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Deon Emanuel Craig v. Donald Kelchner

July 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carlson


I. Statement of Facts and of The Case

A. Procedural History

This is a pro se civil rights case that was first brought by a state prisoner, Deon Emanuel Craig, four years ago, through the filing of a civil rights complaint on June 28, 2007. (Doc. 1) In the intervening four years, Craig twice moved to amend his complaint, on August 8, 2007, (Doc. 24) and June 11, 2009. (Doc. 102) In these amended complaints, Craig named fifteen defendants including: the Department of Corrections, the Secretary of Corrections, the prison superintendent where Craig was housed in 2007, grievance officials, correctional officers, hearing officers, as well as Office of Professional Responsibility investigators and supervisors. (Doc. 102) This far-reaching cadre of defendants are named in a cause of action that appears to arise out of what Craig characterized as an unfair and retaliatory disciplinary hearing process in May of 2007. (Id.)

With respect to this disciplinary matter, Craig named the correctional staff who were allegedly involved in various shouting match with the plaintiff in May 2007, as defendants, and also named as defendants: (1) correctional officials who wrote incident reports which served as part of the factual basis for findings that led to this discipline; (2) the correctional supervisors who allegedly oversaw these correctional officers; (3) correctional investigators, grievance officials, and hearing officers who played roles in these disciplinary proceedings, reviewed inmate grievances lodged by Craig, or conducted what Craig views as inadequate investigations into this matter; (4) the prison warden, and Secretary of Corrections who are named as defendants because they were responsible for the operation of the prison, and, in Craig's view, failed to adequately respond to his complaints; and (5) the Department of Corrections as an institution. (Id.)

While these allegations have been longstanding, and pending before the courts for many years, they have yet to receive any informed scrutiny on their merits. Several circumstances have combined to delay a merits analysis of these allegations: First, the district court has on three occasions been compelled to strike, or order withdrawn, premature and inadequately presented summary judgment motions tendered by the defendants. (Docs. 83, 128, and 177) In addition, Craig, who is proceeding pro se and has now been released from prison, has delayed these proceedings by twice failing to appear for pre-trial conferences in this case as ordered by the court. (Docs. 185, 189, 190)

It is against the backdrop of this tortured procedural history that this matter was assigned to the undersigned on May 25, 2011. (Doc. 188.) Recognizing the importance of clarity in this litigation, we entered a series of orders directing the parties to focus on the merits of their longstanding allegations, and setting a schedule for examining, considering and addressing the merits of these claims. (Docs. 189, 190) The defendants have complied with this direction by timely filing a summary judgment motion, as instructed by the Court. (Docs. 191, 192 and 193) For his part, Craig has allowed this court-ordered deadline to lapse without filing a response to this dispositive motion. In the face of this inaction by Craig, the Court concludes that this matter is now ripe for resolution.

For the reasons set forth below the defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

B. Factual Background

This case arises out of an incident which occurred at the State Correctional Institution, (SCI) Camp Hill in May 2007, when Deon Emanuel Craig, was housed as a prisoner in this state facility. While the plaintiff's allegations are sometimes difficult to discern, it appears that, at some time in early May 2007, Craig attempted to file grievances and complaints against at least one corrections officer, Lawrence Cutright. (Doc. 102) Craig alleges that other correctional staff, including defendants Zobitne, Snook, and Swift, may have attempted, unsuccessfully, to dissuade him from filing these grievances. (Id.) Approximately two weeks later, on May 18, 2007, Craig claims that he received a misconduct report, a citation for an alleged disciplinary infraction, from defendant Correctional Officer Hunsberger. (Id.) This misconduct report issued by Hunsberger cited Craig for engaging in disorderly conduct that disrupted a pill line, the process by which prisoners on the block are assembled to receive their prescribed medication. (Doc. 193, Hunsberger Declaration, ¶ 4.) According to the misconduct report filed by Officer Hunsberger, Craig's shouting interfered with the orderly progress of the pill line because it presented a noisy distraction to officers which caused them to divide their attention between the yelling and the prisoners seeking to receive their medication, (id., Hunsberger Declaration, ¶ 5 ), actions which in the view of Officer Hunsberger threatened the security of the prison. (Id., Hunsberger Declaration, ¶ 8.)

