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Njos v. Argueta

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2014

SCOTT JOSEPH NJOS, Plaintiff
v.
S. ARGUETA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

THOMAS M. BLEWITT, Magistrate Judge.

I. BACKGROUND.

On June 1, 2012, Plaintiff Scott Njos, a federal inmate at the United States Penitentiary Lewisburg ("USP-Lewisburg"), Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, filed, pro se, this Bivens [1] civil rights action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331.[2] (Doc. 1).

In his Complaint, Plaintiff Njos claimed, in relevant part, that he was subjected to excessive force during an alleged "shake-down" of his cell conducted at USP-Lewisburg, in the SMU, on April 24, 2012. (Doc. 1, p. 3). Plaintiff Njos contended that, on April 24, 2012, the "shake down crew" came to cell C-116, the cell shared by Plaintiff and inmate Franklin Stokes, at approximately 11:00 a.m. (Doc. 1, p. 4). At 12:00 p.m., when prison guards returned Plaintiff and Stokes, to their cell, Plaintiff and inmate Stokes allegedly noticed all of their belongings were missing. ( Id. ). Plaintiff then requested the prison officials present at the time to provide a property confiscation slip before giving up his hand restraints, but officials allegedly denied his request. (Doc. 1, p. 3). Plaintiff admits he and his cell-mate Stokes temporarily refused the corrections officer's order to turn around and back out of the cell, but maintains he "passively refused to uncuff (sic), [and] he did not become insolent or aggressive." (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff then alleges his cell-mate Stokes was assaulted by Officer Defendant Argueta, and that Officer Defendant Prutzman allegedly beat Plaintiff in the head and repeatedly slammed his face against the floor, causing him to suffer serious injuries, including a concussion, unconsciousness and amnesia. (Doc. 6, p. 7). Subsequent to this incident in which Plaintiff was subdued and taken to the ground by officers, Plaintiff alleged he was again confined in his cell and placed in ambulatory restraints for more than twelve hours ( i.e. from 12:30 pm on April 24, 2012, to 8:00 am on April 25, 2012).

On February 28, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 54).

On August 9, 2013, we issued an R&R and recommended that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment (Doc. 54) be granted in its entirety with respect to all of Plaintiff Njos' claims. We also recommended that the Court close this case. (Doc. 74). Plaintiff filed objections to our R&R. On March 20, 2014, the Court issued a Memorandum and Order and adopted, in part, and rejected, in part, our R&R. (Docs. 80 & 81). The Court basically granted Defendants' dispositive motion with respect to all of Plaintiff's claims except for his Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Defendants Argueta and Prutzman arising out of the April 24, 2012 incident.

In our Doc. 74 R&R, we found that Defendants did not meet their burden of proving their affirmative defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. We stated that the exhaustion issue should not be resolved, as a matter of law, without further discovery.[3] See Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 111 (3d Cir. 2002). Furthermore, we found that Plaintiff's averment in his Affidavit that he was threatened by Defendant Prutzman regarding his attempt at exhaustion was a disputed question of fact, which had not yet been disproved by the defendants, nor resolved by a trier of fact. Id. We therefore recommended, regarding the issue of exhaustion, that if the Plaintiff's constitutional claim(s) should be permitted to proceed, then Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis of Plaintiff's failure to exhaust should be denied without prejudice to reassert this issue after discovery. We clearly indicated that if the Court did not grant Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion with respect to all of Plaintiff's constitutional claims and if any claims remained, discovery only on the exhaustion issue was needed.

Additionally, as the Court discussed in its Doc. 80 Memorandum, p. 4, we considered the extensive evidence submitted by the parties and found that "the force used by Defendant Prutzman on Plaintiff during the April 24, 2012 incident was not excessive" and that "[the force] was within the quantum of force necessary to respond to Plaintiff's disobedience of the officer's order to uncuff [have Plaintiff's handcuffs removed] and to regain control of Plaintiff." The Court also stated in its Doc. 80 Memorandum, p. 9, regarding Plaintiff's excessive force claim, "we disagree with the Magistrate Judge that Summary Judgment is warranted." The Court stated that "we find genuine issues of material fact exist as to what occurred in Plaintiff's cell on April 24, 2012." Thus, the Court denied Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion with respect to Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Defendants Argueta and Prutzman. Further, the Court noted that it did not agree with our R&R finding that Plaintiff's excessive force claim was Heck barred, and the Court also found that Defendants Argueta and Prutzman were not entitled to qualified immunity on this claim. ( Id., p. 9 & n. 6).

Upon remand of this case to the undersigned by the Court, it appeared that the two remaining Defendants, Argueta and Prutzman, did not yet file their Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint with respect to his remaining Eighth Amendment excessive force claim arising out of the April 24, 2012 incident. Thus, on March 24, 2014, we issued an Order and directed Defendants Argueta and Prutzman to file their Answer with respect to Plaintiff's remaining Eighth Amendment excessive force claim. (Doc. 83). We stated that we would then issue a Scheduling Order setting deadlines for discovery and dispositive motions regarding only the exhaustion issue. As discussed above, we found the Court, considering the excessive evidence submitted by the parities, had already determined that genuine issues of material fact exist as to what occurred in Plaintiff's cell on April 24, 2012, and that Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Defendants Argueta and Prutzman was not barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). (Doc. 80, p. 9). Thus, we stated that no discovery would be permitted with respect to the merits of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Defendants Argueta and Prutzman since ample evidence was already submitted regarding this claim.

On April 2, 2014, Defendants Argueta and Prutzman timely filed their Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint with respect to Plaintiff's remaining Eighth Amendment excessive force claim along with Affirmative Defenses, including the failure of Plaintiff to have exhausted his BOP administrative remedies. (Doc. 87).

Also, on April 2, 2014, Defendants Argueta and Prutzman filed a Motion for Clarification of our March 24, 2014 Order insofar as we indicated that discovery and dispositive motions would only be permitted regarding the exhaustion issue and, that no discovery would be permitted with respect to the merits of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Defendants Argueta and Prutzman. (Doc. 85). Defendants also filed their support brief with unpublished opinions attached. (Doc. 86). Defendants state that they seek clarification as to our March 24, 2014 Order and "whether [they] will never get an opportunity to conduct discovery on the excessive force claim." Defendants also state that they seek clarification of our March 24, 2014 Order as to whether they may conduct discovery regarding Plaintiff's excessive force claim, if necessary.

Plaintiff did not file an opposition brief to Defendants' Motion for Clarification and the time in which his brief was due expired. Nor did Plaintiff file a request for an extension of time to file an opposition brief.[4]

II. DISCUSSION.

There is no question that a Motion for Clarification can be filed to explain or clarify something ambiguous or vague. See Wallace v. Powell, 2012 WL 2007294, *1 (M.D.Pa. June 5, 2012)("The general purpose of a motion for clarification is to explain or clarify ...


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