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Peters v. Community Education Centers, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 13, 2014

DAVID PETERS, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff David J. Peters brought this action against Defendant Community Education Centers, Inc. ("CEC") and other unnamed defendants (collectively, "Defendants"), for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I and II) and for Pennsylvania state law claims of negligence (Count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV), and negligent infliction of emotion distress (Count V). ECF 11. CEC now moves the Court to grant it partial summary judgment with respect to Counts I, II, IV, and V. ECF 56. In his Counter-Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Peters conceded that he was no longer pursuing Count IV. ECF 56 ¶ 71. For the following reasons, CEC's Motion is GRANTED as to Counts I and II. As a result of this ruling, there are no claims left over which this Court has original jurisdiction. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Accordingly, Counts III and V are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

II. Undisputed Facts and Procedural History

CEC is a New Jersey corporation that has contracted with the Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors to provide daily functional services-including staffing of correctional officers and providing health services for inmates-at George W. Hill Correctional Facility (the "Prison") in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. ECF 56-16.

On September 17, 2010, a bench warrant was issued for Peters's arrest for failing to report to the Delaware County Department of Adult Probation and Parole. Peters's underlying conviction was for driving under the influence, in violation of 75 P.A. Stat. § 3802(a)(1). Beginning on October 6, 2010, Peters was incarcerated at the Prison.

Peters suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. As the name implies, individuals with this disease are frail and have increased susceptibility to breaking bones. Upon his arrival, Peters informed CEC officials of his condition. On October 18, 2010, CEC officials issued Peters a special needs pass that indicated that he was to be assigned to the bottom bunk in his cell-presumably to limit the risk that he might fall or suffer other injury. ECF 58-8.

Despite having a special needs pass, Peters was housed on a top bunk during his incarceration. Shortly after his assignment to his cell, Peters informed an unidentified corrections officer that he had a special needs pass for a bottom bunk. ECF 56-1 at 12.[1] The officer, however, did not reassign Peters to another bunk-even though other inmates with bottom bunk passes were reassigned at that time. ECF 56-1 at 12. Peters also wrote several requests inquiring about his lower bunk status, including two medical requests and letters to Frank Green, the Warden; Michael Gannon, the Chief of Security; David Byrne, the Associate Warden; and John Swidler, Peters's counselor. ECF 58-25. Peters received no responses to these inquiries. ECF 56-1 at 13.

On the night of October 25, 2010, Peters attempted to descend from his top bunk to use the restroom. He fell, fracturing his left forearm and injuring his ankle. ECF 69 ¶ 2.

Peters filed this action in federal court on February 3, 2011, alleging that the inaction of CEC employees violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and that CEC is liable for that violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF 1. Peters has also named numerous unidentified correctional officers as "John Doe" defendants in this suit, but these defendants have not been identified or served with process. At oral argument, Peters stated he was proceeding solely against CEC. Peters filed an Amended Complaint on April 13, 2011. ECF 11. On May 3, 2011, CEC filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss Counts I, IV, and V. ECF 13. The Court denied that Motion on October 19, 2011. ECF 20. Now, having completed discovery, CEC moves for summary judgment on all counts except for Count III-Peters's negligence claim. ECF 56. Oral argument was held on February 27, 2014.

II. Disputed Facts

Before describing the disputed facts, the Court observes that most of the material facts in this case are not disputed. See ECF 71.

Peters claims that CEC maintains a custom of ignoring special needs passes and that this custom violated his civil rights. He asserts he has presented evidence of a systemic breakdown in communication at the Prison between medical staff and corrections staff, which led to his special needs pass being ignored. Alternatively, Peters claims his rights were violated as a result of CEC's failure to train its corrections officers to address the special needs of inmates. He asserts that, whatever nominal special needs policy is in place, CEC employees receive no training on that policy and therefore were ignorant of the serious consequences of ignoring his special needs pass.

CEC disputes that there is any evidence of a custom or practice of correctional officers ignoring the special needs passes of inmates. Furthermore, CEC contends that it is in compliance with all required standards promulgated by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the American Correctional Association, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care; that it maintains a specific special needs policy for inmates; and that corrections officers are trained on this policy.

CEC also asserts that, even if CEC employees ignored or violated Peters's rights, this was an isolated incident that is insufficient to put CEC on notice of the existence of a custom or training deficiency that tends to beget constitutional violations, and thus it cannot be liable under Monell jurisprudence.

IV. Legal Standard

A. Summary Judgment

CEC has moved for partial summary judgment as to all counts except Count III. A court shall grant summary judgment only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10 (1986). In making this determination, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). "Facts that could alter the outcome are material, ' and disputes are genuine' if evidence exists from which a ...

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