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Green v. Fisher

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 19, 2014

CLYDE GREEN, Plaintiff,
WARDEN JON FISHER, et al., Defendants.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Clyde Green, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield ("SCI-Smithfield") in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with a pro se complaint on May 24, 2012, as amended May 1, 2013. (Doc. 44.) Plaintiff has also asserted pendant state law claims of negligence. Named as Defendants are two medical providers at SCI-Smithfield ("Medical Defendants"), as well as a number of Department of Corrections ("DOC") employees located at SCI-Smithfield ("DOC Defendants").[1] In the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he sustained injuries on two separate instances at SCI-Smithfield and has since been denied adequate medical care. As relief, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Presently before the court are two motions for summary judgment, filed by both sets of Defendants. (Docs. 79 & 92.) For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be granted. In addition, the court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's pendant state law claims. Those claims will be dismissed without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to pursue them in state court.

I. Background

A. Facts

The following facts are related to Plaintiff's claims. The court notes any factual disputes between the parties by presenting both parties' contentions.

The instant action arose during Plaintiff's incarceration at SCI-Smithfield in September and October 2011. (Doc. 94 ¶ 2.) With respect to the first instance alleged in the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, on September 30, 2011, he entered the dining hall to eat, picked up his food tray, and was directed to sit "at what was obviously an unstable table." (Doc. 44 ¶ 15.) When Plaintiff sat down at the table, it snapped from its floor foundation, and Plaintiff fell to the floor. ( Id.; Doc. 94 ¶ 52.) In an attempt to break his fall, Plaintiff injured his wrist and left hand, and struck the back of his head. (Doc. 44 ¶ 16.) He also felt immediate pain in his lower back and buttocks. ( Id. ) DOC Defendants assert that Plaintiff reported hurting his right arm, and that staff noticed mild swelling to his right arm and wrist. (Doc. 94 ¶¶ 53, 54.)

DOC Defendants provide the following background with respect to Plaintiff's fall on September 30, 2011. Plaintiff stands 6 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs over 300 pounds. ( Id. ¶ 50.) On September 30, 2011, Plaintiff was housed in Building F, Section A of SCI-Smithfield. ( Id. ¶ 39.) The dining hall is one of the many areas of the prison that is inspected weekly, monthly, and annually. ( Id. ¶ 41.) Further, DOC staff routinely walk through the dining area for various inspections. ( Id. ¶ 34.) The table at issue in the dining hall is a singular structure consisting of a table top with a centrally located vertical stem that is affixed to a round plate that fastens to the floor by way of four (4) bolts. ( Id. ¶ 35.) The four (4) circular seats are affixed to pipes that attach to the stem, and are not that high off the floor. ( Id. ¶¶ 36, 51.) Further, the plate that fastens to the floor is 3/4 inch thick. ( Id. ¶ 37.) Also, the bolts are 2-1/2 inches long and fit into two (2) inch casings embedded into the floor. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff adds that years of water getting underneath the tables has rusted the bolts. (Doc. 100 ¶ 29.)

According to the meal rotation schedule, numerous other housing units would have had dinner in the dining hall prior to Plaintiff that day. (Doc. 94 ¶ 40.) None of the relevant reports from that time period show that loose dining tables were an issue or an ongoing issue. ( Id. ¶ 42.) Reports do show that, after the September 30, 2011 incident, efforts were made to be proactive in identifying problem tables and removing or repairing as needed. ( Id. ¶ 43.) Further, a review of work orders indicates that the September 30, 2011 incident was the first time such an incident occurred where a table came loose from the floor. ( Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff counters that the weekly walk through reports by the kitchen staff differ from the work orders for the dining hall. (Doc. 100 ¶ 20.) In addition, the monthly inspection reports do not correlate with the work orders. ( Id. ¶ 19.)

