United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
Cathy Bissoon, Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MAUREEN P. KELLY United States Magistrate Judge
Corey Bracey (“Plaintiff”), is a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”), and is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution ("SCI") at Smithfield. Plaintiff has brought this civil rights action against various DOC and health care employees at four different correctional institutions alleging that the manner in which prisoners with mental health issues are housed at SCI Fayette, his confinement in an observation cell at SCI Fayette and his classification on the Restricted Release List (“RRL”) at the various institutions, violate his rights provided by the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment submitted by Defendants Beard, Meintel, Ellers, Gnall, Johnson (all of whom are DOC officials); Coleman, Gates, Arnell, Zaken, Walker, Bustass, Berrier, Leggett, Gallucci (all of whom are employed at SCI Fayette); Bryant, Hall, Woods (all of whom are employed at SCI Albion); Hannah, Biser, Fisher, Whietsel (all of whom are employed at SCI Smithfield) (collectively, “the Commonwealth Defendants”), and a Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Saavedra, Fonder, and MHM Correctional Services, Inc. (“the Medical Defendants”). ECF Nos. 114, 118. For the reasons that follow, it is respectfully recommended that both Motions for Summary Judgment be granted.
A. Factual and Procedural Background
Review of the record demonstrates that Plaintiff arrived at SCI Fayette on December 4, 2008, ECF No. 117-1, p. 61, and was immediately placed in the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”). The RHU is “Level 5” housing where inmates in disciplinary custody (“DC”) and administrative custody (“AC”) are located. ECF No. 131-1, p. 11. Although not entirely clear from the record, it appears that Plaintiff was in DC at that time and, other than a brief period between January 14, 2009 and June 4, 2009, when Plaintiff was in the general population, he has largely remained in DC throughout his incarceration. See ECF No. 117-1, pp. 59, 61; ECF No. 131-1, pp. 53, 65.
Level 5 housing apparently includes two special housing units as well: the Special Management Unit (“SMU”) and the Secure Special Needs Unit (“SSNU”). ECF No. 75, pp. 6-7, 28; ECF No. 117-1, pp. 14, 17, 42; ECF No. 131-1, p. 3. The former is designed for offenders who have chronic and serious behavioral issues not driven by a diagnosed mental illness and, in that regard, is similar to the RHU. ECF No. 117-1, pp. 13, 19, 22, 42, 45, 49; ECF No. 131-1, pp. 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 26, 29. In contrast, the SSNU “is specifically designed for mentally ill offenders who exhibit serious behavioral issues determined to be linked to their mental illness.” Id. Thus, the approach to behavioral change in the SMU and SSNU programs differ and, although both are staffed by mental health professionals, the staff sees the SSNU inmates more frequently than those in the SMU. ECF No. 131-1, pp. 29, 30. Although it is unclear from the record precisely when or for how long, it appears that Plaintiff was in the SMU and/or a self-contained camera observation cell on several occasions. See ECF No. 75, ¶¶ 36, 44, 45, 47, 48, 56-59; ECF No. 131-1, pp. 30, 53. The record shows, however, that Plaintiff was not confined to the self-contained cell for mental health reasons but rather was on a “security hold.” ECF No. 119, ¶ 3; ECF No. 119-1, p. 45; ECF No. 134, ¶ 3.
In addition, it appears that toward the end of his incarceration at SCI Fayette, Defendant Walker recommended that Plaintiff be placed on the Restricted Release List (“RRL”). ECF No. 75, ¶ 60. It appears that the recommendation was again made when Plaintiff was transferred to SCI Albion on June 29, 2010, and approved by Defendants Johnson and Smeal at that time. ECF No. 75, ¶¶ 61-63. Although placement on the RRL was approved, and that approval appears to have remained in effect even though Plaintiff has since been transferred to SCI Smithfield, ECF No. 75, ¶ 69, it does not appear from the record that he has ever actually been released from DC so as to permit his placement on the RRL to be of consequence. ECF No. 131-1, p. 65. Nevertheless, these various housing units and Plaintiff’s placement on the RRL provide the basis for his claims.
