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Stokes v. Riskus

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 15, 2017

CAPTAIN RISKUS, et al., Defendants.

          Baxter Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER United States Magistrate Judge.


         Plaintiff Maurice Stokes, a prisoner formerly incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania (“SCI Forest”), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Captain Riskus (“Riskus”), Lieutenant Settnek ("Settnek"), Lieutenant Hidalgo (“Hidalgo”), and Sergeant Freeman (“Freeman”), all of whom are corrections officers at SCI-Forest; Michael Overmyer (“Overmyer”), the Superintendent of SCI-Forest who, during the relevant time period, was a Deputy Superintendent at SCI-Forest; and John Wetzel (“Wetzel”), Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”). Pending before the Court are a motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 48] and supplemental motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 67] filed by Defendants. For the following reasons, the motions will be granted.

         A. Relevant Factual History

         On June 25, 2013, Plaintiff returned to SCI-Forest following a temporary transfer to SCI-Graterford, where he was incarcerated while testifying against a co-defendant in a criminal case. As per his plea agreement, Plaintiff was eventually to be transferred out of state out of concern for his safety, but in the interim, he was to be housed at SCI-Forest. When Plaintiff returned to SCI-Forest, he met with the Initial Review Committee (“IRC”) to determine his cell placement. Plaintiff requested to be placed in a single cell because of his cooperation and was issued an “Other” report, placing him in Administrative Custody (“AC”). Plaintiff also advised the IRC that the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office had a list of inmates from whom he needed to be separated, but the inmates' names were not provided at that time.

         At the time, Hidalgo and Dietrich were working in the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”). Hidalgo was responsible for determining in which cell to place Plaintiff. Typically, when an inmate arrived in the RHU, Hidalgo would ask him questions about physical or sexual assaults or gang affiliations to determine where to place him. He would also ordinarily check the inmate's “separations” and other information about the inmate and his potential cellmate on DOCNET. In this case, however, Hidalgo has no memory of Plaintiff or the matters alleged in this lawsuit.

         According to Plaintiff, when he was taken to the RHU, he reiterated his request to be placed in a single cell because he feared for his safety. He was apparently told, however, that there was not enough room to place him in a single cell. Hidalgo, instead, placed Plaintiff in Cell JA 1010. Once he was taken to his cell, he went inside without incident, though he did continue to complain that he wanted a single cell.

         Plaintiff's cellmate was Mustafa McCloud, who had been transferred from SCI-Huntington to SCI-Forest on June 20, 2013. While at SCI-Huntington, McCloud had been in Disciplinary Custody (“DC”) after a fight with another inmate and then was placed on AC status pending a separation transfer to SCI-Forest. The report placing McCloud on AC status indicated that “he [was] a danger to others.” [Ex. 31, ECF No. 51-7 at 117]. Upon his arrival at SCI-Forest, McCloud was to be kept on AC status for one week before transitioning into general population.

         Although Plaintiff did not realize it when he entered his cell, he and McCloud were from the same neighborhood, and Plaintiff used to “see him around.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 15:9, ECF No. 51-2 at 23]. Plaintiff had not seen McCloud for approximately 10 years, though, nor was Plaintiff close to him; they had mutual friends but did not “deal with each other.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 15:13, ECF No. 51-2 at 23]

         When Plaintiff entered the cell, McCloud “didn't let [him] know that he knew who [Plaintiff] was.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 15:20, ECF No. 51-2 at 23]. In the middle of that night, Plaintiff awoke to McCloud punching him and trying to pull him out of his bunk. A scuffle allegedly ensued, with the inmates punching each other and wrestling around the cell. During a lull in the fighting, McCloud asked Plaintiff “you don't know who I am”? [Pl.'s Dep. at 22:5, ECF No. 51-2 at 30]. When Plaintiff said “no, ” McCloud “told [him] who he was. And he said he [knew] that [Plaintiff] testified on Saheed, [Plaintiff's] co-defendant, and he said . . . that's why that happened.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 22:6-9, ECF No. 51-2 at 30]. Plaintiff testified that he had swelling and bruising from the assault, along with a “busted” lip. But he did not seek any medical attention for his injuries, nor does he have any lingering effects from the injuries. [Pl.'s Dep. at 58:2, ECF No. 51-2 at 66].

