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Williams v. Giorla

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 2, 2013

MICHAEL WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUIS GIORLA, et al., Defendant.

OPINION

JOEL H. SLOMSKY, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

On June 27, 2010, Michael Williams (“Plaintiff”) suffered burns to his right leg after dropping a tray of hot food that splashed onto his leg. At the time, Plaintiff was in the process of taking his dinner at the Philadelphia Detention Center where he is currently incarcerated. Plaintiff alleges that the City of Philadelphia, Commissioner of Prisons Louis Giorla, Warden Joyce Adams, and Sergeant Dix (collectively “Defendants”) violated Plaintiff’s Eight Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by serving food on trays which are too hot and pose a substantial risk of serious harm.[1] On August 16, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, which is now before the Court. (Doc. No. 54.) For reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion.[2]

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND [3]

At all relevant times, Plaintiff Michael Williams was incarcerated at the Detention Center, 8201 State Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 31 at ¶ 1.) The Detention Center is part of the Philadelphia Prison System, which is a department within the City of Philadelphia. Defendants Louis Giorla, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Prison System (“Commissioner Giorla”), Joyce Adams, Detention Center Warden (“Warden Adams”), and Sergeant Dix, Detention Center Correctional Officer (“Sergeant Dix”), [4] were responsible for ensuring the safety of inmates housed at the facility. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-8.)

Plaintiff alleges that the City of Philadelphia had a policy, custom and practice of serving food at temperatures of 180 degrees on rubber serving trays that were also heated to temperatures of 180 degrees. (Id. at ¶ 20.) According to Plaintiff, inmates who served the food wore leather gloves to protect their hands from the hot food and trays. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Prior to his accident on June 27, 2010, Plaintiff complained to Defendants about the hot food trays, but nothing was done to address the problem. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Plaintiff contends that other inmates made similar complaints in the past. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

On June 27, 2010, an inmate wearing leather gloves served Plaintiff a hot food tray. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Because the tray was so hot, Plaintiff put it down. (Id. at ¶ 26.) A correctional officer instructed Plaintiff to keep moving and take the tray to his table, or else he would be put in “the hole” or restricted to disciplinary housing. (Id. at ¶ 26.) When Plaintiff picked up the tray to take it to a table, it was too hot for him to hold, so he dropped it. (Id. at ¶ 27.) At that time, scalding hot mashed potatoes, vegetables, and gravy splashed onto Plaintiff’s right leg. (Id. At ¶ 28.) Plaintiff removed the food from his leg, returned to his cell block and went to sleep. (Id. at ¶ 29.)

Later that night, Plaintiff woke up and noticed three blisters on his leg. (Id. at ¶ 30.) The largest blister was the size of a silver dollar, and the other two were dime size. (Id.) Plaintiff showed Correctional Officer King[5] the blisters on his leg. (Id. at ¶ 31.) She filled out an incident report and advised Plaintiff to see a prison doctor. (Id.) Plaintiff immediately sought care from the Detention Center medical office but was told by medical office personnel — after a short wait — to come back the following day. (Id. at ¶ 32.)

On June 28, 2010, Plaintiff returned to the Detention Center medical office with a pass provided by Correctional Officer King. (Id. at ¶ 34.) Medical office personnel “placed a band aid on [his] leg.” (Id.) At that time, Plaintiff did not voice any complaints about the treatment he received. He was not scheduled for a follow-up visit, nor did medical office personnel initiate any further contact with him concerning his blisters. (Id. at ¶ 35.)

Between August 3 and 5, 2010, Plaintiff, on his own initiative, returned to the Detention Center medical office for further treatment. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Medical office personnel then began providing him with “wound care, ” which continued for the remainder of the month. (Id.) Because of the heat induced blisters, Plaintiff now has “a highly visible discolored permanent scar the size of a silver dollar [on] his right lower leg, ” along with mental and emotional harm arising from the injury. (Id. at ¶ 38.)

Based on these events, Plaintiff initiated this civil rights lawsuit against Defendants. The Second Amended Complaint alleges the following violations:

• Count I — 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against City of Philadelphia and Commissioner Giorla for the policy, practice, and/or custom of serving extremely hot meals to Detention Center inmates on hot trays in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
• Count II — 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Warden Adams for the policy, practice, and/or custom of serving extremely hot meals to Detention Center inmates on hot trays in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
• Count III — 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Correctional Officer Dix for failure to report the dangers of serving extremely hot meals to inmates on hot ...

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