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Abney v. Basial

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 30, 2018

LISA W. BASIAL, et al., Defendants

          Kane Judge


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge


         For inmates pursuing constitutional tort claims against their jailers, the failure to fully and properly exhaust administrative remedies may have substantive significance since the Prison Litigation Reform Act provides that A[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under . . . [42 U.S.C. § 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.@ 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This case illustrates the importance of timely, full and proper exhaustion of administrative remedies by state prisoners. Pending before the Court is the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on the issues of exhaustion of administrative remedies and the statute of limitations. The plaintiff, Clarence Abney, is an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) who brought this action against nine DOC employees and a Senior Deputy Attorney General. Abney alleged that these individuals conspired to harass and intimidate him in retaliation for bringing an earlier action, which alleged that several corrections officers severely beat him and left him with serious injuries. The defendants filed the instant motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that Abney has not exhausted his administrative remedies or, alternatively, that Abney's claims are barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations that pertains to civil rights claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part.


         A. Abney's Allegations

         This action has its origins in another pending civil action, Abney v. Younker, et al., No. 1:13-cv-1418 (“Abney I”), in which Clarence Abney brought claims against several DOC officials and corrections officers, alleging that he was severely beaten by corrections officers at State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon (SCI-Huntingdon) in June 2012. In this case, Abney alleges that after he filed suit in Abney I, Defendants Younker, Snyder, Hills, Booher, Nickum, and Meyers (“the Huntingdon defendants”) engaged in misconduct, including verbally threatening inmate-witnesses and physically beating Gerry Mobley, Jr., another inmate-witness, in an attempt to get back at Abney for filing the lawsuit. Abney alleges that he notified his attorney about the alleged misconduct, and that his attorney notified Lisa W. Basial, a Senior Deputy in the Office of Attorney General (OAG), who was representing the defendants in Abney I. According to Abney, instead of intervening and directing her clients to stop the alleged misconduct, Basial refused to intervene and even encouraged the behavior.

         Abney further alleges that, in addition to her refusal to intervene in the misconduct of her clients, Basial affirmatively took steps to prevent Abney from meeting with his lawyer by arranging for Abney's improper transport to SCI-Camp Hill for a deposition in Abney I, which was originally supposed to take place via videoconference at SCI-Houtzdale where Abney was incarcerated. Abney alleges that Basial intentionally misrepresented that she had leave of the court to transport Abney for the deposition, and that her actions in arranging the transport were done with the intent to interfere with his access to his lawyer and in further retaliation for filing Abney I. Additionally, Abney alleges that Basial lied to the court and represented that Abney was being deposed at SCI-Houtzdale when, in fact, she had already arranged for his transport to SCI-Camp Hill without leave to depose him or leave to transfer him.

         Abney's latest complaint then alleges that the harassment and abuse continued after he was transferred to SCI-Camp Hill, as the DOC employees knew he was there to testify against other DOC employees. According to Abney Defendant Whalen deprived him of his thyroid medication ay SCI Camp Hill and interfered with Abney's phone call to his attorney. Abney further alleges that Basial either arranged for or knew of Whalen's misconduct and approved of it. Abney also alleges that Basial made arrangements for his return trip to SCI-Houtzdale to further intimidate him. In Particular, he alleges that, at a stop-over at SCI-Smithfield, he was stripped of his jumpsuit and forced to stand in his underwear in a cold cell surrounded by fully clothed prisoners for two hours, until officers from SCI-Houtzdale arrived to transport him. Abney claims that Defendants Shoop and Fisher were responsible for the misconduct at SCI-Smithfield, and that it was done in furtherance of the conspiracy to retaliate against him for filing the lawsuit in Abney I. Even further, Abney claims that Basial arranged for the stop at SCI-Smithfield, and that she notified Shoop and Fisher about the arrangement in order to continue the campaign of retaliation against him.

         B. Abney's Grievances and the History of this Litigation

         In November 2013, Abney filed a number of grievances with prison authorities regarding the alleged misconduct by DOC employees, which were denied by April 25, 2014.[1] These grievances were prepared with the assistance of Abney's counsel, a seasoned litigator, but did not in every instance identify the defendants that Abney has now elected to sue. Abney filed this action on February 25, 2016, and amended the complaint on July 11, 2016. Abney had also attempted to supplement his complaint in Abney I on December 1, 2015 to include these allegations, but leave to supplement the complaint was denied on April 18, 2016.

         The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on July 25, 2016, which was denied on January 26, 2017, without prejudice to renewing their arguments in a motion for summary judgment. The defendants then filed the instant motion for partial summary judgment on the issues of exhaustion and the statute of limitations on May 22, 2017, and the motion is now ripe for review.


         The defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Through summary adjudication a court is empowered to dispose of those claims that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any material fact, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), and for which a trial would be “an empty and unnecessary formality.” Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Int'l, Inc., 702 F.Supp.2d 465, 468 (M.D. Pa. 2010). The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact 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 248-49.

         The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, “the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.” Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving 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, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In making this determination, the Court must “consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

         IV. ...

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