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Adams v. Cornelius

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 19, 2018

SHAUN ADAMS, Plaintiff,


          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         Shaun Adams, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania (SCI- Coal Twp.) initiated this pro se civil rights action. Named as Defendants are Correctional Officers Walter Cornelius and Joshua Clark, both of whom are employed at Plaintiff's prior place confinement, the Smithfield State Correctional Institution, (SCI-Smithfield). A second amended complaint (Doc. 45) was previously accepted by the Court.

         Plaintiff states that on June 21, 2013 he was housed in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) of SCI-Smithfield. After being escorted back to his cell from the shower area on said date, the Plaintiff alleges that he “had to be taken down to the ground” at his cell door by the two Defendants. Doc. 1, ¶ 4. Adams asserts that Correctional Officer Cornelius was allegedly holding one end of a tether which was attached to Adams. It is alleged that Cornelius pulled on the tether forcing Plaintiff's arms through the wicket of his cell door “leaving permanent scars on his right forearm.” Id., ¶ 7. Adams next avers that after Defendant Clark uncuffed one of Plaintiff's wrists a struggle ensued during which Plaintiff pulled the tether and handcuffs towards his cell door. Clark purportedly responded by stabbing Adams in the left hand three times with an RHU set of eight inch keys. Following the incident, Nurse Eberling was called to Plaintiff's cell and applied sutures and gauze to his wounds. Although the second amended complaint admits that “some force was needed to secure Adams in his cell”, Plaintiff concludes that the actions of the Defendants were excessive and violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at ¶ 19.

         Following the incident, Plaintiff's property was taken from his cell and he was left with only bed linen and a jumpsuit by unidentified officials. The following day Plaintiff passed out from not eating. Adams, who indicates that he suffers from mental illness, was then placed by unnamed staff in a psychiatric observation cell (POC) for purposes of protection. See Id. at ¶ 33.

         Presently pending is Defendants' motion seeking entry of summary judgment. See Doc. 56. The partially opposed motion is now ripe for consideration.


         Defendants claim entitlement to summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) Correctional Officer Cornelius was not personally involved in the alleged constitutional misconduct; (2) the amount of force used was constitutionally acceptable as it was only that which was necessary to subdue the Plaintiff and restore order; and (3) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

         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. Personal Involvement

         Defendants initially contend that Correctional Officer Cornelius is entitled to entry of summary judgment on the basis of lack of personal involvement. See Doc. 58, p. 9. It is asserted that the undisputed record establishes that Cornelius' only involvement in the alleged altercation was when Adams pulled on a tether and this Defendant pulled back. It is undisputed that this action was constitutionally acceptable. Adams' opposing brief does not address this argument.

         In order to state an actionable civil rights claim, a plaintiff must plead two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 ...

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