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Armstrong v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 22, 2015



LISA PUPO LENIHAN, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants John E. Wetzel ("Wetzel"), Brian V. Coleman ("Coleman"), Eric Johnson ("Johnson"), Jared Ankrom ("Ankrom"), Richard Voytko ("Voytko"), Lisa Duncan ("Duncan"), Timothy Neligh ("Neligh"), and Debra Husarchik ("Husarchik") (collectively "Defendants") (ECF No. 49). Plaintiff brings this civil action against all Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution for failure to protect while incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette ("SCI-Fayette"). Plaintiff asserts that the Defendants at SCI-Fayette failed to protect him from assaults by his cellmate, James Copeland ("Copeland") in October 2012, culminating in an attack by Copeland in the early morning hours of October 31, 2012. Plaintiff's Grievance No. 434778 indicates that Copeland stabbed him, tied him up, choked him with a cord, then placed a hood over his head, poured water over his face, and shouted he was going to kill him. (ECF No. 56-1 at 28.)

Defendants argue that, in addition to having no knowledge that Copeland was a threat to Plaintiff, the record is replete with evidence that Plaintiff and Copeland staged the attack in an attempt to regain single cell ("Z" Code) status. For the reasons discussed below, the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 49) will be granted because Plaintiff has failed to come forward with a genuine issue of material fact. That is, based on the evidence of record, no reasonable jury could return a verdict for Plaintiff.


The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated and are taken from the parties' Statements of Material Facts and Responses thereto (ECF Nos. 51, 56, & 57) and supporting documentation of record.

A. Plaintiff Loses his "Z" Code Status

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") has established a policy with respect to reception, classification, and housing of inmates. (DOC Policy 11.2.1, ECF No. 52-3.) The policy also establishes certain program codes used by the DOC for classification and housing of inmates.

Section 5 of DOC Policy 11.2.1 provides for Single Celling, or "Z" Code, and Double Celling Housing. (ECF No. 52-3 at 20-23.) A "Z" Code is assigned to inmates who are required to be housed in a single occupancy cell within any custody level. The policy initially establishes, among other things, "the procedures for requesting consideration for termination of double celling and instructions for inmates to follow to inform staff of any problems arising as a result of double celling." (ECF No. 52-3 at 20.) The policy also sets forth several guidelines for consideration of inmates who require single celling as follows:

1. Any inmate who meets any of the following criteria shall be carefully reviewed by staff and considered for Program Code "Z" housing classification.
a. An inmate who is evaluated by psychiatric or psychological staff as having mental health problems.
e. An inmate with known or documented homosexual behavior.
2. When an inmate is transferred from one facility to another, the sending facility shall explain the specific reason for "Z" Code in the transfer rationale. The Initial Reception Committee at the receiving facility shall review the "Z" Code housing classification to determine if it is still appropriate for the inmate. If a change is indicated, the change shall be processed according to the procedures in Subsection C.4., below.
3. When reviewing an inmate for "Z" Code housing status, facility staff shall complete a review of appropriate documentation. Documentation shall include misconduct reports, recommendations from medical and/or psychiatric or psychological staff, and reports from other staff who have knowledge of the inmate's adjustment and behavior. The Program Review Committee, Unit Manager, or Shift Commander may temporarily assign a "Z" code until a full assessment is completed.
4. If there is a recommended change upon completion of the annual review, a DC-46 Vote Sheet along with other relevant information shall be circulated to the Facility Manager/designee who shall make the final decision. The staff action and rationale for "Z" Code housing status shall be documented on the DC-14....

(ECF No. 52-3 at 21-22) (footnotes omitted) (emphasis added).

An "O" Code is assigned to inmates who have or exhibit medical conditions, mental health conditions, or other vulnerability traits which may require an elevated level of observation by housing unit staff when the inmate is assigned to a general population housing unit. (ECF No. 52-6 at ¶ 4.)

When Plaintiff was transferred from SCI-Dallas to SCI-Fayette in August of 2010, he carried an "O" Code and a "Z" Code. (ECF No. 52-4 at 2.) His "Z" Code designation dated back to 2006 at SCI-Forest, and was to remain only "until Inmate Armstrong was taken off the Mental Health Roster." (ECF No. 52-4 at 2.) Plaintiff has not been on the Mental Health Roster since July 2009. (ECF No. 52-4 at 2.)

In early 2011, Defendant Duncan, a DOC psychologist, was asked to review the current status of Plaintiff's "Z" Code. (ECF No. 52-6 at ¶ 5.) This review consisted of Duncan's examination of Plaintiff's prison file, mental health records, medical records, and an in-person interview with Plaintiff on February 4, 2011. (ECF No. 52-6 at ¶ 5.) Defendant Duncan issued a report which concluded that Plaintiff did not exhibit any psychological criterial to warrant maintaining his "Z" Code, made no recommendation, but referred review of his "Z" Code to security for reasons related to the initial assignment of his "Z" Code. (ECF No. 52-6 at ¶ 6.) At this time, Plaintiff did not express to Duncan that he was concerned for his safety for any reason. (ECF No. 52-6 at ¶ 7.) A Vote Sheet was circulated to Plaintiff's Unit team and other administrators who concluded that Plaintiff did not meet the established criteria for single celling. Therefore, his "Z" Code was removed on March 1, 2011. (ECF No. 52-4 at 2, 44.) Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 363344 requesting that the Vote Sheet be resubmitted and that he be returned to his "Z" Code status. (ECF No. 52-4 at 4.) Plaintiff also stated that if he is harmed in any way, the institution is on notice. ( Id. ) Plaintiff appealed Grievance No. 363344 to second level review. He again stated that the institution is supposed to be protecting him and if he is injured, he questioned who will be responsible. (52-4 at 7-8.) Plaintiff described his strong desire for sex, and that he enjoys walking around nude. Plaintiff stated that if he is attacked by his cellmate because he masturbates in front of him, then the institution will be responsible because "Z" Code has been taken from him. (52-4 at 7-8.)

Thereafter on April 29, 2011, Plaintiff was issued Misconduct No. 007429 for being nude in another inmate's cell. (ECF No. 52-4 at 10.) He was given 60 days in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") in Disciplinary Custody effective April 29, 2011. (ECF No. 52-4 at 12.) Thereafter, he was cleared to return to general population provided that he agreed to double cell. Plaintiff indicated there would be no problems and agreed to double cell. (ECF No. 52-4 at 14.)

On June 30, 2011, Plaintiff was again considered for "Z" Code. A Vote Sheet reflected that there was no support for "Z" Code status because Plaintiff did not meet ...

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