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Bradley v. Spelas

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 28, 2017

VERNON BRADLEY, Plaintiff
v.
JOSHUA SPELAS, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          SYLVIA H. RAMBO United States District Judge

         On May 23, 2016, pro se Plaintiff Vernon Bradley, an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette, Labelle, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Fayette”), filed a complaint pursuant to 442 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following seven correctional officers employed at SCI-Rockview: Joshua Spelas, Michael Rains, Cheadan Rogers, C.O. Rothrock, Sgt. Heath, C.O. Heverly and Lt. Lowry. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff claims, inter alia, that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference in violation of his Eighth Amendment by the correctional officers. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that he was thrown down a flight of fourteen steps by correctional officer Rothrock acting in concert with the other correctional officers in retaliation for throwing urine on Correctional Officer Spelas. Plaintiff admits that he threw urine on Correctional Officer Spelas.

         On November 9, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, or in the alternative, for summary judgment along with a brief in support, exhibits, and a statement of facts. (Doc. Nos. 25, 26, 27, and 29.) On January 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition.[1] (Doc. No. 30.) The matter having been fully briefed, is ripe for disposition.

         I. Factual Background

         On October 10, 2015, while working in the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”), C.O. Spelas had urine thrown on him by Plaintiff after an argument between the two broke out. (Doc. No. 26 at 2, Def's Statement of Facts; Doc. No. 1. at ¶ 17, Am. Compl.) C.O Rains and C.O. Rogers who were also working in the RHU on that day, witnessed Plaintiff throw urine on C.O. Spelas. (Id. at 2 and 3.) C.O. Rothrock, Sgt. Heath, and Lt. Lowry then came to Plaintiff's cell when Plaintiff alleges that Lt. Lowry told C.O. Rothrock to “make sure you get him.” (Doc. No. 26 at 4; Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was handcuffed behind his back and C.O. Rothrock, by himself, escorted Plaintiff to a Psychiatric Observation Cell (“POC”). (Doc. No. 26 at 3 and 4; Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 19, 21, and 22.)

         Plaintiff alleges that while being escorted to the POC by C.O. Rothrock, who was holding a tether attached to Plaintiff's handcuffs, C.O. Rothrock threw Plaintiff down a flight of fourteen steps and “actually rode down the flight of steps while on the Plaintiff's back.” (Doc. No. 26 at 3; Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 22 and 23.) Plaintiff also alleges that C.O. Rothrock made false claims that “Plaintiff made ‘several threats to spit and kill' him” and that C.O. Rothrock, Sgt. Heath, and Lt. Lowry “claimed (falsely) that the Plaintiff ‘had propelled himself down the stairwell, taking [C.O. Rothrock] with him.' ” (Doc. No. 26 at 4 and 5; Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 31.) Finally, as to this alleged incident, Plaintiff claims that Sgt. Heath and Lt. Lowry knew that C.O. Rothrock was going to assault Plaintiff and did nothing to stop it. (Doc. No. 26 at 5; Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 33-34.)

         In response to this incident, Plaintiff submitted Grievance No. 594705 wherein he alleged excessive force by C.O. Rothrock when he was “pushed down the stairs” while being escorted to the POC. (Doc. 27-1 at 50.) Upon Initial Review, the grievance was denied as unsubstantiated. (Id. at 54.) Plaintiff appealed this grievance to the Facility Manager which denied his appeal. (Id. at 58.) Plaintiff exhausted this grievance when he appealed to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances & Appeals (“SOIGA”) which upheld the denial of this grievance. (Doc. 27-2 at 9.)

         Next, Plaintiff alleges that between November 2 and November 6, 2015, C.O. Rains denied Plaintiff access to the exercise yard and showers. (Doc. No. 26 at 3; Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 51.). In response, Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 598088 alleging he was denied access to the yard and showers. (Doc. No. 27-1 at 60.) This grievance was denied on Initial Review. (Id. at 62.) Plaintiff did not appeal this grievance to the Facility Manager. (Doc. No. 27-1 at ¶ 25, Paul Decl.)

         Plaintiff also alleges that on November 2 and 6, 2015, C.O. Rains along with C.O. Spelas banged on the property room gate directly in front of Plaintiff's cell and on November 13, 2015, again banged on the property room gate along with C.O. Rogers. (Doc. No. 26 at 2; Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶46 and 48.) Additionally, on November 12 and 13, 2015, Plaintiff alleges that C.O. Rains told C.O. Spelas that Plaintiff was mentally unstable and an “idiot” and a “nigger.” (Doc. No. 26 at 2; Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 47 and 48.) With regard to C.O. Rains and C.O. Spelas, Plaintiff also alleges that they served him a meal tray containing tobacco chew that they had placed on the tray. (Doc. No. 26 at 2; Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 50.)

