United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER RE: ECF NO. 6
MAUREEN P. KELLY, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, La-qun Williams, a prisoner incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Greene"), has filed a Complaint (ECF No. 1-2) alleging claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and pendant state law negligence claims. In particular, Plaintiff alleges: (1) that in response to filing grievances, he suffered retaliation in violation of the First Amendment; (2) the use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (3) inhumane conditions of confinement in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (4) the denial of medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (5) the violation of his right to due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; and, (6) a state law negligence claim related to his conditions of confinement.
Defendants Superintendent Louis Folino, Grievance Coordinator Tracy Shawley, Unit Manager Paul Palya, Lieutenant Shrader, Deputy Superintendent Gilmore, Corrections Officer Surrey, Corrections Officer Blancher, Corrections Officer Smith, Registered Nurse Supervisor Nedra Grego, and CHCA Irma Vihlidal (identified by Plaintiff as "Irma") have filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 6), contending that the facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint fail to state any claims upon which relief may be granted as a matter of law, and seeking the dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety with prejudice.
For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6) is granted in part and denied in part.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff alleges that on November 28, 2012, he sent a DC-135A request slip to Unit Manager Paul Palya expressing his concern about the doors on his cabinet that he contends swing out and have protruding sharp metal edges, causing him a health and safety concern due to his history of seizures. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶15). Plaintiff allegedly sent a copy of that request slip to Deputy Superintendent Gilmore on December 6, 2013, and to Superintendent Louis Folino on December 15, 2013. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶¶ 16-17).
Plaintiff alleges that he has a history of seizures, including four while incarcerated at SCI-Greene. He knows he had the seizures because he woke up having "pissed and shitted on himself." (ECF No. 1-2 ¶19). He contends he wrote sick-call slips to medical on December 12 and 19, 2013, informing various Defendants of his seizure condition and inquiring as to why he was not receiving his previously prescribed medications. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶20). Because Plaintiff was not seen by a doctor, he filed a grievance on December 24, 2013, requesting medical attention for his seizures which he reported caused him to have "pissed and shitted on himself." (ECF No. 1-2 ¶21). Grievance Coordinator Tracy Shawley rejected the grievance because it used the words "pissed" and "shitted." Superintendent Folino affirmed the rejection, which Plaintiff contends violated Department of Corrections' policy. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶¶22-24). Superintendent Folino, in affirming the dismissal of Grievance 490819, noted that "there are other words more appropriate that you could have used." Chief Grievance Officer Dorina Varner, affirming the rejection, stated, "You had the opportunity to re-submit the initial grievance to correct the words that were determined to be discourteous, however you did not do so." (ECF No. 6-1, pp. 2-8).
Plaintiff alleges that he filed two more grievances on December 24 and 25, 2013, regarding his desire to have the swinging cabinet doors removed and requesting treatment for his seizure disorder, but this grievance was also rejected. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶¶26-27). Grievance 490962 deals with the swinging door, which Plaintiff alleged was a health hazard. Following appeals and a remand, Grievance 490962 was rejected as frivolous because the cabinet doors are standard issue, not considered a health hazard and because Plaintiff's medical records showed no health concerns that would require medication. (ECF No. 6-1, pp. 10-21). Grievance 490963 deals with the same subject matter and was rejected as being duplicative of Grievance 490962. (ECF No. 6-1, pp. 23-29).
Plaintiff next alleges that on December 25, 2013, he was retaliated against by Officer Sumey "for the exercise of his First Amendment rights." Plaintiff alleges that during an escort to the shower, rather than use appropriate procedure of "holding Plaintiff by the forearm and dog leash, " Officer Sumey grabbed his right arm and left forearm and pulled him out of his cell and pushed or "glided" him toward the shower. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶¶ 28, 32-33). As a result, Plaintiff filed an allegation of abuse against Officer Sumey for the incident and against Officer Blancher for refusing him medical treatment. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶29). Plaintiff alleges he was again retaliated against by those two officers and by Officer Smith who refused him time in the law library, for which he also filed a grievance. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶30). Plaintiff alleges he was again retaliated against on January 23, 2014, this time by Lieutenant Shrader, when he issued a misconduct against Plaintiff for filing the allegation of abuse against Officer Sumey, because the allegation was reportedly deemed untruthful. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶31).
Plaintiff filed three grievances in the same time period concerning his ability to use the law library. The first, Grievance 491397, dated January 1, 2014, alleges that Plaintiff was only allowed to bring as many legal materials with him to the law library as he could carry, which he contends violated DOC policy because corrections officers should have carried as many legal materials for him as he wanted. (ECF No. 6-1, pp. 31-39). Plaintiff also stated that he was not receiving six hours a week in the law library, which he contends he was entitled to. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Officer Sumey told him he would "fuck you over" and another non-defendant officer agreed, because he filed grievances and lawsuits and said "I got some shit for you boy." Grievance 491397 was denied because inmates are allotted two hours per week at the law library, which Plaintiff received, and because Plaintiff refused an offer of extra time at the law library. Plaintiff's grievance was also denied because DOC policy does not require corrections officers to carry additional materials to the law library, and because Officer Sumey denied making the statements and video recordings from a facility camera did not corroborate Plaintiff's version of events. Id.
