United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
WALTER V. HARRIS Plaintiff
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
PARADISE BAXTER United States Magistrate Judge
Background and Relevant Procedural History
V. Harris (“Plaintiff”) initiated this pro
se action on February 29, 2016, by submitting for filing
a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
(“IFP”), accompanied by a Complaint filed
pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”),
28 U.S.C. §§ 1364(b), 2671 et seq.,
against Defendant, the Federal Bureau of Prisons
(“BOP”). At all times relevant to this action,
Plaintiff was a federal prisoner incarcerated at Federal
Correctional Facility McKean (FCI - McKean”), where he
alleges he fell on ice and snow on the morning of December
12, 2013, while walking from his cell block to the dining
attributes his fall to Defendant's alleged negligence in
failing to properly and completely clear snow and ice from
the walkway that morning. Plaintiff states that it had snowed
the evening before, and that a prison snow crew assembled at
5:00 AM to clear the walkways between buildings. According to
Plaintiff, the work was not properly supervised or completed,
and a half-inch layer of compacted snow and ice remained on
the sidewalk, creating a dangerous condition. Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant had notice of the dangerous condition,
which was visible to guards walking along the sidewalk or
watching via video, and yet failed to clear the sidewalk to
make it safe for passage. As a result, Plaintiff alleges he
sustained a fracture to his ankle and required surgery for
the insertion of a plate and screws.
has filed a motion for summary judgment, with supporting
exhibits, statement of material facts, and brief, contending
that it is entitled to the entry of judgment in its favor
because Plaintiff cannot establish that Defendant had notice
of the alleged dangerous condition sufficient to give rise to
a duty to act. Alternatively, Defendant argues that Plaintiff
fell on grass adjacent to the sidewalk and that, as a
landowner, it owes no duty to provide safe passage across
grass. ECF Nos. 17, 18, 19, 20. Plaintiff has filed his
opposition to the motion, and responsive and counter
statement of material facts (ECF Nos. 22, 24, 25 and 26), and
the motion is now ripe for review.
Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56
Standard of Review
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.” When applying
this standard, the court must examine the factual record and
reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable
to the party opposing summary judgment. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
moving party has the initial burden of proving the absence of
evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986);
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). The burden then shifts to
the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a
genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Williams v.
Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3d
Cir. 1989)(the non-movant must present affirmative evidence -
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance - which
supports each element of his claim to defeat a properly
presented motion for summary judgment). The non-moving party
must go beyond the pleadings and show specific facts by
affidavit or by information contained in the filed documents
(i.e., depositions, answers to interrogatories and
admissions) to meet his burden of proving elements essential
to his claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. See also
Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir.
considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not
permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility
determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are
any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both
genuine and material. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
Pro Se Pleadings and Filings
se pleadings and filings, “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 Company, 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same).
considering a motion for summary judgment, however, the
traditional flexibility toward pro se pleadings does
not require the Court to indulge evidentiary deficiencies.
See Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239,
249 (3d Cir. 2013), citing Brooks v. Kyler, 204 F.3d
102, 108 n. 7 (3d Cir.2000) (indicating that pro se
litigants still must present at least affidavits to avoid
summary judgment). Accordingly, because Plaintiff is a
pro se litigant, this Court will consider the facts
and make inferences where it is appropriate.