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Sarvey v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 28, 2018

MELISSA SARVEY, Plaintiff
v.
JOHN WETZEL, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          Susan Paradise Baxter United States Magistrate Judge.

         Relevant Procedural History

         Plaintiff, a state inmate incarcerated at SCI Cambridge Springs, initiated this civil rights action through counsel on June 21, 2016. As Defendants to this action, Plaintiff named: John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Joanne Torma, Superintendent of SCI Cambridge Springs; Joyce Wilkes, the former Superintendent of SCI Cambridge Springs; and Corrections Officers Keith Mayo and Brian Shank of SCI Cambridge Springs. This action arises out of a sexual assault that Plaintiff suffered at the hands of Correctional Officer Mayo during her incarceration at SCI-Cambridge Springs and the physical and emotional trauma that she endured as a result of the failure of administration at the Department of Corrections and the SCI-Cambridge Springs to protect her from the assault and during its aftermath. At Count I, Plaintiff advances an Eighth Amendment claim against all five Defendants. Counts II and III are state law claims for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendant Mayo. ECF No. 1.

         Defendants Shank, Torma, Wetzel and Wilkes have filed a motion for partial summary judgment [ECF No. 26] based solely upon Plaintiff's failure to exhaust her administrative remedies. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition [ECF No. 56] and Defendants have filed a reply brief [ECF No. 58]. This motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition by this Court.[2]

         The Allegations of the Complaint[3]

         On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff was sexually assaulted by Defendant Mayo, a corrections officer at SCI Cambridge Springs. ECF No. 1, ¶ ¶ 28-44. Shortly after the assault, Plaintiff reported it to Officer Hamilton and in turn the assault was reported to the Office of Special Investigation and Intelligence (“OSII”). Id. at ¶ ¶ 47-48. As of the date of the filing of this civil action, Plaintiff had not been provided with any information regarding the result of the investigation by the OSII. Id. at ¶ ¶ 49-50. Defendant Mayo continues to work at SCI Cambridge Springs and has direct contact with female inmates including Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ ¶ 54-60.

         Plaintiff alleges that on several occasions prior to the September 19th assault, Defendant Mayo engaged in inappropriate sexual touching of Plaintiff's breasts and buttocks. Id. at ¶ 21. Defendant Mayo also inappropriately touched other inmates. Id. at ¶ 22. Defendant Shank witnessed Defendant Mayo's actions against Plaintiff and other inmates and failed to take any actions to report or prevent such abuse. Id. at ¶ 25. At least one other Department of Corrections employee witnessed and reported Defendant Mayo's inappropriate conduct to SCI Cambridge Springs officials. Id. at ¶ 26. Despite this report of sexual abuse, Defendant Wilkes, the Superintendent at the time, took no action to terminate or reprimand Defendant Mayo or prevent further contact between him and female inmates. Id. at ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges that Wetzel, Torma, Wilkes, and Shank “were aware from previous complaints and previous observations that Defendant Mayo had committed acts of sexual abuse and harassment against Ms. Sarvey and other inmates.” Id. at ¶ 104.

         Standard of Review

         Federal 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, 587 (1986).

         The 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).

         As to a motion for summary judgment on the Prison Litigation Reform Act's failure to exhaust defense, a sister court within the Middle District has concisely summarized the shifting burdens of proof:

Failure to exhaust available administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded and proven by the defendant. But once the defendant has carried that burden, the prisoner has the burden of production. That is, the burden shifts to the prisoner to come forward with evidence showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him. However, as required by the Supreme Court, the ultimate burden of proof remains with the defendant.

Njos v. Argueta, 2017 WL 1304301, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Feb.23, 2017) (internal citation omitted).[4]

         The Exhaustion Requirement of the Prison ...


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