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Melvin Willard White v. Jefferson County; Jefferson County Jail; Corrections Officer Clark

December 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

ECF Nos. 47 and 50


Lenihan, M.J.

Melvin Willard White ("White" or "the Plaintiff") filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § §12101, et seq.; and the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 791 et seq.

Following the Plaintiff's abandonment of claims against the Jail, claims relating to medical treatment *fn1 and law library access, and claims arising under the Rehabilitation Act, *fn2 three of the five counts set out in the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 36) remain. In Count I, White alleges that Defendants, Jefferson County ("the County"), and corrections officer Donald Clark ("Clark"), subjected him to punishment in violation of the Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution when, despite the fact that that he was paraplegic, he was admitted to the Jail, although it lacked the facilities, equipment, or staff essential to meet his basic needs. Specifically, White contends that, as part of a policy or custom, he was not supplied with a suitable bed, was denied assistance getting into or out of bed, and could not independently access the toilet or shower. He also asserts that Clark refused to assist him with getting out of bed to use the toilet, refused to clean him when he soiled himself, insulted him on the basis of his disability, and deliberately placed food beyond his reach. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-28, 31-33, 37-38).

Count III sets out Eighth Amendment claims based on the failure to train correcions officers in the requirements of the ADA, and alleges supervisory liability based on an inadequate system for evaluating and monitoring corrections officers' performance. (Id. at ¶¶ 64, 65).

In Count IV, White states that the County violated the ADA. Its failure "to provide [him] with accommodations which would permit him to move between his bed and his wheelchair, to use the toilet, [or] the shower resulted in [his] exclusion from or denial of services, programs and/or activities in violation of [the Act]." (Id at ¶ 69).

Pending is the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 50) filed on behalf of Clark and the County. This Motion will be granted.


A. White's 2004 Incarceration

The Plaintiff, Melvin Willard White, ("White") was rendered paraplegic in a 1999 work-related logging accident, and has since been confined to a wheelchair. (ECF No. 36 ¶¶ 7-8). Following that accident, White was incarcerated at the Jefferson County Jail ("the Jail") on three occasions, the first of which was over a two day period beginning August 25, 2004. (Id. at ¶¶ 9,14; ECF NO. 55 Ex. D at 2)).*fn3 Upon his admission to the Jail as a pre-trial detainee*fn4 charged with selling heroin and cocaine, White's treating physician notified then deputy warden Dunkle ("Dunkle") that White suffered from MRSA *fn5 related decubitus ulcers, (ECF No. 55 Ex. A at 33), and required specialized care, including a pressure bed and VAC device, which the Jail did not have. (Id. ¶¶ 9,10; ECF No. 51 Ex. A. at 31). The medical director at the Jail examined White, noting gangrenous ulcers on his buttocks, and his need for a trapeze to get from his bed to the commode. (ECF No. 52 at Ex. D). Dunkle recalls that upon learning of White's condition, he called the district magistrate, asking that White be placed on house arrest, "because [the Jail] had no means of accommodating this gentleman." (ECF No. 55 Ex. F at 3). When he was told that house arrest was not an option because White had been dealing drugs out of his home, Dunkle had officers book White and "started seeing what [he] could do about getting him transferred to a state facility that could accommodate his kind of disability." (Id.). On August 27, 2004, White, who was seriously ill, was transferred to Punxsutawney Hospital. White's attending physician described the events surrounding White's admission as follows:

The patient was admitted to the hospital after being seen at the Wound Care Clinic. At those times he had refused admission and he was being treated as an outpatient but in between the first . . . and second appointment he had been arrested and was currently in the Jefferson County Jail and after . . . some discussion as to what the patient's disposition could be . . . he was placed on furlough and admitted to the hospital on bail. The patient was quite sick. He was septic. He had positive blood cultures for staph aureus. . . He was treated with antibiotics . . . . The remainder of his hospital course . . . revolved around finding a suitable disposition for the [him,] being that his court orders stated that he had to present to the Jefferson County Jail within one hour after discharge. (ECF No. Ex. B. at 1). The plan was that White would be treated at home because the Jail could not provide suitable medical care. While he was still in the hospital, White's attorneys filed a Motion for Modification of Bail in the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 55 at Ex. D at 3). (Id.).*fn6 This Motion was granted, and, upon his discharge from the hospital, White was transferred to a nursing home. (ECF No. 55 Ex A at 9).

B. Changes at the Jail Between August 2004 and September 2007 Between White's 2004 and 2007 stays at the Jail, a number of changes were made. In July 2006, PrimeCare was hired as the Jail's medical service provider. (ECF No. 52 Ex. F). David Riley ("Riley") became the warden, and implemented a policy that disabled inmates would fall under the supervision of the medical staff. (ECF No. 52 Ex. G at 2).

