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Barnes v. Commonwealth

May 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge



Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration of this Court's Memorandum and Order of April 5, 2010. For the reasons discussed more fully below, this motion will be granted.


This Court wrote a lengthy factual background in its April 5, 2010 opinion. As such, the Court will only recount those factual issues that are pertinent to the instant motion.

Plaintiff Michael Barnes, a Caucasian male, began working for Defendant Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("the D.O.C.") in 1986. 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.) During the shakedown, Sergeant James Stotler and Corrections Officers Robert Santangelo and John Davison attempted to remove inmate Aasim Nash 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.) 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.)

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.)

Nash suffered a fractured medial wall of his left orbit and had bruised the back of his left eye. (Doc. 16, Ex. 12.) 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.)

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.) 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.)

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 April 3, 2007, the PDC committee affirmed the charges against Barnes. (Doc. 32, 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 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.)

On January 15, 2010, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 15.) This Court granted summary judgment on all counts except for a claim for First Amendment retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Defendants Shannon and Macon. On April 12, 2010, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration arguing that this Court had committed clear error in holding that Plaintiff's speech during the OPR ...

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