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Barnes v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections

April 5, 2010

MICHAEL BARNES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ROBERT SHANNON AND ERNEST MACON, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Strike Portions of Plaintiff's Counter-Statement of Material Facts. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and denied in part. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

BACKGROUND

1. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. February 3, 2007 Shakedown and Injury

Plaintiff Michael Barnes, a Caucasian male, began working for Defendant Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("the D.O.C.") in 1986. (Barnes Dep. 11:24-25, April 30, 2009.) In approximately 2005, Barnes achieved the rank of Captain. (Barnes Dep. 13:16-18.) On February 3, 2007, Barnes was working in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") at SCI-Frackville. (Barnes Dep. 27:2-6.) On that day a shakedown was planned for the RHU.*fn1 (Barnes Dep. 27:7-13.) Captain Barnes' role in the shakedown was to supervise the lower-ranking corrections officers and resolve any issues that might arise. (Barnes Dep. 30:11-31:1.)

During the shakedown, Sergeant James Stotler and Corrections Officers Robert Santangelo and John Davison, all Caucasian males, attempted to remove inmate Aasim Nash, an African-American male, from his cell. (Barnes Dep. 34:7-9.) As the officers removed Nash from his cell, he became verbally abusive toward them. (Barnes Dep. 33:16-21.) For security purposes, the officers handcuffed Nash and locked him in the shower room while they searched his cell. (Barnes Dep. 35:10-37:1.) After the cell search was completed, Sergeant Stotler attempted to remove Nash from the shower room; as Stotler unlocked and opened the gate to the shower room, Nash kicked it closed, striking Stotler in the hand. (Stotler Dep. 49:3-8, April 30, 2009.) Nash then leaned against the door to keep it closed, causing Stotler to push the door open so that he could secure Nash. (Stotler Dep. 52:22-53:1.)

At this point the versions of events diverge. Stotler says that Nash fell forward toward the wall when he pushed the door open. (Stotler Dep. 55:6-9). Some corrections officers and Nash claim that Nash fell backward against the wall, and Nash claims that he hit the back of his head after falling. (Davison Dep. 44:6-12, May 1, 2009; Doc. 31, Exs. M, N; Doc. 32, Ex. FF.) Everyone, including Nash, states that Nash spit in Stotler's face when Stotler came into the shower room to retrieve Nash. (Doc. 32, Ex. FF.) Nash claims that Stotler then punched him in the eye; this story was corroborated by another inmate who witnessed the incident. (Doc. 32, Ex. FF; Doc. 16, Ex. 4.) All the corrections officers claim that Stotler did not punch Nash or that they did not see what happened and that the injury to Nash's eye was not noticed by any of them until Captain Barnes spoke with Nash after being returned to his cell. (Stotler Dep. 61:2-19; Barnes Dep. 43:25-45:2.)

As a result of this incident, Nash was brought to the medical unit to have his eye examined. Upon examination, Nash vomited "a very large amount of partially digested food with some blood evident;" it was recommended that he be transported to the emergency room. (Doc. 16, Ex. 3.) At the hospital it was confirmed that Nash had a fractured medial wall of his left orbit and had bruised the back of his left eye. (Doc. 16, Ex. 12.) Nash told the treating doctors that he had been punched in the eye. (Doc. 16, Exs. 12, 13.) The doctors believed that Nash's injury was consistent with being punched in the face or eye. (Doc. 16, Exs. 12, 13.) One doctor, while emphasizing that he was not a forensic expert, opined that if Nash had hit a cement wall he likely would have exhibited more facial trauma on his forehead, cheek and chin. (Doc. 16, Ex. 12.)

B. Office of Professional Responsibility Investigation

On February 5, 2007 the Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR"), Michael Wolanin, authorized an investigation into the incident following a request from SCI FrackvilleSuperintendent, Defendant Robert Shannon. (Doc. 32, Ex. II.) Both Shannon and Wolanin are Caucasian males. (Doc. 16, ¶¶ 2, 38.) Shannon claims that D.O.C. policy requires an investigation any time there is an allegation of abuse by D.O.C. staff, and that he had concerns about the manner in which Nash sustained such a severe injury and how the incident was dealt with by his staff. (Doc. 16, Ex. 3.)

The investigation was conducted by Defendant Ernest Macon, Jr. and Adam D. Hough; Hough is a Caucasian male and Macon is an African-American male. (Doc. 32, Ex. II; Doc. 16, ¶¶ 2, 39.) In the course of the investigation, Defendant Macon and Mr. Hough interviewed Nash, Barnes, Stotler, the doctors who treated Nash, the inmates who witnessed the events in question, and the corrections officers on the RHU at the time of the shakedown. According to Barnes, during his interview with Defendant Macon, Macon got within six inches of his face and said that Macon, Barnes, "and all [Barnes'] good old boys know that that sergeant hit that inmate, don't we?" (Barnes Dep. 56:5-25.) The investigation concluded that Barnes had violated D.O.C. policy by failing to take four sets of photographs of Nash's injury, failing to initiate a plan of action after Nash forcibly kicked the gate at Stotler, and not waiting for Nash to calm down and then videotaping his removal from the shower. (Doc. 32, Ex. II.) Hough submitted the investigation report, and it was reviewed and signed by Defendant Macon. (Doc. 32, Ex II.)

