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Vazquez v. Yeoman

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 28, 2015

JUAN VAZQUEZ, Plaintiff
v.
CO YEOMAN, et al., Defendants

MEMORANDUM

SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Juan Vazquez, an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Albion, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Albion"), commenced this civil rights action with a complaint filed on April 24, 2013, pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts both federal and state claims regarding back injuries and pain resulting from his cell assignment while he was previously incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield ("SCI-Smithfield") in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Currently named as Defendants are Correctional Officer ("CO") Yeoman and Sergeant Borosky ("Corrections Defendants"), both employed at SCI-Smithfield.[1] As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and declaratory relief.

Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Corrections Defendants. (Doc. 63.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion for summary judgment will be granted.

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.

Plaintiff was transferred as an inmate from SCI-Camp Hill to SCI-Smithfield on August 31, 2011. (Doc. 65 ¶ 1.) In his complaint, Plaintiff avers that, at that time, he was having chronic back problems and trouble keeping his balance. (Doc. 1 ¶ 8.) However, Plaintiff did not have a medical restriction requiring him to be housed on the ground level of a housing unit. (Doc. 65 ¶ 2.)

According to Plaintiff's medical records, on September 8, 2011, Plaintiff was seen at sick call by CNP Mahute for "many requests." (Id. ¶ 3; Doc. 66-1 at 2, Ex. A, Plaintiff's Relevant Medical Records.) The records reveal that CNP Mahute ordered a cane for Plaintiff on that day, but did not order a medical restriction directing Plaintiff to be housed on a ground level tier. (Doc. 65 ¶ 4; Doc. 66-1 at 2.) Plaintiff admits that the records reflect CNP Mahute did not order the medical restriction, but he adds that he requested bottom tier status from CNP Mahute at that sick call visit. (Doc. 75 ¶ 4.) Nevertheless, in a declaration filed on the record, CNP Mahute confirms that he did not order a ground level restriction for Plaintiff that day, and that a cane, in and of itself, does not warrant a ground level restriction because there are inmates who can safely ambulate steps with a cane. (Doc. 65 ¶ 5; Doc. 66-5 ¶ 5, Ex. E, Decl. J. Mahute.) Plaintiff disputes this fact, countering that he himself could not safely ambulate steps with a cane. (Doc. 75 ¶ 5.)

On September 15, 2011, Plaintiff returned to sick call, where he was assessed by CNP Mahute at 10:10 a.m. for a reported slip on the steps in his housing unit. (Doc. 65 ¶ 6.) Plaintiff reported that the slip occurred "two or three days" prior to September 15, 2011, but he caught himself when he slipped and was not injured. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7.) Resultantly, at that sick call appointment, CNP Mahute entered a medical order for Plaintiff to be placed on bottom tier housing. (Id. ¶ 8.) Specifically, this order was entered on September 15, 2011, at 10:10 a.m. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 15.) Moreover, even though he entered this order, CNP Mahute did not view Plaintiff as an "imminent fall risk." (Id. ¶ 10.) Had he viewed Plaintiff as such, he would have housed him in the infirmary and not permitted him to walk back to the housing block. (Id.) Plaintiff disputes CNP Mahute's declaration with respect to an "imminent fall risk, " claiming that this risk is not a prerequisite to bottom tier housing status for the "mobility impaired." (Doc. 75 ¶ 10.) In support, he claims that inmates who are in wheelchairs have the status of "imminent fall risk" but are assigned to bottom tier housing in general population rather than the infirmary. (Id.) Plaintiff also counters that he is not able to determine CNP Mahute's state of mind with regard to his views on Plaintiff's status as an "imminent fall risk."[2] (Id.)

CNP Mahute did not personally communicate to the block corrections officers the fact that he added a ground level restriction to Plaintiff's housing assignment on September 15, 2011. (Doc. 65 ¶ 11.) Rather, once CNP Mahute enters a restriction into the medical records, after necessary approvals, the information is ultimately conveyed to the corrections officers in charge of housing. (Id. ¶ 12.) Further, when an order related to a medical restriction is entered into an inmate's medical records, the restriction is also placed in the DOC's DOCnet computer system under "medical housing status." (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff disputes both these facts by simply stating that he is not privy to the communications and procedures of medical and correctional staff.[3] (Doc. 75 ¶¶ 11, 12.)

