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Jaime Otero v. Stephen W. Etter

August 26, 2011

JAIME OTERO, PLAINTIFF
v.
STEPHEN W. ETTER, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION AND ORDER*fn1

Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Relevant Procedural History

On or about October 24, 2008, Plaintiff Jaime Otero, an individual formerly incarcerated at the Bucks County Prison (ABCP@), filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ' 1983.*fn2

After filing his original complaint [ECF No. 7], Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on December 1, 2009 [ECF No. 60], and a second amended complaint on January 26, 2010 [ECF No. 69]. The second amended complaint subsumes the allegations of Plaintiff=s first two complaints, and has been deemed the operative statement of Plaintiff=s claims.

Originally named as Defendants in the second amended complaint were: PTS of America, LLC, a private transportation company that was retained by Bucks County to transport Plaintiff back and forth between SCI-Forest and BCP (APTS@); Thor Catalogne, an official at PTS (ACatalogne@); Stephen Etter, a driver employed by PTS (AEtter@); Patrick S. Canada, a driver employed by PTS (ACanada@); Bucks County, Pennsylvania (ABucks County@); Michelle Henry, former District Attorney of Bucks County (AHenry@); Steven Jones, Assistant District Attorney of Bucks County (AJones@); Harris Gubernick, Director of Corrections at BCP (AGubernick@); Dale Haring, Case Manager Supervisor at BCP (AHaring@); and Edward J. Donnelly, Sheriff of Bucks County (ADonnelly@). All Defendants other than Etter have since been terminated from this case, and the claims against them have been dismissed, pursuant to this Court=s Opinion and Order dated September 27, 2010. [ECF No. 89].

The only claims remaining in this case are an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim and pendent state law claims of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendant Etter. These claims are based on Plaintiff=s allegations that Defendant Etter recklessly drove a prisoner transport van occupied by Plaintiff and other prisoners in such a manner that the van veered off the road and struck the side of a hill, causing Plaintiff to suffer serious injuries. (ECF No. 69, Second Amended Complaint, at && 56-61). As relief for these claims, Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages.

The parties have conducted discovery and Defendant Etter has now filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff cannot meet his burden of proving that Defendant Etter=s alleged wrongful conduct caused the motor vehicle accident at issue. [ECF No. 115]. Plaintiff has since filed his own motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 118]. Responses to both motions have been filed by the parties. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Relevant Factual History

At all times relevant to this case, Plaintiff was serving a sentence of one to five years at SCI-Forest for Driving Under the Influence, and was also awaiting trial on new charges of Simple Assault and Possession of a Controlled Substance in or around Bucks County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 69, Second Amended Complaint, at & 4). On or about March 20, 2008, Bucks County officials retained PTS to transport Plaintiff from SCI-Forest to BCP, because Plaintiff had a scheduled hearing on March 24, 2008, and a scheduled trial date of April 14, 2008, with regard to the new charges. (Id. at && 17, 18). On April 10, 2008, at around 11:00 p.m., Canada arrived at BCP to pick up Plaintiff for transportation back to SCI-Forest. (Id. at & 19). Sometime during the early morning hours of April 11, 2008, Defendant Etter relieved Canada as the driver of the transport vehicle. (Id. at & 20, 56). At around 5:00 a.m., Defendant Etter allegedly Afailed to maintain control@ of the vehicle and caused it to Acollide with the side of a hill.@ (Id. at && 20, 59). As a result of the accident, Plaintiff allegedly suffered Asevere injuries to his neck and back areas.@ (Id. at & 21).

C. Standards of Review

1. Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(2) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if the Apleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.@ Rule 56(e)(2) further provides that when a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, Aan opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must B by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule B set out specific facts ...


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