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Wilson v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 23, 2017



          RICHARD P. CONABOY, United States District Judge


         This pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was filed by Lawrence Marvin Wilson, an inmate presently confined at the Forest State Correctional Institution, Marienville, Pennsylvania (SCI-Forest). Remaining Defendants are the following officials at Plaintiff's prior place of confinement, the State Correctional Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania (SCI-Coal Twp.): Superintendent Varano; Health Care Administrator Kathryn McCarty; Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) Lieutenants Norman Folk and George Burns (collectively referred to as the "Corrections Defendants").

         By Memorandum and Order dated February 19, 2013, a motion to dismiss the Complaint filed by Defendant Jennifer Daya, P.A. was granted. See Doc. 53. A September 9, 2013 Memorandum and Order partially granted Corrections Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Doc. 61. The claims against Defendants Secretary Wetzel, Regional Superintendent Klopotoski, Chief Grievance Officer Varner; Deputy Superintendents Ellett and Miller; ex-Deputy Superintendent McMillan, Grievance Coordinator Discandi, Unit Manager Major Miller, Shift Commander Captain Madden and Correctional Officer T. Bendas were dismissed on the basis of non-personal involvement. Dismissal was also granted with respect to any claims: (1) under either the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment regarding Plaintiff's temporary, disciplinary placement on a food loaf diet; (3) for monetary damages under RLUIPA; and (3) concerning the alleged failure of Varano and McCarty to preserve videotape.

         As a result, the following claims survive: (1) Defendants v Folk and Burns violated the First Amendment by refusing Plaintiff's request to be provided with a Kosher food bag; (2) Health Care Administrator McCarty acted improperly by establishing a practice that required Wilson to pay for copies of his own sick call slips; and (3) Superintendent Varano initiated a policy which created constant illumination in the SCI-Coal Twp. RHU and caused Plaintiff to suffer multiple medical problems in violation of the inmate's rights under the Eighth Amendment.

         Wilson describes himself as being "a faith believer and follower of the Hebrew-Israelite Culture/Religion." Doc. 1, ¶ 26. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was confined in the SCI-Coal Twp. RHU on September, 2010 during the holy fast day of Gedaliah.[1]SCI-Coal Twp. prisoners observing the Gedaliah related fasting are normally provided with a Kosher bag meal. The initial claim raised in the Complaint contends that Wilson was improperly denied his Kosher bag meals on Gedaliah by Defendants Folk, and Burns due to his earlier placement on a modified food loaf meal restriction.[2]The denial of a religious fast meal allegedly violated Plaintiff's First Amendment right to exercise his religious beliefs and also constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

         The Complaint next maintains that as a result of the December 2010 removal of cell light switches from certain RHU cells ordered by Superintendent Varano, prisoners confined in those cells are subjected to sixteen (16) hours of bright constant illumination from a double candle fluorescent light.[3] When that light is dimmed each a single red dim candle fluorescent light remains on in those RHU cells for the remainder of the day. Wilson alleges that this constant daily illumination during the course of his extended confinement (13 months) in the RHU caused him to develop constant headaches, eye pain, mental stress, and depression and constituted cruel and unusual punishment. See id. at ¶ 55. It is specifically alleged that Plaintiff suffered blackouts on March 23, 2011, April 7, 2011 and October 24, 2011.

         The final claims raised in the Complaint contends that Health Care Administrator McCarty acted improperly by establishing a practice that required prisoners, including Wilson, to pay for copies of their own sick call slips. A supplement filed by Plaintiff indicates that he is seeking injunctive and declaratory relief as well as punitive and compensatory damages. See Doc. 9.

         Presently pending is Corrections Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 88. The opposed motion is ripe for consideration.


         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect tl outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Libert\ Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. .Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992). Unsubstantiated arguments made in briefs are not considered evidence of asserted facts. Versarge v. Township of Clinton, 984 F.2d 1359, 1370 (3d Cir. 1993).

         Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non- moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. " 'Such affirmative evidence - regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial - must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.'" Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         Corrections Defendants claim entitlement to entry of summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) the denial of a Kosher bag meal was appropriate because it was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests; (2) Defendant Varano is entitled to summary judgment; (3) there is no basis for a constituional claim against Health Care Administrator McCarty; (4) Plaintiff is not entitled to punitive damages; and (5) Remaining Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. See Doc. 91, p. 2.

         Punitive Damages

         Corrections Defendants argue in part that the Complaint has failed to make the requisite showing to warrant an award of punitive3 damages. See Doc. 91, p. 25.

         An award of punitive damages under § 1983 is appropriate when a defendant's conduct was shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others. Coleman v. Kaye, 87 F.3d 1491, 1497 (3d Cir. 1996); see also Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56 (1983). In Alexander v. Riga, 208 F.3d 419, 430 (3d Cir. 2000), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reiterated the standard established in Smith and Coleman. The Court in Alexander added that ...

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