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Aziz Fortune v. Louis Giorla et al.

December 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Padova, J.


Pro se inmate Aziz Fortune has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his constitutional rights were violated while he was incarcerated in a Philadelphia prison. The Complaint asserts claims against Philadelphia Prison Commissioner Louis Giorla, Warden John Delaney, and Sergeant Knight. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, we grant the Motion in part and deny the Motion in part.


Since 1999, Plaintiff Aziz Fortune has intermittently been incarcerated in the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF") of the Philadelphia Prison System ("PPS"). (Powers Decl. ¶¶ 3, 7.) The Complaint concerns the conditions of Plaintiff's confinement at CFCF beginning in January 2010 and an incident that took place on March 20, 2010. (Id. ¶ 3; Pl.'s Resp. Br. Exs. A, B.) On March 20, 2010, Plaintiff was waiting at the medical window to receive his medication from a CFCF nurse. (8/4/11 Fortune Dep. ("Fortune Dep.") at 6.) The nurse began arguing with other inmates and, mistakenly believing Plaintiff was a part of the argument, began yelling at and arguing with him as well. (Id. at 7, 9.) Sergeant Knight intervened and instructed Plaintiff to come into a nearby office with him. (Id. at 9-10.) Knight and Plaintiff went into the nearby office and Knight told Plaintiff to shut the door. (Id. at 11.) Knight then "smacked" Plaintiff in the mouth with his right hand. (Id.) Two of Plaintiff's front teeth were knocked loose and one of them eventually fell out. (Id. at 13-15.)

Beginning in January, 2010, while he was incarcerated at CFCF, Plaintiff lived intermittently with two other prisoners in a cell designed for only two inmates. (Id. at 23-27.) He also spent time in a cell with just one other inmate and in a multipurpose room with several other inmates. (Id. at 24, 27.) While he was housed in a two-man cell with two other inmates, Plaintiff lived on the floor right next to the toilet and felt "cramped." (Id. at 27, 29.) Unsanitary conditions caused Plaintiff's skin to break out in rashes. (Id. at 27-29.)

The Complaint asserts one claim against Sergeant Knight for the assault ("the assault claim")*fn1 and one claim against Warden Delaney and Commissioner Giorla challenging the overcrowded conditions of Plaintiff's confinement ("the overcrowding claim").*fn2 The Complaint did not indicate whether the claims were brought against Defendants in their individual or official capacities, or both. Defendants have collectively moved for summary judgment on both claims.


Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant 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). An issue is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the case under the governing law." Id.

"[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the movant's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court" that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, the adverse party's response "must support the assertion [that a fact is genuinely disputed] by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . ; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). Summary judgment is appropriate if the nonmoving party fails to respond with a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.


Defendants have moved for summary judgment on both of Plaintiff's claims on the ground that he failed to exhaust his claims as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) ("PLRA"). Defendants also seek summary judgment on behalf of Giorla and Delaney on the grounds that they were not personally involved in the events giving rise to Plaintiff's overcrowding claim, and that there is no evidence that would support municipal liability as to that claim. Before we turn to these arguments, we must first determine whether the claims were brought against Defendants in their official or individual capacities, or both.

A. Individual and Official Capacity

The Complaint does not specify whether Defendants are being sued in their individual or official capacities. Bringing a suit against a defendant in his official capacity is "another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'" Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs. of New York City, 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). Consequently, an official capacity suit is treated as a suit against the governmental entity and damages are paid by the governmental entity. Id. at 166; Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 233 n.9 (3d Cir. 2006). A governmental entity may not be held liable under § 1983 unless the entity's policy or custom caused plaintiff's injury. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. In contrast, a suit brought against a defendant in his individual capacity seeks damages from the defendant's own assets for actions done by that defendant personally. See Graham, 473 U.S. at 165-66.

We look to the Complaint and the "'course of the proceedings'" to determine in what capacity Plaintiff is suing Defendants. Melo v. Hafer, 912 F.2d 628, 635 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 n.14). We consider the following factors: particularized allegations of personal involvement; from whom damages are sought; responses by defendants that reflect an understanding that their personal assets are at stake; and what immunity defenses are raised. ...

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