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Peraza v. Cain

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 13, 2017

PAUL PERAZA, Plaintiff
THOMAS R. CAIN, ET AL., Defendants


          Richard P. Conaboy United States District Judge


         Paul Peraza, an inmate presently confined at the United States Penitentiary, Beaumont, Texas initiated this pro se civil rights action. An Amended Complaint was thereafter filed. See Doc. 6.

         By Memorandum and Order dated September 17, 2014, Defendants’ motion for partial dismissal was granted in part. Dismissal was granted with respect to: (1) the claims against Defendants Kane, Watts, Norwood, Breckton, and Holt;[1] (2) all claims associated with the handling of grievances and the allegations of conspiracy; and (3) Counts Two and Four of the Amended Complaint. The motion to dismiss was denied with respect to the allegations of retaliation. Those claims, along with the unaddressed failure to protect and excessive force allegations, were allowed to proceed.

         Remaining Defendants are the following officials at Plaintiff’s prior place of confinement the Canaan United States Penitentiary, Waymart, Pennsylvania (USP-Canaan): Physician’s Assistant (PA) Kenneth Kaiser; Lieutenant Jamie Burning; Lieutenant Brian Sudul; Unit Manager Kyle Lindsay; Case Manager Kylie Bigart; Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) Marc Renda; as well as Correctional Officers (CO) Jeremy Dominick, Ryan Burns, John Schwartz, Michael Moran, Jessie Seana, Jenkens, and Joseph Pellicano.

         The Amended Complaint asserts claims based on events which purportedly transpired between May 11, 2011 and July 4, 2011. Plaintiff first states that on May 11, 2011 his cell mate Inmate Burke signed up for outdoor recreation in order to inform prison staff that he could no longer live with Peraza.[2] See Doc. 6, ¶ 28. A few minutes later, Defendants Schwartz, Burning, Dominick, and Moran allegedly brought Burke back to the cell he shared with the Plaintiff. Those officers then asked Plaintiff to submit to handcuffs. After receiving a second command, Peraza eventually agreed and while still handcuffed Burke was placed in the cell.

         Peraza admits that after the cell door was closed and his handcuffs were removed first, he struck Burke on the side of his head. See Doc. 252, ¶ 11. Schwartz then directed that Burke be uncuffed. Plaintiff responded by striking his cell mate an additional 3 or 4 more times. Peraza was again handcuffed and taken from the cell. It is next asserted that Correctional Officer Schwartz verbally abused Plaintiff and identified him as being a child molester as the inmate was being removed from his cell to the prison’s Special Housing Unit (SHU). Peraza acknowledges that he responded to those remarks with an obscenity. See id. at ¶ 50.

         The escorting correctional officers allegedly physically and excessively assaulted Peraza after escorting him from his cell to a security camera blind spot. It is alleged that the officers attempted to make it appear that they were responding to resistance from the Plaintiff. This attack purportedly included a sexual battery in that Schwartz ran his hand over the inmate’s buttocks and subjected the prisoner to additional verbal sexual harassment. Peraza claims that he lost consciousness and suffered loss of vison in his left eye for approximately five (5) minutes; dizziness; nausea; a sprained left ankle; knee and wrist pain; and a forehead laceration that caused nerve damage.

         After the incident, Plaintiff was shackled in leg irons and placed in a nearby holding cell. He was then taken to a medical examination room where his injuries were assessed and initially treated by Defendant PA Kaiser.[3] See id. at ¶ 65. Peraza was later transported to an outside hospital for further treatment of his forehead laceration and closer examination of his ankle and wrists. See id. at ¶ 70. It is alleged that Kaiser refused to report the incident allegedly informing Peraza that the prisoner could personally report any claim to the Captain.

         The Amended Complaint next asserts that one day later, Plaintiff discovered that his newly assigned SHU cell mate, Inmate Rodriguez, had been classified as being a protective custody inmate. In light of that development, Peraza asserts that the prisoners agreed that they should no longer be housed together. However, Defendants Pelicano and Sudul denied their mutual request for a cell change. The Plaintiff then admittedly struck Rodriguez on the side of the head in order to have that prisoner moved from the cell. See id. at ¶ 83.

         On or about May 17, 2011, Plaintiff states that he was handcuffed and brought to the Lieutenants’ office where he met with a member of the prison’s Psychology staff with respect to a sexual assault claim which the inmate filed against Officer Schwartz. Defendants Schwartz and Burning were initially present during this meeting, however, Schwartz was later directed to leave the room. The psychology staff member told Plaintiff that allegations of sexual abuse by staff should be reported to Special Investigative Services (SIS). Thereafter, Plaintiff tiled an internal complaint with SIS via Case Manager Smith which allegedly went unanswered.

         On May 21, 2011 Plaintiff had a disciplinary hearing regarding misconduct charges he was issued for the May 11 & 12, 2011 incidents. He was found guilty of the charges and received sanctions which included loss of good time credits.

