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Dooley v. Bryant

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 22, 2015





A. Relevant Procedural and Factual History

On July 15, 2014, Plaintiff Lerex Dooley, an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Smithfield"), filed this civil rights action pursuant 42 U.S.C. §1983, against four staff members at SCI-Smithfield: Deputy Superintendent Bryant ("Bryant"); Correctional Officer O'Brien ("O'Brien"); Correctional Officer Szelewski ("Szelewski"); and Unit Manager Kessler ("Kessler").

In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, on the morning of July 7, 2013, he was physically assaulted by another inmate, identified as "Inmate O'Neal", who punched Plaintiff repeatedly in the head and face. (ECF No. 3, Complaint, at ¶¶ 8-11). Plaintiff alleges that the attack was broken up by Defendant O'Brien, who stated that he would document the incident as horseplay if the inmates agreed that it was over. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-16). In response, Inmate O'Neal allegedly told Plaintiff, "I'm airing you out then I'll be done, " and walked away. (Id. at ¶ 17). Plaintiff alleges that he explained to Defendant O'Brien that O'Neal's comment meant that he intended to stab Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 18). Defendant O'Brien allegedly shrugged his shoulders stating, "As long as it's after I go home, " and then instructed Plaintiff to lock up in his cell. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19).

Later the same day, after working his prison job, Plaintiff returned to his cell, where Inmate O'Neal assaulted and stabbed him six times with a homemade knife. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-24). According to Plaintiff, O'Neal escaped without being seen, and Plaintiff, in fear of calling for help, attempted to clean his wounds himself and went to dinner. (Id. at ¶ 25). After dinner, Plaintiff returned to his cell block, where he ultimately made a correctional officer aware of his injuries and was sent to the medical department for treatment. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-27). After being treated, Plaintiff was placed in the restricted housing unit ("RHU"). (Id. at ¶¶ 28-29).

The next day, Plaintiff was given a misconduct by Defendant O'Brien for fighting with Inmate O'Neal on the morning of July 13, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 30). Plaintiff subsequently filed a grievance against Defendant O'Brien on July 23, 2012, for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's health and safety. (Id. at ¶ 31). Defendant Szelewski was assigned to investigate Plaintiff's grievance and took a statement from Plaintiff regarding the events of July 13. At that time, Defendant Szelewski encouraged Plaintiff to file criminal charges against Inmate O'Neal with the Pennsylvania State Police, although Plaintiff expressed his reluctance to do so, fearing retaliation from O'Neal and his associates. (Id. at ¶ 32). Defendant Szelewski responded that attacks did not happen on his watch, so Plaintiff reported the events of July 13 to the police, but told the officers that he didn't want to press criminal charges against Inmate O'Neal. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-35).

Plaintiff remained in the RHU until the expiration of his disciplinary sanction for fighting. During this time, rumors quickly spread among the inmates that he was a "snitch, " and he received multiple threats that he would be stabbed again if he was sent back to general population. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37). Sometime before August 25, 2012, Plaintiff was released from the RHU due to overcrowding. (Id. at ¶ 38). After receiving a number of threats from Inmate O'Neal's associates, Plaintiff wrote individual requests slips to Defendants Bryant, Kessler, and Szelewski, advising each of the threats he received and the risks of staying in general population. (Id. at ¶ 40). Defendants Bryant and Szelewski did not respond to the request slips; however, Defendant Kessler responded, stating that if Plaintiff felt threatened, he needed to "take self lock up." (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42; ECF No. 16). Plaintiff then asked to be placed in protective custody, but was informed by "Captain Heibner" that protective custody was not available because the RHU was overcrowded. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-46).

Unsatisfied with the responses he received to his requests, Plaintiff filed a grievance on September 13, 2012, complaining about the threats he was receiving and the risks associated with him remaining in general population, but no action was taken to place him into protective custody. (Id. at ¶¶ 47-48). On October 8, 2012, while Plaintiff was eating breakfast, he was assaulted by one of Inmate O'Neal's associates, who stabbed him in the head repeatedly with a sharp object. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-50). As a result of the attack, Plaintiff remained in the infirmary for approximately two months, after which he was placed in protective custody. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-52).

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff claims that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his health and safety by failing to protect him from assault by other inmates, in violation of his rights under the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution.

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss [ECF No. 12], seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Bryant, Szelweski, and Kessler, only, based upon Plaintiff's alleged failure to establish their personal involvement and/or failure to assert a failure to protect claim against them upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff has filed a response to Defendants' motion to dismiss [ECF No. 14] upholding his claims against Defendants Szelewski and Kessler, but conceding dismissal of his claims against Defendant Bryant. As a result, Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Bryant will be dismissed, and Defendants' motion will be considered as to Defendants Szelewski and Kessler only.[2]

B. Standard of Review

1.> Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)(rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 ...

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