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Mattis v. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 15, 2017





         A. Relevant Procedural History

         On December 21, 2016, Plaintiff Trevor Mattis, an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Forest"), initiated this civil rights action by filing a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are the Department of Corrections ("DOC"), DOC Secretary John Wetzel ("Wetzel"), and the following individuals who were either staff members or medical personnel at SCI-Forest at all times relevant to the claims in this case: Superintendent M. Overmyer ("Overmyer"); Unit Manager Gustafson (incorrectly identified by Plaintiff as "Gustafason") ("Gustafson"); Counselor Cummins ("Cummins"); Unit Manager Best ("Best"); Sergeant Mealy ("Mealy"); Dr. Hasper ("Hasper"); Ms. Kennedy ("Kennedy"); Ms. Sheesley ("Sheesley"); K. Smith ("Smith"); Sergeant Anthony ("Anthony"); Sgt. Gilara ("Gilara"); Unit Manager Blicha ("Blicha"); C.O. Small ("Small"); and Nursing Practitioner McNeely ("McNeely"). For ease of reference, all Defendants other than Defendants Hasper and McNeely will be collectively referred to as "DOC Defendants."

         Plaintiff alleges multiple claims against one or more of the Defendants, based on alleged violations of his constitutional rights and/or his rights under Title II of the Americans with Disability Act ("ADA"), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Rehab Act"). In addition, Plaintiff alleges a state tort claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. In particular, Plaintiff identifies the following claims:

1. A claim against Defendant DOC for failure to train unit managers and counselors to make appropriate housing determinations for inmates (ECF No. 3, Complaint, at ¶ 219);
2. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant McNeely for failure to diagnose Plaintiff's "flat feet condition" and recommending that he be allowed to wear boots to the yard for morning exercise (Id. at ¶¶ 162-164, 177-182, 220);
3. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Overmyer for "forcing" Plaintiff to wear "skippies" to the yard (Id. at ¶¶ 162-164, 177-182, 221);
4. A Fourteenth Amendment claim against Defendant Gilara for confiscating Plaintiff's eyeglass strap (Id. at ¶¶ 199, 222);
5. A First Amendment access to courts claim against Defendant Gilara arising from the confiscation of Plaintiff's legal materials (Id. at ¶¶ 200-201, 223);
6. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant McNeely arising from her refusal to recommend the return of Plaintiff's eyeglass strap (Id. at ¶¶ 206, 224);
7. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Blicha for refusing to allow Plaintiff to retain a cup in his cell (Id. at ¶¶ 204-206, 225);
8. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Small for exposing Plaintiff to O/C spray (Id. at ¶¶ 190-195, 226);
9. Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment due process claims against Defendants Overmyer, Gustafson, Cummins, Hasper, and Kennedy for removing Plaintiff's Z-code and forcing him to take a cellmate (Id. at ¶¶ 13-128, 229);
10. A Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Defendant Small for allegedly stealing and/or destroying Plaintiff's creative materials (Id. at ¶¶ 194, 212, 227);
11. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Wetzel for failing to prevent alleged abuses at SCI-Forest (Id. at ¶¶ 211, 228);
12. ADA and Rehab Act claims against Defendants DOC, Overmyer, and Smith for failing to make reasonable accommodations for Plaintiff's PTSD condition (Id. at ¶¶ 150-151, 230);
13. A Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against Defendants Overmyer, Gustafson, and Cummins related to the denial of Plaintiff's Z-code status (Id. at ¶¶ 13-128, 231);
14. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Hasper, Simons, Cowen, Sheesley, and Kennedy for recommending removal of Plaintiff's Z-code (Id. at ¶¶ 39-44, 76-82, 209, 232);
15. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Best, Mealy, and Anthony for requiring Plaintiff to take a cellmate (Id. at ¶¶ 104-128, 233);
16. A claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendants Gustafson, Cummins, Best, and Anthony for "orchestrating a violent confrontation with other inmates" (Id. at ¶¶ 76-128, 234);
17. A Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against Defendants Overmyer, Best, and Cummins arising from their recommendation that Plaintiff be placed on the RRL while other similarly situated inmates were not (Id. at ¶¶ 152, 196-198, 236);
18. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Overmyer and Blicha for placing Plaintiff in solitary confinement in "cold" conditions for over four weeks (Id. at ¶¶ 237 and 237(b));
19. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants McNeely and Smith for failing to provide Plaintiff with medical treatment (Id. at ¶ 238); and
20. An Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Overmyer for allowing and condoning "the harassment and abuse of Plaintiff by RHU prison officials (Id. at ¶¶ 125-218, 239).

