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Keels v. Buzas

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 6, 2017

DESMOND KEELS, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVE BUZAS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          CYNTHIA REED EDDY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendant Steve Buzas (“Defendant” or “Buzas”) with a brief in support (ECF Nos. 46 and 49). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 61). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion will be granted.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initiated this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when he was an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution (“SCI”) at Fayette. According to Plaintiff, his claims arise out of an incident involving a “fight club, ” which purportedly was conducted by prison staff members in the restricted housing unit. (ECF No. 13, ¶ 7). Plaintiff alleges that the staff members arranged fights between inmates by placing them in secluded areas and allowing them to fight. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiff further alleges that prison staff members wagered money on which inmate would win the fight, but the inmates were not paid for their participation. Id. ¶¶ 11-13. However, an inmate who won a fight might receive certain “gifts, ” such as cigarettes, single cell status or transfer to an institution located closer to the inmate's home. Id. ¶ 14.

         Plaintiff alleges that Buzas, who was a Unit Manager in two restricted housing units at SCI Fayette, recruited him to participate in a fight club and offered him cigarettes, single cell status and a transfer to another institution if he agreed to do so. (ECF No. 13, ¶¶ 3, 17-18, 20). Plaintiff claims that he refused to participate, but another inmate initiated a fight with him on November 22, 2015, and Plaintiff allegedly fought in self-defense. Id. ¶¶ 18, 21-25. Following the fight, Plaintiff received a misconduct violation, which he claims was issued as a pretext to cover up the fact that Buzas arranged the fight. Id. ¶¶ 26-27.

         Plaintiff alleges that Buzas subsequently told him that he had taken the fight too far because the other inmate had to be admitted to an outside hospital. (ECF No. 13, ¶ 29). Buzas purportedly told Plaintiff that he would not get single cell status and that he should not say anything about the situation. Id. ¶ 30. Plaintiff alleges that he received 180 days of disciplinary custody time for the incident and that staff members issued him continuing conduct violations because of the incident. Id. ¶ 33.

         Plaintiff claims that Buzas violated his Eighth Amendment rights because he placed Plaintiff's future safety and physical and mental health and well-being in danger. (ECF No. 13, ¶ 35). Plaintiff also claims that Buzas violated his First Amendment right to be free from retaliation.[2]Id. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and an award of compensatory and punitive damages. Id. ¶ 36. Buzas has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. (ECF Nos. 46, 47, 48 and 49).

         III. 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.” The moving party bears 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); UPMC Health Sys. v. Metropolitan Live Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004).

         Once that burden has been met, the non-moving party must set forth “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). To make that showing, 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; Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). The non-movant may not rely on “bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue.” Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325)).

         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). In addition, the Court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Finally, because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court will liberally construe his filings and employ less stringent standards than when judging the work product of an attorney. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         By itself, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not create any rights, but rather provides a remedy for violations of those rights created by the Constitution or federal law. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3 (1979). Here, Plaintiff claims that his First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated as a result of an incident involving an alleged fight club when he was incarcerated at SCI Fayette. See ECF No. 13 at 2, ΒΆ III. Defendant argues that summary judgment should be ...


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