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Peraza v. Cain

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 17, 2014

PAUL PERAZA, Plaintiff
v.
THOMAS R. CAIN, ET AL., Defendants

MEMORANDUM

RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

Background

Paul Peraza, an inmate presently confined at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (USP-Lewisburg) initiated this pro se civil rights action. An Amended Complaint (Doc. 6) was previously filed. Plaintiff's action regards events which purportedly transpired during his prior confinement at the Canaan United States Penitentiary, Waymart, Pennsylvania (USP-Canaan).

Named as Defendants are Director Thomas Kane, National Appeals Administrator Harrell Watts, and Regional Director J.L. Norwood of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Peraza is also proceeding against the following USP-Canaan officials: Warden Ronnie Holt; Captain Michael Breckon; Physician's Assistant (PA) Kenneth Kaiser; Lieutenant Jamie Burning; Lieutenant Brian Sudul; Unit Manager Kyle Lindsay; Case Manager Kylie Bigart; Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) Marc Renda; as well as Correctional Officers (CO) Jeremy Dominick, Ryan Burns, John Schwartz, Michael Moran, Jessie Seana, Shawn Jenks, and Joseph Pellicano.[1] Several John Doe Defendants, who are described as being USP-Canaan prison staff members are also named.

Plaintiff initially alleges that while signed up for outdoor recreation his cellmate, Inmate Burke, informed prison staff that he could no longer live with Peraza.[2] See Doc. 6, ¶ 28. Five minutes later, Defendants Schwartz, Burning, Dominick, and Moran brought Burke back to the cell he shared with the Plaintiff. Those officers then allegedly tried to coerce Plaintiff into fighting his cellmate. When Peraza refused he was handcuffed and taken from the cell. It is next asserted that Correctional Officer Schwartz verbally abused Plaintiff and identified him as being a child molester as the inmate was being removed from his cell to the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU).[3]

Thereafter, the officers allegedly physically and excessively assaulted Peraza after escorting him from his cell to a security camera blind spot. Plaintiff asserts that this attack included a sexual battery in that Schwartz ran his hand over the inmate's buttocks. Plaintiff contends he was also subject to additional verbal abuse during the attack. As a result of the alleged unprovoked assault, Plaintiff states that he lost consciousness and suffered loss of vison in his left eye for approximately five (5) minutes; dizziness; nausea; a sprained left ankle; knee and wrist pain; and a forehead laceration that caused nerve damage.

Following the assault, Plaintiff was put in leg irons and placed in a nearby holding cell. Next, Peraza was taken to a medical examination room where his injuries were assessed by Defendant PA Kaiser.[4] See id. at ¶ 65. As a result of that assessment, Plaintiff was moved to the prison's Medical Department for x-rays and treatment of his forehead laceration and then later transported to an outside hospital for further treatment of his head wound and closer examination of his ankle and wrists. See id. at ¶ 70. It is alleged that Kaiser refused to report the incident telling Peraza that the prisoner should himself report the incident to the Captain.

The Amended Complaint next asserts that on or about May 12, 2011, Plaintiff discovered that his SHU cellmate, Inmate Rodriguez, had been classified as being a protective custody inmate. In light of that development the prisoners agreed that they should no longer be housed together. However, Defendants Pelicano and Sudul denied their mutual request for a cell change. The Plaintiff then struck Rodriguez on the side of the head in order to have that prisoner moved from the cell. See id. at ¶ 83.

On or about May 17, 2011, Plaintiff states that he was handcuffed and brought to the Lieutenants' office in order to be seen by a member of the prison's Psychology staff with respect to a sexual assault claim which the inmate filed against Officer Schwartz. Defendants Schwartz and Burning were initially present during this meeting. However, Schwartz was later directed to leave the room. The psychology staff member told Plaintiff that allegations of sexual abuse by staff should be reported to Special Investigative Services (SIS). Plaintiff indicates that an internal complaint he subsequently submitted to SIS via Case Manager Smith allegedly went unanswered.

During the week of May 23, 2011, Plaintiff and his new cellmate Inmate Anderson were put in an outdoor recreation cage. According to the Amended Complaint, a Mexican gang member in an adjoining cage had a private conversation with Anderson and also told Plaintiff that Defendants Schwartz and Jenks were telling prisoners that Peraza was a child molester. On or about June 7, 2011, Defendant Scwartz assigned Inmate Salmoran to be Peraza's new cellmate after Salmoran had been in a fight with his former cellmate. See id. at ¶ 115. When Plaintiff discovered that Salmoran was a protective custody inmate, the prisoners agreed to request a cell change. However, Defendant Schwartz refused Salmoran's request to be moved.

Plaintiff indicates that in order to obtain the cell change he physically assaulted Inmate Salmoran. See id. at ¶¶ 127-132. During a resulting medical assessment, Kaiser allegedly told Plaintiff SHU officers were forcing inmates to fight one another like gladiators. See id. at ¶ 143. Peraza was than left in the handicapped shower area for two hours with his hands handcuffed behind his back. It is also alleged that PA Kaiser refused to report this incident.

It is next alleged that Schwartz deliberately placed two inmates in a recreation cage with Plaintiff for the purpose of having those prisoners attack Peraza. The two inmates proceeded to assault Plaintiff based upon their belief that he was a child molester.[5] As a result of this assault, Plaintiff suffered lacerations and bruising to the face and neck which required treatment at an outside hospital. The Amended Complaint adds that the assaults and the false labeling of him as being a child molester has been covered up by prison staff.

Peraza concludes that he was subjected to excessive use of force, he was improperly labeled as being a child molester in an effort to place him at risk of assault by other prisoners, there was interference with his attempts to obtain administrative relief, and that multiple members of the correctional staff including Defendants Bigart, Renda, and Lindsay were aware of those actions and failed to take appropriate action. Moreover, those officials also tried to cover up the alleged abuse. For instance, it is asserted that Case Manager Bigart failed to report the abuse; Unit Manager Lindsay threw away a sensitive grievance which Plaintiff attempted to file with the BOP's Regional Office (See id. at ¶ 182); and DHO Renda falsified reports and used a fictionalized incident report to have Plaintiff placed in the SHU (See id. at ¶¶ 180-181). The Amended Complaint also asserts that many of the above actions were the result of a widespread conspiracy and were also taken in retaliation for his initiation of administrative grievances. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief, namely, a transfer to a medium security correctional facility.

Presently pending is Defendants' motion seeking partial dismissal of the Amended Complaint. See Doc. 137. The opposed motion is ripe for consideration.

Discussion

Defendants seek entry of partial dismissal on the grounds that: (1) there are no allegations of personal involvement by Defendants Cain, Watts, Norwood, Holt, and Breckon; (2) the claims of staff interference with administrative remedies lacks merit; (3) Counts Two and Four of the Amended Complaint fail to state separate and distinct claims; (4) a viable claim of conspiracy is ...


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