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Terry Simonton, Jr v. Franklin Tennis

March 16, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Plaintiff Terry Simonton, Jr. ("Simonton"), a Pennsylvania state inmate who, at all times relevant, was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview ("SCI-Rockview") in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, commenced this civil rights action on February 5, 2009. (Doc. 1.) Presently pending is a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, filed on behalf of the following remaining Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") officials and employees stationed at SCI-Rockview: Franklin Tennis, Superintendent; Brian Thompson and Robert Marsh, Deputy Superintendents; Sergeant Bryan*fn1 ; and Lieutenant Graham. (Doc. 28.) For the reasons set forth below the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Material Facts

On April 12, 2008, defendants Sergeant Bryan and Lieutenant Graham were working the Unit Desk in D Building at SCI-Rockview, which houses inmates in general population. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 2.) On that day, an inmate by the name of Seamon had been denied a visit by the officers working the desk in the visiting room. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 3; Doc. 60, at ¶¶ 2-3.) When Seamon returned to D Building, he discussed the denial of his visit with defendant Graham, who explained to him that there was a problem with the visitor. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 3; Doc. 30-2, at ¶ 5.) During his deposition, Simonton stated that it was evident that Seamon was upset. (Doc. 30-4, at 6.) He overheard some of the conversation between Seamon and Graham, but could not hear everything that was being said and "didn't pay much attention to all of the commotion and when [he] went to turn around, [he] was on the ground then." (Doc. 30-4, at 6.) He never met Seamon before that day, did know who he was, and was not afraid of him. (Doc. 30-4, at 8-9.) He later learned of his name through the grievance procedure. (Doc. 30-4, at 6.) He states in his statement of material facts that rather than help or explain to Seamon why the visitor was sent away, defendants Bryan and Graham antagonized and angered him "to the point of assault." (Doc. 60, at ¶¶ 1-2.) However, there is no support for this statement in the record. Defendants contend that Seamon became enraged and without warning, turned and punched Simonton (who was waiting in line to go to his prison job) in the face. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 4.) The attack came without forewarning and as a complete surprise to both Simonton and Defendants. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 10.) Prior to this incident, there was no indication that Seamon would attack another inmate. (Doc. 30-2, at ¶ 12; Doc. 30-3, at ¶ 12.) It is undisputed that Tennis, Thompson, and Marsh were not present when the assault occurred. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 11; Doc. 30-4, at 11-12.) Rather, Simonton's dissatisfaction with these defendants emanates from their role in the after-the-fact grievance procedure and investigation.

Simonton was taken to the medical department and pictures were taken of his face. (Doc. 29, ¶ 5; Doc. 60, ¶ 5.) He was examined, provided with ice packs, given Tylenol, and sent back to his cell block. (Doc. 29, ¶ 5; Doc. 60, ¶¶ 5-6.) X-rays taken a few days later revealed that he suffered a broken nose. (Doc. 60, at ¶¶ 7-8.) He was provided an assortment of medications to alleviate his pain. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 6; Doc. 60, at ¶¶ 8-9.) He states that since the attack he suffers from hearing loss and headaches and experiences vision problems. (Doc. 60, at ¶¶ 8-10.)

Seamon was given a misconduct for assault and transferred to another prison. (Doc. 29, at ¶ 8.) The assault was reported to the Pennsylvania State Police and a meeting was arranged between the investigating state trooper and Simonton. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Seamon was criminally prosecuted in state court and Simonton was permitted to testify in the state court proceedings. (Id.)

II. Standard of Review

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the movant is entitled to summary judgment if it "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a).*fn2 In pertinent part, parties moving for, or opposing, summary judgment must support their position by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c)(1)(A). "The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Colwell v. Rite-Aid Corp., 602 F.3d 495, 501 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

III. Discussion

In order to prevail on a civil rights claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) the conduct deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); Schiazza v. Zoning Hearing Bd., 168 F. Supp.2d 361, 372 (M.D. Pa. 2001).

"A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . Personal involvement may be shown through allegations of personal direction or actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988); see also, Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); see Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257 (3d Cir. 2003); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077 (3d Cir. 1976). Such allegations, however, must be made with appropriate particularity. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08. Further, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit requires a defendant's contemporaneous, personal knowledge and acquiescence, in order to establish personal knowledge. Alleging a mere hypothesis that an individual defendant had personal knowledge or involvement in depriving the plaintiff of his rights is insufficient to establish personal involvement. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208.

A. Conspiracy Claim

Simonton alleges that defendants Tennis, Thompson, and Marsh participated in a cover up of repeated prisoner-on-prisoner assaults at SCI-Rockview. (Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 1-3.) In order to set forth a cognizable conspiracy claim, a plaintiff cannot rely on broad or conclusory allegations. D.R. by L.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1377 (3d Cir. 1992); Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 366 (3d Cir. 1989); Durre v. Dempsey, 869 F.2d 543, 545 (10th Cir. 1989). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted that a civil rights conspiracy claim is sufficiently alleged if the complaint details the following: (1) the conduct that violated the plaintiff's rights, (2) the time and the place of the conduct, and (3) the identity of the officials responsible for the conduct. Oatess v. Sobolevitch, 914 F.2d 428, 432 n.8 (3d Cir. 1990). See also, Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663 (3d Cir. 1988).

The essence of a conspiracy is an agreement or concerted action between individuals. See D.R. by L.R., 972 F.2d at 1377; Durre, 869 F.2d at 545. A plaintiff must therefore allege with particularity and present material facts which show that the purported conspirators reached some understanding or agreement or plotted, planned and conspired together to deprive plaintiff of a protected federal right. See id.; Rose, 871 F.2d at 366. Where a civil rights conspiracy is alleged, there must be specific facts in the complaint which tend to show a meeting of the minds and some type of concerted activity. Deck v. ...

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