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Daniel Delker v. Corrections Officer Blaker

August 22, 2011


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


For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Grainey (Doc. 60) will be denied.

Daniel Delker ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette ("SCI-Fayette"), located in LaBelle, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff brings this suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deprivations of his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States stemming from events that took place during his transfer from the State Correctional Institution at Somerset ("SCI-Somerset") to the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene") in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Second Am. Compl. (Doc. 35) ¶¶ 1, 10. This suit commenced with this Court's receipt of the initial complaint on June 3, 2009. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge on May 4, 2010. (Doc. 36). Defendants consented to the same on September 10, 2009 (Doc. 11), and June 16, 2010 (Doc. 41).

Defendant Grainey filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 54) on November 26, 2010. Plaintiff filed a response to this motion on January 14, 2011 (Doc. 64). Defendant Grainey replied thereto on January 28, 2011 (Doc. 69). This motion is ripe for disposition.

A. Relevant Factual History

On June 28, 2008, Plaintiff was being transported from SCI-Somerset to SCI-Greene on a prison bus with other inmates and corrections staff. (Doc. 65) ¶ I.7. During the course of this transportation, Plaintiff was acting in an unruly manner -- verbally insulting other inmates and guards on the bus, using racial epithets, and threatening to urinate and spit on his fellow passengers. Id. ¶ I.10. Plaintiff was held in a cage on the bus that separated him from its other passengers, and was restrained with handcuffs, a waist belt, leg shackles, a black box, and a spit hood. Id. ¶¶ I.11, III.1. During the roughly two-hour drive from SCI-Somerset to SCI-Greene, Defendant King was seated behind Plaintiff's cage. Id. ¶ II.11.

As a result of Plaintiff's behavior, Lieutenant Daryl Eperjesi*fn1 ("Eperjesi") was instructed by the shift commander at SCI-Greene to assemble a crew of corrections officers to remove Plaintiff from the bus when it arrived, and process him into the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU"). Id. ¶¶ I.8 -- I.9.

When the transport arrived at SCI-Greene, all inmates save Plaintiff were removed from the bus and placed in a holding cell in the prison's intake area. Id. ¶ I.13. At some point prior to attempts being made to remove Plaintiff from the bus, Defendant King encountered Defendant Grainey, who is the highest-ranking uniformed corrections officer at the institution, outside of the intake area. Id. ¶¶ I.6, I.12. Both Defendant Grainey and Plaintiff agree that Defendant Grainey "was on a walk through the facility, [and] had gone outside briefly . . . to smoke a cigarette." Id. ¶ II.5. It is undisputed that Defendant King informed Defendant Grainey of the problems that he had experienced regarding Plaintiff's disruptive behavior during the trip. Id.

¶¶ I.12, III.8; (Doc. 65-1) at 108. Defendants King, Blaker, and Pluck, as well as Plaintiff, assert that during the conversation, Defendant Grainey ordered Defendant King "to do his job" and, if Plaintiff got out of hand, to give him "a good SCI-Greene welcome." (Doc. 65) ¶¶ I.12, III.8, (Doc. 65-1) at 31. Defendant Grainey denies that any such statement was made, or that any such order was given by him. (Doc. 65) ¶¶ II.7 -- II.8. It is undisputed that Defendant Grainey left the area prior to Plaintiff's removal from the bus. Id. ¶ III.10.

Defendants King, Blaker, and Pluck were chosen as the team to remove Plaintiff from the bus. Id. ¶ I.13. Adrian Fauvie ("Fauvie"), a non-party corrections officer who was directed to assist in removing Plaintiff from the bus, followed these individuals with a video camera, under orders from Eperjesi to record the encounter. Id. ¶ I.14. Eperjesi was present for the removal, and was outside the back of the bus. Id.

Defendant King stood directly outside of the cage door, which was located on the "passenger side" of the bus.*fn2 Id. ¶ 16. Defendant Pluck positioned himself behind Defendant King, on the "driver's side" of the bus. Id. Defendant Blaker stood in the walkway at the back of the bus, facing Defendant King. Id. Defendant King asserts that, after opening the cage door, he reached in to take Plaintiff's arms and move him out of the cage. Id. ¶ I.17. Plaintiff then lunged forward, and Defendant King grabbed Plaintiff's jumpsuit and pushed him against the side of the cage in order to reassert control. Id. Before control could be regained, however, Plaintiff lunged again. Id. Defendants King, Blaker, and Pluck then recount how it appeared to Fauvie that Plaintiff was going to head-butt Defendant King -- although Plaintiff did not actually do so. Id. ¶ I.18. These Defendants claim that "Plaintiff's weight, momentum and position of balance, combined with [Defendant] King's and [Defendant] Blaker's weight, caused Plaintiff to go to the ground. [Defendant] King and [Defendant] Blaker then regained physical control of him." Id. ¶ I.19. Defendant King admits that, during the course of the altercation, he struck Plaintiff with his hand three times -- once in the face while restraining him against the cage, once in the chest before Plaintiff fell to the floor of the bus, and once more while Plaintiff was on the floor. Id. ¶ I.20. However, Defendant King argues that this was done only in self-defense, or in the defense of other corrections officers. Id.

Plaintiff's recollection of these events differs significantly. Plaintiff asserts that, as he was being removed from the cage, he was not being physically aggressive, and underscores the fact that he was in full restraints. Id. ¶ I.18. Plaintiff also points to Fauvie's deposition testimony, in which Fauvie states that prior statements regarding Plaintiff's alleged attempts to head-butt Defendant King were made under duress. Id.; (Doc. 65-1) at 68 -- 70. Indeed, Fauvie testified at his deposition that he did not believe that Plaintiff had attempted to head-butt Defendant King, and characterized the use of force that took place that day in the following manner: "[t]hat was not unplanned use of force. That was [Defendant King's] use of force." (Doc. 65) ¶ I.18; (Doc. 65-1) at 75 -- 76.

Plaintiff further asserts that, during the use of force, he turned to try to "fend off the blows" that he was receiving, and was pushed to the floor by Defendant King. (Doc. 65) ¶ I.19. While he was on the floor, Defendant King punched Plaintiff in or around his face with a closed fist, and both Defendants King and Blaker continued to punch him while he was down. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that Eperjesi saw Defendant King take Plaintiff to the ground and punch him in his face with a closed fist. Id. ¶ I.22. Plaintiff does not allege that Pluck was involved in the use of force directly, but instead claims that he failed to intervene and stop Defendants King and Blaker's alleged misuse of force. Id. ¶ I.27.

After the use of force, Defendants King and Blacker lifted Plaintiff to his feet and escorted him off the bus and into the ...

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