IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
August 6, 2010
LYNN M. DICKEY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
WAYNE COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III
Hon. William T. Prince
THE BACKGROUND OF THIS MEMORANDUM IS AS FOLLOWS:
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.
I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND OF THE CASE
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.
II. STANDARDS OF 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. § 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 674-75; see also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984).
B. Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Id. at 248. In making this determination, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).
Plaintiffs' first claim is an Eighth Amendment inadequate care claim.*fn4 As indicated above, Plaintiffs assert that the facts used by Magistrate Judge Prince in analyzing this claim did not favor the non-moving party and thus the Magistrate Judge committed error. (Doc. 75 p. 9). To wit, in their brief Plaintiffs note several facts that are not included in the R&R. See id. at 10-12. These facts essentially provide a more detailed account of the specific events that occurred on the night in question after Decedent became sick.*fn5
While we are cognizant of these facts and construe them in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, we are constrained to note that Plaintiffs have not adduced any evidence indicating that Defendants knew of Decedent's wrestling or subsequent head injury. Indeed, all the evidence is to the contrary. See, e.g., Doc. 40 pp. 144-146 (testimony of Sgt. Shencavitz as to the same). Further, Plaintiffs have not contradicted Defendants' evidence, which indicates that Decedent not only told prison officials he was "just sick," but also that he declined medical attention.
In light of the aforementioned, and because there were no obvious signs of serious injury visible on Decedent's person,*fn6 we believe the facts indicate that the prison officials were not aware of the dire conditions that befell Decedent.*fn7
Consequently, we believe that the facts as construed in favor of the Plaintiffs indicate that the first time prison officials became aware of a substantial risk of serious harm to Decedent was when he became unresponsive, at which point an ambulance was called. Therefore, it is our view that Defendants' conduct does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference.*fn8 Thus, we shall overrule Plaintiffs' objections to this extent.
Second, Plaintiffs object to the Magistrate Judge's use of federal law, rather than Pennsylvania law, when analyzing the placement of inmates in the WRC. Specifically, Plaintiffs argue that Warden Chalmers's method of placing inmates in the WRC violates Pennsylvania Code § 95.225*fn9 because it lacks a written classification plan, meaning that Montalvo's placement there, which led to Decedent's death, was illegal. (Doc. 75 pp. 13-14). While Plaintiffs may attempt to cast this claim in a different fashion, it is our view that these allegations raise an Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim. Thus, this objection is merely a red-herring because it invites the Court to find an Eighth Amendment violation based on the failure of the Defendants to follow the classification statute, which, standing alone, does not satisfy the touchstones for a claim of this type.
The standard for Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim is essentially the same as above -- it requires that the inmate is "incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm" and that a prison official "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and she must also draw the inference." Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742, 746 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Farmer, 114 S.Ct. at 1977, 1979). For the following reasons, we do not find Plaintiffs' evidence satisfies this standard.
First, there is no evidence indicating that Warden Chalmers's method of classifying inmates, although not done pursuant to a written plan, jeopardized the safety of those in the WRC. Indeed, there is no indication that this failure to maintain a written policy resulted in the misclassification of any inmates whatsoever.*fn10 Second, there was no evidence indicating that Montalvo posed a substantial threat to the safety of other inmates in the WRC. Although he was incarcerated for simple assault and disorderly conduct, by all accounts Montalvo was a "model inmate." (Doc. 72 p. 2).*fn11 Consequently, we do not believe the evidence can establish that either the general method of placing inmates in the WRC or the specific placement of Montalvo posed an excessive risk to inmates that Defendants consciously disregarded. Therefore, we shall overrule the objection to this extent.
Plaintiffs' third, fourth, and fifth objections can be combined into a single assertion: that the Magistrate Judge ignored material evidence put forth by Plaintiffs regarding the safety of inmates at the WRC engendered by its staffing level. We construe this claim as a failure-to-protect claim, as well. Plaintiffs assert that the staffing level in the WRC, which consisted of one guard per shift, was inadequate. They support this contention with the testimony of Corrections Officer Bishop ("Bishop")*fn12 and their expert, experienced prison administrator Ray Colleran ("Colleran"),*fn13 a prison misconduct report signed by Warden Chalmers,*fn14 and arguments about horseplay and unsupervision. (Doc. 75 pp. 14-20).
None of this evidence is sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to Defendants' deliberate indifference under Farmer. First, a close reading of Bishop's deposition testimony shows that his comment regarding staffing was directed at the prison, not the WRC -- which are two distinct places of incarceration. (Doc. 39 pp. 17-19). Second, while Colleran's testimony creates a dispute of fact related to the objective prong of Eighth Amendment analysis, it sheds no light on the subjective prong, i.e. whether Defendants knew of a substantial risk of harm to inmates at the WRC created by allegedly insufficient staffing. Similarly, knowledge of a substantial risk cannot be imputed to Defendants based upon the fact that similar wrestling had occurred at least once in the past, without any evidence that serious injury resulted therefrom, as there would be no reason for Defendants to believe that the staffing at the WRC was insufficient to protect inmates from such harm.*fn15 Consequently, we believe that there is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Defendants were deliberately indifferent with respect to staffing at the WRC. We shall therefore overrule Plaintiffs' objections.
Inasmuch as we agree with Magistrate Judge Prince's well-reasoned recommendation, we will overrule the Plaintiffs' objections and grant the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. An appropriate order shall follow.