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Wolfe v. Beard

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 31, 2013



MARY A. McLAUGHLIN, District Judge.

The plaintiff in this case, Jessica Elaine Wolfe, brings this suit for alleged constitutional deprivations suffered while she was an inmate at State Correctional Institution at Graterford ("SCI Graterford"). Since initiating this suit, Wolfe has been released. Wolfe's original complaint in this action included counts against nine officials at SCI Graterford. Following motions to dismiss both the initial complaint and Wolfe's amended complaint, the Court dismissed the plaintiff's claims against all but two of the defendants, Sergeant Andre Zimmer, a correctional officer at SCI Graterford, and Sylvia Pallott, a unit manager within the prison. Those defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Court denied.

Wolfe's remaining claims are as follows. She alleges that Zimmer used excessive force against her in violation of the Eighth Amendment when he banged her head into a window and indecently touched her breasts during her reentry into SCI Graterford on October 21, 2009, and that Pallott retaliated against her for engaging in conduct protected by the First Amendment when she transferred Wolfe's cell because Wolfe had filed a grievance against another prison official.

The Court held a two-day bench trial. This memorandum comprises the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Court finds for the defendants on both claims.

I. Findings of Fact

A. The Plaintiff

1. Plaintiff Jessica Elaine Wolfe was a prisoner at SCI Graterford, a state prison for male inmates, from approximately December 13, 2001 to March 13, 2011. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 19:7-15, 174:18-20.

2. Wolfe is a transgendered woman. She was born a biological male but has viewed herself as a female from a young age. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 19:16-24, 20:15-21.

3. Specifically, Wolfe is a transsexual, which she identifies as a person who has gone through the process of changing her sex. Since 1995, Wolfe has undertaken the process of reassigning her sex from male to female. On February 14, 1996, Wolfe began taking female hormones and "blockers" to stop the production of male hormones. The female hormones have caused Wolfe to develop breasts and lose body hair, changed her voice, and feminized her. Wolfe has also received counseling and, prior to her incarceration, legally changed her name from James Wolfe to Jessica Wolfe. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 20:1-10, 20:22-21:6, 21:21-22:20, 23:6-24.

4. While Wolfe was in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), she was treated by the medical department for being transsexual. As part of her treatment, she continued to take hormones. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 25:15-26:1; PX 20.[1]

5. When Wolfe entered the state prison system, she had long hair and breasts, although they were less developed than they are today. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 31:5-13.

6. On December 10, 2002, Dr. N.E. Holland-Hull, a psychiatrist with the DOC, placed a restriction on cutting Wolfe's hair as part of her medical treatment. PX 20.

B. The Defendants

7. Defendant Andre Zimmer is a corrections officer at SCI Graterford. He has been a sergeant at the facility since 1989. 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 59:11-15, 76:5-7.

8. Defendant Sylvia Pallott is a unit manager on Cell Block A at SCI Graterford. She has held that position since March 30, 2010, and has worked as a unit manager at SCI Graterford for approximately nine years. 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 110:24-111:22.

C. Wolfe's Housing on A Block

9. Beginning in August 2005, Wolfe was housed on "A Block" at SCI Graterford. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 175:12-14.

10. A Block is a long corridor and contains approximately 400 cells on two tiers, an upper tier and a lower tier. As of 2010, A Block housed approximately 500 inmates. 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 69:10-19; 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 92:15-20, 130:1-3; PX 22; PX 24.

11. All cells on A Block, whether actually inhabited by one or two inmates, are identical. Each has a bunk bed and can accommodate up to two inmates. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 109:19-21, 110:14-18; PX 32; PX 33.

12. Wolfe had a "Z-code single cell status, " which meant that she could not be assigned to share a cell with anyone else. 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 112:13-18. The first cell on A Block to which Wolfe was assigned was 2-049. The number designation reflected the fact that Wolfe was in cell 49 on the second tier. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 34:5-6, 98:5-25; PX 25.

13. Although Wolfe lived in cell 2-049 by herself, the side of A Block on which her cell was located was designated the double-cell side, meaning that it was meant to house two inmates per cell. The opposite side of A Block was the single-cell side, which was supposed to house one inmate per cell. Although cells on the single-cell side of A Block also contained a bunk bed, the top bunk was considered "taken off line." 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 114:10-115:1, 118:6-8.

14. Out of the nearly 50 cells on the same side and in the same area of A Block as cell 2-049, the majority housed two inmates. Approximately 15 to 20 of them housed only one inmate. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 176:22-177:8.

15. Some inmates who are alone in their cells can be housed with another inmate and are housed by themselves because a former cellmate has moved out or another reason. As additional inmates are moved onto the block, they are housed with such inmates in a double cell. 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 118:15-120:6.

16. A Block contains a total of eight showers, four on the top tier and four on the bottom tier. 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 129:5-7.

17. There are two stairways in the middle of A Block. At the top of the stairways is a guard station and a shower next to it. PX 23; PX 24; 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 94:20-95:1.

18. Wolfe's cell, cell 2-049, was 24 feet from those showers and the guard station. Only one cell, 2-050, was closer to the showers. Cell 2-050 also housed only one prisoner, a transgender inmate named Simone. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 8:21-24, 99:3-12, 123:13-17; PX 25.

19. Because of her transgender status, Wolfe tried to shower by herself. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 100:3-4. When Wolfe first moved to A Block, she entered a shower where a group of Muslim men were bathing. They told her, "don't find yourself in here again, " and that, if she ever again walked in on them while they were showering, she was "going to have some consequences." Wolfe also had different inmates approach her, sometimes violently, in an attempt to elicit sexual favors. Wolfe believed that inmates were attracted to her because she is a transsexual. Wolfe was aware that the showers were a location where sexual activity took place, and that there were instances of sexual violence and rape on A Block. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 30:2-24, 36:3-15, 108:1-8.

20. From her cell, Wolfe was able to look through her cell door and view the entry to the nearest showers, enabling her to see when the last showering inmate had left. After the last inmate in the showers left, Wolfe would open her door, run to the shower, and wave to the guard before entering the shower room. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 99:20-100:2, 100:14-20.

21. Wolfe asked other inmates, including James Darras, to keep an eye out for her while she showered. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 100:5-13.

22. Although inmates on A Block are permitted to shower in any of the showers on the block, Wolfe felt that other showers on the lower tier were less safe because they were less visible to the guards. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 107:10-16, 160:10-13.

D. October 21, 2009 Incident

23. In October 2009, Wolfe was transported from SCI Graterford to Allegheny County for a court hearing scheduled for October 14, 2009. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 36:20-37:6.

24. Allegheny County sheriffs drove Wolfe back to SCI Graterford on October 21, 2009. Upon arrival, the sheriffs pulled their van into a parking lot outside the prison's vehicle lock area, the prison's enclosed car port where vehicles transporting inmates enter and depart. 9/10/12 Trial Tr. at 37:10-18; 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 59:23-60:4.

25. Sergeant Zimmer and Correctional Officer Aaron Headen were on duty in the vehicle lock area when Wolfe arrived back at SCI Graterford on October 21. Sergeant Zimmer was the officer in charge. 9/11/12 Trial Tr. at 60:5-7, 77:2-5, 99:9-15. Another correctional officer was also working in an enclosed and elevated observation ...

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