         The next day, Plaintiff approached Freeman while he was in the yard and told him that he had been assaulted in his cell and that he “wasn't going back in there.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 29:17, ECF No. 51-2 at 37]. Freeman remembers that Plaintiff would not return to his cell but does not recall why. According to Plaintiff, Freeman seemed to blow him off and went to get Settnek, who was also on duty in the RHU that day. [Pl.'s Dep. at 30:1-2, ECF No. 51-2 at 38]. When they returned, Plaintiff explained what happened to Settnek, who was initially going to make Plaintiff go back to a cell with another inmate. Plaintiff refused. At that point, Plaintiff testified, Freeman and Settnek discussed the matter alone and then came back and told Plaintiff that they would put him in a single cell but that “[he] better not run [his] mouth or [Settnek] was going to let everybody know that [Plaintiff] was a rat or a snitch.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 31:4-6, ECF No. 51-2 at 39]. Settnek and Freeman deny threatening to call Plaintiff a rat or a snitch.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff was placed in a single cell on the B pod, Cell JB 2014. The next day, Plaintiff was seen by the Program Review Committee (“PRC”), which decided to keep Plaintiff in AC in a single cell. He was housed in a single cell until he was transferred from SCI-Forest to SCI-Huntington in September 2013.

         Plaintiff claims that after he was placed in Cell JB 2014, other inmates started to harass him by banging on their cell walls and yelling that he was a rat or a snitch. When asked during his deposition whether he was alleging that either Settnek or Freeman told these inmates that he had cooperated against his co-defendant, Plaintiff testified, “I can't say that they told them because I didn't hear them tell them that, but it was widespread of what happened, so it's a possibility they found out on their own.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 37:9-11, ECF No. 51-2 at 45]. Plaintiff was then asked, “So you don't have anything specifically that Setnick [sic] or Freeman or any staff person told [the other inmates]? You just don't know one way or the other?” [Pl.'s Dep. at 37:13-15, ECF No. 51-2 at 45]. Plaintiff responded, “Right.” [Pl.'s Dep. at 37:16, ECF No. 51-2 at 45].

         Plaintiff claims that sometimes he would go days without sleeping because of the banging and yelling. He also alleges that other inmates threw urine or feces at him on about four occasions. [Pl.'s Dep. at 46:1, ECF No. 51-2 at 54]. On two of those occasions, the urine and feces was thrown “at a distance” so it did not “touch [Plaintiff].” [Pl.'s Dep. 47:7, ECF No. 51-2 at 55]. Plaintiff testified that, as a result of the alleged incidents, he stopped coming out of his cell.

         On July 20, 2013, Plaintiff sent a request slip to then-Deputy Superintendent Overmyer, in which he wrote, in pertinent part:

To whom it may concern, I am writing because I am currently in the RHU A/C Status (protective custody) due to my recent court testimony because there are many individuals that will make an attempt on my life if allowed including two lifers here. Now I haven't heard from or spoken to anyone since my PRC hearing on 6-27-13 at which time I was told they would be looking into having the separations placed yet not one even took the time to question me in regards to this matter which makes it impossible to work on. Which means I am back here from nothing at all. And for that reason I am asking to either be seen or sent back to [general] population . . . .

[Ex. 12, ECF No. 51-1 at 88]. Overmyer responded on July 23, 2013, explaining, “The separations are being processed between Central Office [and] the D.A. When [SCI-Forest] staff know what is happening, you will be notified.” [Id.].