DOC Defendants assert that, prior to the September 30, 2011 incident, Plaintiff never notified them of any problems or concerns he had with dining hall tables or chairs. (Doc. 94 ¶ 29.) Further, prior to this incident, no DOC Defendant was aware of any like incidents with dining hall tables or chairs. ( Id. ¶ 30.) DOC Defendants assert that, had Plaintiff or any other inmate or staff notified any of them, appropriate action would have been taken, such as removing the table, chair, or making requisite repairs. ( Id. ¶ 31.) They further assert that Plaintiff does not have any evidence that other inmates suffered the same experience with the dining hall table breaking loose from the floor. ( Id. ¶ 63.) Plaintiff counters that, prior to this incident, he notified DOC Defendants of his concerns with the tables and flooring in the inmate dining hall.[2] (Doc. 100 ¶ 9.) He also asserts that all DOC Defendants either attended, or were represented at, committee safety meetings. ( Id. ¶ 26.) He adds that Defendant Rohrer himself knew of the problems in the inmate dining hall, including those with the tables and flooring, as far back as 2006, and authored relevant work orders. ( Id. ¶ 24.) In addition, no work order was submitted for the table relating to the September 30, 2011 incident. ( Id. ¶ 28.) A review of these inspection and work order records, however, reveals that, while there were ongoing problems with the kitchen, in particular the kitchen floor, there were no ongoing problems noted with the dining hall tables. (Doc. 95, Exs. M-Q, Inspection and Work Order Records.)

Turning to the second instance, Plaintiff alleges in his amended complaint that, after he fell in the dining hall on September 30, 2011, he was transported to the medical department and examined by a physician's assistant. (Doc. 44 ¶ 16.) He was told that he had no swelling or lumps to the back of his head, although it was tender. ( Id. ) He was also told that he had suffered a muscle strain to his lower back. ( Id. ) He was treated with valium and ibuprofen, his wrist was wrapped, and he was sent to his housing unit. ( Id. )

Plaintiff further alleges that, in the early morning hours of October 1, 2011, he was removed from his cell by a stretcher and eventually taken to Blair County Hospital for lower back pain and left leg numbness and pain. ( Id. ¶ 17.) X-rays revealed no broken bones, but the doctor stated nerve and/or ligament damage could not be ruled out. ( Id. )

Upon his return to SCI-Smithfield, Plaintiff alleges that he was informed that Drs. Doll and Long had been contacted and he was then placed in an observation cell in the intake housing unit which was being used as a temporary infirmary. ( Id. ¶ 18.) Dr. Long prescribed valium and vicodin. ( Id. ) The observation cell was not equipped to meet Plaintiff's needs, with no help call button or support rails. ( Id. ) On October 3, 2011, Plaintiff lost consciousness and fell in this cell while attempting to use the bathroom and after suffering "a paralyzing lower back and leg pain." ( Id. ) Plaintiff was discovered by an officer making his rounds and was taken again to Blair County Hospital for x-rays and a CT scan. ( Id. )

DOC Defendants and Medical Defendants provide the following material facts with respect to Plaintiff's fall on October 3, 2011. At SCI-Smithfield, there are eight (8) cells in the main infirmary area, and four (4) psychiatric observation cells and seven (7) overflow medical cells in the annex area. (Doc. 94 ¶ 45.) All of the cells in the infirmary are handicapped-accessible in the same manner as an outside hospital ward. ( Id. ¶ 46.) However, none of the handicapped cells are equipped to afford an inmate with a disability the ability to function fully independently. ( Id. ) Plaintiff's medical records do not indicate that he was considered disabled on October 3, 2011. ( Id. ¶ 47.)