Plaintiff next filed Grievance 492823, dated January 9, 2014, alleging that a nondefendant corrections officer stated "fuck you you stupid fucker you ain't going to no law library because you filed a grievance." (ECF No. 6-1, pp. 41-42). This grievance was denied as frivolous because it was not supported by video, the officer denied making the statement, and it appeared that Plaintiff was not taken to the law library because he covered his cell vent.
Plaintiff also submitted Grievance 493270, dated January 16, 2014, alleging that Officer Blancher refused him extra law library time when other inmates were given extra time, which Plaintiff contends was a form of retaliation for filing grievances. This grievance was denied because he received all the law library time to which he was entitled. (ECF No. 6-1, pp. 43-47).
Plaintiff alleges a claim of retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights, arising out of the allegation of abuse against Officer Sumey, which Plaintiff contends led to the the issuance of a misconduct by Lieutenant Shrader. This misconduct, for lying to an employee, states:
Inmate Williams filed an abuse complaint that was assigned to this officer by OSII. Inmate Williams was interviewed about his claim of abuse and he stated that on 12-25-2013 Officer Sumey assaulted him when he was taking him out of his cell for a shower. Observation of video does not support Inmate Williams' claim. Staff interviewed admits to grabbing Inmate Williams' shoulders to guide him out of the cell but did not abuse Inmate Williams in any manner. The reason for the delay in this misconduct being written is due to the ongoing investigation.
(ECF No. 6-1, p. 49). Plaintiff was found guilty of this misconduct, and it was upheld on appeal. (ECF No. 6-1 pp. 50-61).
B. Medical Care
On December 23, 2013, Plaintiff contacted RN Supervisor Nedra Grego and CHCA Irma Vihidal via request slips, and spoke with the staff nurse making rounds, about his medical condition and his need for seizure medication. Plaintiff was told to submit a sick call slip. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶34). In the following days and weeks, Plaintiff repeatedly spoke with the nurse making rounds about his condition and submitted several sick call slips throughout January 2014 asking for medical treatment. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶35). Plaintiff contends he told Officer Blancher that he had a seizure, and alleges that Officer Blancher responded by telling him to submit a sick call slip, which would be provided by the 6-2 shift staff. When Plaintiff asked Defendant Blancher to speak to a sergeant or lieutenant, Defendant Blancher responded by telling Plaintiff to submit a request slip. Plaintiff alleges that this was an attempt by Officer Blancher to intentionally delay necessary medical care. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶¶ 38-40). Plaintiff contends that Defendants Shawley, Folino, Palya, Gilmore, and Blancher denied him medical care by denying him access to a physician. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶41).
During the evening of January 26-27, 2014, Plaintiff allegedly had a seizure and banged his head on the swinging cabinet door, causing him to suffer a laceration and swelling on his forehead. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶42). Plaintiff concedes he was provided medical treatment, but contends he now suffers a twitch to the right side of his head as well as blurry vision, headaches and an aversion to bright light. He attributes all of these symptoms to hitting his head on the sharp metal edge of the cabinet door in her his cell. He alleges that he has a permanent scar on the right side of his face, and that he must wear shaded glasses to block bright light. Plaintiff also states that he must take pain medication for daily headaches. (ECF No. 1-2, ¶¶ 43-48).
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants owed Plaintiff a duty of care and that, as a result of their negligence, he sustained physical injuries and emotional harm. (ECF No. 1-2, ¶ 51). Plaintiff seeks compensation for his injuries. In particular, Plaintiff seeks an award of "punitive damages" of $4500 for the negligence resulting in a permanent scar, headaches, blurry vision and required glasses he must now wear; $2000 for the failure of various Defendants to respond appropriately to his grievances by providing medical care and by removing the cabinet door in his cells; $300 against other various Defendants for delaying access to medical care; $300 for retaliation against Plaintiff in violation of his First Amendment rights. (ECF No. 1-2 ¶ 53). In addition, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $10, 000.
In response to the Complaint, Defendants have filed the present Motion to Dismiss in which they argue that (i) Plaintiff's excessive force claim fails as a matter of law because the force alleged was de minimus; (ii) Plaintiff's due process claim arising out of the summary rejection of his grievance for the use of inappropriate language fails to state a claim as a matter of law; (iii) Plaintiff fails to state a claim for retaliation as a matter of law based upon the facts alleged in his Complaint; (iv) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim, arising out of the swinging cabinet doors, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; (v) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims for the denial of access to medical care fail to allege the subjective or objective knowledge of a substantial risk of hann, as required to find deliberate indifference on the part of any named Defendants and therefore fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and, (vi) Defendants Shawley, Folino, Gilmore, Palya, Grego and ...