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Bruce v. Ennis

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2017

LAMONT BRUCE, Plaintiff,
v.
PAUL ENNIS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, a state inmate originally acting pro se, initiated this civil rights action on April 28, 2014. As Defendants to this action, Plaintiff named: Paul Ennis, John Chiles, Edward Heberling[2], John Flatt, Jeffrey Case, Mark Hacherl, John Montour, and John Means, all current or former employees of the Department of Corrections.

         In his pro se complaint, Plaintiff asserts two Eighth Amendment failure to protect claims against staff at SCI Forest: 1) Plaintiff sues Major Ennis, Unit Manager Heberling, Sgt. Montour and retired Counselor Flatt in connection with the removal of his Z-code status on May 1, 2012, claiming that this decision resulted in his being attacked by his cellmate (Inmate Gillis) over 18 months later on November 16, 2013; and 2) Plaintiff claims he warned Unit Manager Chiles, Psychologist Case, Captain Hacherl and Correctional Officer Means in late October 2013 that Inmate Gillis was threatening physical violence, but these Defendants took no action to prevent the November 6th attack. Plaintiff alleges that despite direct knowledge that removing Plaintiff's Z code would subject him to a substantial risk of severe physical harm, Defendants Ennis, Heberling, Flatt and Montour disregarded that risk by revoking Plaintiff's Z-code and assigning him to a double cell. Later, and as a result of Defendants' actions, Plaintiff was assaulted and severely injured by a homophobic cellmate. ECF No. 5.

         Since the filing of the pro se complaint, counsel has entered an appearance on Plaintiff's behalf. ECF No. 13.

         Presently before this Court is Defendants' partial motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 33. Defendants move for summary judgment on the Eighth Amendment claim against Ennis, Heberling, Montour and Flatt. ECF No. 37. The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition by this Court.

         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.” 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. Id. 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). On a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the “underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Slagle v. Cnty. of Clarion, 435 F.3d 262, 264 (3d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         “[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.

         The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Id. at 330; 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).

         Failure to Protect

         Plaintiff claims that Ennis, Heberling, Montour, and Flatt violated his Eighth Amendment rights. Plaintiff contends that the revocation of his Z-code status in April 2012 resulted in the assault by his cellmate in November 2013.

         The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment has been interpreted to impose upon prison officials a duty to take reasonable measures “‘to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.'” Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742, 746 (3d Cir. 1997) quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994). See also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (“Being violently assaulted in prison is simply not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.”). To sustain such a failure-to-protect claim, a plaintiff must “produce sufficient evidence of (1) a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the defendants' deliberate indifference to that risk; and (3) causation.” Davis v. Williams, 354 Fed.App'x 603, 605-06 (3d Cir. 2009) quoting Hamilton, 117 F.3d at 747.

         Defendants move for summary judgment on the basis of the argument that there was no justification for continuing Plaintiff's Z code status as of April 2012. In the face of Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff argues that there is a factual dispute as to 1) whether Plaintiff's sexual orientation was the basis for the initial Z code status in 1997, and 2) whether Plaintiff notified Defendants of the ...


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