When Plaintiff returned from Blair County Hospital on October 1, 2011, Defendant Dr. Doll ordered his temporary placement in Inmate Housing Unit ("IHU") Cell #6 because he was complaining of pain and the infirmary had nursing staff who could observe and evaluate his condition. (Doc. 84 ¶¶ 4-7.) Plaintiff asserts that this cell, located in the annex area, was unequipped to meet his needs due to lack of bed space. (Doc. 100 ¶ 15.) However, Dr. Doll thought Plaintiff could be observed in this cell by the nursing staff and would be encouraged to remain active and ambulating. (Doc. 84 ¶¶ 4, 6, 7.) Plaintiff understood that Dr. Doll wanted him to move around because he probably sustained a muscle pull as a result of the fall from the dining table on September 30, 2011. ( Id. ¶ 8; Doc. 95 at 10, Pl. Dep., 2/19/2014 ("I know [Dr. Doll] wanted me to move around, is what she said. It was probably a muscle pull or something of that nature.").)

IHU Cell #6 is approximately eight (8) feet by twelve (12) feet. (Doc. 94 ¶ 56.) The cell has a bed with a mattress and a toilet. ( Id. ¶ 57.) The bed and toilet are in very close proximity to each other. ( Id. ¶ 48.) Inmates are provided meals and medication as needed. ( Id. ¶ 58.) Staff visually check on inmates every fifteen (15) minutes. ( Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff disputes this fact, asserting that records do not indicate visual fifteen (15) minute checks by medical staff.[3] (Doc. 100 ¶ 31.)

Medical records indicate that Plaintiff was cleared for use of a cane on October 2, 2011, at 10:55 a.m. (Doc. 94 ¶ 60.) However, the records also indicate that Plaintiff was not issued a cane for temporary use until October 5, 2011. (Doc. 100-9, Ex. H, Health Care Item Receipt.) At approximately 4:00 a.m. on October 3, 2011, Plaintiff fell in his cell when he attempted to move from his bed to the toilet. (Doc. 94 ¶ 55.) After this fall, Plaintiff was taken to Blair County Hospital for treatment. (Doc. 84 ¶ 9.) Upon his return to SCI-Smithfield, he remained in the infirmary until October 5, 2011. ( See Doc. 44 ¶ 9.)

DOC Defendants assert that none of them had anything to do with placing Plaintiff in that particular infirmary cell in which he fell on October 3, 2011. (Doc. 94 ¶ 32.) They also assert that none of them were involved in approving or disapproving, or providing or denying, Plaintiff the use of a walking assistance device such as a cane or crutches while in the infirmary. ( Id. ¶ 33.) For his part, Plaintiff asserts, without support, [4] that, prior to the October 3, 2011 fall, he notified DOC Defendants of his concerns relating to the conditions of the cell in the infirmary. (Doc. 100 ¶ 9.)

As to the filing of grievances related to the conditions of both the dining hall table and the infirmary, DOC Defendants assert that Plaintiff filed only two (2) grievances related to the September 30, 2011 and October 3, 2011 falls. (Doc. 94 ¶ 22.) On October 11, 2011, Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 384673. ( Id. ¶ 23.) In that grievance, Plaintiff stated, inter alia,

On 9-30-11 I sat at a dining hall table to eat my evening meal when the whole table snapped from the floor mount, causing it to topple over on me as I fell backwards on my back and wrist. The table weighing about 300 pounds, also made contact with my legs. I am suffering with injuries to my back, wrist, and legs, due to this incident. I am now walking with a cane to help support me so I don't further injure myself.
After viewing how and why the table snapped from its mount to the floor, it was clear that the base of the table was full of rust and the bolts supporting it were rusted away. Furthermore, it was visible for all to see that someone tried to cover it up with paint. There are about 10 other tables in the dining hall in the same condition, exposing inmates to unreasonable and foreseeable risk to health and safety.
* * *
If Supt. Fisher, Ms. Hannah, and James Rouse had properly inspected and maintained these tables, the incident would not have occurred, and further injuries could be prevented to other inmates due to the rusting of mounting bolts.
* * *
Due to the injuries received on 9-30-11 I was placed in the IHU due to lack of bed space in the infirmary. I was being given valium and vicodin for pain. While attempting to use the toilet I experienced severe spasms in my back without anything to support myself I fell to the floor, banging my head and landing on my back. I was unable to move and laid there for 5 to 10 minutes ...

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