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Harris v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 30, 2017



          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Background and Relevant Procedural History

         Walter 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 hall.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Defendant 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.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56

         A. Standard of Review

         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.” 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, 587 (1986).

         The 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. 2001).

         When 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).

         B. Pro Se Pleadings and Filings

         Pro 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).

         When 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.

         III. ...

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