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Illes v. Beard

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 9, 2015

RICHARD W. ILLES, SR., M.D., Plaintiff
JEFFREY BEARD, Ph.D., et al., Defendants


William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

I. Introduction

We are considering cross motions for summary judgment. (Doc. 46; Doc. 49). This matter relates to a complaint filed by Plaintiff Richard Illes pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In pertinent part, the complaint makes two claims. (Doc. 1-1). First, it alleges that Defendant Chris Chambers and Defendant Scott Ellenberger retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id. at 18). Second, it asserts that Defendant Chambers denied Plaintiff food in violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 14). On March 30, 2015, Defendants moved for summary judgment on both claims. (Doc. 46). On April 7, 2015, Plaintiff filed a cross motion seeking summary judgment on his Eighth Amendment claim. (Doc. 49). For the reasons discussed below, we will grant Defendants’ motion with respect to the retaliation claim, and we will deny both motions with respect to the Eighth Amendment claim.

II. Background

Plaintiff is an inmate incarcerated within the Pennsylvania correctional system. (Doc. 54 at 1). In August of 2010, he was scheduled to make an appearance in this court as a plaintiff in an unrelated civil action. (Id.). Pursuant to a policy of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, when an inmate is scheduled to make a court appearance, the inmate is transferred to the nearest state correctional institution. (Doc. 54 at 2). Accordingly, to make the required appearance in this court, Plaintiff was temporarily transferred from his home institution to the state correctional institution in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania (SCI Camp Hill). (Doc. 54 at 1). Plaintiff’s temporary transfer to SCI Camp Hill lasted from August 5, 2010 to August 31, 2010. (Id.).

Upon his arrival at SCI Camp Hill, Plaintiff, like all temporarily transferred inmates, was assigned to the “Control Group.” (Doc. 54 at 2). The Control Group was a special housing unit located in the E Block of the prison. (Id.). At the time of Plaintiff’s assignment to the Control Group, Defendant Chambers was the Unit Manager of E Block and Defendant Ellenberger was the Unit Counselor. (Doc. 54 at 4). Plaintiff complained to Chambers and Ellenberger about his placement in the Control Group, claiming that the Control Group was unnecessarily more restrictive than the general population. (Doc. 1-1 at 19). Neither Defendant, however, was responsible for Plaintiff’s assignment into the Control Group. (Doc. 54 at 4). Plaintiff’s assignment was in accordance with a policy of SCI Camp Hill. (Doc. 54 at 2).

As a housing unit that was more restrictive than the general population, inmates in the Control Group were served meals in their cells. (Doc. 54 at 5). At each meal time, unit staff announced that meals were being served. (Doc. 54 at 6). Following the announcement, staff verified the number of food trays and checked the contents of the trays. (Id.). After this process, staff began serving the meals. (Id.). Generally, no more than ten minutes elapsed from the time the meals were announced to the time the meals were served. (Id.). Pursuant to Control Group rules, in order to receive the meal, the following conditions had to be satisfied: the inmate had to be standing at his door; the inmate had to be properly dressed; the light in the cell had to be on; and the bed had to be neatly made. (Doc. 50-1 at 5). If an inmate was not in compliance with this rule when staff arrived at his cell, the inmate would not receive the meal. (Doc. 50-1 at 3). Shortly after his arrival at SCI Camp Hill, the prison staff in E Block, finding that Plaintiff was not complying with the rules, began to deny Plaintiff meals. (Id.).

Plaintiff asserts that his noncompliance was due to chronic pain. (Id.). The day after Plaintiff’s arrival at SCI Camp Hill, a physician’s assistant reviewed his prescription medications. (Doc. 54 at 8). At the time, Plaintiff was taking Ultram and Celebrex to relieve pain. (Id.). The physician’s assistant issued an order discontinuing Plaintiff’s use of Ultram but permitted continued use of Celebrex until his two-week supply was exhausted. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, the reduced medication caused him pain. (Doc. 50-1 at 3). The pain, in turn, prevented him from moving quickly enough to be in compliance with the meal rules by the time prison staff arrived at his cell to serve the meals. (Doc. 57 at 2). As a result, he was denied meals. (Id.). Plaintiff asserts that he orally notified Defendant Chambers that he was being denied meals. (Doc. 50-1 at 3).

On August 12, 2010, complaining of pain, Plaintiff requested that his Ultram prescription be renewed. (Doc. 54 at 8). The physician’s assistant offered alternative medications, but Plaintiff refused, stating that these medications presented dangerous side-effects. (Doc. 54 at 9; Doc. 57 at 2). A week later on August 19, 2010, Plaintiff again sought to have his prescription for Ultram renewed. (Id.). The medical staff again offered Plaintiff alternative medications, which he refused due to dangerous side-effects. At no point in Plaintiff’s consultations with the medical staff, however, did he seek a disability exemption to meal rules. (Id.). On August 21, 2010, Plaintiff wrote a complaint addressed to Defendant Chambers. (Doc. 50-1 at 7). The complaint advised that Plaintiff was unable to comply with the rules and that he was being denied one or two meals each day. (Id.).

Over the course of Plaintiff’s twenty-six days at SCI Camp Hill, he was denied forty-six meals. (Doc. 50-1 at 3). As an inmate housed in the Control Group, Plaintiff was not permitted to purchase food from the prison commissary. (Doc. 50-1 at 6). The lack of sustenance made Plaintiff weak, exacerbated his medical problems, and caused him to lose ten percent of his body weight. (Doc. 50-1 at 4). On April 4, 2012, Plaintiff filed a seven count complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1-1). Only his retaliation claim and his Eighth Amendment claim remain. See (Doc. 31).

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

We will examine the motions for summary judgment under the well-established standard: summary judgment will only be granted if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Lawrence v. City of Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008). We “must view all evidence and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party” and we will only grant the motion “if no reasonable juror could find for the non-movant.” Id. “Material facts are those ‘that could affect the outcome’ of the proceeding, and ‘a dispute about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” Roth v. Norfalco, 651 F.3d 367, 373 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011)). Summary judgment will be granted ÔÇťagainst a ...

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