         On May 30, 2017, Defendant Hasper filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint [ECF No. 31] arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted against him. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendant Hasper's motion on June 8, 2017 [ECF No. 40]. On July 11, 2017, the DOC Defendants filed their own motion to dismiss [ECF No. 47], also arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted against them. Plaintiff has since filed a response in opposition to this motion [ECF No. 50]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.[2]

         B. Relevant Factual History

         Plaintiff alleges that, in 1992, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") and assigned Z-code status, which kept him from being celled with another inmate. (ECF No. 3, Complaint, at ¶ 13). According to Plaintiff, his PTSD condition causes him to become anxious, "extremely paranoid, " and violent when another inmate is celled with him. (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 17). In addition, Plaintiff alleges that he cannot sleep, concentrate, or function in a normal manner, and suffers debilitating headaches, in the presence of another inmate. (Id. at ¶ 16).

         In July 2015, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Cummins for his annual review, at which time Defendant Cummins asked Plaintiff to explain his Z-code status. (Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff explained that he was previously assaulted by a cellmate while he was sleeping, and had experienced other violent encounters with cellmates, that made him "rather dysfunctional and volatile if another inmate is in the cell with him." (Id. at ¶ 28). As a result, Plaintiff informed Defendant Cummins that if his Z-code was removed and he was forced to have a cellmate, "there would be big problems." (Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff and Defendant Cummins were subsequently joined by Defendant Gustafson, who allegedly told Plaintiff that he didn't see a reason why Plaintiff should have a Z-code and that he was "going to take it." (Id. at ¶ 32). Plaintiff responded that if he was forced to take a cellmate, he would stab the cellmate as many times as he could; however, both Defendants Cummins and Gustafson allegedly voiced their lack of concern. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-37).

         On July 29, 2015, Plaintiff was seen by the Psychological Review Team ("PRT"), consisting of, among others, Defendants Cummins, Gustafson, and Kennedy. (Id. at ¶ 39). Defendant Kennedy allegedly asked Plaintiff how he felt about taking a cellmate, to which Plaintiff responded that he couldn't take a cellmate because of his serious anxiety issues. (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42). Defendant Kennedy then postponed the PRT review pending a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 43).

         On November 18, 2015, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Hasper, at which time he recounted many violent incidents he had encountered during his incarceration and the mental health symptoms he suffered as a result. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-59). Defendant Hasper allegedly asked if Plaintiff would like medication to help his insomnia, but Plaintiff refused, citing an aversion to psychotropic medications. (Id. at ¶¶ 61-63). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Hasper then told him that he "definitely need[ed] to be housed by [him]self." (Id. at ¶ 67). Plaintiff saw Defendant Hasper again on December 18, 2015, and reported that his panic attacks were becoming more severe and he was beginning to experience "daily spontaneous diarrhetic [sic] bowel movement." (Id. at ¶ 70). Defendant Hasper allegedly informed Plaintiff that his PTSD symptoms were getting worse and again suggested psychotropic medications, which were refused by Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 71).

         On February 8, 2016, Plaintiff went to the medical department for a follow-up visit with Defendant Hasper, and was made to wait while Defendant Cummins entered Defendant Hasper's office and exited five minutes later. (Id. at ¶¶ 83-85). Plaintiff alleges that, unlike previous visits, Defendant Hasper's demeanor was "cold and distanced, " while he encouraged Plaintiff to work with his counselor. (Id. at ¶¶ 85-90).

         On February 18, 2016, Defendants Cummins and Gustafson informed Plaintiff that his Z-code was being removed and that he had thirty days to find a cellmate. (Id. at ¶¶ 94-95). Plaintiff alleges that he "began to suffer pounding headaches, experienced severe panic attacks and could hardly sleep at night." (Id. at ¶ 102). Around the second week of March, Defendant Best asked Plaintiff if he had found a cellmate yet, to which Plaintiff reiterated his concerns about being celled with another inmate; nevertheless, Plaintiff was told that he had a week to find a cellmate. (Id. at ¶¶ 104-108).

         On March 21, 2016, Plaintiff was seen at sick call for high blood pressure and rapid weight loss. Plaintiff's blood pressure medication was changed and blood pressure readings were ordered to be taken three times per week for four weeks. (Id. at ¶¶ 109-110). The next day, Defendant Best told Plaintiff he was getting a cellmate, who Plaintiff alleges was a "notorious gang member" named "Richardson aka Hell Boy, " but Richardson allegedly refused to be celled with Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 112-115). Then, on March 26, 2016, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Mealy attempted to have Plaintiff celled with a Bloods gang member, but was allegedly dissuaded from doing so by other gang members. (Id. at ¶¶ 116-117).

