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Zuniga v. Chamberlin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 19, 2018

CHAMBERLIN, et al., Defendants


          Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Carlos Zuniga, an inmate formerly confined at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution in White Deer, Pennsylvania ("FCI-Allenwood"), commenced this Bivens[1]28 U.S.C. § 1331, civil rights action on May 4, 2017. (Doc. 1). Named as Defendants are George Chamberlin, Joe Lincalis, B. Sudul, Jim Lyons, S. Prutzman, Steven Spaulding, and Kendahl Gainer. Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. 18). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

         When a party moves to dismiss, but where "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Typically, when a court converts a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, notice must be given to all parties of the court's intent to do so. Id.; Garcia v. Newtown Twp., 2010 WL 785808, at *3 (E.D. Pa. 2010). However, if a motion to dismiss has been filed with an alternative request for summary judgment, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has found that the alternative filing is sufficient to "place the parties on notice that summary judgment might be entered." Latham v. United States, 306 Fed.Appx. 716, 718 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 578-79 (3d Cir. 1996)). Accordingly, the Court will treat Defendants' filing as a motion for summary judgment.

         Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "As to materiality, ... [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).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). Therefore, the non-moving party may not oppose summary judgment simply on the basis of the pleadings, or on conclusory statements that a factual issue exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record ... or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). In evaluating whether summary judgment should be granted, "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). "Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir.1992), cert, denied507 U.S. 912 (1993).

         However, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). If a party has carried its burden under the summary judgment rule,

its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.

Id. (internal quotations, citations, and alterations omitted).

         II. Bivens Standard

         A Bivens action is the federal counterpart to an action filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Paton v. LaPrade, 524 F.2d 82 (3d Cir.1975); Farmer v. Carlson, 685 F.Supp. 1335, 1338 (M.D. Pa. 1988). Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a cause of action for violations of federal law by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .

Id.; see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege "the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         III. Allegations of the Complaint

         Zuniga alleges that beginning on September 20, 2014, while confined at FCI-Allenwood, Paisa gang members harassed him and subjected him to extortion because he refused to collect gambling debts from other inmates. (Doc. 1, p. 11). On January 22, 2015, Zuniga allegedly reported his problems with the Paisa inmates to Defendants Chamberlin and Lincalis. (Id.). Chamberlin and Lincalis informed Zuniga that they would investigate the matter. (Id. at p. 12). Zuniga alleges that Defendants Chamberlain and Lincalis failed to report or document his January 22, 2015 complaints. (Id. at p. 14). He further claims that Defendants Chamberlin and Lincalis disclosed that confidential information to other inmates. (Id.). As a result, Zuniga alleges that he was threatened, harassed, and humiliated, forced to pay increased extortion fees, and ultimately assaulted by two Paisa inmates on May 14, 2015. (Id. at pp. 12-13).

         Zuniga claims that while in recreation on May 25, 2015, Paisa inmates threatened to kill him if he did not transfer to another institution. (Id. at pp. 13-15). As a result of these death threats, Zuniga reported to the lieutenant's office and requested protection. (Id. at p. 15). The staff member to whom he reported the threats ordered him to return to his housing unit. (Id.). Zuniga refused to return to his housing unit and received an incident report for refusing to obey an order. (Id.). Zuniga was then placed in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") for his protection. (Id.).

         On June 1, 2015, Zuniga underwent an x-ray which revealed that he suffered injuries to his ribs and right shoulder. (Id. at p. 15).

         Zuniga alleges that between May 25 and November 12, 2015, Defendants Lyons, Prutzman, and unnamed staff members observed injuries he sustained in the May 14, 2015 assault, but failed to document the assault. (Id. at pp. 15-17). On November 24, 2015, Zuniga claims that he sent a letter to Warden Spaulding, but did not receive a response and the Warden did not report his complaints or discipline the inmates who assaulted him. (/of. at p. 17).

         On November 12, 2015, Zuniga allegedly asked Defendants Gainer and Prutzman about a transfer to another institution. [Id. at p. 18). Defendant Gainer allegedly informed Zuniga that he was not going anywhere and he was staying in the SHU. [Id.). Zuniga claims that he was subjected to "hard time" in the SHU in violation of the Eighth Amendment. [Id. at p. 18).

         On or about January 3, 2016, Zuniga was designated for transfer to a different institution as a safety/security concern. (Id.).

         Zuniga alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by placing him at risk of harm by failing to report his complaints and failing to take action against the Paisa inmates, subjecting him to unlawful conditions of confinement by placing him in the SHU for seven months, and refusing his request for a transfer to a different institution. [Id. at pp. 20-22).

         Zuniga also asserts a retaliation claim against unnamed staff members in the Northeast Regional Office and the Central Office based on the rejection of his administrative remedies. (Id. at pp. 3-8, 19).

         For relief, Zuniga requests damages in the total amount of $2, 000, 000.00. (Id. at 23).

         IV. Statement of ...

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