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Yassin Haythame Mohamad v. Barry Smith

March 12, 2012

YASSIN HAYTHAME MOHAMAD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BARRY SMITH, (LIEUTENANT) IN HIS OWN CAPACITY; STEPHEN BEST, (CORRECTIONAL OFFICER) IN HIS OWN CAPACITY; ROBERT DICK, (CORRECTIONAL OFFICER 1) IN HIS OWN ) CAPACITY; THOMAS BOGARDUS, ECF NO. 45 (SERGEANT) IN HIS OWN CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly

OPINION

KELLY, Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff, Yassin Haythame Mohamad, ("Plaintiff" or "Mohamad"), is a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), and is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution ("SCI") at Graterford. Mohamad has brought this civil rights suit against Lieutenant Barry Smith ("Smith"), Corrections Officer Stephen Best ("Best"), Corrections Officer Robert Dick ("Dick") and Sergeant Thomas Bogardus ("Bogardus") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging that Defendants used excessive force against him during an altercation that occurred on December 17, 2007, while Mohamad was housed at SCI-Forest. Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment submitted by Defendants. ECF No. 45. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

It is undisputed that as of December 17, 2007, Mohamad was on a variety of security- related movement restrictions due to his history of assaultive behavior.*fn1 The restrictions, which were to be used whenever Mohamad was out of his cell, required that Mohamad be handcuffed at all times; that the handcuffs were to be attached to a waist belt and a tether; that he was to be shackled; that all movement was to be videotaped; that a Commissioned Officer was required to be present at all times; and that Mohamad was to wear a spit shield.*fn2 ECF No. 46-1: pp. 4-5 at ¶ 4; p. 11 at ¶ 4; pp. 16-17 at ¶ 4. It is also undisputed that Defendants were aware not only generally of Mohamad's history of assaultive behavior but of the movement restrictions imposed on him. ECF No. 46-1, p. 5 at ¶ 5. See ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 6, 7; ECF No. 55 ¶¶ 6, 7.

On December 17, 2007, Defendant Smith, as a Commissioned Officer, was supervising Defendants Best and Bogardus as they escorted Mohamad from the Receiving and Discharge ("R&D") area at SCI-Forest to the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU"). Defendant Dick was assigned to operate the hand held video camera.*fn3 ECF No. 46-1: p. 4 at ¶¶ 2, 18; p. 9; p. 11 at ¶ 2; p. 16 at ¶ 2. See ECF No. 46, ¶ 4; ECF No. 55 ¶ 4. Defendants have attested to the fact that as they were preparing to escort Mohamad from R&D to the RHU, they were informed that his inmate ID photo was outdated and that they were to escorted Mohamad to the photo room. ECF No. 46-1: p. 5 at ¶ 6; p. 12 at ¶ 6; p. 17 at ¶ 5. See ECF No. 46-3, pp. 1-11.

The evidence shows that, at the time, it was the policy of the DOC that inmates were to remove all head gear, including religious head gear, when having inmate ID photos taken. ECF No. 46-3, pp. 13-14. See ECF No. 46-1: p. 5 at ¶ 8; p. 12 at ¶ 8. Accordingly, upon arriving in the photo room, Smith removed Mohamad's kufi*fn4 since Mohamad was restrained and could not remove it himself. ECF No. 46-1: p. 5 at ¶ 8; p. 12 at ¶ 8; p. 17 at ¶ 6. See ECF No. 143-3, pp. 1-11. When Smith removed the kufi, Mohamad became non-compliant and repeatedly stated that "I'm not taking no picture." ECF No. 46-1: p. 5 at ¶ 9; p. 12 at ¶ 9; p. 17 at ¶ 6. In an effort to prevent the staff from taking his photo, Mohamad bowed and turned his head numerous times. According to Smith and Best, they consequently became concerned that Mohamad, who obviously was not wearing his spit shield, might spit on them. ECF No. 46-1: p. 5 at ¶ 10; p. 12 at ¶ 10; p. 17 at ¶ 7. Best therefore attempted to restrain Mohamad's head in an effort to protect himself and to permit the photograph to be taken. Mohamad, however, continued to be non-compliant, turning his head so that the picture could not be taken. Defendants have attested to the fact that Mohamad then pushed back into Defendant Best, who was standing behind Mohamad, knocking him off balance. ECF No. 46-1: p. 12-13 at ¶¶ 10, 11; p. 17 at ¶ 7. Moreover, although not clear from the DVD recording, Best has also attested to the fact that he felt Mohamad's hands, which were cuffed behind his back, attempting to grab hold of him. ECF No. 46-1, p. 13 at ¶ 11.

At that point, Smith and Best determined that the situation was "getting out of control" and that steps needed to be taken to ensure their safety and the safety of the other officers in the area. Consequently, Defendants took Mohamad to the floor. ECF No. 46-1: p. 6 at ¶¶ 12, 15; p. 13 at ¶ 12; p. 17 at ¶¶ 8, 9. After regaining control, Mohamad was brought to his feet and the spit shield was placed on him. He was then escorted to the RHU without further incident. ECF No. 46-1: p. 6 at ¶ 15; p. 13 at ¶ 15; p. 17 at ¶ 10. It is undisputed that Defendant Dick had no role in the incident other than to record it on the hand held camera. ECF No. 46 ¶ 30; ECF No. 55 ¶ 30. See ECF No. 46-1: p. 7 at ¶ 18.

The Defendants have also submitted evidence that a medical assessment of Mohamad was conducted immediately after the incident in accordance with DOC policy when there has been a use of force. ECF No. 46-3, pp. 15-18. The medical reports show that Mohamad did not suffer any injury and that no treatment was necessary. Id.

Mohamad nevertheless initiated this action on July 20, 2009, bringing claims against Defendants for use of excessive force under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Mohamad also cites to the First and Fourteenth Amendments in his Complaint, as well as to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq. ECF Nos. 1, 3.

Defendants filed an answer to the Complaint on November 10, 2010, and discovery closed on April 20, 2011. ECF Nos. 22, 34. Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on June 17, 2011, ECF No. 45, which is now ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is warranted only where Athe pleadings, 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 a judgment as a matter of law.@ Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party=s case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). See Conoshenti v. Public Service Electric & Gas Company, 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). When the moving party has met this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to Aset forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.@ Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (2). The mere existence of some evidence favoring the non-moving party, however, will not defeat the motion. There must be enough evidence with respect to a particular issue to enable a reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). See McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363-64 (3d Cir. 2005). In ...


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