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Scheeler v. Lehigh County Prison

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 12, 2015

MICHAEL SCOTT SCHEELER, Plaintiff,
v.
LEHIGH COUNTY PRISON, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Michael Scott Scheeler ("Plaintiff"), a pro se prisoner, brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Lehigh County Prison and three prison employees: Doug Haines, Robert Dreisbach, and Nancy Afflerbach (collectively, "Defendants"). The action arises from a nine-day period in which Plaintiff was housed in a cell in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU"), allegedly without drinking water, toilet facilities, basic sanitation items, or access to his Bible. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment which, inter alia, asserts that Plaintiff's claims fail for lack of exhaustion. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff was taken into custody at Lehigh County Prison on August 15, 2011, as a pretrial detainee. His first court appearance occurred on September 22, 2011, and that evening several local news stations covering his case publicly revealed that he was charged with possession of child pornography. Upon hearing that news, a group of Plaintiff's fellow inmates harassed and threatened him, leading Plaintiff to ask to be placed in protective custody. Thus, on the evening of September 22, 2011, he was taken to the RHU, searched, and placed in a cell.

Plaintiff claims that, upon being transferred to the RHU, he was given his prison clothes, bed sheets, and his legal paperwork, but that he was denied all toiletry items, including soap and toilet paper, as well as access to his Bible. Plaintiff says that he was therefore forced to use his sheets and legal papers in place of toilet paper. He alleges that he asked politely and repeatedly over the next few days for basic toiletries and for his Bible, but his requests were denied by his unit block officer, Defendant Doug Haines. Plaintiff also claims that Haines denied his request for a misconduct response form on September 22, and his requests for medical request slips on September 27.

On September 27, 2011, while Haines was off duty, a different officer located Plaintiff's Bible and gave it to him. The next morning, however, Haines came back on duty, and Plaintiff alleges that shortly thereafter, the water to his cell was turned off. As a result, Plaintiff says he had no drinking water in his cell (other than the water in the toilet bowl) and he could not flush his toilet. Plaintiff claims that he notified Haines of the situation, but Haines said it would take a few days to fix the problem. Haines also allegedly refused to move him to another cell, despite the availability of open cells in the RHU. Plaintiff further claims that he was not allowed to use a different bathroom, and thus was forced to use the non-flushing toilet - still without any toilet paper - and then live in a cell that smelled of feces and urine. Plaintiff alleges that he was kept in those conditions from September 28 until September 30, when a different officer found Plaintiff lying on the floor of his cell having an asthma attack, at which point he was transferred to a cell with open bars and running water.

According to Plaintiff, another inmate was placed in his previous cell the next morning. That inmate complained to Haines that he had no water, and Haines immediately "went to the officer's station and yelled out, try it now, '" at which point the water began working. Am. Compl. ¶ 59. Based on those facts, Plaintiff contends that Haines deliberately turned off the water to his cell because of the nature of the charges against him.

During the period when Plaintiff had no running water, Defendant Robert Dreisbach, a prison supervisor, walked past his cell and Plaintiff tried to get his attention. Dreisbach allegedly motioned to Plaintiff to wait a moment, but then left and never returned.

Following his transfer to a cell with running water, Plaintiff was given a cellmate named Carmelo Ramos. Plaintiff alleges that Ramos explained to him that he had a history of beating up cellmates, and that the only reason he was placed in a cell with a person with charges like Plaintiff's was because the prison officials wanted Ramos to beat the person up. Plaintiff avers that Ramos then asked Plaintiff what his charges were, and said, "[d]on't try to lie to me because officer Haines has already told me what they are." Id. ¶ 68. Plaintiff says that he then told Ramos about his case and showed him his legal paperwork, and Ramos responded that Plaintiff's case was not as bad as Haines had led him to believe. Plaintiff does not allege that Ramos ever actually caused him physical harm.

On October 16, 2011, Plaintiff was moved from the RHU and placed back into the general prison population, and he was sentenced a month later.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On September 26, 2013, Plaintiff delivered his Complaint to prison officials at Lehigh County Prison and requested that it be mailed to the clerk's office. On September 30, his application to proceed in forma pauperis was docketed, and his Complaint was docketed three days later, on October 3, 2013. ECF Nos. 1, 3. Plaintiff subsequently filed his Amended Complaint on December 9, 2013.[2] ECF No. 11.

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contends that while Plaintiff was housed in the RHU, Defendants violated his constitutional rights by deliberately exposing him to inhumane conditions as punishment for the charges against him, by interfering with the free exercise of his religion, and by singling him out for negative treatment. He points in particular to Defendant Haines's actions, alleging that Haines (1) turned off the water to his cell, leaving him without drinking water or working toilet facilities for three days; (2) denied him access to toilet paper and soap for nine days (September 22 through September 30); (3) denied his requests for a misconduct response form and for medical requests slips; (4) denied him access to his Bible; and (5) attempted to use an inmate to physically harm him. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Dreisbach and Afflerbach knew of these conditions and did nothing to prevent them. Based on those factual allegations, Plaintiff brings claims under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the First Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

On December 20, 2013, Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 15), and Defendant Primecare Medical did the same on February 12, 2014 (ECF No. 24). Plaintiff then voluntarily dismissed Defendant Primecare Medical, acknowledging that his claim against it "d[id] not rise to the level of [a] viable Constitutional claim." ECF No. 28. He maintained his claims against the remaining Defendants, however, and filed a response opposing their motion to ...


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