Physical changes to the Jail were also made. "New doors were installed. Everything was sanded and painted and that type of thing, yes, a new heating system put in." (Id. at 11). Warden Thomas Ebel ("Ebel")-- who was deputy warden of the Jail at all times relevant to this action--testified that there were also "three ADA certified cells put in to handle disabled people, that we didn't have in 2004." (Id. at 10).*fn7 These cells did not have call bells, but were equipped with a video camera so that inmates could signal a monitoring officer. That officer had a variety of cameras to watch. An inmate in these handicap cells could call to the medical department, or to an officer's post two feet (and two doors) away. Neither the medical department nor the officer's post was manned twenty-four hours a day, but officers came and went several times every hour. (Id. at 19). "There's an officer that checks every cell in the building at least once an hour. (Id. at 20).

The Inmate Handbook in effect during 2007 included an entry titled "Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities" which fell under the heading "Medical Services." (ECF No. 67 Ex. D at 3; Ex. E at 3). The entry reads:

1. Qualified health-care personnel will give you a medical, dental, and mental health screening/appraisal within a reasonable time of your commitment, in accordance with standards[.]

2. JCJ's health care personnel, in conjunction with you, will determine if you have a disability, unless previously diagnosed by a certified health care professional, and will determine the level of accommodations you may need and provide the appropriate medical treatment, as required by the condition[.] JCJ's contracted health care provider has sole discretion in these matters.

3. In determining the type of auxiliary aid and/or service necessary, consideration should be given to the requests made by you[.] This information will be recorded in your medical file. Your cooperation with medical staff assists them in performing their duties[.]

4. Special accommodations will be made when it is deemed necessary for the safety and security of both you and JCJ and is verified by medical staff[.]

(Id.). Ebel testified that at the time of White's 2007 incarceration, there was no policy or procedure in place with respect to what information should be exchanged between the Jail's corrections staff and its medical staff. (Id. at 10). The Jail did not have a policy regarding what it would do "if an inmate with a disability said some kind of change ha[d] to be made to prison operations." (Id. at 9). White was the only inmate at the Jail ever to have requested accommodation for a disability. (Id. at 23). Corrections officers were not provided with training regarding the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Id.).

C. The September 2007 Incarceration

On September 12, 2007, White was transferred from SCI- Laurel Highlands to the Jefferson County Jail for less than twenty-four hours so that he could testify against another individual as part of a plea agreement. He arrived at the Jail and was placed in a handicap cell at about 4:00 p.m. on September 12, after Clark was no longer on duty. (ECF No. 55 Ex. A. at 13; Ex. G. at 3). Before he left duty that day, Clark was notified by warden Riley that White, a paraplegic in a wheelchair, would be arriving for an overnight stay. (ECF No. 55 Ex. G at 2). "At some point after midnight," in the early morning hours of September 13, White had an "accident in [his] pants." (Id. Ex. A at 16). White describes the relevant events as follows:

I was left in the room alone with no way to get back into my wheelchair, to get to the toilet, and my medicine was taken off of me, so when I don't have my medicine, about six hours later I get diarrhea . . . from not having the medicine. I called and called for help and no one would come help, I had an accident in the bed. Then I was forced to use a shower that wasn't a wheelchair accessible shower, and my wheelchair fell down over the six inch step that goes into the shower and I had no help. Those are my complaints about that stay. (Id. at 13).

Clark reported to work on September 13, 2010 at 8:00 a.m. (ECF No. 2 Ex. K). At his deposition, Clark testified that he went to White's cell about twenty minutes later in order to help White dress in preparation for the 9:00 a.m. court appearance. When he opened the door to White's cell, Clark noticed "a really bad odor of feces. I looked in the cell [and White said,] "Hey, I had an accident[.]" ((ECF No. 51 at ¶¶ 27-28). Clark radioed corrections officer Rowe ("Rowe"), and the two men helped White into his wheelchair. White alleges that one of these officers -- he believed that it was Clark, but was not positive -- insulted him by asking if he was a child. (ECF No. 52 Ex. A at 15). There were feces on Whites hands and on the wall. (Id. at ¶ 29). Clark testified that he and Rowe donned surgical masks sprayed with Lysol in order to enter the cell, placed a plastic bag on White's wheelchair, and helped him transfer from the bed. As the officers wheeled White to the nearest shower, they agreed that Rowe would stay with him, while Clark got his clothes ready. Clark had a "really weak stomach." (ECF No. 51 at ¶ 33).

White alleges, and Ebel confirms that the shower to which White was taken was not a handicap shower, because the extent of his "accident" required that he be taken to the closest one. He was not put over the lip down into the shower, because the hose and nozzle could be extended to an area above a drain outside the actual shower. (ECF No. 67 Ex. E at 8). Rowe held the wheelchair so that it would not move. (Id. at 9). White cleaned where he could, then lifted himself onto his arms while Rowe washed underneath. (Id.). Following the shower, Clark dressed White, and put him in a sheriff's car. After his court appearance, White was returned to SCI-Laurel Highlands. (ECF No. 51 at ¶¶ 34-35).

D. The October 26-31, 2007 Incarceration

On October 27, 2007, White was released from SCI- Laurel Highlands, but was immediately picked up by sheriffs and taken to the Jail based on a probation violation involving the 2006 sale of cocaine. (ECF No. 52 Ex. A at 25-26). The day prior to White's return, Riley ...

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