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Anderson v. Warden of Berks County Prison

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 8, 2014



TIMOTHY J. SAVAGE, District Judge.

Bennie Anderson ("Anderson"), a state prisoner, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, alleging that the Warden of Berks County Jail ("Warden")[1] and Joe Herman ("Herman"), a caseworker at the jail, violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Anderson, who is serving a life sentence in a state correctional facility, contends that while temporarily housed at the Berks County Jail for twenty eight days as a defense witness during the penalty phase of an unrelated murder trial, he was placed in disciplinary status in a restricted housing unit. During the four weeks he was there, he was fed nutri-loaf three times a day, had his mattress removed during daytime hours, had hygiene restrictions, was provided no blanket or warm clothing in his cold cell, and was deprived of sleep. He complains that he did nothing to warrant being treated as a disciplinary prisoner.

The threshold issue in this matter is not whether the conditions imposed upon Anderson were merited. The question is whether those conditions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution.

Drawing all reasonable inferences in Anderson's favor, we conclude that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Anderson has failed to establish the essential elements of a cause of action for an Eighth Amendment violation. Therefore, because no reasonable trier of fact could find that Anderson's Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment had been violated, we shall grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants.[2]

Procedural Background

On October 4, 2012, Anderson filed his complaint in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.[3] On February 19, 2013, after dismissing certain defendants for lack of personal involvement in the alleged mistreatment, the Middle District transferred the action against the remaining defendants to this district.[4] Upon transfer, we dismissed the complaint without prejudice for failure to allege the defendants' personal involvement in the alleged mistreatment.[5]

On March 14, 2013, Anderson filed an amended complaint against the Warden, Herman, unknown "Restricted Housing Guards from Third Shift, " and unknown "Restricted Housing Guards from First Shift." On May 7, 2013, all unknown defendants were dismissed, leaving the Warden and Herman as the only defendants.[6]

The defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Warden and Herman argue that Anderson's claims do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Additionally, they contend that Anderson has not alleged sufficient personal involvement to establish their culpability, and that they are entitled to qualified immunity. In response, Anderson reiterates his allegations and contends the defendants were personally involved in his mistreatment.

Because the defendants raised factual matters outside the complaint, we notified the parties that the motion to dismiss was being converted to one for summary judgment.[7] See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). In support of the motion for summary judgment, the defendants filed a statement of undisputed material facts on September 6, 2013. Anderson, in response, filed a statement of disputed facts on October 15, 2013.[8]

On the same day, Anderson also filed a motion for summary judgment.[9] The motion does not include any new facts. Anderson contends that he should receive summary judgment based on the facts alleged in his amended complaint.

At our request, [10] the parties filed supplemental submissions to address and provide evidence with respect to certain allegations in Anderson's amended complaint.[11]


Anderson alleges he was a model prisoner while housed in the general population at the State Correctional Institution-Huntington ("SCI-Huntington").[12] On July 25, 2012, he was temporarily transferred to Berks County Jail to testify as a defense witness during the penalty phase of an unrelated capital murder trial in Berks County Court. Upon arrival at Berks County Jail, Anderson was immediately placed in the restricted housing unit.[13] He suggests that this placement was because the victim in the murder case was an interpreter who was well known and liked by jail staff.[14] Yet, he does not challenge the defendants' statement that he was placed in administrative segregation because he was serving a life sentence for murder in the state prison from which he was temporarily transferred.[15] Nor does he dispute that, unlike other prisoners in the unit, he had privileges, such as limited phone calls, access to bathing supplies and a restricted commissary menu.[16]

Anderson complains that the conditions imposed as a result of undeserved disciplinary status amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.[17] He does not address the defendants' statement that he was placed in administrative segregation because he was identified as a security risk to the general population due to his sentence of life imprisonment as a result of a murder conviction.[18]

Anderson claims prison officials regularly harassed and threatened to beat him if he testified on the defendant's behalf.[19] He contends that while housed at the jail in the restricted housing unit, he was fed only "nutri-loaf, " an unappetizing meal substitute usually used as a disciplinary measure; his mattress was removed from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. each day, leaving him with a concrete slab to sit on; and, he was deprived of a blanket, pillow, shower, shaving privileges, and pen and paper.[20] He also complains that his cell, which had a single window on the door, was kept dark for most of the day and that light was only available three hours per day, from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.[21] Then, after 11:00 p.m., prison guards regularly kicked his door, shouted at him, and physically threatened him, causing sleep deprivation.[22] They also kept his cell extremely cold.[23] The cell temperature and the lack of a blanket, Anderson alleges, also caused sleep deprivation and resulted in his physical illness, for which he was given medication.[24]

Anderson imputes individual responsibility for these conditions to the Warden and Herman because the Warden directed his treatment and they both failed to take corrective action after verbal and written complaints. Anderson alleges that he verbally complained to Herman about his disciplinary status. He explained that "the outrageous treatment he was forced to endure was uncalled for because [he] was in the prison only because he was a witness for the Public Defender's client" and not because he had broken any rules.[25] He also alleges that Herman was made aware of the "cruel and unusual punishing conditions."[26] According to Anderson, Herman advised him that these conditions were "out of his hands and there was nothing he could do."[27]

With regard to the Warden's personal involvement, Anderson alleges the Warden inspected his unit every week, so he was aware of the way he was being treated. He also argues that this undesirable treatment was meted out at the Warden's instruction.[28]

To support his claim of personal involvement, Anderson included as exhibits to his amended complaint three inmate communication forms with the Warden and two grievance forms.[29] These forms and an unrelated medical communication form are summarized below.

1. First Warden Communication

The first warden communication is dated July 27, 2012:

I came here from a state jail for court (witness). I am being treating [ sic ] as if I've broken every rool [ sic ] in the jail. I [ sic ] been placed in a cold cell. They tell me I'm only allowed one blanket[, ] no pillow. I've had no shower - shave - yard. I've been told I can only shave [and] shower on [whatever] day I go to court - until then I'm to sit around unshaven [and] dirty. This is surely [unnecessary] and [unusual] punishment. If anything I should be on AC status no [ sic ] [disciplinary]. When I ...

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