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Hagan v. Goss

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

January 31, 2014

DAMONT HAGAN, Plaintiff
v.
NATHAN GOSS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARTIN C. CARLSON, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This case comes before the Court for consideration of a motion to alter judgment, (Doc. 215), filed by the plaintiff, a pro se prisoner, following a defense verdict at a jury trial. In this motion Hagan makes a novel request: Despite the defense verdict on his Eighth Amendment claims against the defendants named in his complaint, Hagan now asks us post-trial permit him to pursue new and different Eighth Amendment claims against individuals that were never previously named as defendants on his prior Eighth Amendment claims, but were simply witnesses at this trial.

For the reasons set forth below this request will be denied.

This is a civil rights action which was brought by the plaintiff, Damont Hagan, a state prisoner formerly housed in the Special Management Unit (SMU) of the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (SCI-Camp Hill), through the filing of a complaint on April 26, 2010. (Doc. 1) Over the course of this litigation, Hagan filed a number of amended complaints which added various claims and parties to this litigation. (Docs. 31, 45) Among these claims were allegations of retaliation brought by Hagan against a correctional officer, Brandon Phelps, and a nurse, Kristen Roach. (Id.) These retaliation claims were dismissed by the district court, Conner, J., on September 30, 2011. (Doc. 68)

Eighteen months later, in May of 2013, this matter was reassigned to the undersigned for trial upon the consent of the parties, for trial. (Doc. 176) At the time of this reassignment, the only claims that remained in the case were claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(2), against several present and former SCI-Camp Hill SMU staff, alleging: (1) that staff used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment when the plaintiff was assaulted on August 1, 2008, during a cell extraction, Amended Complaint ¶¶1-2, 19; and (2) that the defendants conspired against the plaintiff to intimidate him to prevent him from testifying in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1985(2), Amended Complaint ¶¶6-8, 23. None of these claims related to Correctional Officer Brandon Phelps, or Kristen Barbacci, a Physician Assistant who examined and treated Hagan after this August 1, 2008 incident.

This case proceeded to trial on June 3-6, 2013. (Doc. 203-205) During the trial Officer Phelps, who was no longer a party, appeared as a witness and testified that he had observed Hagan apparently inflicting injuries upon himself shortly after this August 1, 2008 cell extraction. Phelps immediately reported this episode. Hagan was then seen by Kristen Barbacci, a prison Physician Assistant, who also was not a party in this case, but who testified as a witness that she examined and treated Hagan’s superficial injuries. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found in favor of the defendants on Hagan’s Eight Amendment excessive force and conspiracy claims. (Doc. 210-213)

Hagan then filed this motion to alter judgment. (Doc. 215)[1] In this motion, Hagan alleged that the testimony of these two non-parties, Officer Phelps and Physician Assistant Barbacci, demonstrated that they displayed deliberate indifference to his safety. Therefore, he sought leave of court to now bring Eighth Amendment claims against these non-party witnesses, despite the fact that five years have passed since this incident and all of Hagan’s Eighth Amendment claims against the parties named in his complaint had been rejected by the jury.

Presented with this motion, and Hagan’s request for an extension of time in which to submit a brief in support of this motion, (Doc. 219), we set a specific briefing schedule for this novel request, stating that: “With respect to this motion, the plaintiff shall file a brief in support of this motion on or before August 20. 2013. The defendants shall file a response to the motion on or before September 3, 2013. The plaintiff may then file a reply brief on or before September 17, 2013.” (Doc. 221)

Hagan never filed a brief in support of this particular motion. Therefore, this motion is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

II. DISCUSSION

In our view this motion to alter judgment fails for at least two reasons.

First, Hagan has not filed a brief in support of this motion, despite being instructed to file some brief explaining the legal basis for this request. This failure to file a brief has consequences for Hagan since we are entitled to deem the plaintiff to have withdrawn a motion when he fails to properly support that motion by filing a brief in a timely fashion. See, e.g., Salkeld v. Tennis, 248 F.App'x 341 (3d Cir.2007) (affirming dismissal of motion under Local Rule 7.5); Booze v. Wetzel, 1:12-CV-1307, 2012 WL 6137561 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 16, 2012) report and recommendation adopted, 1:CV-12-1307, 2012 WL 6138315 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 11, 2012); Breslin v. Dickinson Twp., 1:09–CV–1396, 2011 WL 1577840 (M.D.Pa. Apr.26, 2011) Prinkey v. Tennis, No. 09–52, 2010 WL 4683757 (M.D.Pa. Nov.10, 2010) (dismissal under Local Rule 7.5); Griffin v. Lackawanna County Prison Board, No. 07–1683, 2008 WL 4533685 (M.D.Pa.Oct.6, 2008) (dismissal under Local Rule 7.6).

More fundamentally, this motion fails on its merits because nothing about the conduct of these two witnesses as described at trial would give risk to an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim. These Eighth Amendment claims are judged against settled legal principles, principles which set precise and exacting standards for asserting a constitutional infraction. All of these claims, however, are governed by the same overarching and animating constitutional benchmarks, benchmarks that require proof of the unnecessary and wanton infliction of ...


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