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Randolph v. Wetzel

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 19, 2013

SAMUEL B. RANDOLPH, IV, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Samuel B. Randolph, IV ("Plaintiff") is an inmate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's prison system. He filed a pro se eighty-four page complaint (ECF No. 5). In the Complaint, Plaintiff brings sundry claims for, inter alia retaliation for the filing of grievances, an alleged assault by correctional officers, an alleged denial of food and water, failure to transport Plaintiff on a gurney, denial of visitation privileges, claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Fourteenth Amendment violations, denial of access to the courts, denial of proper medical treatment, and medical malpractice. Plaintiff names a plethora of defendants. For organizational purposes the Court will divide the defendants into two groups: Commonwealth Defendants[1] and Medical Defendants.[2] The Court will generally follow this grouping except where it is necessary to distinguish among the individual defendants.[3]

Commonwealth Defendants and Medical Defendants have filed separate Motions for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 78, 81). Plaintiff has filed a response to both motions (ECF No. 110) as well as a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against Commonwealth Defendants and Dr. Byanchuk Jin (ECF No. 113). Defendants have filed their responses (ECF Nos. 121, 122).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd. , 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)).

In undertaking this analysis, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. "After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J. , 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

The standard for addressing cross-motions for summary judgment remains the same as if there were only one motion filed. See Lawrence v. City of Phila. , 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008).[4] When confronted with cross-motions for summary judgment the "court must rule on each party's motion on an individual and separate basis, determining, for each side, whether a judgment may be entered in accordance with the Rule 56 standard." Schlegel v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am. , 269 F.Supp.2d 612, 615 n.1 (E.D. Pa. 2003) (quoting 10A Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2720 (1998)).

III. COMMONWEALTH DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The Commonwealth Defendants include numerous public officials employed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Plaintiff brings claims against them in both their official and individual capacity.

A. All Claims Against Commonwealth Defendants in Their Official Capacity.

Plaintiff brings each of his claims against the Commonwealth Defendants in their official capacity.

"[S]uits against unconsenting [s]tates" are barred by Eleventh Amendment or sovereign immunity unless a state has waived its immunity. Sossamon v. Texas , 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1657-58 (2011) (quoting Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida , 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996)); see also Seminole Tribe , 517 U.S. at 54-55, n.7. "Where a state agency or department is named as defendant, that too is considered a suit against a state which is barred by the eleventh amendment." Geis v. Bd. of Educ. of Parsippany-Troy Hills, Morris Cnty. , 774 F.2d 575, 580 (3d Cir. 1985) (citing Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services v. Florida Nursing Home Association , 450 U.S. 147 (1981)); see also Everett v. Schramm , 772 F.2d 1114, 1118 (3d Cir. 1985) ("[T]he general rule is that relief sought nominally against an officer is in fact against the sovereign if the decree would operate against the latter." (citation omitted)).[5]

Suits against Commonwealth Defendants in their official capacity are suits against the state of Pennsylvania. Therefore, Plaintiff's claims against any defendants in their official capacities for monetary damages are barred by sovereign immunity. Accordingly, Commonwealth Defendants, in their official capacities, are entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff's claims for monetary relief.

Hereafter, the Court will examine Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their individual capacities because "[a]lthough, absent waiver, the Eleventh Amendment bars damage suits against a state or against state officials in their official capacities when damages will have to be paid with state funds, ... it does not bar a damage suit against state officials in their individual capacities." West v. Keve , 571 F.2d 158, 163 (3d Cir. 1978) (internal citations omitted).

B. Claims Under the Eighth Amendment Against Commonwealth Defendants for Failure to Intervene as to Plaintiff's Medical Care.

Plaintiff claims that Commonwealth Defendants are liable for the allegedly inadequate medical care provided or recommended by Medical Defendants.

In a §1983 action, a plaintiff must show personal involvement of defendants by alleging personal direction, actual knowledge, or acquiescence. Rode v. Dellarciprete , 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). "[A]s a general matter the [Third Circuit] has been reluctant to assign liability to prison officials based solely on the denial of prisoner grievances." Carter v. Smith, CIV.A 08-279 , 2009 WL 3088428, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 22, 2009). Even if a prison official's review were to constitute personal involvement, "absent a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner, a non-medical prison official will not be chargeable with the Eighth Amendment scienter requirement of deliberate indifference." Spruill v. Gillis , 372 F.3d 218, 236 (3d Cir. 2004). This is because "[i]f a prisoner is under the care of medical experts... a non-medical prison official will generally be justified in believing that the prisoner is in capable hands." Id.

Here, Plaintiff's claims against Medical Defendants do not meet the deliberate indifference standard required. See infra Section IV(B), (C). Accordingly, whether Plaintiff's claim is based on a theory of inadequate supervision of Medical Defendants or actual knowledge by Commonwealth Defendants, the result is the same. Ergo, Commonwealth Defendants cannot be liable as there was no underlying constitutional violation committed by Medical Defendants.

C. Claims under the Eighth Amendment for Denial of Food and Water.

Plaintiff claims that the Commonwealth Defendants failed to provide him with food and water by placing his meal trays outside of his reach. See Compl. ¶¶ 87-90, 112, 140, 155-57, 233, and 317.

"The [Eighth] Amendment... imposes duties" on prisons to "ensure that inmates receive adequate food." Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The failure to provide accommodations to Plaintiff, such as food and water, are governed under the "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs" standard. Spruill , 372 F.3d at 235-36; see also infra Section IV(C). The "standard requires deliberate indifference on the part of the prison officials and it requires the prisoner's medical needs to be serious." Spruill , 372 F.3d at 235-36.

