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James v. Varano

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 23, 2018

PARIS L. JAMES, Plaintiff,
DAVID VARANO, et al., Defendants



         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Paris L. James (“James”), initiated the above-captioned action on October 8, 2014 by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against numerous employees of the Department of Corrections (“DOC”), at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Coal Township”).[1] (Doc. No. 1.) On March 23, 2015, James filed an amended complaint. (Doc. No. 28.) James claims that he was denied adequate medical care, subjected to substandard conditions of confinement, subjected to excessive force, and retaliated against for complaining about the quality of his medical treatment, the conditions of his confinement, and the excessive force inflicted upon him. (Id.) James further alleges that the Medical Defendants failed to provide him with adequate medical treatment for breathing difficulties. (Id.) He also claims that the Medical Defendants conspired with other Defendants to deprive Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”), inmates of proper intake examinations and access to healthcare, and intentionally refused them medical care in order to reduce transportation costs from the RHU. (Id.)

         Subsequently, all Defendants filed motions to dismiss the amended complaint. (Doc. Nos. 30, 31.) By Memorandum and Order dated August 31, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motions to dismiss. (Doc. Nos. 55, 56.) The Court dismissed James' conspiracy claims, equal protection claims, and claims as to the condition of confinement, but permitted the Eighth Amendment claims of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need to proceed. (Id.) The Court also dismissed James' verbal harassment, retaliation, and conspiracy claims, with the exception of those pertaining to Defendants Mosier, Tripp, and Else, and dismissed James' condition of confinement claim, as well as the medical care claims asserted against Defendants Varano and McCarthy on the basis of lack of personal involvement. (Id.) Accordingly, the remaining claims against the Correction Defendants are a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need against Mains, Schmerfeld, Alleman, Romedy, Segedy, Masser, Baker, Schoch, Krzykowski, Rodriguez, Burrows, Novailis, Kratz, Hyde, and Goodwin and a claim based on retaliation, verbal harassment, and conspiracy against Moser, Tripp, and Else. The remaining claim against the Medical Defendants pertains to a deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.

         After the close of discovery, the Medical Defendants and the Corrections Defendants filed motions for summary judgment (Doc. Nos. 103, 113), along with statements of material facts (Doc. Nos. 104, 115), and supporting briefs (Doc. Nos. 105, 114). In response to the Medical Defendants' summary judgment filings, James filed a motion in opposition (Doc. No. 110), declaration in opposition (Doc. No. 110-1), and counterstatement of material facts (Doc. No. 111). The Medical Defendants filed a reply brief (Doc. No. 117), to which James filed an unauthorized sur-reply brief (Doc. No. 123), which was stricken from the record in the Court's December 12, 2017 Order (Doc. No. 131).

         In response to the Corrections Defendants' summary judgment filings, James filed a motion in opposition (Doc. No. 118), a counterstatement of material facts (Doc. No. 119), and a brief in support of his counterstatement of facts (Doc. No. 120). The Corrections Defendants subsequently filed a reply brief (Doc. No. 128), to which James filed an authorized sur-reply (Doc. No. 132), and also an “amended response in opposition” to the Corrections Defendants' statement of material facts (Doc. No. 133). The Corrections Defendants then filed a reply brief to James' amended response. (Doc. No. 134.) On January 22, 2018, James filed a motion to appoint counsel (Doc. No. 135), and a motion to file a limited sur-reply brief to the Corrections Defendants' reply brief (Doc. No. 138). Presently, the Medical and Corrections Defendants' motions for summary judgment, and James' motion to appoint counsel and motion to file a limited sure-reply brief are ripe for disposition.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the court to render 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). “[T]his standard provides that 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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514, United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., 927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).

         When determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir. 1992); White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In order to avoid summary judgment, however, the nonmoving party may not rest on the unsubstantiated allegations of his or her pleadings. When the party seeking summary judgment satisfies its burden under Rule 56 of identifying evidence which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party is required by Rule 56 to go beyond his pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The party opposing the motion “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). When Rule 56 shifts the burden of production to the nonmoving party, that party must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case which it bears the burden of proving at trial, for “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. See Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992).