         The Amended Complaint next asserts that during the week of May 23, 2011 Plaintiff and his latest cell mate, Inmate Anderson, were put in an outdoor recreation cage. A Mexican gang member in an adjoining cage had a private conversation with Anderson and subsequently told Plaintiff that Defendants Schwartz and Jenks were telling prisoners that Peraza was a child molester. On or about June 7, 2011, Defendant Schwartz assigned Inmate Salmoran to be Peraza’s new cellmate after Salmoran had been in a fight with his former cellmate. See id. at ¶ 115. When Plaintiff discovered that Salmoran was a protective custody inmate, the prisoners agreed to request a cell change. However, Defendant Schwartz refused Salmoran’s request to be moved.

         Peraza admits that he proceeded to physically assault Inmate Salmoran in order to obtain the cell change. See id. at ¶¶ 127-132. During a resulting medical assessment, PA Kaiser refused to report the incident although Plaintiff had stated that SHU officers were forcing inmates to fight one another like gladiators. See id. at ¶ 143. Peraza was then left in the handicapped shower area for two hours with his hands handcuffed behind his back.

         On July 4, 2011, Correctional Officer Schwartz allegedly placed two inmates in a recreation cage with Plaintiff for the purpose of having those prisoners attack Peraza. The two inmates proceeded to assault Plaintiff based upon their belief that he was a child molester. Peraza suffered lacerations and bruising to the face and neck which required treatment at an outside hospital. Following the incident, Defendant Jenkens/Jenks purportedly planted and then confiscated a homemade weapon from Peraza during a pat down search. See id. at ¶¶ 162-63.

         Peraza concludes that he was subjected to excessive use of force and improperly labeled as being a child molester in an effort to place him at risk of assault by other prisoners. The Amended Complaint also asserts that many of the above actions were taken in retaliation for his initiation of administrative grievances. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief, namely, a transfer to a medium security correctional facility.

         Presently pending is Remaining Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 219. The motion argues that entry of summary judgment is appropriate because: (1) the naming of Defendant Jenkens is improper; (2) Plaintiff failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies regarding any of the claims in his Amended Complaint; (3) his allegations which imply the invalidity of disciplinary findings rendered against Peraza are barred by the favorable termination rule; (4) the undisputed record shows that a viable excessive force claim has not been stated; (5) the record fails to support Peraza’s deliberate indifference claims; (6) Plaintiff’s allegations do not support actionable claims of retaliation; and (7) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.


         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 the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty 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)).

         Defendant Jenkens

         The Amended Complaint names Correctional Officer Jenkens as a defendant. See Doc. 6, ¶ 24. Remaining Defendants contend that there no correctional officer named Jenkens or Jenkins was employed at USP-Canaan during the relevant time period. See Doc. 230, p. 8, n. 1. As such they assert that this improperly named defendant should be dismissed.

         A review of the record shows that Correctional Officer Shawn Jenks, Sr. previously executed a waiver of service of the summons. See Doc. 30, p. 14. Since Jenks has previously indicated that he is the Defendant named Jenkens in the pro se Amended Complaint this argument will be dismissed as meritless.

         Excessive Force

         Remaining Defendants maintain that the assertion that Peraza was subjected to excessive force on May 11, 2011 should not proceed because the undisputed record, including videotape footage, shows that the actions of the escorting officers “were necessary to bring Peraza under control.” Doc. 230, p. 20.

         A correctional officer's use of force in order to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, must involve the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). “It is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize[s] that conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, whether the conduct occurs in connection with establishing conditions of confinement, supplying medical needs, or restoring official control over a tumultuous cellblock.” Id.

         In a later ruling, the United States Supreme Court recognized that the use of force may constitute cruel and unusual punishment even if the prisoner does not sustain "significant" injuries. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992). The core judicial inquiry is “whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Fuentes v. Wagner, 206 F.3d 335, 345 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 821(2000); Brooks v. Kyler, 204 F.3d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 2000)(even a de minimis use of force, if repugnant to the conscience of mankind, may be constitutionally significant). As explained in Fuentes:

Resolution of an Eighth Amendment claim therefore ‘mandate[s] an inquiry into a prison official’s state of mind.’ Two considerations define that inquiry. We must first determine if the deprivation was sufficiently serious to fall within the Eighth Amendment’s zone of protections. If not, our inquiry is at an end. In other words, we must determine if they were motivated by a desire to inflict unnecessary and wanton pain. ‘What is necessary to establish an “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. . .” varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation.’However, if the deprivation is sufficiently serious, we must determine if the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.

Fuentes, 206 F.3d at 344.

         It is undisputed that on May 11, 2011, Peraza physically assaulted his cell mate. Following this incident, Plaintiff permitted himself to be handcuffed and was removed from his cell. The escorting officers were Schwartz, Burning, Dominick, and Moran with Schwatrz being on one side of Peraza and Moran on the other side.

         According to the Amended Complaint, Schwartz became verbally abusive, Plaintiff admittedly responded to that officer with an obscenity. See Doc. 6, ¶ 50. Upon reaching a security camera blind spot, Schwartz purportedly pulled on Plaintiff’s handcuffs and falsely stated that the inmate was resisting.[4] It is next asserted that Schwartz pushed Peraza forward slamming him to his knees and with the assistance of the other escorting officers eventually to the floor. Plaintiff states that he suffered a laceration when his head hit the floor. See Doc. 252, ΒΆ 26. Peraza maintains that Defendant Moran then ...

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