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Eric Robinson v. Raymond J. Sobina

December 6, 2011


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


For the reasons that follow, Defendants‟ motion for summary judgment (Doc. 54) will be granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff‟s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 59) will be denied.

I.Procedural History

Eric Robinson ("Plaintiff") is a state inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Huntingdon"). Plaintiff brings this suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C § 1983, et seq. This suit was commenced with the receipt of the initial complaint by this Court, as an attachment to Plaintiff‟s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") on February 26, 2009. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff was granted leave to proceed IFP, and the complaint was filed, on the following day. (Docs. 2 and 3). Plaintiff‟s initial complaint named a host of individuals as Defendants, many of whom were dismissed on Plaintiff‟s motion, or due to his failure to prosecute. See Order of September 30, 2009; see also (Docs. 13 and 19). Claims against various other Defendants were dismissed as a result of Defendants‟ partial motion to dismiss. (Docs. 32 and 37). As of the date of this order, only Plaintiff‟s claims against Defendants Sobina, Story, Steel, and Burkhart ("Defendants") remain.

On April 28, 2011, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 54). Plaintiff responded with his own motion for summary judgment. (Docs. 59-62). These motions are ripe for disposition.


The following is a recitation of the facts and allegations relevant to Plaintiff‟s remaining claims.

Plaintiff alleges that, while he was confined to the restricted housing unit ("RHU") at the State Correctional Institution at Forest ("SCI-Forest") for the period of one day, his television set, which previously had been determined to be operational, was broken. Compl. (Doc. 3 ¶¶ 1-6); Def.s‟ Concise Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 55 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff alleges that, as he gathered his personal property upon release from the RHU, his request to have the television tested was denied by Defendant Steel, which is further alleged to be in violation of Department of Corrections ("DOC") policy. (Doc. 3 ¶ 4).

Plaintiff next alleges that, on February 27, 2007, he was placed in a so-called "hard cell" by Defendant Burkhart as a result of an altercation with corrections officers. Id. at ¶¶ 19-24. During his stay in the hard cell, Plaintiff allegedly was "deprived of all basic human necessities[,]" such as running hot and cold water, linens, blankets, pillows, towels, washcloths, shoes, soap, a prison jump suit, toilet tissue, socks, a tooth brush, and tooth paste. Id. ¶ 25. He further alleges that he was forced to live under "freezing cold temperatures on a dirty and filthy mattress stained with dried up feces, blood and urine with holes[,]" he was denied periods of outdoor exercise, he was not allowed to possess writing implements, and he was not allowed contact with family or the courts. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Plaintiff also alleges that he was denied meal trays for five days during his confinement to the hard cell. Id. ¶ 25. On March 9, 2007, Defendant Sobina and another individual allegedly visited Plaintiff while making rounds in the RHU. Id. ¶ 41. As a result of this, RHU staff allegedly were ordered to provide Plaintiff with "all the basic issued human necessities." Id. Plaintiff claims that the conditions of confinement in the hard cell violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 39.

Plaintiff allegedly remained in the hard cell until March 9, 2007. Id. ¶ 44. During the period of time that he was confined to the hard cell, he allegedly attempted to inform supervisory staff of the conditions of his confinement. On February 29, 2007,*fn1 he allegedly asked an unnamed nurse to file an abuse report concerning the conditions of his cell and his alleged denial of meals by prison staff. Id. ¶ 32. The same day, Plaintiff allegedly asked Defendant Burkhart why he was "being deprived of food and forced to live under inhumane and unsanitary conditions[,]" to which Defendant Burkhart allegedly replied, ""Why did you file those complaints against staff members?‟" Id. ¶ 33. He allegedly asked the same question of Defendants Story and Steel the following day, to which Defendant Story allegedly replied, ""Per Orders of Superintendent Sobina[.]‟" Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiff also alleges that other inmates attempted to contact members of the Pennsylvania legislature, and filed grievances and request slips on his behalf. Id. ¶¶ 35-36.