         On July 22, 2013, the Philadelphia D.A.'s Office faxed a “Request for Separation” to Lt. Haggerty containing a list of Plaintiff's “separations.” E-mails indicate that on that same day, Corrections Classification and Program Manager (“CCPM”) William Cole was asked to determine where the inmates on the separations list were housed. Cole, in turn, forwarded the list to Unit Manager Edward Heberling and asked him to investigate. Heberling determined that two of the individuals on the separations list were housed at SCI-Forest and forwarded that information to Deputy Superintendent Eric Tice and Overmyer.

         Plaintiff testified that he told Settnek and Riskus about the alleged harassment and asked to be moved to a different cell because of the noise and because every time he left his cell, someone was throwing something at him. [Pl.'s Dep. at 50:20, ECF No. 51-2 at 58]. Moreover, on July 24, 2013, Plaintiff wrote a request slip to “RHU Lieutenant” asking to be moved to a shower cell on D pod because of the alleged harassment. (This request slip was not answered, so it is not clear whether it was, in fact, sent.). The next day, Plaintiff made the same request to Riskus, complaining that he could not leave his cell because he had “people tryna [sic] throw ‘ass and shit' on [him].” [Ex. 12, ECF No. 51-1 at 90]. Riskus responded that he could not authorize the move if Plaintiff did not have a Z-code, which denotes single-cell status, because D pod only contains single cells.

         On July 28, 2013, Plaintiff sent a request slip to Cole “to find out what separations were submitted by the D.A.'s office.” [Ex. 12, ECF No. 51-1 at 91]. Cole responded, “The DA Office needs to relay that to you.” [Id.].

         On July 29, 2013, Plaintiff wrote to his counselor, David Perry, asking for a copy of the separations list. [Ex. 12, ECF No. 51-1 at 92]. Perry responded, “No we do not tell you who you have separations from.” [Id.].

         The following day, Plaintiff wrote a request slip to Ms. Ashbaugh-Tenney, a licensed professional counselor at the prison, complaining that he was “being denied [his] eighth amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment as [he was] the victim of constant verbal and physical abuse and everyone up to Capt. Riskus has been made aware and told me there's nothing they can do about it.” [Ex. 12, ECF No. 51-1 at 93]. Plaintiff claimed that he was “barely sleeping due to the constant banging on [his] wall” and that he “had urine thrown on [him] twice and feces thrown at [him].” [Id.]. He asked Ms. Ashbaugh-Tenney to help him get moved to C or D pod and threatened “to start breaking windows” if he did not get moved. [Id.]. Ms. Ashbaugh-Tenney responded that Plaintiff had to work with his unit manager and counselor “for movement [and] Z code.” [Id.].

         On August 5, 2013, Plaintiff wrote to Perry, telling him that he was wrong that Plaintiff was “not allowed to know separations entered on [his] behalf as it is not privileged information nor is it a security risk.” [Ex. 12, ECF No. 51-1 at 93]. Thus, Plaintiff requested a copy of his separations list. However, Perry again refused to provide it, saying that he was not allowed. [Id.] Instead, Perry told Plaintiff to write to Haggerty because he was handling the separations. [Id.]

         On August 15, 2013, Plaintiff was moved to Cell JC 1011, where he remained until he was transferred to SCI-Huntington on September 17, 2013. According to Plaintiff, he did not have any problems with continued harassment after he was transferred to the C pod.

         On August 20, 2013, Major Paul Ennis of SCI-Forest sent an e-mail to Tracy Comeaux, a staff member in the DOC's Office of Population Management, explaining that SCI-Forest

had been provided with [a] list of active PA inmates who [Plaintiff] is to be separated from per the Philly Co. DA. A couple at [SCI-Forest] which would mean he would have to leave [SCI-Forest].
I'm trying to locate the original attachment from the Philly Co. DA right now but the currently active inmates are below. I'm not sure this was every [sic] provided to you by them or us. Could you check and let me know. My main concern is he's grieving because he believes we aren't protecting him even though he's in AC in a single cell. Please let me know what you know. Thanks.

[Ex. 16, ECF No. 61-1 at 4 (under seal)]. The next day, a vote sheet was sent around to various SCI-Forest officials, who approved the separation requests. [Id. at 5]. Plaintiff's separations list on ...

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