Plaintiff admits that: prison officials regularly brought food and water to Plaintiff's cell, see Compl. ¶¶ 139-40, 146, 317; Plaintiff was repeatedly examined, see id. ¶¶ 103, 111, 114, 117, 122-24, 263-65, 268, and Dr. Jin told Plaintiff that he could and should walk to retrieve his food, id. at ¶ 108; Plaintiff refused to stand and retrieve his food, see id. ¶¶ 139-40. Plaintiff's own medical evidence states that "[t]here is nothing on the face of these records that provides a medical explanation for [Plaintiff's] inability to walk." Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Mots. Summ. J., Ex. S, Preliminary MRI Report and Letter from Doctor Elias Melhem, MD, PhD 5-6, August 7, 2009, ECF No. 111-4 (stating, however, that additional testing would be useful).

In fact, Plaintiff fails to provide evidence by which a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff suffered from a medical condition that made him unable to retrieve his food and water as it was provided to him by Commonwealth Defendants.

The Commonwealth Defendants relied upon the medical experts' diagnosis that Plaintiff was malingering and was physically able to retrieve his food as provided. Medical Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B, Lumbar Spine CT Final Report, Aug. 5, 2013, ECF No. 81-4. Commonwealth Defendants at SCI-Greene attempted food delivery by placing food at his cell but they could not go beyond regulations and bring it into his cell, and SCI-Graterford defendants accommodated Plaintiff by placing a rolling cart in his cell. See Commw. Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s Mot. Partial Summ. J., Ex. C, Pl. Dep. 273:6-13, January 9, 2012, ECF No. 78-3; see also Compl. ¶¶ 87-90.

Plaintiff cannot show that the actions of Commonwealth Defendants satisfy the "deliberate indifference" standard necessary for Plaintiff to sustain a claim because Commonwealth Defendants relied upon the medical opinions of Plaintiff's doctors in choosing the method of delivering food and water. See Spruill , 372 F.3d at 235-36. Furthermore, Plaintiff's refusal to retrieve the food and water as provided cannot create liability for Commonwealth Defendants where there is no evidence to show Plaintiff could not access the food and water. See Rodriguez v. Briley , 403 F.3d 952, 953 (7th Cir. 2005); Talib , 138 F.3d at 216.

D. Claims Under the Eighth Amendment for Refusing to Transport on a Gurney.

Plaintiff alleges that the Commonwealth Defendants at SCI-Graterford violated his Eighth Amendment rights by refusing to transport him on a gurney. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that the Commonwealth Defendants refused to transport him outdoors for "yard time" and thus denied him exercise time. See Compl. ¶¶ 55, 120, 135, 173, 208, 225, 362, 400, 409-410, 421.

Commonwealth Defendants from SCI-Graterford contend that they relied on Medical Defendants' judgmentin Commonwealth Defendant's decision, [6] see Medical Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C, Disability Request Form and Denials, ECF No. 81-11, that Plaintiff did not need a gurney to be transported and followed the prison's rules in refusing to transport him on a gurney, see Commw. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. Q, Declaration Maj. Thomas Dohman 1-3, ECF No. 78-16. Plaintiff refused to sit up and get into a wheelchair (as his doctors said he was able to). See Disability Request Form and Denials.

The Court agrees with the Commonwealth Defendants' assessment that their requirement that Plaintiff use a wheelchair rather than a gurney (as one was not medically necessitated) "does not create inhumane prison conditions, deprive plaintiff of basic necessities or fail to protect his health or safety; nor does it involve the infliction of pain or injury, or deliberate indifference to the risk that it might occur." Commw. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 34 (citing Sandin v. Conner , 515 U.S. 472, 485 (1995); Rhodes v. Chapman , 452 U.S. 337 (1981); Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97 (1976)).

Accordingly, Plaintiff was not denied his Eighth Amendment rights because the Commonwealth Defendants provided the accommodations recommended by the doctors. See, e.g., Rodriguez , 403 F.3d at 953 (stating that prison's policy that forbid inmate to leave his cell if he refused to follow the rule requiring him to stow certain items while outside his cell did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment even when inmate missed meals due to failure to follow rule).

E. Claims under the Eighth Amendment for Denial of Visitation Privileges.

Plaintiff alleges that Commonwealth Defendants denied his visitation privileges when they would not transport Plaintiff, on a gurney, to meet with his visitors. Compl. ¶¶ 144, 147, 202. As a result, Plaintiff's visitation privileges were limited on certain occasions because he claims he could not go to see his visitors unless he was taken there on a gurney.

Commonwealth Defendants, however, claim that he was able to go without using the gurney, and, thus, Plaintiff was effectively refusing to go to visitation. Commw. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 11. Commonwealth Defendants claim that on "numerous occasions, " they offered Plaintiff the use of a wheelchair for transportation in and around the prison and he declined. Id . (citing Compl. ¶¶ 120, 238; Pl. Dep. 483:1-486:25, 613:1-615:1, 992:1-24, 1168:1-24, 1317:1-24).

The Supreme Court has previously held that restrictions on visitation are not so dramatic a departure from acceptable standards for confinement that they are unconstitutional. Overton v. Bazzetta , 539 U.S. 126, 136-37 (2003) (holding that where prisoner was denied visitation for at least two years due to substance abuse violations that the "restriction undoubtedly makes the prisoner's confinement more difficult to bear" but "d[id] not, in the circumstances of th[at] case, fall below the standards mandated by the Eighth Amendment.") (citing Sandin, 516 U.S. at 485).

Accordingly, the Court finds that Commonwealth Defendants are entitled ...


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