         It appears that Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 597964 and complained that he “found something [chew] in [his] barbecue beef, and C.O. Spelas and C.O. Rains delivered [the] trays.” (Doc. No. 27-1 at 64.) This grievance was rejected for failure to comply with the requirements of DC-ADM 804. (Id. at 66.) Plaintiff then resubmitted this grievance (Id. at 68), which was denied on Initial Review. (Id. at 70.) Plaintiff did not appeal this grievance to the Facility Manager. (Doc. No. 27-1 at 7, ¶ 30, Paul Decl.)

         Plaintiff also filed Grievance No. 597962, alleging that from November 2 through November 6, 2015, C.O. Rains banged on the property room gate to retaliate against him and that he also talked about Plaintiff to C.O. Spelas. (Doc. No. 27-1 at 72.) He further provided that C.O. Rogers and C.O. Spelas also banged on the property room gate in front of his cell on November 13, 2015. (Id. at 73.) On Initial Review, Plaintiff's grievance was denied. (Id. at 75.) Plaintiff appealed this grievance to the Facility Manager (Id. at 77), which denied his appeal. (Id. at 79.) Plaintiff then sent documents related to Grievance No. 597962 to SOIGA, but did not file anything labeled as a Final Appeal. (Doc. No. 27-2 at 11.) As a result, SOIGA acknowledged receipt of the documents but advised Plaintiff that he had not submitted a Final Appeal. (Id.) Plaintiff subsequently submitted his final appeal to SOIGA. (Id. at 13.) SOIGA issued a Final Appeal decision denying his grievance. (Id. at 15.)

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that on January 6, 2016, C.O. Rothrock called Plaintiff a “faggot, ” told him to “suck his dick, ” and stated “[d]o you want to take a walk on the steps again[.]” (Doc. No. 26 at 4; Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 53 and 54). Plaintiff also alleges that on January 7, 2016, C.O. Rothrock along with C.O. Heverly called Plaintiff a “rat” (Doc. No. 26 at 4; Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 54), and C.O. Heverly additional told Plaintiff that he would give him “a buck-fifty.”[2] (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 605816 alleging the above name-calling and threats. (Doc. 27-1 at 81.) However, in this grievance, Plaintiff alleges that it was C.O. Wasson (a correctional officer not named in this instant complaint) that stated he would give Plaintiff a “buck-fifty.” (Id.) On Initial Review, this grievance was denied as being unsubstantiated. (Id. at 87.) Plaintiff appealed to the Facility Manager, but left out allegations related to C.O. Wasson's alleged threats. (Id. at 89.) The Facility Manager denied this appeal providing that Plaintiff “continues to file false allegations, all of which have been investigated and deemed to have no merit.” (Id. at 91.) Plaintiff then appealed to the SOIGA wherein he asserts that he incorrectly put C.O. Wasson as the officer that threatened him and it should have been C.O. Heverly [sic]. (Doc. No. 27-2 at 17.) Plaintiff reasserted his allegations as to C.O. Rothrock. (Id.) SOIGA upheld the decisions of the Facility Manager and Grievance Officer and denied Plaintiff's Grievance No. 605816. (Id. at 19.)

         Plaintiff's final grievance, Grievance No. 606591 again alleges that C.O. Rothrock antagonized him by calling him a “rat, ” and then threatened him saying “he would throw him down the steps again if he had the chance.” (Doc. No. 27-1 at 93.) On Initial Review, the grievance was denied as being unsubstantiated. (Id. at 99.) Plaintiff appealed to the Facility Manager and the Facility Manager denied the appeal. (Id. at 103.) Plaintiff then appealed this grievance to the SOIGA. (Doc. No. 27-2 at 21). SOIGA, in a Final Appeal Decision, upheld the Facility Manager, and Grievance Officer and denied the appeal. (Id. at 23.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. “When a motion to dismiss is converted into a motion for summary judgment the parties must be given notice of the conversion and an opportunity to present material to the court.” Latham v. U.S., 306 F. App'x 716, 718 (3d Cir. 2009); see also Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 342 (3d Cir. 1989). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that filing a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment is sufficient “to place the parties on notice that summary judgment might be entered.” Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 578-79 (3d Cir. 1996).[3]

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is “genuine” if there is sufficient evidence with which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Skerski v. Time Warner Cable Co., 257 F.3d 273, 278 (3d Cir. 2001); White v. Westinghouse Elec, Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).

         A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis of its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The non-moving party then has the burden to “come forth with ‘affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings, ' in support of its right to relief.” U.S. Bank, Nat'l Ass'n v. Greenfield, Civ. Action No. 1:12-CV-2125, 2014 WL 3908127, *2 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2014) (quoting Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004)). “If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), ” a court may grant summary judgment or consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2-3).

         III. Discussion

         Defendants set forth two arguments in their instant motion: (1) portions of the amended complaint should be dismissed where Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”) ...


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