         In determining whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White, 862 F.2d at 59. In doing so, the Court must accept the nonmovant's allegations as true and resolve any conflicts in his favor. Id. (citations omitted). However, a party opposing a summary judgment motion must comply with Local Rule 56.1, which specifically directs the oppositional party to submit a “statement of the material facts, responding to the numbered paragraphs set forth in the statement required [to be filed by the movant], as to which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue to be tried”; if the nonmovant fails to do so, “[a]ll material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be admitted.” L.R. 56.1. A party cannot evade these litigation responsibilities in this regard simply by citing the fact that he is a pro se litigant. These rules apply with equal force to all parties. See Sanders v. Beard, Civ. No. 09-1384, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, *15 (M.D. Pa. July 20, 2010) (stating that pro se parties “are not excused from complying with court orders and the local rules of court”); Thomas v. Norris, Civ. No. 02-01854, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64347, at *11 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 8, 2006) (explaining that pro se parties must follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure).


         A. James' Motion to File a Limited Sur-Reply Brief

         James requests permission to file a second sur-reply brief to the Corrections Defendants' reply brief to address a limited argument raised by the Corrections Defendants pertaining to the retaliation claim against Defendants Moser, Tripp, and Else. (Doc. No. 138 at 1.) The decision to “grant or deny leave to file a sur[-]reply is committed to the sound discretion of the court.” Akers v. Beal Bank, 760 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2011). Here, Corrections Defendants' motion for summary judgment has already been fully briefed by both parties, and the Court has already permitted sur-reply briefs to be filed. The issue which James seeks to address has already been fully addressed. Accordingly, in the Court's sound exercise of discretion, it will deny James' motion to file a limited sur-reply brief.

         B. The Medical Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         1. Allegations Set Forth in the Amended Complaint

         James' allegations against the Medical Defendants pertain to events beginning with his transfer to SCI-Coal Township from SCI-Forest on October 11, 2012. (Doc. No. 28 at 7, 22.) James alleges that he was seen by Physician Assistant Daya on October 12, 2012, and informed Daya that prior to his arrival at SCI-Coal Township, he received 10-bags of intravenous fluid at SCI-Forest. (Id. ¶ 157.) James complained to Daya that he is asthmatic, had been unable to eat or drink food or fluids for multiple days, had a racing heart, and was losing a great deal of weight. (Id.) James alleges that while Daya ordered medical testing, she failed to order it “without delay, ” which prolonged the time spent waiting for the results, and that Daya took no other reasonable steps or action to provide him with medical treatment. (Id. ¶¶ 159, 161.)

         James also alleges that on October 17, 2012, he was found on the floor of his cell by Physician Assistant Davis. (Id. ¶ 184.) James alleges that he informed Davis that he had been without his asthma inhaler and that he could not breathe. (Id.) He alleges that he requested that Davis provide him with his asthma inhaler and treat his heart, chest, and other medical symptoms. (Id. ¶ 185.) Additionally, James avers that Davis informed him that he was present only to conduct the “asthma clinic, ” and that any other medical complaints would need to be addressed through a sick-call. (Id. ¶ 186.)

         On October 18, 2012, James alleges that he was brought before the Program Review Committee (“PRC”), to review his administrative custody status. (Id. ¶ 188.) James maintains that the members of the PRC recognized that he was in need of medical care, as he was so weak that he had to be seated in a chair and was incapable of speaking. (Id. ¶¶ 189, 190.) James alleges that the medical department was called and that he was taken to the hospital, where he received breathing treatment, blood testing, and steroids. (Id. ¶¶ 192 - 94.) James avers that only after testing was performed at the hospital was it discovered that he was suffering from an overactive or hyperactive thyroid gland and was given an asthma inhaler upon returning to the prison. (Id. ¶ 196.) James claims that the Medical Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

         2. Statement of Undisputed Facts[2]

         James was received at SCI-Coal Township from SCI-Forest on October 11, 2012. (Doc. No. 104 ¶ 5.) He was seen and examined by Daya on October 12, 2012. (Id. ¶ 6.) Daya reviewed James' medical records and ordered lab testing and further monitoring of his symptoms and conditions. (Id. ¶¶ 7-10.) On October 26, 2012, the lab performing James' testing issued a “Final Report” to Daya. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         On October 17, 2012, James was seen by Davis, who conducted an asthma chronic care clinic on him. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Davis ordered an asthma inhaler for James, as well as a chest x-ray. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) Davis then reviewed the chest x-ray report on October 24, 2012. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         3. James' Claim of Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical NeedUn ...

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