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Robert Pamplin v. Corrections Officer andy

June 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

ECF No. 32


Plaintiff, Robert Pamplin, commenced this action pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two guards and the warden at the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ") alleging claims of excessive force, failure to intervene, and failure to protect/supervise, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and state law claims of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (ECF No. 3.) By order dated October 15, 2010, the Court denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 12.) Following discovery, however, Plaintiff moved to voluntarily dismiss his claims against Defendant Rustin (ECF No. 25). The motion was granted and Defendant Rustin was terminated from this action. (ECF No. 26.) The remaining two Defendants, Corrections Officer Andy Coulter ("Defendant Coulter") and Corrections Officer Brody ("Defendant Brody") have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 32.) For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

A.Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the record indicates 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). Summary judgment may be granted against a party who fails to adduce facts sufficient to establish the existence of any element to that party's case and for which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying evidence or the lack thereof that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. National State Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). Once that burden has been met, the non-moving party must set forth "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial" or the factual record will be taken as presented by the moving party and judgment will be entered as a matter of law. Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). The inquiry, then, involves determining "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097, 1111 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). If a court, having reviewed the evidence with this standard in mind, concludes that "the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative," then summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. Finally, while any evidence used to support a motion for summary judgment must be admissible, it is not necessary for it to be in admissible form. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; J.F. Feeser, Inc., v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, 1542 (3d Cir. 1990).

B.Factual Background

On March 13, 2008, Plaintiff and three other inmates were being transferred between the disciplinary housing unit ("DHU") and the general population unit at the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ") by Defendant Brody. As part of the out-transfer process, Defendant Coulter removed each inmate's property from their respective locker in the hall outside the unit, placed each transferring inmate's property into a clear bag labeled with the inmate's name, and left the bags in the sally port area outside the unit for the inmates to claim upon leaving the unit. Plaintiff claims that when he received his property bag, he noticed that some of his property was missing. As a result, he and Defendant Coulter had a verbal disagreement about the missing property. This verbal exchange continued as Plaintiff walked down the hall with Defendant Brody and the three other inmates towards the elevators off the unit. As Plaintiff continued down the hallway, away from Defendant Coulter who was standing at the other end of the hallway sorting trays, he raised his voice and continued to argue with Defendant Coulter. While Plaintiff maintains that he only raised his voice in proportion to the growing distance between himself and Defendant Coulter, Defendant Coulter contends that Plaintiff was screaming and threatening him.

Plaintiff claims that Defendant Coulter became "furious" with the questioning about the missing property, and he contends that after he was waiting for the elevators at the other end of the hallway, Defendant Coulter started to briskly approach him. As Plaintiff explained in his deposition, So while we were standing up at the elevator, myself and three other inmates and Officer Brody, Mr. Coulter started towards me in a brisk manner -- he wasn't running or jogging but he was walking fast -- grabbed the front of my shirt up around the collar. There was a wall some feet behind me; I don't know how far. Grabbed me by the collar, lifted me off the ground, ran with me and smashed my head into the wall, slapped me on the ground, hit my head off the floor again and sat on me and told me all I had to do was shut my fucking mouth. (ECF No. 35-9 at 5.) Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Coulter intentionally pushed him into the wall and pulled him down to the ground. He also maintains that he did nothing to provoke Defendant Coulter's attack on him or necessitate the use of force.

Defendant Coulter recounts a different version of events. Specifically, he contends that he approached Plaintiff in order to grab his arm and escort him back to the DHU. He claims that, as he was advancing, he told Plaintiff that he was going back to the DHU, and claims that when he was approximately 6-7 feet away, Plaintiff dropped his property bag and lunged at or made an "aggressive" move towards him as if Plaintiff was going to grab or hit him. Although Plaintiff did not hit him, Defendant Coulter grabbed Plaintiff's shirt around the chest area with both hands and pushed Plaintiff back towards the wall, which he claims was just a few feet behind him. Plaintiff's head accidentally struck the wall and the two ended up on the ground where Plaintiff was eventually handcuffed. Each grabbing underneath one of Plaintiff's arms, Defendants Coulter and Brody then attempted to escort Plaintiff back to the DHU but contend that he resisted their efforts by flailing his legs. Although Plaintiff disputes resisting, he maintains that the officers "dragged" him back to the DHU and away from the medical unit even though they were aware that he was in immediate need of medical assistance.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant Brody failed to take action, prevent or stop Defendant Coulter's actions. Specifically, Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Brody did not say anything when Plaintiff first addressed Defendant Coulter about his missing property, and, although he saw Plaintiff make what he described as an "aggressive" move when Defendant Coulter was approximately 4-5 feet away, he did nothing. He further contends that Defendant Brody was simply "standing there" and did not say or do anything or call for backup as Defendant Coulter was taking Plaintiff to the ground.

