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Rinaldi v. United States

July 1, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

(Judge Rambo)


Plaintiff Michael Rinaldi ("Rinaldi"), a federal inmate currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California, commenced this action on September 2, 2009, by filing a complaint pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346 & 2671 et seq. (Doc. 1.) In his complaint, Rinaldi alleges that on September 5, 2008, he was assaulted by his cellmate in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") of the Federal Correctional Institution at Schuylkill in Minersville, Pennsylvania ("FCI-Schuylkill"), his former place of confinement. As a result of the assault, Rinaldi claims he suffered a lost tooth and received stitches to his lip and chin. He contends that Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") staff were aware that his cellmate was violent, had a history of assaulting his cellmates, was mentally unstable, and was placed in the SHU after involvement in a physical altercation. Therefore, Rinaldi asserts, BOP staff should have known that his cellmate posed a threat to his safety.

Before the court is a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, filed on behalf of Defendant United States of America. (Doc. 13.) The court will analyze the motion under the summary judgment standard, and, for the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

I. Background

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

A. Factual Background

On March 12, 2001, Rinaldi was committed to the custody of the BOP and designated to FCI-Schuylkill. (Doc. 18 ¶ 10.) On August 17, 2008, he was transferred to the SHU and placed on administrative detention status pending an investigation for violating BOP rules. (Id. ¶ 11.) He was placed in the SHU's cell 180 AD. (Id. ¶ 12.) On August 18, 2008, at approximately 4:23 p.m., he was moved from cell 180 AD to cell 205 DS. (Id. ¶ 13.) Rinaldi was moved again at approximately 7:52 p.m., from cell 205 DS to cell 194 AD. (Id. ¶ 14.)

On September 4, 2008, at approximately 5:56 p.m., inmate Haile Salaam was placed in cell 194 AD with Rinaldi. (Id. ¶ 15.) Between 5:56 p.m. on September 4, 2008 and 10:03 a.m. on September 5, 2008, SHU staff conducted rounds on thirty (30) separate occasions. (Id. ¶ 16.) In that time, Rinaldi did not report to SHU staff that inmate Salaam posed any type of threat to him. (Id. ¶ 17.)

On the morning of September 5, 2008, Rinaldi and inmate Salaam were escorted from cell 194 AD to the SHU recreation area and placed in the same recreation pen. (Id. ¶ 18.) At approximately 10:03 a.m., inmate Salaam ran from the back of the recreation pen and jumped and kicked Rinaldi in the middle of the back, causing Rinaldi to strike his face on the recreation pen. (Id. ¶ 19.) Inmate Salaam continued to strike Rinaldi with a closed fist in the face and upper torso. (Id. ¶ 20.) Upon observing this altercation, SHU staff activated their body alarm and ordered the inmates to separate. (Id. ¶ 21.) Inmate Salaam ignored the orders and continued to strike Rinaldi. (Id. ¶ 22.) After additional staff arrived, SHU staff separated the inmates and submitted them to hand restraints. (Id. ¶ 23.)

After the assault, Rinaldi was promptly escorted to Health Services for medical treatment. (Id. ¶ 24.) He informed Health Services staff that he had been hit in the face by another inmate and had lost a tooth while in the SHU recreation pen. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Staff evaluation revealed multiple open wounds and a fractured tooth. (Id. ¶ 27.) Stitches were applied to a laceration on Rinaldi's lip and he was told they would be removed in five to seven days. (Id. ¶ 28.) Further, staff informed Rinaldi that the fractured tooth could not be restored. (Id. ¶ 29.)

When Rinaldi was interviewed after the assault, he stated, "I don't exactly know what happened. He just hauled off and started assaulting me for no reason. I didn't do anything to him." (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) Further, in his counterstatement of material facts, Rinaldi asserts that immediately after the incident he did not know why he was assaulted. (Doc. 23 ¶ 4.) However, he claims that when he spoke with SHU officers and other inmates after the assault, they informed him that it was "common knowledge" that inmate Salaam had been displaying violent and erratic behavior as well as signs of mental illness. (Id. ¶ 5.) Further, Rinaldi discovered that Salaam had assaulted his previous two cellmates and had been placed in the SHU because of at least one of these assaults. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Inmate Salaam also informed SHU officials when he entered the SHU that he did not want to be housed with another inmate. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 11.)

B. Central Inmate Monitoring

In an effort to protect inmates from the dangers associated with being incarcerated, the BOP has implemented procedures to separate inmates from other inmates known to be threats to their safety. (Doc. 18 ¶ 32.) As part of these procedures, the BOP monitors and controls the transfer, temporary release, and community activities of certain inmates who present special needs for management. (Id. ¶ 33.) These inmates, known as central inmate monitoring ("CIM") cases, require a higher level of review which may ...

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