This May 18, 2007, incident at the prison pill line then led to an angry exchange between Craig and correctional staff, with staff allegedly ordering Craig to "get off his door," and Craig responding by shouting: "You assholes think you can run this shit However [sic] you want but we own this Block, " and "Open this gate and I'll own your fuckin [sic] ass". (Id., Hunsberger Declaration, ¶ 7.

On May 22, 2007, Craig received a hearing on this disciplinary infraction. Defendant Moslak conducted this hearing on the misconduct report issued to Deon Craig for refusing to obey Correctional Officer Hunsberger's order and threatening him. (Id., Moslak Declaration, ¶ 2.) At this hearing, Craig pleaded not guilty to the charges, submitted a written version in response to the charges, but declined to testify. (Id., Moslak Declaration,¶ 3.) Confronted with competing, and irreconcilable, accounts of the encounter between Craig and Hunsberger, Hearing Officer Moslak resolved these credibility issues in favor of Officer Hunsberger's account, and found Craig guilty as charged. (Id., Moslak Declaration,¶ 4.) Craig was then sentenced to to 90 days in disciplinary custody. (Id.)

Thus, in the course of these disciplinary proceedings, Craig was given advance notice of these charges, was provided a hearing on the charges, was given the right to present evidence, was advised of his administrative appeal rights, and received the full panoply of procedural rights generally afforded inmates in this disciplinary setting.

Despite being afforded a hearing on these disciplinary citations, Craig subsequently protested this disciplinary hearing outcome, and various other matters, to investigative staff at the prison, who examined these allegations, but discounted Craig's claims. Superintendent Kelchner, and prison grievance officials Watson and Taggart, also are alleged by Craig to have declined to act favorably upon any of the plaintiff's various grievances, claims or contentions.

II. Discussion

A. Under The Rules of This Court This Motion to Dismiss Should Be Deemed Unopposed and Granted.

At the outset, we note that this case is now in a posture where the plaintiff has defaulted on multiple litigation responsibilities which he has in this matter. Indeed, within the past six months the plaintiff has twice failed to appear for pre-trial conferences in this case, and has now failed to comply with the briefing schedule set by the Court on this summary judgment motion.

Such failures have consequences. Under the Local Rules of this Court the plaintiff should be deemed to concur in this motion, since Craig has failed to timely oppose the motion, or otherwise litigate this case. This procedural default completely frustrates and impedes efforts to resolve this matter in a timely and fair fashion, and under the rules of this Court warrants dismissal of the action, since Local Rule 7.6 of the Rules of this Court imposes an affirmative duty on the plaintiff to respond to motions and provides that:

Any party opposing any motion, other than a motion for summary judgment, shall file a brief in opposition within fourteen (14) days after service of the movant's brief, or, if a brief in support of the motion is not required under these rules, within seven (7) days after service of the motion. Any party who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such motion. Nothing in this rule shall be construed to limit the authority of the court to grant any motion before expiration of the prescribed period for filing a brief in opposition. A brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment and LR 56.1 responsive statement, together with any transcripts, affidavits or other relevant documentation, shall be filed within twenty-one (21) days after service of the movant's brief.

Local Rule 7.6 (emphasis added).

It is now well-settled that "Local Rule 7.6 can be applied to grant a motion to dismiss without analysis of the complaint's sufficiency 'if a party fails to comply with the [R]ule after a specific direction to comply from the court.' Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (1991)." Williams v. Lebanon Farms Disposal, Inc., No. 09-1704, 2010 WL 3703808, *1 (M.D.Pa. Aug.26, 2010). Moreover, in this case the necessity of compliance with court orders and the local rules was underscored in writing for the plaintiff at the outset of this litigation. Nonetheless, despite this explicit warning Craig has not complied with the local rules, or this Court's order, by filing a timely response to this motion. Therefore, this procedural default compels the Court to consider:

[A] basic truth: we must remain mindful of the fact that "the Federal Rules are meant to be applied in such a way as to promote justice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. Often that will mean that courts should strive to resolve cases on their merits whenever possible. However, justice also requires that the merits of a particular dispute be placed before the court in a ...

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