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Murray v. Keen

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 11, 2017

DANIEL S. KEEN, ET AL., Defendants.


          Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         This pro se civil rights action was initiated by Shawn Christian Murray regarding events which allegedly transpired during his prior confinement as a pre-trial detainee at the Franklin County Prison, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.[1]Remaining Defendants are the following officials of the Franklin County Prison: Warden Daniel Keen, and Deputy Wardens Russell Rouzer and Michelle Weller.[2]

         By Memorandum and Order dated March 11, 2014, Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint was partially granted. See Doc. 28. As a result of that decision, the only remaining claim alleges that the Remaining Defendants subjected Plaintiff to constant illumination which caused him to suffer sleep deprivation, eyesight problems, and headaches.

         Plaintiff states that he entered the Franklin County Prison as a pre-trial detainee on August 27, 2012. See Doc. 1, ¶ 22. Murray remained confined in the Franklin County Prison until approximately March 25, 2013. He later returned to that facility in November 2013 and remained there until February 2014. The Complaint contends that throughout the course of Plaintiff's confinement in the Franklin County Prison, he suffered sleep deprivation, eyesight problems, and headaches from the continuous lighting in the cells.

         Presently pending is Remaining Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 62. The opposed motion is ripe for disposition.


         Remaining Defendants seek entry of summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) any claims against them in their official capacities are barred; (2) the claim of excessive lighting is constitutionally insufficient; and (3) they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper if “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992). Unsubstantiated arguments made in briefs are not considered evidence of asserted facts. Versarge v. Township of Clinton, 984 F.2d 1359, 1370 (3d Cir. 1993).

         Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party “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 at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. “‘Such affirmative evidence - regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial - must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.'” Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         B. Official Capacities

         Remaining Defendants assert that since they are county employees the claims against them in their official capacities are actually claims against Franklin County. The initial summary judgment argument contends that since that Plaintiff has not asserted a claim of municipal liability against Franklin County, the official capacity claims against the individual Remaining Defendants cannot proceed. See Doc. 63, p. 8. Plaintiff counters that his official capacity claims should proceed because twenty-four (24) hour lighting is a standing operating procedure of the Franklin County Prison.[3] See Doc. 68, p. 6.

         A municipal body or other local governmental unit may be a “person” subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978)(“Congress did intend municipalities and other local government units to be included among those persons to whom § 1983 applies.” It is well settled that a § 1983 claim against a state official in his or her official capacity should be treated as a claim against the State. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991). It has been similarly recognized that § 1983 claims against individual county officials, such as the Remaining Defendants, in their official capacities “represent another way to sue the municipality of which the officer is an agent.” Pennavaria v. Walton, No. 10-cv-415, 2010 WL 2650413 *4 (W.D. Pa. June 30, 2010). As such, official capacity claims against ...

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