United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
Paradise Baxter United States Magistrate Judge
civil action was filed in this Court on February 4, 2016.
Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional
Institution at Forest, brings this action against Defendants
Superintendent Michael Overmyer, Correctional Officer Jason
Reed, Correctional Officer James, Correctional Officer P.D.
Means, Correctional Officer Paul Winger, Correctional Officer
J.W. Barger, Correctional Officer R.A. Johnson, and
Correctional Officers John Doe 1-3.
February 22, 2014, Plaintiff and another inmate were involved
in an altercation. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant James, a
correctional officer trying to intervene to stop the
altercation, used excessive force against him; that the
Correctional Officer Defendants failed to intervene to stop
James' excessive use of force; and that Defendant
Overmyer, in his capacity as Warden of the facility, is
responsible for the operation of SCI Forest, as well as the
welfare of the individual inmates.
filed a motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 45] and
Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition [ECF No. 61]. This
motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition by this
Pro Se Litigants
se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, "
must be held to "less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can
reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the
litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to
cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories,
poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's
unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v.
MacDoueall. 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex
rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.
1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully
drawn and should be read "with a measure of
tolerance"); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956
F.2d 295 (D.C.Cir. 1992); Freeman v. Dep't of
Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). Under our
liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of
litigation, a district court should construe all allegations
in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v.
Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See,
e.g., Nami v. Fauver. 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d
Cir. 1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard);
Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103
(3d Cir. 1990) (same). Because Plaintiff is a pro se
litigant, this Court may consider facts and make inferences
where it is appropriate.
Motion for summary judgment
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment
shall be granted 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." When applying
this standard, the court must examine the factual record and
reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable
to the party opposing summary judgment. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
moving party has the initial burden of proving to the
district court the absence of evidence supporting the
non-moving party's claims. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Andreoli v.
Gates. 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007); UPMC Health
System v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co.. 391 F.3d 497, 502
(3d Cir. 2004). The burden then shifts to the non-movant to
come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for
trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Williams v. Borough of West
Chester. Pa.. 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3d Cir. 1989) (the
non-movant must present affirmative evidence - more than a
scintilla but less than a preponderance -which supports each
element of his claim to defeat a properly presented motion
for summary judgment). The non-moving party must go beyond
the pleadings and show specific facts by affidavit or by
information contained in the filed documents (i.e.,
depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions) to
meet his burden of proving elements essential to his claim.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. See also Saldana v.
Kmart Corp.. 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).
considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not
permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility
determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are
any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both
genuine and material. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby.
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The court must consider
the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be
drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Matsushita. 475 U.S. at 587. Importantly,
however, in a case such as this one where there are video
recordings of the incidents in question, the Court need not
adopt the non-movant's version of the facts if the
recording "blatantly contradict[s]" the
non-movant's version "so that no reasonable jury
could believe it." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S.
372, 380 (2007).
Allegations of the Complaint
alleges that on February 22, 2014, he and Inmate Gerald
Alstin were involved in a physical altercation in which
Defendant Correctional Officer James intervened. In doing so,
James jumped on Plaintiffs back, applying a chokehold around
Plaintiffs neck. All three men fell to the ground with James
still on Plaintiffs back applying the chokehold. ECF No. 3,
¶ ¶ 32-34.
Officers Reed, Means, Winger, and Barger responded to the
altercation and separated the two inmates. These officers
pulled Plaintiff, with James still attached on his back,
under the stairs and tried to restrain and cuff him.
Id. at ¶ ¶ 35-40. These officers told
Plaintiff to stop resisting because Alstin was restrained and
in custody. Id. at ¶ 41. Plaintiff then stopped
resisting and was handcuffed. Id.
seconds later, Plaintiff looked up to see Alstin standing
directly over top of him. Id. Alstin then re-engaged
in the assault upon Plaintiff while Plaintiff was handcuffed
and restrained and still in the chokehold of Correctional
Officer James. Id. at ¶ ¶ 43. Alstin
punched Plaintiff in the face several times and scratched
him, digging his nails deeply into Plaintiffs face, head, and
ears. Id. at ¶ 44. Officers Reed, Means,
Winger, and Barger watched the brutal assault take place and
did nothing to stop it. Additionally, Correctional Officers
Johnson and John Does 1-3, who were responsible for
restraining and cuffing Alstin, did nothing. Id. at
¶ 45. Alstin then got down on his hands and knees and
started barking at Plaintiff, and then tried to bite
Plaintiffs face, ears, and head. Id. at ¶ 48.
Again, the correctional officers did nothing. Id. at
officers responded to the scene and Alstin was restrained and
removed from the block. Id. at ¶ ¶ 50-51.
Correctional Officer James continued to apply the chokehold
to Plaintiff and Plaintiff yelled for James to "get off
my neck." Id. at ¶ 52. Defendant Means
told James to get off of Plaintiff s neck and that he was