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Owens v. Murray

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 15, 2017

STEVEN OWENS, Plaintiff,
JOHN MURRAY, ET AL., Defendants.


          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Steven Owens, an inmate presently confined at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institute, Frackville, Pennsylvania (SCI-Mahanoy), filed this pro se civil rights action. By Memorandum and Order dated February 21, 2014, Defendants' unopposed motion to dismiss was construed as seeking partial dismissal and partially granted.[1] See Doc. 22.

         Remaining Defendants are the following officials at Plaintiff's prior confinement, the State Correctional Institution, Camp Hill Pennsylvania, (SCI-Camp Hill): Safety Manager Scott Fair; Major John Horner; Unit Managers Rodney Carberry and Christopher Chambers; Lieutenants Flowers and Davy; Sergeant Cook; and Correctional Officers Briggs, Reynolds, and Gardner.

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff had two separate periods of confinement at SCI-Camp Hill from April 4, 2011-June 1, 2011 and from September 13, 2011 through October 11, 2011, respectively. According to the surviving portion of the Complaint, Owens was assigned to the SCI-Camp Hill Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) during his initial confinement because of misconduct at his prior place of confinement. Plaintiff's RHU cell is described as having a broken overhead light and a plumbing problem which caused flooding whenever the water in his cell was turned on. Despite being made aware of those conditions, Unit Manager Carberry and Major Horner allegedly refused to move Owens to a different cell.

         While housed in the RHU on April 9, 2011, Owens alleges that he was placed on plexiglass shield and movement restriction for approximately one (1) week by Defendant Flowers. See Doc. 1, ¶ 16. During that period, Owens contends that he was refused showering, exercising, and shaving privileges, as well as water, bedding and cell cleaning. A second week long period consisting of the same deprivations and restrictions listed above was allegedly ordered by Lieutenant Flowers on May 5, 2011. Moreover, Owens was also purportedly denied food for several days due to the lack of overhead lighting in his cell. See Id. at ¶ 24.

         Owens next states that he returned to SCI-Camp Hill from the State Correctional Institution, Graterford, Pennsylvania (SCI-Graterford) on September 12, 2011 and was placed in a different RHU cell with a plexiglass shield allegedly at the direction of Lieutenant Davy. Plaintiff asserts that the imposition of a shield was improper, aggravated his asthma, and caused him to suffer shortness of breath. His RHU cell is described as having rusty walls, a leaky toilet, and being insect infested. During this period, Owens was purportedly denied adequate medical treatment for a left ear infection.[2]

         Plaintiff was allegedly served tomato soup by Flowers and Correctional Officer Garner on September 28, 2011, even though he had a documented history of being allergic to tomatoes. See Id. at ¶ 46. Owens next asserts that he was physically assaulted in his cell by Defendants Cook and Garner that same day when they responded to a report that he had suffered an allergic reaction from eating the tomato soup. This alleged use of excessive force is also described as constituting assault and battery. In addition, Defendants Briggs and Reynolds purportedly witnessed the attack and failed to intervene.

         Following this incident, Plaintiff states that he was left in handcuffs for approximately five (5) hours as a punitive measure by Flowers, Cook and Garner. This application of restraints allegedly caused Owens to suffer temporary loss of feeling in his hands, arms, and fingers.

         Presently pending is the Remaining Defendants's motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 69. By Order dated April 27, 2017, Owens was granted thirty (30) days in which to submit either a motion to compel discovery or file a response to the summary judgment motion. See Doc. 82. He was thereafter granted an extension of time in which to comply with the April 27, 2017 Order. See Doc. 84. Despite being granted an ample opportunity to do so, Owens has not filed a response. Accordingly, the summary judgment motion will be deemed unopposed.


         Remaining Defendants claim entitlement to entry of summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) the official capacity claims against them are moot; (2) there are no assertions of personal involvement in constitutional misconduct raised against Defendants Fair and Horner; (3) Plaintiff's surviving claims were not administratively exhausted; (4) the conditions of Plaintiff's confinement were constitutionally adequate; (5) a viable retaliation claim has not been stated; (6) Owens was not subjected to unwarranted use of excessive force; and (7) the state law claims are barred by sovereign immunity. See Doc. 73, p. 2.

         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

         This Court's February 21, 2014 Memorandum and Order previously ruled that Owens' claims for monetary damages brought against the individual Defendants in their official capacities were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. It was also noted that any claims for injunctive relief against the individual Defendants in their official capacities appeared to be moot since Owens was no longer confined at SCI-Camp Hill. Remaining Defendants initial summary judgment argument asserts that the surviving official capacity claims are subject to dismissal on the basis of mootness. See Doc. 73, p. 25.

         Federal courts can only resolve actual cases or controversies, U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2, and this limitation subsists “through all stages of federal judicial proceedings. . . .” Id. see also Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 459 (1974) (the adjudicatory power of a federal court depends upon “the continuing existence of a live and acute controversy)” (emphasis in original). “An actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” Id. at n.10 (citations omitted). ‚ÄúPast exposure to illegal conduct is insufficient to sustain a present case or controversy . . . if unaccompanied by continuing, present ...

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