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Daniel Rice v. Northampton County Prison

February 4, 2013


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


Daniel Rice has sued Northampton County Prison ("Prison"), Northampton County, Warden Todd Buskirk, Correctional Officers Darren Wimmer, William Fahr, and James Denofa, Lieutenant William Beers, and John Does 1-25 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries arising out of a fall Rice suffered in his prison cell. Correctional Officers Wimmer, Fahr, and Denofa have been voluntarily dismissed from the case. The remaining defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, which is pending before the Court. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted as to Rice's federal claims. In addition, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claim.


Rice was an inmate at the Prison and was housed in the B4 cell. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts [Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts] ¶¶ 2, 3.) Rice had been living in this cell for four to six weeks at the time of his fall and was in the first group of inmates to live there. (Pl.'s Counterstatement of Material Facts [Pl.'s Material Facts] ¶¶ 5, 6.) Rice was required to be in his cell every day from 9:00-9:30 p.m. until 6:00-7:00 a.m. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 5.) At the time Rice moved into the B4 cell, the sink area leaked, causing water to pool on the floor around the sink. (Pl.'s Material Facts ¶¶ 10, 12.) Rice and his cellmates were provided with a mop to wipe up the leak, but "that measure proved insufficient" when they were locked in the cell. (Id. ¶ 15.)

Rice reported the leak to the Housing Unit Officer, who said he would file a work order to have it repaired. (Id. ¶ 18.) Rice continued to complain about the leak and was told that maintenance had been alerted to the problem. (Id. ¶ 19.) Correctional Officer Wimmer and other officers filed incident reports with maintenance and reported the leak to lieutenants, but maintenance did not fix the problem. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 21.)

Early in the morning on July 23, 2006, Rice put on his sandals, got up from his bed, and walked to the toilet in the cell, noticing the puddle at the sink on his way. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 14.) After he used the toilet, and either before or after he washed his hands at the sink, Rice slipped forward, hit his head on the front of the sink, and fell to the ground. (Pl.'s Material Facts ¶ 25.) He asked a cellmate to push the call button in the cell. (Id. ¶ 26.) At approximately 2:35 a.m., an officer arrived and summoned Lieutenant Beers for a medical emergency. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28.) Lieutenant Beers, along with other officers and a nurse, arrived at the cell. (Id. ¶ 29.) Lieutenant Beers kicked Rice's feet multiple times, taunted him by belittling his injuries, and cursed at another inmate who expressed concern about Rice's injury. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 33.) The nurse tried to move Rice and "twisted his head," prompting Rice to speak disrespectfully to her and her to leave the cell. (Id. ¶ 35.) Rice remained shirtless on his back on the ground; at some point after the nurse left, Lieutenant Beers covered him with a blanket and offered him a pillow. (Defs.' Br. in Reply to Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A. [Video].)

At 3:40 a.m., Rice was put on a stretcher, removed from his cell, and brought to the medical unit. (Pl.'s Material Facts ¶ 43.) Rice was then taken to Easton Hospital by ambulance, and an X-ray was taken of his spine. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 26, 27.) The results of the X-ray were negative, and Rice received three stitches on his forehead and a prescription for pain medication. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 28; Pl.'s Material Facts ¶ 48.) Rice, who was diagnosed with a herniated disc in 2008, testified that he continues to have back pain if he makes certain movements, although after his release, he had a job for six months installing office furniture. (Pl.'s Material Facts ¶ 50; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 29-31.)

At the time of the incident, Warden Buskirk was the Director of Corrections for the Prison. (Pl.'s Material Facts ¶ 1.) The lieutenant on duty was Lieutenant Beers, who is responsible for the whole prison and to whom all officers report. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 3.) When he was on duty, Lieutenant Beers made several rounds a night to observe any activity at the Prison. (Id. ¶ 4.)


Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the movant does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if it provides evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find in its favor at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, a court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms, 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n,293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).


A. Cruel and Unusual Punishment for Conditions of Confinement

Rice sues Warden Buskirk and John Does 1-25 for cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment due to their deliberate indifference to the leak in his cell.Under the Eighth Amendment, "prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must 'take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.'" Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). "Prison conditions may amount to cruel and unusual punishment if they cause 'unquestioned and serious deprivations of basic human needs . . . [that] deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'"Tillman v. Lebanon Cnty. Corr. Facility, 221 F.3d 410, 417-18 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)) (alteration and omission in original)."To demonstrate a deprivation of his basic ...

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