After his OPR interview, Barnes met with Defendant Shannon regarding the incident. (Barnes Dep. 59: 3-10.) According to Barnes, Shannon told him that he was willing to look at the incident with Nash "as a hit and run incident that [Barnes] left the scene of a crime and [Barnes] realize[d] that [he] was wrong and [Barnes was] coming back to right it." (Barnes Dep. 59:7-14.) Barnes insisted that he had not seen anything happen and would not change his story. (Barnes Dep. 59:15-18.) Barnes claims that Shannon warned him that if he did not change his story he might be demoted or possibly terminated. (Barnes Dep. 59:20-22.) Approximately one week later, Barnes testified that Shannon spoke to him again and told him that if he did not "say what [Barnes] need[ed] to say" that he might be demoted or fired. (Barnes Dep. 60:19-61:1.) Barnes reiterated that he had been telling the truth. (Barnes Dep. 61:1-3.)

On March 6, 2007, OPR Director Wolanin issued an executivesummary of the OPR investigation. (Doc. 16, Ex. 2.) The summary concluded that all of the officers had slightly different stories and that their stories were "not realistic or believable." (Doc. 33, Ex. PPP.) As such, a pre-disciplinary conference ("PDC") was recommended for Stotler and Barnes. (Doc. 33, Ex. PPP.) On March 22, 2007 a letter was sent to Barnes telling him that a PDC was scheduled for March 30, 2007 and listing the allegations against Barnes and the specific D.O.C. policy violations he committed; Barnes signed the letter acknowledging notice of the PDC. (Doc. 33, Ex. RRR.)

Barnes testified that five (5) minutes before his PDC commenced D.O.C. Personnel Director Thomas Kowalsky approached Barnes and told him that Shannon had called and wanted to know if Barnes had any changes to his story before he went in. (Barnes Dep. 62:5-14.) Barnes said that there were no changes to his story. (Barnes Dep. 62:14-16.) At his PDC, the exhibits, including surveillance video of the incident and photographs, were shown to Barnes and he was given an opportunity to explain his version of events. (Doc. 31, Ex. F.) Barnes stated at his PDC that he felt that Macon's investigation was biased and that Macon was "looking for someone to hang for this." (Doc. 31, Ex. F.)

On April 3, 2007, the PDC committee affirmed the charges against Barnes. (Doc. 32, Ex. RR.) On April 4, 2007, Shannon wrote a letter to Barbara Bair, the Chief of the Labor Relations Division for the D.O.C., recommending that Barnes be demoted in light of the PDC's affirmation of the charges against him. (Doc. 32, Ex. PP.) After reviewing the documentation surrounding the incident with Nash, D.O.C. Director of Human Resources Timothy Musser directed Defendant Shannon to dismiss Plaintiff Barnes; Mr. Musser is also a Caucasian male. (Doc. 33, UUU; Doc. 16, ¶ 151.) Knowing that he was going to be terminated, Plaintiff Barnes elected to retire instead so that he would not lose his retirement benefits. (Barnes Dep. 63:2-7; Doc. 33, Ex. VVV.)

C. Barnes' Replacement/ Previous Discipline of Other Corrections Officers

Barnes alleges that he was replaced by a younger individual after his termination. (Doc. 33, Ex. JJJ.) However, the only identification of Barnes' replacement is supplied by Defendants' response to the Plaintiff's first set of interrogatories; Barnes was apparently replaced by Brian Avezzano, who was born on July 13, 1957. (Doc. 33, Ex. YYY.) Barnes was born on June 7, 1956. (Compl. ¶ 11.)

There is also evidence on the record alleging that Corrections Officer Barbara Brown was allowed to resign from her position after she was caught bringing contraband into the prison; Barbara Brown is African American. (Doc. 33, Ex. KKK.)

D. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a Complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; having fulfilled the administrative prerequisites, Plaintiff received a right-to-sue letter on July 21, 2008. (Compl. ¶ 4.) On September 24, 2008, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff brings causes of action against the D.O.C., Defendant Shannon and Defendant Macon for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I), violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (Count II), and violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") (Count V), against the D.O.C. only for violations of Title VII (Count III) and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count IV), and against Shannon and Macon only for Civil Conspiracy (Count VI). On January 15, 2010, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 15.) That motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

I. D.O.C.

A. Count I: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981

Barnes alleges that the D.O.C. violated § 1983, which provides that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other persons within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by ...


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