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Dickey v. Wayne County

August 6, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III

Hon. William T. Prince



This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of Magistrate Judge William T. Prince (Doc. 73), filed on May 7, 2010, which recommends that we grant the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35) of Defendants Wayne County, the Wayne County Prison Board, and Wayne County Prison Warden Craig Chalmers (collectively "Defendants"). On May 20, 2010, Plaintiffs Lynn M. Dickey and Michael T. Organ ("Plaintiffs") filed objections to the R&R and a memorandum in support thereof. (Docs. 74, 75). Defendants filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiffs' objections on June 4, 2010. (Doc. 76). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for our review.


On June 23, 2008, Plaintiffs commenced the underlying action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania as individuals and as co-administrators of the estate of their son, Clayton James Organ ("Decedent"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and arising under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 1).*fn1 Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35) on September 30, 2009, which was referred by the Honorable Thomas I. Vanaskie to Magistrate Judge Prince for purposes of creating the Report and Recommendation currently at issue. (Doc. 70).*fn2

In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Prince outlined the primary undisputed facts, taken from the complaint and from the parties' supplemental filings, as follows:

According to the complaint, Plaintiffs' son, Clayton James Organ, was incarcerated at the Wayne County Prison and housed at the Wayne County Work Release Center ("WRC") (Doc. 1, ¶ 12). On June 23, 2006, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Decedent and another inmate, Richard [Montalvo], began to wrestle, during which Decedent's head struck the floor. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15). Decedent subsequently complained of jaw pain and increased nausea and dizziness. (Doc. 1, ¶ 20). Later that evening, the Decedent was found unconscious on the bathroom floor. (Doc. 1, ¶ 21). He was transported to Wayne Memorial Hospital, arriving at approximately 1:30 a.m. (Doc. 1, ¶ 21). He was subsequently transferred to Community Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at approximately 8:45 a.m. on June 24, 2006 due to blunt force trauma. (Doc. 1, ¶ 23). (Doc. 73 pp. 2-3). Magistrate Judge Prince then identified Plaintiffs' three basic allegations against Defendants: "failing to provide Decedent with prompt and appropriate medical care," "improperly placing inmates unsuited for minimal supervision in the WRC," and "inadequately staffing the WRC so that proper supervision of the center and its residents could occur." Id. at 9.

The Magistrate Judge found that the allegations could not support an Eighth Amendment claim. The evidence indicated that none of the corrections officers on duty the night of the incident knew of Decedent's injury, that Decedent communicated "he was just sick," and declined medical treatment, and that after it became clear that Decedent was unresponsive and seriously ill, officers called for an ambulance. Id. at 9-11. Thus, the Magistrate Judge held that the facts viewed in a light most favorable to the Plaintiffs failed to establish the deliberate indifference required to maintain an Eighth Amendment violation. Id. at 11; see also id. at 7-8 (explaining the "deliberate indifference" requirement and relevant inquiry)*fn3 (discussed infra, note 3). Similarly, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the facts failed to show that the placement of inmate Montalvo in the WRC was unreasonable or constituted deliberate indifference to Decedent's safety, since prison officials have broad authority to classify inmates for housing purposes, and because the wrestling which led to Decedent's injury was consensual and initiated by Decedent himself. Id. at 13-14. Finally, the Magistrate Judge referred to the testimony of Warden Chalmers, which was corroborated by a supporting expert, to the effect that the staffing of one officer per shift at the WRC was adequate and appropriate. Id. at 15. The Magistrate Judge found that Plaintiffs did not offer any evidence that this staffing level created a serious risk of harm such as would rise to the level of deliberate indifference. Id. For these reasons, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. Id. at 17.

Plaintiffs object to the R&R on five asserted grounds: (1) the facts used by the court as to Decedent's condition and treatment do not favor the non-moving party; (2) the court used federal law to analyze the placement of inmates in the WRC, rather than Pennsylvania law; (3) the court relied on Defendant Warden Chalmers's testimony, despite the existence of contradictory testimony by Plaintiffs' expert and a corrections officer; (4) the court incorrectly found a lack of evidence correlating serious risk of harm and the WRC's staffing level, given a past wrestling incident, a basic rule against horseplay, and inmates' general unsupervision; and (5) the court failed to consider an expert report offered by Plaintiffs. (Doc. 74). These objections are the subject of our present review.


A. Objections to Magistrate Judge's Report

When objections are filed to the report of a magistrate judge, the district court makes a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. Id. Although the standard of review is de novo, 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's ...

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