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Stotler v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections

May 21, 2010

JAMES E. STOTLER, 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 are 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 for Summary Judgment will be granted and Defendants' Motion to Strike will be denied. 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 James E. Stotler, a Caucasian male, began working for Defendant Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("the D.O.C.") in 1991. (Stotler Dep. 13:7-10, April 30, 2009.) In approximately December 2005, Stotler achieved the rank of Sergeant. (Stotler Dep. 16:16-17.) On February 3, 2007, Stotler was working in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") at SCI-Frackville. (Stotler Dep. 30:15-31:5.) On that day a shakedown was planned for the RHU.*fn1 (Barnes Dep. 27:7-13, April 30, 2009.)

During the shakedown, 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. 30, Exs. M, N, FF.) Everyone, including Nash, states that Nash spit in Stotler's face when Stotler came into the shower room to retrieve Nash. (Doc. 30, Ex. FF.) Nash claims that Stotler then punched him in the eye; this story was corroborated by another inmate who witnessed the incident. (Doc. 30, 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 Michael 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. 11, 12.) The doctors believed that Nash's injury was consistent with being punched in the face or eye. (Doc. 16, Exs. 11, 12.) 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. 11.)

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. 30, Ex. II.) Both Shannon and Wolanin are Caucasian males. (Doc. 16, ¶¶ 2, 23.) 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. 2.)

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. 30, Ex. II; Doc. 16, ¶¶ 2, 24.) 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. Stotler testified that Macon conducted his interview, but that he did not recall any of the questions asked at the interview. (Stotler Dep. 70:1-21.) The investigation concluded that Stotler had violated D.O.C. policy by using excessive force on an inmate. (Doc. 30, Ex. II.) Stotler further testified that he had no problem with the OPR investigators. (Stotler Dep. 87:18-20.) Hough submitted the investigation report, and it was reviewed and signed by Defendant Macon. (Doc. 30, Ex II.)

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. 16, Ex. 2.) As such, a pre-disciplinary conference ("PDC") was recommended for Stotler and Barnes. (Doc. 16, Ex. 2.) On March 15, 2007,*fn2 a letter was sent to Stotler telling him that a PDC was scheduled for March 28, 2007 and listing the allegations against him and the specific D.O.C. policy violations he committed; Stotler signed the letter acknowledging notice of the PDC. (Doc. 30, Ex. NN.)

On April 3, 2007, the PDC committee affirmed the charges against Stotler. (Doc. 30, Ex. RR.) After reviewing the documentation surrounding the incident with Nash, D.O.C. Director of Human Resources Timothy Musser directed Defendant Shannon to dismiss Plaintiff Stotler. (Doc. 30, QQ.) Stotler was terminated on April 18, 2007. (Stotler Dep. 83:6-8; Doc. 30, Ex. YY.) On April 18, 2007, Stotler filed a grievance alleging that he was improperly terminated. The grievance was settled on November 16, 2007; as part of the final resolution Stotler was reinstated without backpay, received seniority credit for the time that he was discharged from employment, credited with leave he would have accrued, and all record of discipline was removed from Stotler's record. (Doc. 30, Exs. Z, AAA.)

C. Stotler's Replacement/ Previous Discipline of Other Corrections Officers

Stotler alleges that he was replaced by a younger individual after his termination. (Doc. 30, Ex. KKK.) Stotler was born on December 16, 1962; Stotler claims that his permanent replacement, Joseph Hannon, was born on February 9, 1971. (Doc. 30, Ex. KKK.) 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. 30, 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 April 28, 2008. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff filed a Complaint on July 24, 2008 that was dismissed without prejudice for failure to aver the source of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Stotler v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, No. 3:08-CV-1389, slip. op. at 1-2 (M.D. Pa. July 31, 2008). On August 1, 2008, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint. (Doc. 1.)

Plaintiff's Complaint 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 July 13, 2009, 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

Stotler 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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