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Wayne S. Gayle v. Conrad Lamont

January 9, 2013


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


This § 1983 suit arises out of alleged constitutional deprivations experienced by the inmate plaintiff during his incarceration at Northampton County Prison ("NCP"). In his Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), the plaintiff, Wayne S. Gayle, brings the following claims against NCP staff members Lieutenant Conrad Lamont, Correctional Officer Jason Miller, and Correctional Officer Paul Ritter: (1) use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (2) inadequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and (3) unlawful retaliation for constitutionally protected activity. Gayle also alleges that the above-named defendants and Director of Corrections Robert Meyers, who formerly held the position of deputy warden at NCP, violated Gayle's right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. The defendants move for summary judgment on all claims under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Court will grant the defendants' motion with respect to (1) the First Amendment count against all defendants; (2) the retaliation count against Lamont, Miller, and Ritter; and (3) the remaining Eighth Amendment claims against Ritter. The Court will deny the motion as to the Eighth Amendment claims against Lamont and Miller.

I. Summary Judgment Record

The facts described herein are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Inferences are drawn in the light most favorable to Gayle, the non-moving party. Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009).

A. Plaintiff's Religious Dietary Restrictions Gayle has been an inmate at NCP on multiple occasions since 1996, including from January 2008 until November 19, 2008, at which point he was transferred to another facility. The transfer was temporary, and, on March 4, 2009, Gayle was returned to NCP. PX A (7/6/96 NCP Booking Card); PX E (Inmate Booking Sheet for Wayne Silvera Gayle) at 1.*fn1

Gayle is a practicing Rastafarian and has been since at least the age of 17. He was born in Jamaica and views Rastafarianism as "a trait of [his birth] country." As part of his religious observance, Gayle follows a vegetarian diet. As early as March 1, 2000, Gayle notified prison officials at NCP that he requires vegetarian meals in accordance with his Rastafarian beliefs. Gayle reiterated his need for a vegetarian diet upon re-entry to NCP on August 19, 2005 and in a formal request submitted to prison staff on September 20, 2005. PX B (11/14/11 Gayle Dep.) at 45; DX D (12/15/09 Gayle Dep.) at 44; PX C (3/1/00 Inmate Request Slip); PX D (8/19/05 Booking Observation Questions); DX J (9/20/05 Dep't of Corr. Request/Grievance Slip).

At various points during his incarceration, however, Gayle has received meals containing meat products inconsistent with his religious practice. Gayle notes that obtaining a vegetarian diet at NCP is an "ongoing problem" and that, as recently as October 2008, he was provided meal trays containing fish. On several occasions, Gayle complained orally and in written grievances to various prison officials about being served non-vegetarian meals in violation of his religious beliefs and requesting that he receive a vegetarian diet. Gayle has also objected to his meals on secular grounds. He has complained to NCP staff about the types of vegetarian foods served to him and about his meal portions. DX D at 45-46; PX B at 49; DX K (10/2/08 Dep't of Corr. Request/Grievance Slip) at 2; DX G (12/19/11 Ritter Dep.) at 87; PX S (4/22/09 Incident Report).

As part of their duties, Correctional Officers Miller and Ritter personally delivered meals to Gayle. They were aware that Gayle had Rastafarian dietary restrictions but, to this day, do not know what those restrictions entail. DX I (12/2/11 Miller Dep.) at 62-63, 69-70, 187; DX G at 83, 93, 181-82. Miller recalls Gayle frequently objecting to the contents of his meals for religious reasons. On each such occasion, Miller would contact kitchen staff and request a proper meal for Gayle or ask his supervisor to intervene with Aramark, the prison's food services provider. Despite these efforts, the kitchen did not always provide Gayle with a replacement meal that complied with his Rastafarian beliefs. DX I at 60-62, 72-75. Ritter does not remember Gayle ever objecting to his meals due to his Rastafarian dietary needs. He recalls Gayle complaining about meals because "[t]he portions were too small" or because Gayle's tray was missing one of the meal components. DX G at 86-91.

On one occasion prior to October 16, 2008, Lieutenant Lamont was informed by a correctional officer that Gayle had been served a meal inconsistent with his religious beliefs. In response, Lamont "went down to the kitchen and asked the supervisor to prepare [Gayle] something else and bring it up to him." Lamont was otherwise unaware of what food Gayle received, although he knew the prison chaplain was working with Gayle to design an appropriate meal plan. DX F (12/2/11 Lamont Dep.) at 27-30, 106-07.

On October 13, 2008, while in his former position of NCP deputy warden, Meyers issued a memorandum responding to one of Gayle's grievances, which objected to, among other things, the presence of meat on his meal trays. Meyers' memorandum stated that Gayle would be provided with a modified, vegan diet. DX L (10/13/08 Memorandum). Gayle continued to experience problems with his food even after Meyers approved the new dietary plan, and, on November 16, 2008, filed a § 1983 complaint against James Buckly, the dietary supervisor at NCP. The complaint alleged that Buckly had provided Gayle with meals that did not comport with his Rastafarian dietary restrictions and had failed to implement the diet set forth in Meyers' October 13 memorandum.*fn2

Compl. IV, Gayle v. Buckly, No. 09-2128 (E.D. Pa.) (Docket No. 3).

B. October 16, 2008 Incident and Gayle's Requests for Treatment On October 16, 2008, Lamont was conducting a routine inspection of the tier on which Gayle's cell was located and observed a prison jumpsuit hanging in Gayle's cell. The jumpsuit was spread across the bars facing the hallway, partially obscuring the view into the cell. Gayle had hung the uniform to provide himself with privacy and block the light from the hallway while he tried to sleep. DX F at 35-36, 39-40; DX D at 77-78.

