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Wright v. Sauers

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2017

DEBRA SAUERS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff James Oscar Wright, a former state prisoner in Pennsylvania, brings the present action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. Specifically, in Count I, Plaintiff alleges that certain Pennsylvania Department of Correction employees ("the Commonwealth Defendants") used excessive force when, on July 23, 2013, they restrained him near his cell, resulting in Plaintiff suffering a broken foot. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that the Commonwealth Defendants-along with Defendant Nancy McGarvie, a prison doctor, and Defendant Corizon Health, Inc. ("Corizon"), the private company tasked with providing health care to the prison's inmates-acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs serious medical needs following the July 23, 2013 incident by not timely and adequately providing Plaintiff with proper medical care.[1] The Commonwealth Defendants consist of the following employees of State Correctional Institute at Forest ("SCI Forest"), the prison in which Plaintiff was formerly incarcerated: Debra Sauers, the Superintendent; Eric Tice, the Deputy Superintendent; Michael Overmyer, the Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services; Raymond Burkhart and Anthony Gatto, corrections officers; and Kim Smith, a health care administrator. Pl's. Third Am. Compl., Dkt. 90 ¶¶ 8-16. The Commonwealth Defendants have moved for summary judgment as to Counts I and II. Defendants McGarvie and Corizon, respectively, have moved for summary judgment on the sole count against them, Count II.

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of the Honorable Susan Paradise Baxter, United States Magistrate Judge, recommending that, as to Count I, the Court deny summary judgment for one of the Commonwealth Defendants-Anthony Gatto, the corrections officer who Plaintiff claims used excessive force-and grant summary judgment for the remaining, supervisory Commonwealth Defendants. The Commonwealth Defendants did not file objections as to the recommendation regarding Gatto.[2]

         As to Count II, Magistrate Judge Baxter recommends that the Court grant summary judgment for the Commonwealth Defendants and for Defendant McGarvie, but deny summary judgment for Defendant Corizon. Plaintiff filed objections to-and, later, a response regarding-the recommendation that the Court grant summary judgment as to Count II for the Commonwealth Defendants and McGarvie. Corizon filed objections-and, later, a response to Plaintiffs Objections. McGarvie filed a response in opposition to Plaintiffs Objections.

         Having reviewed the Complaint, the parties' briefs, and the R&R, and finding no objection as to the recommendation that, as to Count I (excessive force), the Court will deny summary judgment for Defendant Gatto and grant it for the remaining Commonwealth Defendants, the Court hereby adopts the decision of the Magistrate Judge. Having further reviewed the record and the objections on the remaining claims at issue, the Court adopts in part the decision of the Magistrate Judge as to Count II (deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs serious medical needs).


         A. Standard of Review

         When a party objects to an R&R, the district court must review de novo those portions of the R&R to which objection is made. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673 (1980); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). However, to obtain de novo review, a party must clearly and specifically identify those portions of the R&R to which it objects. Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). The district court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 673-74.

         B. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Weldon v. Kraft, Inc., 896 F.2d 793, 797 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Sorba v. Pennsylvania Drilling Co., 821 F.2d 200, 204 (3d Cir. 1987), cert, denied, 484 U.S. 1019 (1988)).


         The facts of this case are presented fully in the R&R and in the Court's previous orders. See Dkt. 182; see also Dkt. 76. Accordingly, the Court addresses here only those facts and legal concepts relevant to the parties' objections and responses thereto. See Corizon's Objs., Dkt. 183; Pl's. Objs., Dkt. 184; Corizon's Resp. to Pl's. Objs., Dkt. 187; Pl's. Resp. to Corizon's Objs., Dkt. 187; McGarvie's Resp. to Pl's. Objs., Dkt. 188. The gravamen of the parties' objections concern whether Plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies following the July 23, 2012 incident that resulted in Plaintiffs foot being broken. See Dkts. 183-188.

         A. The Prison Litigation Reform Act's Exhaustion Requirement

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), requires that prisoners exhaust their available administrative remedies before filing any suit involving prison life, "whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002); see also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) ("There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court."). Exhaustion is required "even where the relief sought-monetary damages-cannot be granted by the administrative process." Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006). In order to properly exhaust their claims, prisoners must comply with the administrative review process set forth by the relevant prison's grievance process, including properly availing themselves of "all administrative remedies." Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 231 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Jones, 549 U.S. at 218. "The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion." Jones, 549 U.S. at 218; accord Spruill, 372 F.3d at 231 ("Mandatory exhaustion (with a procedural default component) ensures that inmate grievances will be addressed first within the prison's own system-in this respect, the PLRA is thus appropriately defederalizing"). Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense; prisoner-plaintiffs are not required to plead or demonstrate exhaustion. Jones, 549 U.S. at 216.

         Here, all of the Defendants affirmatively pled that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to the PLRA. Commonwealth Defs.' Answer, Doc. 93 at 5; ...

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