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Gessner v. Nixon

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

March 24, 2015

LT. NIXON, et al., Defendants.


Susan Paradise Baxter, United States Magistrate Judge.


A. Relevant Procedural History

On January 22, 2013, Plaintiff Amanda L. Gessner, a prisoner formerly incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania (“SCI Cambridge Springs”), [2]filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ' 1983. Named as Defendants are SCI-Cambridge Springs corrections officers Lt. Nixon (“Nixon”); Sgt. Gage (“Gage”); C.O. Yost (“Yost”); C.O. Diehl (“Diehl”); and C.O. Jeffrey Vittorio (“Vittorio”).

Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated her First, Seventh, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by using excessive force against her. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that, on November 17, 2012, Defendant Nixon ordered the other four Defendants to extract Plaintiff from her cell after she refused to leave the cell because she was trying to assist her cellmate with a “medical issue” (ECF No. 3, Complaint, at Section IV.C). During the cell extraction, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants “put handcuffs on [her] wrist so tight it cut the blood circulation off to [her] hands, ” “broke open flesh to [her] skin, ” and “sprained [her] left wrist causing [her] to go on an emergency trip to Meadville Medical Center on November 18, 2012.” (Id.).

Defendants’ have filed a motion for summary judgment asserting, inter alia, that the record evidence does not establish excessive use of force as a matter of law. [ECF No. 51].[3]Plaintiff has since filed a response to Defendants’ motion. [ECF No. 59]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Relevant Factual History[4]

On November 17, 2012, while Plaintiff was housed in the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) at SCI-Cambridge Springs, she appeared at her cell door holding a spork. (ECF No. 53, Defendants’ concise statement of undisputed material facts, at ¶¶ 1-2). Defendant Vittorio went to Plaintiff’s cell, opened the wicket, and ordered Plaintiff to give him the spork, which is contraband in the RHU; however, Plaintiff refused. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-4). After Plaintiff informed him that she had the spork for about a week, Defendant Vittorio again ordered Plaintiff it to hand him, but she again refused. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6). After refusing a third order to hand over the spork, Plaintiff covered her cell camera with toilet paper. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9).

The Shift Commander was then notified of the situation and Defendant Vittorio was ordered to keep the light on in Plaintiff’s cell. (Id. at ¶ 10). Defendant Vittorio then gave Plaintiff a direct order to remove the toilet paper from her camera, which she refused, but she did slide the spork under the door. (Id. at ¶ 12). After this encounter, Plaintiff flooded her cell by stuffing items in her toilet and flushing it, causing it to overflow. (Id. at ¶ 13). Shortly thereafter, Defendant Vittorio called for a medical emergency for Plaintiff’s cellmate, who was having a seizure. (Id. at ¶ 14). Defendants Nixon, Gage, Yost, and Diehl were among the officers who responded to the RHU. (Id. at ¶ 15). Defendant Nixon ordered Plaintiff to come to the wicket to be cuffed so that the officers could remove her from the cell in order to provide medical assistance to her cellmate; however, Plaintiff refused. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 18). Defendant Diehl then knocked on the cell door and repeated the order to come to the wicket to be cuffed, but Plaintiff refused this order as well. (Id. at ¶ 21). Defendant Nixon then ordered the officers to enter the cell and extract Plaintiff so that medical assistance could be provided to her cellmate. (Id. at ¶ 24).

Defendant Yost entered the cell first and removed Plaintiff from between the wall and the bunk beds. (Id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff began kicking at the officers and twisting her body in an attempt to avoid being handcuffed. (Id. at ¶ 28). Defendant Gage assisted Defendant Yost in bringing Plaintiff to the floor to gain control of her as she continued to ignore orders to comply. (Id. at ¶ 29). Defendant Yost then placed youth handcuffs and a tether on Plaintiff, as Plaintiff had slipped out of adult handcuffs in the past. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). A spit hood was placed on Plaintiff to protect the officers, as she kept turning her head in an apparent attempt to spit on them. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-38). Plaintiff continued to fight the officers by kicking and refusing to stand and walk. (Id. at ¶ 40). As a result, Defendant Nixon ordered the officers to carry Plaintiff into the intake cell, which they proceeded to do while Plaintiff continued to struggle. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-44).

Defendant Nixon turned on the camera in the intake cell to document Plaintiff’s behavior. (Id. at ¶ 45). As a precautionary measure, he then asked the medical staff to assess Plaintiff following the cell extraction, but Plaintiff refused to comply. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-52). While in the intake cell, Plaintiff repeatedly twisted her wrists in the cuffs, pulled away from the tether using the full weight of her body on her wrists, and tried to remove the spit shield by bending the top of her torso down to meet her outstretched cuffed hands. (Id. at ¶ 54). After Plaintiff’s cellmate was removed and the officers performed a safety check, Plaintiff was moved back into her cell. (Id. at ¶¶ 48, 55).

After complaining of pain in her left wrist, Plaintiff was examined by a nurse, who initially observed that Plaintiff’s left wrist was slightly reddened with no open flesh wound or swelling, and ultimately assessed a 3 cm. ecchymosis, or small bruise, on the left distal area of the left wrist. (Id. at ¶¶ 58-61). The nurse noted that Plaintiff was able to move her fingers and raise her left arm without difficulty, was able to turn her left wrist with slight difficulty, and was in no acute distress. (Id. at ¶¶ 62-63, 65, 67). The nurse took pictures of Plaintiff’s left wrist, applied ice to the wrist, administered Motrin, and referred Plaintiff to the physician’s assistant for further assessment. (Id. at ¶¶ 64, 66, 68). The next day, Plaintiff was taken to Meadville Medical Center for x-rays of her left wrist, which revealed no fracture. (Id. at ¶¶ 69-70, 73). Plaintiff was diagnosed with a contusion to her left wrist and was instructed to apply ice intermittently, four to six times daily, and to take Advil for pain (Id. at ¶¶ 71-72).

C. Standards of Review

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