Lamont directed Gayle to take down the jumpsuit and Gayle complied with the order. Noting that he believed Lamont to be a fellow Jamaican and that Lamont presumably knew "what a Rastafarian diet should be," Gayle asked Lamont if he could help procure him a vegetarian diet in accordance with his religious practices. At that point, Lamont left Gayle's cell and returned with Officers Miller and Ritter and possibly other NCP officers. An altercation ensued, during which Ritter sprayed Gayle in the face with oleoresin capsicum, i.e., pepper spray, and Gayle was taken to the floor by the officers.*fn3 DX D at 80-82, 85-90, 104-05; DX F at 46; DX E (10/16/08 Report of Extraordinary Occurrence).

Following the incident, Lamont, Miller, and Ritter placed Gayle in a different cell on the tier, seating him on the cell's bed. A nurse on the prison's medical staff came to the tier to examine Gayle. The nurse tested Gayle's blood pressure but did not examine or treat him for any other injuries. At some point after the altercation, Lamont, Miller, and Ritter also brought Gayle to the showers to wash off the pepper spray. While he was being taken to the showers, Gayle complained to the officers of pain in his lower back and asked to see the prison's medical staff.*fn4 DX D at 93-95, 107-08.

After being decontaminated in the showers and examined by a prison nurse, Gayle was returned to his cell. After sitting on his bed for approximately an hour, Gayle attempted to get up to urinate, experienced "vicious[]" pain in his lower back, and fell to the ground. While lying on the ground, Gayle repeatedly asked Miller, who was stationed on the tier, to notify medical personnel that he required treatment. Id. at 95. That day, Gayle also submitted an official form requesting medical treatment for "excruiciating [sic] pain coming from [his] lower back and spinal area." PX N (10/16/08 Sick Call/Medical Request).

In response to Gayle's oral requests, Miller called the prison's medical department multiple times on October 16. In addition, Miller relayed Gayle's requests for medical care to the supervising lieutenant on duty. At no point that day did the medical staff request Gayle's transfer to their unit for treatment. Miller informed Gayle that he had called the medical department but that the medical personnel would not see Gayle. Miller also told Gayle that he had spoken to Lieutenant Lamont and that Lamont refused to come to Gayle's cell to address Gayle's claimed need for treatment. Other than the blood pressure test administered by the prison nurse, Gayle did not receive any medical treatment or further examination on October 16. DX I at 158, 160-63; DX D at 94-95.

At some point that day, Miller passed by Gayle's cell while Gayle was lying on the floor and resting his head on the metal bars of the cell door. When Gayle reasserted his request that Miller contact the medical department, Miller responded by kicking the metal gate on which Gayle was resting his head. Miller also stated that he had already called the prison's medical staff, that the medical team was not responding, and that he would not make any further calls on Gayle's behalf. DX D at 99-100.

Because Gayle's back pain prevented him from standing, Gayle reached up to his bed, dragged his mattress to the ground, and spent the rest of the day and night of October 16 on the floor of his cell. Gayle lay on the ground for at least portions of the next three days, and was unable to bathe during that period.*fn5 Id. at 95-96.

On the evening of Sunday, October 19, 2008, Gayle attempted to move from the floor to a standing position by grabbing onto the bars of his cell and pulling himself up. As Gayle did so, his back pain returned and he fell to the ground, landing in the hallway outside his cell. Correctional Officer Chad Rinker heard Gayle fall into the hallway and subsequently yell that his back was hurting. Officer Rinker called the medical staff to the floor, and Gayle was transferred to the medical unit. Id. at 96-97; PX Q (10/19/08 Incident Report). Gayle received treatment and was diagnosed by the medical staff as having "back pain secondary to trauma." PX R (Wayne Silvera Gayle Medical Chart). Gayle spent approximately two weeks in the medical unit, during which he was placed in a wheelchair. DX D at 98.

Following the October 16 incident, Gayle obtained and stored in his cell three or four eyewitness statements from inmates who observed the altercation. On November 7, 2008, Gayle filed a grievance, alleging that Miller had gone into his cell while he was in the medical unit and had taken items, including "two documents of legal work." In his grievance, Gayle expressed fear that he was being "set up" by NCP officers and that his physical safety was in jeopardy. He requested transfer to a different prison until certain, unspecified "affairs" at NCP were resolved. PX K (11/7/08 Dep't of Corr. Request/Grievance Slip). Gayle was thereafter transferred to another correctional facility on November 19, 2008.

Sometime after his transfer, Gayle asked his brother to collect his personal belongings still in the possession of NCP. His brother retrieved, among other things, a plastic bag containing the personal paperwork that Gayle had kept in his cell. The written witness statements concerning the October 16 altercation were not in the bag. PX B at 24-31.

C. Procedural Background

Gayle filed his original complaint in this action pro se on April 1, 2009, alleging that Lamont and Miller violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. Compl. IV. The complaint stated that Lamont and Miller had used excessive force in connection with the October 16, 2008 incident and ignored Gayle's ensuing requests for medical treatment for his back pain. Id. After appointment of counsel by the Court, Gayle filed a first amended complaint ("FAC") on April 22, 2011, in which he added a retaliation claim against Lamont and Miller. Gayle thereafter filed the SAC on January 23, 2012. The SAC included Ritter as a defendant on Gayle's Eighth Amendment ...

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