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Cope v. Reedy P.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 18, 2017

ROBERT COPE, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. REEDY P., et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         Presently before the Court is a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 68) by Magistrate Judge Saporito, in which he recommends that the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 52) filed by Defendants Lt. Reedy, Lt. Geisinger, Sgt. Kosakowski, Unit Manager Ciocca, Corrections Officer Toluba, Corrections Officer Wintersteen, Corrections Officer Martin, Secretary Wetzel, and Superintendent Delbalso be granted in part and denied in part.

         A District Court may "designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition" of certain matters pending before the Court. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). If a party timely and properly files a written objection to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the District Court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Id. at § 636(b)(1)(C); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); M.D. Pa. Local Rule 72.3; Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). "If a party does not object timely to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the party may lose its right to de novo review by the district court." EEOC v. City of Long Branch, 866 F.3d 93, 99-100 (3d Cir. 2017). However, "because a district court must take some action for a report and recommendation to become a final order and because the authority and the responsibility to make an informed, final determination remains with the judge, even absent objections to the report and recommendation, a district court should afford some level of review to dispositive legal issues raised by the report." Id. at 100 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         The time for filing objections to Magistrate Judge Saporito's R&R has passed and no party has filed any response to the R&R.

         Upon review of the R&R for clear error or manifest injustice, the Court will adopt in part and overrule in part the pending R&R.

         II. Analysis

         Although Plaintiffs Amended Complaint (Doc. 11) does not clearly delineate his claims, the Court reads the Amended Complaint as alleging three causes of action: (1) violation of Plaintiffs Eighth Amendment rights due to the defendants' deliberate indifference; (2) violation of Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment rights, and specifically his purported liberty interest in pressing charges against his attacker, Michael Sipes; and (3) a state law claim of negligence.

         In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Saporito recommends that Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment claim be dismissed with prejudice as legally frivolous and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (Doc. 68, at 28, ¶ 1; see also, Id. at 9-11) and that Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted with respect to Plaintiffs state law negligence claim (id. at 28, ¶ 3; see also, Id. at 25-27). The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's analysis on these issues and will adopt these recommendations without further discussion.

         With respect to Plaintiffs Eighth Amendment claim, the R&R recommends that summary judgment be granted in favor of Defendants Wetzel, Delbalso, Reedy, and Geisinger, but that the motion for summary judgment be denied as to Defendants Martin, Wintersteen, Toluba, and Kosakowski. (Id. at 28-29, ¶¶ 4-5; see also, 11-23). Although the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's analysis and recommendation that Wetzel, Delbalso, Reedy, and Geisinger should be granted summary judgment, we disagree that summary judgment should not also be granted to Wintersteen, Martin, and Toluba. Furthermore, although the R&R discusses Ciocca's role in the events giving rise to the Eighth Amendment claim, there is no recommendation with respect to whether Ciocca is entitled to summary judgment on this claim.

         As explained by the Magistrate Judge, Cope's Eighth Amendment Failure to Protect claim is premised on Cope's "claims that, at the time of his cell transfer, he advised defendants Officer Wintersteen, Officer Martin, Officer Toluba, and Sergeant Kosakowski multiple times that he had been threatened with physical harm by inmate Sipes" and that "Unit Manager Ciocca should also be held liable for failure to protect because Ciocca was familiar with inmate Sipes and his assaultive history when he assigned Cope to move into the same cell as Sipes." (Doc. 68, at 18-19).

         "The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment protects prisoners against the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'" and "impose[s] a duty upon prison officials 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) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994); Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319, 106 S.Ct. 1078, 89 L.Ed.2d 251 (1986)). A cause of action cannot lie under the Eighth Amendment where a government official is merely negligent in causing the injury. See Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347, 106 S.Ct. 668, 88 L.Ed.2d 677 (1986); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976); see also, Freeman v. Miller, 615 Fed.App'x. 72, 76 (3d Cir. 2015) (finding that Plaintiff could not succeed on his Eighth Amendment claim because "[t]he correctional officers were, at most, negligent in failing to take more forceful anticipatory action such as rehousing the inmates based on an unlikely threat."). Rather, "[i]n order for a plaintiff to prove a constitutional violation in a failure-to-protect case, a claimant must demonstrate that: (1) he is 'incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm;' and (2) the prison officials acted with 'deliberate indifference to his health and safety.'" Ogden v. Mifflin Cty., 2008 WL 4601931, *3 (M.D. Pa. 2008) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834).

         With respect to the first prong of the inquiry - a substantial risk of serious harm - the Court must conduct an objective analysis. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Hamilton, 117 F.3d at 746. Thus, the inquiry ordinarily will not be satisfied by evidence of a single incident or isolated incidents. See Riley v. Jeffes, 777 F.2d 143, 147 (3d Cir. 1985). An objectively substantial risk of harm, however, may be "established by much less than proof of a reign of violence and terror." Id. (quoting Shraderv. White, 761 F.2d 975, 978 (4th Cir. 1985)).

         The second prong of a failure to protect case requires that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to the prisoner's health and safety. In cases of prisoner incarceration, Eighth Amendment liability attaches only to the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Wilson v. Seiter,501 U.S. 294, 298, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991) (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319). Thus, not only must a prisoner's conditions of incarceration be sufficiently serious, but prison officials must possess a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" in allowing such a condition to persist. Beers-Capital v. Whetzel,256 F.3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001). Under this prong, the Court must analyze whether prison officials were, from a subjective standpoint, deliberately indifferent to an inmate's health or safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Specifically, the Court must determine whether an official consciously knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to the prisoner's well-being. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 839-44; Hamilton, 117 F.3d at 747. It is not enough to show that the prison official was "aware of the facts from which the inference ...


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