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Tyrone Green v. Det. Sneath

March 26, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Plaintiff Tyrone Green ("Green" or "plaintiff"), a Pennsylvania state inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon ("SCIHuntingdon") initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on January 26, 2009. Named as defendants are the following individuals: Superintendent Raymond Lawler ("Lawler"); SCI-Smithfield Superintendent Jon Fisher ("Fisher"); Deputy Superintendent Corbin ("Corbin"); Lieutenant Thomas Holtz ("Holtz"); Lieutenant Cameron Kendrick ("Kendrick"); Corrections Officer Lewis Tress ("Tress"); Corrections Officer Melvin Settle ("Settle"); Corrections Officer Anthony Eberling ("Eberling"); Hearing Examiner Edward Mitchell ("Mitchell"); Father George Koharchik ("Koharchik") and Pennsylvania State Trooper Daniel Sneath ("Trooper Sneath"). Presently pending are cross motions for motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion (Doc. 117) will be denied and defendants' cross motion (Doc. 133) will be granted. Also pending are the following motions filed by Green: supplemental motion in limine (Doc. 110); motion for an emergency injunction (Doc. 161); motion for supplemental complaint (Doc. 162); and motion for discovery (Doc. 164). The motions will be denied as moot.

I. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact" and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The burden of proof is upon the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

II. Statement of Material Facts

At all times relevant, Green was incarcerated at SCI-Huntingdon. (Doc. 134, ¶ 1; Doc. 147, ¶ 1; Doc. 145, ¶ 1; Doc. 151, ¶ 1.) On August 24, 2006, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Sneath was assigned to investigate a complaint by Green. (Doc. 134, ¶ 3; Doc. 147, ¶ 3; Doc. 145, ¶ 3; Doc. 151, ¶ 3.) On that same day, Trooper Sneath met with Green at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital and Green informed Trooper Sneath that he was pushed down the steps by a corrections officer whom he could not identify. (Doc. 134, ¶ 5; Doc. 147, ¶ 5.) Green asked to look at photographs of the corrections officers who were working on that day so he could identify the culprit. (Doc. 134, ¶ 6; Doc. 147, ¶ 6.)

Following his discharge from the hospital, Green was transported to the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield ("SCI-Smithfield") to recuperate. (Doc. 147, ¶ 7; Doc. 147, ¶ 7.) While at SCI-Smithfield, he received three separate misconducts charging him with Threatening an Employee. (Doc. 151, ¶ 4.) He was found guilty of all charges and sanctioned to consecutive disciplinary custody in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU"). (Id.)

Green returned to SCI-Huntingdon on September 6, 2006, and he was placed in the RHU. (Doc. 147, ¶ 7; Doc. 147, ¶ 7; Doc. 151-1, ¶ 4.) While in the RHU, he sent an inmate request to defendant Fisher seeking to be released into general population. (Doc. 145, at 7; Doc. 151-2, ¶¶ 3-4.) Fisher responded stating, "I cannot give you a specific date as to the length of your RHU confinement. I will tell you this, [sic] you will remain AC status until conclusion of PSP investigation. Upon that a decision will be made based on various staff input." (Id. at ¶ 3) "As per Department of Correction policy, when an inmate alleges he was assaulted by staff, he is placed in Administrative Custody ("AC") for his safety pending an investigation. The inmate remains on AC until the resolution of the investigation." (Doc. 151-2, ¶ 4.)

On September 26, 2006, Trooper Sneath interviewed Green at SCIHuntingdon. At that time, Green gave Trooper Sneath a copy of the medical report from the J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital. (Doc. 134, ¶ 10; Doc. 147 ¶ 8.) Green also reported that he was mistreated while at SCI-Smithfield in that he was tortured and issued fabricated misconducts. (Id.)

The next day, Trooper Sneath interviewed Corrections Officer Trainee Montgomery. (Doc. 134, ¶ 11.) Officer Montgomery reported that on August 24, 2006, he was escorting Green with Corrections Officer Hollibaugh. (Id.) Hollibaugh was behind Green to the left and Officer Montgomery was behind Hollibaugh. (Id.) He stated that he was more than an arm's length away from Green when Green stumbled and went down the stairs and that he was too far away to grab him and keep him from falling down the stairs and that neither he nor Hollibaugh pushed Green. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.) Officer Montgomery recalled that after Green fell, someone nearby had jokingly asked the officers why they pushed Green down the stairs. (Id. at ¶ 13.)

After interviewing Officer Montgomery, Trooper Sneath states that he showed Green an array of photographs from which Green identified Officer Montgomery as the officer who escorted him and pushed him down the stairs. (Doc. 134, ¶ 14). Green, however, denies that he was shown any photographs and maintains that he was only escorted by one officer, and that was the same officer who pushed him down the stairs. (Doc. 134, ¶ 15; Doc. 147, ¶¶ 14-15.)

On October 25, 2006, Trooper Sneath interviewed Officer Hollibaugh. (Doc. 134, ¶ 16.) Hollibaugh reported that he and Officer Montgomery escorted Green on August 24, 2006, and that he, Officer Montgomery and Green, who was handcuffed behind his back and walking slightly ahead of the two corrections officers, were proceeding on the second tier of the cell block in the RHU. (Id.) He stated that immediately before he reached the stairs, Green looked up to the third tier and yelled to another prisoner while still walking toward the stairs. (Id. at ¶ 17.) It appeared to Hollibaugh that Green misjudged the proximity of the first step, missed the next step, lost his balance and fell down the stairs. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

On October 3, 2006, Green filed a civil lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County related to the August 24, 2006 incident naming various corrections officers including Holtz and Fisher. (Doc. 80-1, at 7.)

