. (Doc. 90-8 at 31.)

In a declaration, Defendant Shannon stated that he was in the RHU on July 15, 2008, but was never in the property room with Knauss. (Doc. 90-11 ¶ 6, Ex. J, Decl. Superintendent R. Shannon.) In fact, Defendant Shannon declared that when he was in the RHU that day, Knauss stayed in his cell and the two had no interaction. (Id. at ¶ 7.)

D. Grievances

In support of the instant motion, Defendants have submitted the declaration of the assistant to Superintendent Shannon, Peter Damiter III, who reviewed the grievances filed by Knauss at SCI-Frackville during June and July 2008. (Doc. 90-12, Ex. K, P. Damiter III Decl.) Mr. Damiter asserts that Knauss filed a total of twenty-one (21) grievances while incarcerated at SCI-Frackville. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Knauss filed three grievances in June 2008 and no grievances in July 2008 before he was transferred on July 22, 2008 to SCI-Fayette. (Id.) In the first of the three grievances, Grievance No. 230666, Knauss complained that he was not permitted to receive "Playboy" magazine. (Doc. 90-12 at 6, Ex. K, Attach. 2, Grievances.)

In the second of the three grievances, Grievance No. 231444, Knauss complained that the food portions served at SCI-Frackville are too small. (Id. at 7.) In the last of these grievances, Grievance No. 232305, Knauss complained that when he was called into a misconduct hearing on June 12, 2008, he was denied lunch. (Id. at 8.) Further, after Knauss arrived at SCI-Fayette, he filed a grievance on July 28, 2008, claiming that he had not yet received his legal materials from SCI-Frackville. (Doc. 90-11 at 17.)

In an effort to counter the declarations and materials submitted by Defendants, Knauss has submitted briefs in opposition to the motion, (Docs. 99 & 100), a sworn declaration, (Doc. 101), and an exhibit which collects, inter alia, a record of his attempts to grieve his complaints with respect to the June 12, 2008 incident involving Defendants Hannon and Wagner, the conditions of his subsequent confinement in the RHU, and the July 15, 2008 incident involving Defendant Shannon (Doc. 102). The following records in that exhibit are related to the June 12 incident. On June 18, 2008, Knauss completed an official inmate grievance form, addressed to Peter Damiter, in which he details the assault by Defendants Hannon and Wagner. (Id. at 8.) Knauss notes on that form that he had originally filed his grievance on June 15, 2008, but had not received a response. (Id.) That original grievance filed on June 15, 2008 is not attached, nor is receipt of the grievance form acknowledged by the facility grievance coordinator. (Id.)

On June 13, 2008, Knauss filed a complaint with the DOC's Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR"), located in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, detailing the assault by Defendants Hannon and Wagner. (Id. at 4-6.) On that complaint, Knauss noted that he refiled the complaint on July 1, 2008 because he had not yet received a response from the OPR. (Id. at 4.) In addition, Knauss noted that he was filing the complaint in accordance with DC-ADM-001, the DOC's "Inmate Abuse Allegation Monitoring" policy.*fn6 (Id.) The OPR responded by letters dated July 18, 2008*fn7 and August 18, 2008, informing Knauss that an investigation into his allegations against SCI-Frackville staff was ongoing and not yet completed. (Id. at 9-10.) On November 2, 2008, Knauss sent correspondence to the OPR, noting that he had not yet received a response detailing the outcome of the OPR's investigation. (Doc. 102-6.) There is no record that the OPR completed its investigation and informed Knauss of its findings.

Further, the following records in the exhibit are related to Knauss' complaints about his conditions of confinement in the RHU at SCI-Frackville. On July 15, 2008, Knauss completed an official inmate grievance form, addressed to Peter Damiter, complaining that the RHU guards were intentionally denying him recreation and showers. (Doc. 102 at 16.) On July 17, 2008, Knauss completed an inmate request to staff member, addressed to Peter Damiter, informing him that he was again refused recreation in the RHU. (Id. at 15.) Knauss dates the events of these claims as July 15, 2008. (Id. at 15-16.) While both of these forms do not indicate acknowledgment of receipt by the facility grievance coordinator, Knauss claims that the originals were never processed by SCI-Frackville officials.*fn8 (Doc. 100 at 5.)

Knauss has also submitted the following records related to his legal property. On July 28, 2008, Knauss' mother sent correspondence to Judge Joyner with an attached correspondence to Peter Damiter. (Id. at 20-21.) In that correspondence to Peter Damiter, Knauss' mother informs him that Knauss had not yet received his legal paperwork at SCI-Fayette since his transfer from SCIFrackville. (Id. at 21.) Knauss' mother sent further correspondence to Judge Joyner on August 4, 2008, informing him that Knauss still had not received his legal paperwork from SCI-Frackville. (Id. at 18.) Attached to that correspondence is the official inmate grievance completed by Knauss, addressed to Peter Damiter and dated July 28, 2008, requesting his legal paperwork from SCI-Frackville.*fn9 (Id. at 19.)

Also in the exhibit filed by Knauss is a response from the chief grievance coordinator of the DOC's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals, dated August 8, 2008, addressing Knauss' complaint about his loss of property. (Id. at 17.)

Specifically, the coordinator provides Knauss with the following response: "You are encouraged to work through institutional channels to resolve your complaint initially. If unable to resolve your complaint informally, be advised that DC-ADM 804 provides a mechanism for all inmates to seek formal resolution for concerns." (Id.) This response does not set forth the details of Knauss' complaint, nor is the originally-filed complaint included in the record. Further, in the OPR's August 18, 2008 response to Knauss' correspondence dated August 2, 2008, the OPR advised Knauss to address his concerns regarding his property issues with his Unit Management Team. (Id. at 9.) Again, this response does not set forth the details of Knauss' "property issues," nor is the August 2, 2008 correspondence included in the record. Knauss has also attached correspondence from the Assistant County Solicitor for Lehigh County to the Superintendents of SCI-Fayette and SCIFrackville, dated August 11, 2008, requesting that they "take whatever steps are necessary to deliver Mr. Knauss' legal file to him." (Id. at 14.)

On September 3, 2008, Knauss filed an inmate request to staff member at SCI-Fayette, detailing the events surrounding his loss or destruction of property. (Id. at 7.) In that request, Knauss states, "I also didn't receive my federal law books and PLN's that the Superintendent destroyed at Frackville in the RHU. Robert Shannon compared his institution to USP-Alcatraz and then he maliciously and sadistically ripped up all my federal legal books and PLN's and then he continued to throw my Swiss rolls on the ground and then viciously and recklessly stomped on them." (Id.) The SCI-Fayette staff member response dated September 4, 2008 advises Knauss: "You must write to ...

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