Plaintiff initiated this suit on September 22, 2011, see ECF No. 1, and the Complaint was filed on November 3, 2011. ECF No. 9. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on February 27, 2012, ECF No. 20, and a second Amended Complaint (“the Second Amended Complaint”), ECF No. 75, on April 25, 2013. In the Second Amended Complaint, which remains the operative complaint, Plaintiff brings claims for violations of his rights provided by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution relative to the housing of SSNU, SMU and RHU prisoners and the allegedly “clandestine” mental health treatment of non-mentally ill inmates at SCI Fayette. Plaintiff has also brought claims under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments relative to his confinement in a self-contained cell while at SCI Fayette, and Fourteenth Amendment claims relative to his alleged illegal classification on the RRL which has followed him from SCI Fayette to SCI Albion to SCI Pittsburgh.
The Commonwealth Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on January 8, 2014, to which Plaintiff responded on April 15, 2014. ECF Nos. 114, 131. The Medical Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on January 9, 2014, and Plaintiff filed a response to the Medical Defendants’ Motion on April 15, 2014. ECF Nos. 118, 133. On May 27, 2014, the Medical Defendants filed a reply brief and Plaintiff submitted a Cross-reply to the Medical Defendants’ Motion on June 11, 2014. ECF Nos. 135, 137. As such, both Motions are ripe for review.
B. Standard of Review
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that: “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). An issue of material fact is in genuine dispute if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). See Doe v. Abington Friends Sch., 480 F.3d 252, 256 (3d Cir. 2007) (“A genuine issue is present when a reasonable trier of fact, viewing all of the record evidence, could rationally find in favor of the non-moving party in light of his burden of proof”). Thus, summary judgment is warranted where, “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . a party . . . 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.” Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295 (3d Cir. 2007), quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). See Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). “W]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007), quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
In deciding a summary judgment motion, a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must draw all reasonable inferences, and resolve all doubts in favor of the nonmoving party. Matreale v. New Jersey Dep’t of Military & Veterans Affairs, 487 F.3d 150, 152 (3d Cir. 2007); Woodside v. Sch. Dist. of Phila. Bd. of Educ., 248 F.3d 129, 130 (3d Cir. 2001).
Plaintiff has brought his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), which provides that:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. “Section 1983 provides remedies for deprivations of rights established in the Constitution or federal laws. It does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights.” Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006), citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979) (footnote omitted). Thus, in order to state a claim for relief under Section 1983, the plaintiff must allege facts from which it could be inferred that “the defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived him or her of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States.” Id. at 423. As previously discussed, Plaintiff in this case alleges that his rights provided by the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution have been violated.
1. The Commonwealth Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
a. Eighth Amendment - Conditions of Confinement
Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants Beard, Meintel, Ellers, Gnall, Coleman, Gates, Arnell, Zaken, Walker, Bustass, and Gallucci complaining that unconstitutional housing conditions at SCI Fayette have caused Plaintiff’s mental health to deteriorate. ECF No. 75, ¶ 73. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that inmates assigned to the RHU, SMU and SSNU are all housed together in violation of policy and/or law; that, consequently, SSNU prisoners do not receive treatment causing them to “act out;” and that their acting out has, in turn, caused Plaintiff to have a mental breakdown. Id.
To make out an Eighth Amendment claim based on prison conditions, the plaintiff must show “he has suffered an objectively, sufficiently serious injury, and that prison officials inflicted the injury with deliberate indifference.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). With respect to the first element, the conditions complained of must be “objectively, sufficiently serious [and] must result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Id. at 834 (internal citation and quotation omitted). See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992), quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981), and Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991) (“[b]ecause routine discomfort is ‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society, ’ . . . ‘only those deprivations denying the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation’”). A plaintiff must prove that the deprivation is sufficiently serious when viewed within the context of “contemporary standards of decency.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 36 (1993).
With respect to the second element, a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement “unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. at 837. Thus, a prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. A trier of fact may infer the existence of this subjective state of mind from the fact that the risk of harm is obvious. Id. at 842. See Okey v. Strebig, 531 F. App’x 212, 214-15 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, U.S., 134 S.Ct. 446 (2013).
The Commonwealth Defendants contend that Plaintiff’s claim regarding the housing of various Level 5 inmates together is subject to summary judgment because there is no evidence that RHU, SMU and SSNU prisoners are actually housed together or that there is a policy either permitting or barring their being housed together. Defendants further argue that even if a policy exists, any failure to follow the policy does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation and that there is no evidence that the SSNU ...