According to Defendant Brody, when he arrived in the sally port area on March 13, 2008 to escort Plaintiff and the three other inmates from the DHU to the general population, Plaintiff was already accusing Defendant Coulter of stealing his property. He said he heard Defendant Coulter tell Plaintiff that he didn't steal anything. He also said that he did not say anything to either Plaintiff or Defendant Coulter at the time because he was busy watching the other three inmates to ensure they did not get involved in the situation. Defendant Brody maintains that, when the argument ensued, Defendant Coulter was approximately 4-5 feet away from Plaintiff when Plaintiff made what he characterized as an "aggressive" move by throwing his property bag to the ground, taking a step back, and putting his hands up. He claims that Defendant Coulter then grabbed Plaintiff by the shirt and took Plaintiff to the ground. He further claims that although he witnessed, for the most part, what occurred between Defendant Coulter and Plaintiff, the two were out of his view for a second and he did not get involved or call for backup because he had to have his hands free in case the other inmates decided to "jump" on him or Defendant Coulter. Once on the ground, he claims that Plaintiff was swinging his arms while Defendant Coulter was holding him down. He then assisted Defendant Coulter in lifting Plaintiff to his feet by grabbing him under the arm but Plaintiff was giving them a hard time by resisting. He claims that there was a lot of shouting and screaming by both Plaintiff and Defendant Coulter during the entire incident.

After the incident, Plaintiff was escorted back to the DHU and then later evaluated for injuries by the medical unit. Plaintiff claims to have suffered physical and emotional harm as a result of Defendants' actions. According to his medical records at the ACJ, Plaintiff suffered a head injury that was approximately five centimeters long and required sutures. In addition to the laceration on his head, he suffered from a head contusion, a concussion, bruises and abrasions, blurry vision, headaches, and an injured finger. Outside medical records report that Plaintiff suffered emotional distress and has been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the incident.

Several hours after the incident, Captain Stanton issued an Incident Report wherein he reported that on March 13, 2008 at 4:00 p.m. he was called to the DHU by Defendant Coulter. When he arrived, he found Plaintiff on the ground with a cut on the back of his head. He asked Defendant Coulter what happened and Defendant Coulter stated that when Plaintiff was being transferred he became verbally abusive accusing Defendant Coulter of stealing his belongings. After Defendant Coulter said he didn't take anything, Plaintiff continued to argue and refused to get on the elevator. Defendant Coulter then told Plaintiff that he was going back to the DHU at which time Plaintiff dropped his belongings and came at Defendant Coulter in an aggressive manner. The report states that Defendant Coulter used minimum force necessary to control Plaintiff and that Plaintiff hit his head on the wall causing a cut. Captain Stanton admitted that he did not witness the incident and Plaintiff disputes the accuracy of the Captain's Incident Report. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that he never refused to get on the elevators and that, prior to approaching him, Defendant Coulter neither issued him orders to return to the DHU nor indicated that he intended to take Plaintiff back to the DHU. Most importantly, Plaintiff disputes making an aggressive move towards, attempting to attack, or threatening Defendant Coulter.

As a result of the incident, Defendant Coulter issued Plaintiff a misconduct report for disrupting the orderly running of the institution, refusing to obey an order, using abusive or obscene language, and assaulting or fighting an officer. Additionally, Plaintiff was charged with and took a plea for simple assault.

On or about January 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed a private criminal complaint regarding the March 13, 2008 incident. The Allegheny County Bureau of Corrections' Office of Internal Affairs conducted an investigation and, after conducting interviews with both Plaintiff and Defendant Coulter, issued a report concluding that the case would be forwarded to the ...

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