         On March 28, 2016, Defendant Mealy allegedly asked Plaintiff what he would do if he was celled with another inmate and Plaintiff responded that he would "hurt them before they hurt me from the door, no ifs ands or buts." (Id. at ¶¶ 118-119), Nevertheless, while "dozing off in his cell" on March 30, 2016, Plaintiff saw his cell door opening and a "strange inmate" entering his cell, which allegedly caused Plaintiff to "snap" and attack the inmate. (Id. at ¶¶ 121-122). During the ensuing melee, Plaintiff received a "stunning blow to the back of his head" and a sprained right wrist, while the other inmate suffered serious injuries. (Id. at ¶ 123). Plaintiff was handcuffed and taken to the RHU, at which time he allegedly heard Defendant Mealy lamenting that he was forced to put someone in Plaintiff's cell. (Id.). After Plaintiff was processed at the RHU, Defendant Anthony attempted to place him in a cell with another inmate, but Plaintiff refused and was issued a misconduct. He was then taken to a different pod and placed in a single cell. (Id. at ¶¶ 125-128).

         On March 31, 2016, Plaintiff woke with a throbbing headache, couldn't flex his right wrist, felt sharp pain in his lower back, and had a swollen left knee that hindered his ability to walk. (Id. at ¶¶ 129-130). Plaintiff submitted a sick call request and subsequently complained about his injuries to all of the nurses who came to his cell; however, his complaints were allegedly ignored. (Id. at ¶¶ 131-133). On or about April 3, 2016, Plaintiff allegedly blacked out and fell, hitting the right side of his head and lacerating his right forearm and left triceps. (Id. at ¶ 134). Plaintiff complained to a nurse about his new injuries and was told to fill out a sick call slip. (Id. at ¶ 136).

         On April 21, 2016, after not being seen by medical staff for weeks, Plaintiff filed a grievance alleging cruel and unusual punishment. At that time, Plaintiff was allegedly suffering from "excessively dry skin" that left "black scabs" and "micro cracks" on his arms, and deeper cracks in the webbing between his fingers. (Id. at ¶¶ 147-149). Plaintiff was ultimately seen at sick call on May 5, 2016, but the doctor was rushed and walked away before Plaintiff was able to raise all of his medical issues. (Id. at ¶ 154). Thus, Plaintiff submitted another sick call request on May 6, 2016, but, by that time, most of his injuries had resolved on their own. (Id. at ¶ 155).

         On May 8, 2016, Defendant Overmyer allegedly went to Plaintiff's cell and told him that he would "never get out of the RHU again, " which Plaintiff understood as a "direct threat to his wellbeing." (Id. at ¶ 158).

         On July 12, 2016, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Hasper, who allegedly told Plaintiff that he wasn't there to give him a Z-code, and then assessed Plaintiff with anti-social personality disorder." (Id. at ¶ 189). On July 16, 2016, Plaintiff's cell was "ransacked" by prison officials, at which time Defendant Small allegedly stole and/or destroyed Plaintiff's legal materials and creative works (i.e. poems, screenplays, and songs), and then forced Plaintiff to "stand exposed to the full effects of O/C pepper spray for over 20 minutes." (Id. at ¶¶ 190-193).

         On August 26, 2016, Plaintiff was seen by the Program Review Committee ("PRC"), comprised of Defendants Overmyer, Best, and Cummins, and was informed that he was being placed on administrative custody ("A/C") status pending a review for placement on the Restricted Release List ("RRL") because he was considered a threat to other inmates. (Id. at ¶ 198). On the same date, Defendant Gilara confiscated Plaintiff's eyeglass strap, one box of legal materials, and all of Plaintiff's pens. (Id. at ¶¶ 199-200).

         In or around September 2016, Defendant Blicha refused to allow Plaintiff to retain a cup in his cell, thus requiring Plaintiff to sip water from the water faucet. (Id. at ¶ 204). Plaintiff alleges that he wrote over four letters to Defendant Wetzel in August and September 2016 detailing "the abuses and harassments SCI-Forest prison officials were subjecting him to, " but received no response. (Id. at ¶ 211).

         On November 21, 2016, Plaintiff was moved to an isolated cell at the direction of Defendant Blicha, where he was allegedly subject to inhumane and intolerably cold conditions ...

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