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Eric Hall v. Robert Shannon

April 5, 2012

ERIC HALL, PLAINTIFF
v.
ROBERT SHANNON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caldwell

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction and Procedural History

We are considering the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The pro se plaintiff, Eric Hall, an inmate at SCI-Somerset, Somerset, Pennsylvania, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil-rights action for events that occurred while he was incarcerated at SCI-Frackville, Frackville, Pennsylvania.

In his amended complaint, he asserted a First Amendment free-exercise claim, an Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claim, and a RLUIPA claim,*fn1 all arising from the denial of a dinner meal for five days at the end of Ramadan; an Eighth Amendment excessive-force claim arising from an altercation when Plaintiff put his arms through his cell door's food slot; a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due-process claim arising from the disciplinary hearing held to determine if Plaintiff had violated prison rules during the food-slot incident; and a malicious prosecution claim arising from the criminal charges brought as a result of the food-slot incident. Plaintiff also made a state-law claim for assault and battery based on the food-slot incident.

He named as defendants the following Department of Corrections (DOC) employees: Superintendent Shannon; Deputy Superintendent Varano; Deputy Superintendent Wenerowicz; Corrections Classification and Program Manager, Brenda Tritt; Deputy Chief Counsel for Hearing and Appeals, Timothy Mark; Hearing Examiner Kevin Kane; Major of the Guard, Joseph Miller; Intelligence Captain, David Kneal; Captain Barnes; Lieutenant William Shade; Sergeant Nickey George Jepson; Corrections Officer (CO) Joseph Hughes; CO Mitchell Sarkowski; CO Jason Albert; and Nurse Tracey Lynn Frantz.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss. In ruling on the motion we: (1) dismissed defendants Barnes and Shade from the action because the claims against them were barred by the statute of limitations; (2) dismissed defendant Bitner from the action because Plaintiff failed to state a claim against him; and (3) dismissed the malicious prosecution claim.

We also decided the following claims survived the motion to dismiss: (1) the Eighth Amendment excessive-force claim against CO Hughes, CO Sarkowski, Sgt. Jepson and Lt. Kneal; (2) the First Amendment free-exercise claim and (3) the Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claim against Supt. Shannon, Deputy Supt. Varano, Major Miller, CO Albert and CO Sarkowski arising from the denial of food;*fn2 and (4) the due process claim against Kane, the hearing officer. The state-law claim for assault and battery against Hughes, Jepson, Sarkowski and Kneal also remains in the case as it was not addressed in the motion.

II. Standard of Review

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, summary judgment should be granted "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). In pertinent part, parties moving for, or opposing, summary judgment must support their position by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for the purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3). "'The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Meditz v. City of Newark, 658 F.3d 364, 369 (3d Cir. 2011)(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

III. Discussion

A. Plaintiff has Failed to Exhaust His Administrative Remedies on the First Amendment Claim, the Eighth Amendment Claim, and the RLUIPA Claim

Plaintiff has made a First Amendment free-exercise claim, an Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claim, and a RLUIPA claim arising from the denial of a dinner meal for five days during Ramadan. Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot pursue these claims because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C.A. § 1997e(a)(West 2003).

Plaintiff's evidence in support of this claim and in favor of exhaustion is as follows.*fn3 In October 2006, Plaintiff was observing the religious fast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The fast prohibits food during daylight hours. On October 18, 2006, at around 7:00 p.m., defendant Sarkowski was distributing the Ramadan dinner trays in the restricted housing unit (RHU) where Plaintiff was confined. (Doc. 34, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18 and 24).*fn4 Plaintiff was standing in his cell with his lights on waiting for his meal, but Sarkowski passed him by, refusing to deliver the meal. Even though Plaintiff stood at the ready with his lights on, this happened for the next four days, with defendant Albert refusing to deliver the meal when he was on duty. (Pl.'s penalty-of-perjury Decl. ¶ 26).

As a result, Plaintiff was without food for five days until October 23, 2006, when he was forced to break his fast by having his name removed from the Ramadan list so that he could receive breakfast from the morning staff in the RHU. (Doc. 34, Am. Compl. ¶ 67).

DC-ADM 804, the "Inmate Grievance System Policy," is a three-stage administrative remedy process designed to address inmate problems that may arise during the course of confinement.*fn5 Before the process begins, the inmate is first encouraged to resolve the problem informally with the staff, the unit manager or officer in charge. If that fails, the process starts with the filing of a written grievance for initial review with the Facility Grievance Coordinator. The inmate can follow that with an appeal to the Facility Manager (in Plaintiff's case Frackville's superintendent), and then finally with an appeal to the DOC Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals.

An inmate must submit a grievance for initial review "within fifteen working days after the event upon which the claim is based." (Doc. 135-1, CM/ECF p. 5, DCADM 804, § VI.A, ¶ 8). The grievance must be filed "at the facility where the grievance occurred." (Id., DC-ADM 804, § VI.A, ¶ 9). An extension of time for filing the grievance may be made if "the delay in filing was caused by":

a. a temporary transfer from the facility where the grievance should have been filed;

b. a permanent transfer to another facility from the facility where the grievance ...


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