As to the ground level housing restriction ordered by CNP Mahute, the DOC's computerized records confirm that Plaintiff was first given the housing restriction on September 15, 2011. (Doc. 65 ¶ 14.) A Nurse Miner entered the restriction into the computer, and there is no earlier entry indicating this assignment. (Id.; Doc. 66-7, Ex. G, Plaintiff's Inmate Housing Status Summary.) Plaintiff disputes the fact that he was initially given the ground level restriction on September 15, 2011; rather, he counters that the ground level assignment was first entered on August 31, 2011, and confirmed by CNP Mahute on September 1, 2011.[4] (Doc. 75 ¶ 14; Doc. 76, Ex. 3.) However, as stated above, the computerized records indicate no such earlier entry. ( See Doc. 66-7.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff does admit that a ground level restriction was ordered by CNP Mahute on September 15, 2011, at 10:10 a.m. ( See Doc. 75 ¶ 15.)

Housing restrictions requiring the move of an inmate may require a series of approvals and may take up to 48 hours to be implemented. (Doc. 65 ¶ 16.) Plaintiff disputes this fact by simply stating that he is not privy to these procedures.[5] (Doc. 75 ¶ 16.) If the bottom tier of a housing unit is filled, an inmate would need to be moved to accommodate another inmate's ground level restriction move. (Doc. 65 ¶ 17.) Every move of an inmate must be approved by the office that addresses population management. (Id.) Plaintiff disputes this fact and, in support, cites Defendants' responses to his interrogatories. (Doc. 75 ¶ 17.) As to Defendant Borosky, Plaintiff claims that, in his response to Plaintiff's interrogatory number 12, Defendant Borosky stated that "he possessed independent-authority to facilitate prisoner cell-moves at any time for safety reasons." (Id.) (citing Doc. 76 at 11, Ex. 4). However, this interrogatory and response thereto actually read as follows: "Within the construct of your employment as a block-officer, do you possess the authority to move a prisoner from one cell to another for safety reasons, and if not, what steps would you need to take in order to effectuate such a cell move within the housing-unit? Response: Yes." (Doc. 76 at 11, Ex. 4.) There is no mention here of "independent authority." (Id.) Turning to Defendant Yeoman, Plaintiff claims that, in his response to Plaintiff's same interrogatory number 12, Defendant Yeoman "averred that he need only contact an L-4 block sergeant or an L-3 senior c-o-1 officer to facilitate such prisoner cell moves." (Doc. 75 ¶ 17.) To the contrary, in Defendant Yeoman's actual response to the same interrogatory 12, he stated, "I cannot move an inmate without the approval of the block Sergeant on a Level 4 block or the Senior CO1 on a Level 3 block. If neither are around, I would need the unit manager's approval to move the inmate." (Doc. 76 at 22, Ex. 5.)

In addition, before a cell move can take place, a suitable cell mate would need to be located. (Doc. 65 ¶ 18.) Each inmate's belongings would need to be searched. (Id.) And sufficient staff must be present to carry out the searches and effectuate the cell move. (Id.) Plaintiff disputes these facts, claiming that they relate to restricted housing unit cell moves rather than general population moves, and cites a DOC procedures manual that is not in the record. (Doc. 75 ¶ 18.)

Turning back to September 15, 2011, Plaintiff's medical records reflect that, after he visited CNP Mahute at sick call that morning, at approximately 4:35 p.m., nurses were called to Plaintiff's housing block where he had fallen again, this time down four (4) to five (5) steps. (Doc. 65 ¶ 19.) One nurse noted that the area where Plaintiff fell was wet. (Id.) Plaintiff was taken to an outside hospital the same day. (Doc. 1 ¶ 15.) In his complaint, Plaintiff claims that he ...


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