A. Retaliation

1. December 19, 2006 Interview

Green was again interviewed by Trooper Sneath on December 19, 2006. (Doc. 134, ¶ 19.) Defendants contend that Trooper Sneath informed Green that he did not yet have sufficient information to arrest anyone (Doc. 134, ¶¶ 19-20), and that Green requested that Trooper Sneath close the investigation so that he could get out of the RHU (Doc. 151, ¶ 4). According to Trooper Sneath, the investigation continued into February 2007, when he interviewed individuals employed at SCI-Smithfield in connection with Green's complaints. (Doc. 134, ¶¶ 21-25.) Conversely, Green contends that during the interview, Trooper Sneath and Fisher threatened that if he did not drop his complaint against Officer Montgomery, he would remain in the RHU for the duration of the investigation, which could take years. (Doc. 145, ¶ 4; Doc. 147, ¶¶ 19, 21.) He also contends that Trooper Sneath informed him that the SCI-Smithfield employees were interviewed and that they had no recollection of plaintiff. (Id.)

Because Trooper Sneath did not find any evidence to corroborate Green's claims that he was mistreated while at SCI-Smithfield, or that Officer Montgomery pushed him down the stairs, the investigation was terminated on February 26, 2007. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.) Green was released from the RHU on March 1, 2007. (Doc. 151, ¶ 5; Doc. 151-1, ¶ 6.)

2. April 10, 2008 RHU placement

On April 10, 2008, the Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas denied Greens motion for summary judgment. (80-1, at 9.) On that same day, he was placed in administrative custody because he was charged with, or was under investigation for, a violation of facility rules and there was a "need for increased control pending disposition of charges or completion of the investigation." (Doc. 149, ¶ 6; Doc. 145, at 10; Doc. 134, ¶ 27.) He remained in administrative custody for approximately three weeks. (Doc. 145, ¶ 6; Doc. 149, ¶ 6; Doc. 151, ¶ 6.) Because the Security Office investigation did not produce enough evidence to warrant a misconduct, he was released to general population. (Doc. 134, ¶¶ 27-28; Doc. 134-3, at 14; Doc. 151, ¶ 6.)

3. December 8, 2008 RHU placement

On December 4, 2008, Officers Settle and Tress were sent to Green's cell by defendant Holtz. Holtz's reasons for dispatching the officers to Green's cell vary slightly. In an affidavit dated January 15, 2010, Holtz stated that he received a complaint about Green in the Security Office which prompted him to order an investigative search of Green's cell. (Doc. 80-1, ¶¶ 2-3.) The search uncovered contraband in the form of a razor, which resulted in the issuance of a misconduct. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5.) When the officers attempted to transfer Green to the RHU pending further investigation, he refused. (Id. at ¶ 6.) He then threatened to cut himself with the razor. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Eventually, he agreed to be transferred to the RHU. (Id. at ¶ 7.)

In his July 12, 2011 affidavit, Holtz states that "[o]n December 4, 2008, based upon a complaint, I ordered Corrections Officers Settle and Tress to escort Tyrone Green to the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") pending an investigation concerning him." (Doc. 134-4, ¶ 6.) Green refused several orders directing him to place his hands through the pie-hole in his cell door so that he could be handcuffed. (Doc. 134, ¶ 31; Doc. 147, ¶ 8; Doc. 151, ¶ 8.) He became increasingly agitated and then grabbed a razor blade from his table and said, "I'm not going down like this. Come on in. Let's party then." (Doc. 134, ¶ 32; Doc. 147, ¶ 32; Doc. 145, ¶ 8; Doc. 151, ¶ 8.) Green placed the razor blade to his wrist and said, "I'm not going down like this." (Id.) Eventually he agreed to be handcuffed and escorted out of the cell; the razor blade was confiscated and taken to the Security Office. (Doc. 134, ¶ 33; Doc. 147, ¶ 33; Doc. 145, ¶ 8; Doc. 151, ¶ 8.) Because it was determined that Green was a danger to himself, he was taken to the infirmary and placed on suicide watch and observed at fifteen minute intervals. (Doc. 145, ¶ 9: Doc. 145, at 14, 20.)

On December 5, 2008, Green was issued what he describes as a fabricated misconduct charging him with threatening an employee, refusing to obey an order, and possession of contraband in the form of a weapon. (Doc. 145, at ¶ 10; Doc. 145, 14.) He was released from the infirmary on December 8, 2008, and taken to the RHU. (Doc. 145, ¶ 11; Doc. 151, ¶ 11.)

4. December 16, 2008 RHU transfer

On December 16, 2008, Green was escorted to a different RHU cell by defendant Eberling. (Doc. 145, ¶ 12.) Green alleges that during the transfer, Eberling commented "aren't you the one that got Officer Montgomery in trouble." (Doc. 149, ¶ 13.) During this transfer, his Quran was left behind and thrown in the trash. (Doc. 134, ¶ 35; Doc. 147, ¶ 35.)

On December 17, 2008, Green filed a grievance charging that defendant Eberling purposely left his Quran behind and that it was discarded. (Doc. 145, ¶ 13; Doc. 134, ¶ 44.) On January 13, 2009, grievance officer defendant Kendrick responded to the grievance as follows:

Your Qur'an was left in the cell when you were moved out. You packed your cell property and were responsible for making sure you had all your belongings prior to moving. Once you moved out of the cell, the officers who were moving the next inmate into the cell cleared out any remaining items that were left in the cell. All items that were left in the cell were considered trash and removed from the cell.

Iman Erogan talked to you on the 17th and furnished you with a Qur'an. I talked to Father Koharchik on the 18th. He informed me that they are making an effort to replace ...

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