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Thomas v. SCI-Graterford

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 12, 2014

EVERRETT KEITH THOMAS
v.
SCI-GRATERFORD, et al.

MEMORANDUM

THOMAS N. O'NEILL, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Everrett Thomas sued defendants Corrections Officer McCormack, Lieutenant Everding, Unit Manager Golden, Unit Counselor Feingold, and John Doe 1 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights.[1] Presently before me is defendants' motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's response thereto. For the following reasons, I will grant defendants' motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff asserts that defendants violated his constitutional rights by exposing him to harmful prison conditions and denying him access to his attorney and the courts. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶¶ 28-50; id. at 51-64. From September 20, 2011 until November 4, 2011, Thomas was an inmate at SCI Graterford. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶ 10. He was held in Housing Unit E, a transitional cell block for parole violators, new receptions and inmates awaiting classification, while he awaited a violation of parole hearing. Feingold Dep. 12:15-13:4; Dkt. No. 43 at 2.

The parties agree that Thomas filed two grievance letters concerning the conditions of his confinement on September 29, 2011 and October 3, 2011. Dkt. No. 43-7; Dkt. No. 43-8. Thomas contends that when he arrived his cell had not been cleaned after the previous inmate vacated it and that he was denied cleaning materials to clean it himself. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶ 48. Thomas also asserts that his cell was contaminated by lead paint, infested by insects that bit him, rodents that left fecal matter in his boots and bed linen, and black mold that caused him respiratory problems. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶¶ 14, 33-34, 39, 46-50. He states that on one occasion he found mouse feces in the food on his lunch tray and that his subsequent request for a different, untainted tray was denied. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶¶ 43-44. Thomas also asserts that he was prevented from showering while on Cell Block E. Dkt. No. 43 at 7. Defendants do not contradict Thomas's claims about the conditions of his confinement, stating "[a]dmittedly those conditions may have been uncomfortable and unpleasant for Thomas." Dkt. No. 41 at 10. Thomas alleges that these conditions violate his Eighth Amendment right to humane conditions of confinement. Dkt. No. 43 at 6-9.

Thomas also asserts a violation of his First Amendment right to access the courts, claiming that defendants denied him the opportunity to call his attorney and to visit the Graterford law library in advance of his scheduled October 11, 2011 parole violation hearing. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶ 51-64. In order for Graterford inmates to speak to those outside the prison by telephone inmates must request that individuals be placed on their telephone list. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶ 54. Thomas states that he was prevented from placing his attorney on his call list because of a policy prohibiting 1-800 numbers on inmate call lists. Thomas Dep. 49:8-12. Thomas claims that as a result of this policy and defendants' unwillingness to allow him to call his attorney from the counselor's office he was prevented from accessing his attorney until immediately prior to his hearing. Dkt. No. 38 at ¶ 61. Additionally, Graterford inmates have access to a law library after they have been medically cleared to use it. Golden Dep. 66:1-25. Thomas claims that he was denied access to the law library even after he had been medically cleared and was therefore prevented from adequately preparing for his hearing. Dkt. No. 43 at 11. Because defendants do not contradict these claims either I will accept Thomas's assertions as true and find that there is no material issue of fact as to the conditions of his confinement.

In their motion for summary judgment defendants argue that Thomas cannot establish an Eighth Amendment violation because neither the alleged conditions of confinement that he claims he endured for fourteen days while on cell block E, nor Thomas's alleged inability to shower for fourteen days, are sufficient to constitute deprivation of basic human needs. Dkt. No. 41 at 10-11. Additionally, defendants claim that the missed lunch meal that resulted from mouse feces on his tray does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation because Thomas had dinner that same day. Id. at 12. However, defendants make no mention of Thomas' allegation of insect infestation or the bites and scars that the insects allegedly caused him in their motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 41; Dkt. No. 43 at 8.

Defendants also argue that Thomas was not denied access to the courts because though he was prevented from using his attorney's 1-800 phone number Thomas was able to communicate by letter, he would have been permitted to use an approved telephone number and he was able to meet with his attorney in advance of his hearing. Dkt. No. 41 at 11-13. Additionally, defendants claim that Thomas was properly denied of use of the law library because he was not medically cleared. Dkt. No. 41 at ¶ 13. Defendants assert that the short duration of Thomas' stay on cell block E mitigates against a finding of extreme deprivation, stating "Thomas only lived in those conditions for a brief period of time until he was transferred to a different block, " and claiming that Thomas was not exposed to any of these conditions in cell block D when he was transferred. Dkt. No. 41 at 11, 13.

Defendants further contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity from Thomas's claims because even if the conditions Thomas complains of amount to a constitutional violation, defendants would not have been on notice that Thomas was suffering extreme deprivations. Dkt. No. 41 at 13-16. Defendants also assert that Thomas has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to bringing the present action pursuant to § 1983. Id. at 41 at 17.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment will be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex , 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the movant sustains its burden, the nonmovant must set forth facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id . A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

To establish "that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed, " a party must:

(A) cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) show[] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce ...

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