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Gambino v. Federal Correctional Institution - Mckean

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2017




         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter (Doc. No. 60), which recommends that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 27) be denied as to Plaintiff's retaliation claim against Defendants Kengersky, Troublefield, Siffrinn, and Van Horn, but granted in all other respects. After reviewing the Report and Recommendation, Plaintiff's Objections, Defendants' Objections, and the relevant filings, the Court declines to adopt the Report and Recommendation, and GRANTS Defendants' Motion for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         A. Relevant Procedural History[1]

         On September 8, 2014, Plaintiff David A. Gambino, a prisoner formerly incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution at McKean in Bradford, Pennsylvania (“FCI-McKean”), [2] filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint on November 21, 2014, which superseded the original complaint and is the operative pleading in this case. (Doc. No. 16.) Named as Defendants in the amended complaint are the following alleged staff members at FCI-McKean: Warden Bobby Meeks, Warden; Assistant Warden “Hubbard”[3]; Clinical Director Dr. Michael Walt; Health Services Administrator Pieter Van Horn; Lieutenant Franklin Troublefield; Case Manager Keith Stauffer; Correctional Officer John Siffrinn; and five unidentified Defendants, named as “Medical Nurse, ” “Medical Nurse 2, ” “L.T., ” “Officer 1, ” and “Officer 2.”[4]

         In his pro se amended complaint, Plaintiff lists multiple counts alleging that one or more of the Defendants violated his constitutional rights and caused him injury: (1) Defendants Troublefield, Van Horn, and Kengersky allegedly denied him emergency medical treatment from June 19, 2014 to June 24, 2014, which caused him to suffer injury on June 25, 2014 (Doc. No. 16 at 3-8); (2) Defendant Kengersky allegedly denied him medical treatment on the morning of June 25, 2014 (id. at 9-12); (3) Defendants Meeks, Walt, Van Horn, Kengersky, Stauffer, and Siffrinn allegedly failed to protect him from abuse and subjected him to unnecessary pain and suffering by disregarding his medical needs following his injury of June 25, 2014 (id. at 17-22); (4) Defendants Kengersky, Troublefield, Siffrinn, Van Horn, and Stauffer allegedly worked in concert to retaliate against him (Id. at 23-27); (5) since January 20, 2014, Defendant Stauffer has allegedly violated his First Amendment rights by reading his protected legal mail (id. at 28-30); (6) Defendants Troublefield and Siffrinn allegedly violated his rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, 42 U.S.C. § 1320d (“HIPAA”) by discussing his private medical information over the phone with third parties without his consent. (id. at 31-33); (7) Defendants Meeks, Kengersky, Van Horn, Troublefield, Stauffer, and Siffrinn allegedly obstructed justice by failing to protect him as a witness to the purported wrongful death of a fellow inmate on July 25, 2014 (id. at 34-37); and (8) Defendant Kengersky allegedly violated his Eighth Amendment rights by discontinuing his medications and medical aids from September 4, 2014 to October 20, 2014 (id. at 38-40). Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages.

         On March 16, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 27), asserting that: (i) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to his claims; (ii) Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to either his serious medical needs or his health and safety; (iii) Non-medical Defendants cannot be held liable for Plaintiff's medical claims; (iv) Plaintiff cannot establish a First Amendment retaliation claim; (v) Plaintiff cannot establish a claim of either denial of access to the courts or interference with legal mail; (vi) HIPAA does not create a private right of action; (vii) Plaintiff does not have a constitutional right to see another inmate's records; (viii) Defendants Meeks, Walt, Troublefield, and Stauffer should be dismissed from this case because Plaintiff has failed to allege their personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violations; (ix) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (x) Defendant Van Horn is entitled to absolute immunity; and (xi) all unidentified Defendants should be dismissed. Plaintiff has since filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion. (Doc. No. 35.)

         This matter is now ripe for consideration.

         B. Standards of Review

         When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court generally should consider “only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.” Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2004). If a court considers other matters, a motion to dismiss should be converted to a motion for summary judgment. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1197 (3d Cir. 1993). If a motion to dismiss or a motion for judgment on the pleadings is converted into a summary judgment motion, the court must provide notice and an opportunity to oppose the motion. See Hancock Industries v. Schaeffer, 811 F.2d 225, 229 (3d Cir. 1987). The Court treats Defendants' Motion as one for summary judgment because Defendants label it as such and rely on evidence outside of the complaint. Plaintiff was on notice that Defendants were moving for summary judgment, and he had the opportunity to respond and to submit additional evidence of his own. (Doc. No. 35.)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Under Rule 56, the district court must enter summary judgment against a party “who 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 of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Summary judgment may be granted when no “reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56).

         The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330; see also Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007); UPMC Health System v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004). When a non-moving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party has no burden to negate the opponent's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party need not produce any evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 325. “Instead, . . . the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing' - that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 324. “Rule 56(e) permits a proper summary judgment motion to be opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves.” Id.

         Pro se pleadings, “however inartfully pleaded, ” must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969) (A petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read “with a measure of tolerance”); Freeman v. Department of Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir.1997) (overruled on other grounds); see, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same). Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, this Court will consider facts and make inferences where it is appropriate.

         C. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed for failure to comply with the exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (“PLRA”), which provides: “no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prisons, or ...

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