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Rega v. Beard

August 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McVerry

Magistrate Judge Bissoon


Robert Gene Rega is a Pennsylvania state prisoner currently incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Green ("SCI-Greene"), located in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Rega was assaulted by another inmate, Lamont Overby, on March 31, 2007, and he alleges that Defendants failed to protect him from the assault, or to intervene when the assault occurred. Rega further alleges that Defendants conspired to permit the assault, and that he was denied medical treatment for his injuries following the assault. Finally, Rega alleges that he was denied prescription medication (Prilosec) for a stomach condition from December 21-29, 2007.

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 296) filed by the Department of Corrections Defendants.*fn1 Plaintiff has responded to the motion (Doc. 323) and it is ripe for disposition.

A. Legal Standard

A party's burden in response to a well-pleaded motion for summary judgment is to present ". . . specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 56(e) (emphasis added). If the non-moving party cannot so demonstrate the factual record will be taken as presented by the moving party and judgment will be entered as a matter of law.

Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). An issue is genuine only if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). The inquiry involves determining "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id., at 251-52.

B. Plaintiff's Rule 56(f) Motion

Plaintiff initially asserts that summary judgment is premature because he has not been provided with relevant discovery (Doc. 320). Plaintiff's motion arises under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has "interpreted Rule 56(f) as imposing a requirement that a party seeking further discovery in response to a summary judgment motion submit an affidavit specifying, for example, what particular information is sought; how, if uncovered, it would preclude summary judgment; and why it has not previously been obtained." Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 139-40 (3d Cir. 1988). The purpose of Rule 56(f) is to ensure that a party has "an opportunity to make full discovery" and is not "railroaded" by a premature motion for summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 326 (1986).

Plaintiff asserts that he has been denied relevant discovery that he sought in a motion to compel discovery (Doc. 234). The motion to compel has been ruled upon since Plaintiff filed his Rule 56(f) motion (Doc. 333), and Plaintiff filed an amended response to the pending motion for summary judgment (Doc. 341). Therefore, Plaintiff's Rule 56(f) motion is either moot because the Court has ruled upon the motion to compel that was the basis for his claim that he was denied discovery, or it should be denied in the alternative because Plaintiff has not identified any proper discovery that has been withheld. In either event, Plaintiff can no longer assert that he has been denied discoverable material necessary to respond to the motion for summary judgment.

C. Underlying facts -- Failure to Protect/Intervene

Plaintiff is an inmate incarcerated in the Capital Case Unit at SCI-Greene. The Capital Case Unit is a high-security area of the prison where inmates are single-celled, and are locked in those cells approximately 22 hours per day. Inmates are allowed to attend exercise yard with another inmate, or may do so alone. Inmates are handcuffed and escorted when outside of their cells, with the exception of approved inmate workers who are not handcuffed when they are engaged in work on the cell block (Doc. 297-2, ¶¶ 32, 34).

On March 31, 2007, Plaintiff was in his cell in the Capital Case Unit, D Pod, with his door secured. Corrections Officer defendants Barclay and Leach had just left D Pod to go to an adjacent area, "A Pod," where they were escorting inmates who were assisting in cleaning cells. Defendant Officer Armstrong, who was in the "control bubble," stated that he was informed that one of the spray bottles used to clean cells was missing (Doc. 297-2, ¶ 15). Armstrong decided to allow inmate Lamont Overby out of his cell to help look for the spray bottle (Id., ¶ 17). Armstrong states that he was using the intercom system to contact individual inmates on D Pod to determine if they had the missing bottle, but that when he tried to activate Rega's intercom, he mistakenly hit the button that opened Rega's cell door (Id., ¶ 20). Overby was walking past Plaintiff's cell at about this time, and Armstrong saw Overby walk into Rega's cell and exit a few seconds later, at which time Overby closed and secured Rega's door (Id., ¶ 22). Overby then walked back to his own cell, and shut himself inside (Id., ¶ 23). Armstrong was later informed that Overby had assaulted Rega.

Defendant Officer Henderson also was in D Pod at the time, although he was sitting at a desk from which he could not see Rega's cell (Doc. 297-2, p. 11). Henderson noticed Overby walking from cell to cell, but thought nothing of it, and he was unaware of the assault of Rega until Defendant Armstrong informed him sometime later that an assault had occurred (Id., ¶¶ 8, 12). He also believes he heard a cell door open at some point, but that this was not an unexpected event when there were workers in the area (Id., ¶ 8).

Plaintiff Rega's version of events differs from Defendants' version in a few important respects. Rega alleges that he was sleeping in his cell on March 31, 2007, when Overby entered and began to assault him. He claims that assault lasted for at least five minutes, and Rega shouted for help twice during the assault, but no officer responded to his calls for help (Doc. 341-2, ¶ 38; Doc. 319-1, ¶ 88). Rega believes that Defendant Armstrong conspired with Overby to facilitate the assault. In this respect, Rega has presented the declaration of inmate George Lopez, who states that he overheard a conversation between Overby and Armstrong two days prior to assault. Overby allegedly indicated to Armstrong that he needed a door opened to "take care of some business," and Armstrong is said to have responded "Don't worry about it, I will handle it, just don't kill him." (Doc. 326, p. 7).

Rega concedes that Defendants Barclay and Leach were in another area of the facility during the time the assault occurred, and, while he maintains that they were able to see back into D Pod, he does not present any evidence that either Barclay or Leach actually saw Overby enter his cell, or that they were aware that Rega's cell door had been opened. Likewise, there is no evidence that either Barclay or Leach could have heard Plaintiff's calls for help.

Rega believes that Overby was paid by another inmate, Mark Spotz, to assault Rega. Prior to the assault, Rega and Spotz had a disagreement concerning the ownership of some art supplies. Rega asserts that several of the named Defendants were aware of his dispute with Spotz. Rega does not present any evidence that he had prior disagreements with Overby, or that any named Defendant had been warned in any fashion that Overby was a danger to Plaintiff.

D. Analysis -- Failure to Protect/Intervene

Rega's claim that he was not protected from an assault arises under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An inmate making such a claim has the burden of proof to establish that a prison official both knew of and chose to disregard an "excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 133 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit further held that the knowledge requirement is subjective, "meaning that the official must actually be aware of the existence of the excessive risk; it is not sufficient that the official should have been aware." Id.; see also Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742 (3d Cir. 1997). In order to survive the Defendants' summary judgment motion, Rega must produce sufficient evidence to support an inference that the Defendants "knowingly and unreasonably disregarded an objectively intolerable risk of harm." Beers-Capitol, 256 F.3d at 132 (internal ...

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