Plaintiff generally alleges, without elaboration, that Defendant Sobina, as well as former Defendant Mongelluzzo, conspired to violate his civil rights by transferring him to SCI-Fayette, where he was placed in an allegedly unsanitary hard cell. Id. at 18, 40.

In his affidavit in support of summary judgment, Plaintiff generally echoes his allegations regarding his Eighth Amendment claims. See (Doc. 60). Specifically, Plaintiff avers that he was housed under "inhumane and cruel living conditions and deprived of "meals‟ for a consecutive nine(9) [sic] days from February 27, 2007 to March 9, 2007[,]" and that his confinement during this period of time was under the supervision of Defendants Story, Burkhart, and Steel. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff avers to having asked Defendant Burkhart on February 29, 2009, why he was being deprived of meals "and housed under unconstitutional living conditions." Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff further avers to asking Defendant Story the following day why he was being deprived of meals, "showers and running "hot‟ and "cold‟ water being [sic] forced to live under inhumane and creul [sic] living conditions[.]" Id. ¶ 9. Defendant Story responded """Per Orders" [sic] of [Defendant] Superintendent Sobina.‟" Id. Finally, Plaintiff avers that, on March 9, 2007, Defendant Sobina saw the conditions of his confinement, and his subordinate ordered that the RHU staff provide Plaintiff with "all the basi[c] necessities." Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff‟s affidavit contains no mention of Defendant Steel‟s involvement in the alleged damaging of Plaintiff‟s television and placing him in a hard cell, nor does it elaborate on his allegations of conspiracy against Defendant Sobina.

Plaintiff also adduces the unsworn declarations of two inmates -- Champ Smith and Gary Williams. Smith indicates that he observed Defendant Burkhart order his subordinates not to provide Plaintiff with meals, nor provide him with "basic issue human necessities," from "February 27, 2006 and March 9, 2006 [sic] [.]" (Doc. 62-2 at 1). Smith also states that, as an inmate worker, he refused to clean the "blood, feces and urination [sic]" that was spattered about Plaintiff‟s cell. Id. He formulaically states that this pattern and practice was implemented and condoned by shift commanders and corrections lieutenants during the period of time in question. Id. Williams‟s declaration echoes that of Smith, and adds allegations that Plaintiff was denied a blanket despite allegedly low temperatures in his cell, but does not mention any Defendant by name. (Doc. 62-3).

The record indicates that the sole administrative grievance filed and fully exhausted by Plaintiff regarding the alleged conditions of his confinement in the strip cell, and contemporaneous denial of food, was grievance number 181408, which was submitted on March 9, 2007. (Doc. 55 ¶ 10); (Doc. 3 ¶¶ 43-44); (Doc. 54-3 at 7). This grievance was denied at the initial level on March 22, 2007. (Doc. 54-3 at 5). Plaintiff appealed, and added that he was not issued basic necessities until after Defendant Sobina had seen his living conditions first hand on March 8, 2009.*fn2 Id. at 4. This appeal was denied by Defendant Sobina. Id. at 3. Plaintiff filed a second level appeal, which was denied by the DOC‟s chief grievance officer. Id. at 2. The decision of the chief grievance officer indicates that it was her finding that (1) Plaintiff had not provided evidence to support his claims of poor living conditions and, to the extent that he complained of the unsanitary conditions of his cell, it was his responsibility to clean it;

(2) Plaintiff had been provided standard state-issue "care/hygiene" necessities, and had been afforded ample opportunities to shower; and (3) Plaintiff‟s meals and access to other activities "were appropriately denied" due to "legitimate security concerns" and due to Plaintiff‟s failure tofollow procedures, such as unnamed "feeding aperture procedures for receipt of meals[.]" Id. at 2.


In their motion for summary judgment,*fn3 Defendants make the following arguments:

(1) Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient personal involvement on the parts of Defendants Sobina, Story, and Burkhart to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; (2) even if a claim had been stated with respect to Plaintiff‟s conditions of confinement, summary judgment for Defendants is appropriate; (3) Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim for civil conspiracy; and (4) Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable ...

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