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Wolowski v. Fletcher

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 10, 2018

ADRIAN FLETCHER, et al, Defendants.


          Cynthia Reed Eddy United States Magistrate Judge

         Presently pending before the Court for disposition is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, with brief in support (ECF Nos. 41 and 42). Plaintiff has filed a Memorandum of Law in opposition (ECF No. 62). The issues have been fully briefed and the factual record has been thoroughly developed. (ECF Nos. 43, 44, 63, 64, and 70). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Brandon Wolowski (“Plaintiff” or “Wolowski”) is a pro se inmate who has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Wolowski is a pre-trial detainee being held on a number of state charges which were filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County at Criminal No. CP-63-CR-0000151-2013.[2] The alleged incidents giving rise to this lawsuit occurred while Wolowski was housed at the Washington County Correctional Facility (“WCCF”). Defendant movants herein are Captain Adrian Fletcher, Officer Keith Watson, Officer David Thorne, Officer Francisco Seciti, and Officer Adam Smith, all of whom are current or former officials and correction officers at WCCF.

         For purposes of this Memorandum Opinion, the facts are quite simple. Wolowski alleges that he was seriously injured on October 13, 2014, when Defendants assaulted him (i) during a cell extraction, (ii) while being escorted after the cell extraction, in an elevator as he was being taken to the shower room for decontamination, (iii) in the shower area; and (iv) when he was being escorted back to a cell in the Special Housing Unit. As a result of the assaults, he suffered a broken nose, fractured right orbital-socket, several bruised ribs, a busted lip, “and a variety of bumps” across his forehead and face.

         After a period of discovery, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment in which they argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because “[o]n the date of the incident at issue, Plaintiff created a situation which required WCCF personnel to respond with force; however, the record of evidence clearly establishes that any force used was reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances as known to the Defendants at the time.” Defs' Mot. at ¶ 4.

         Plaintiff argues in response that summary judgment should not be granted to Defendants on Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim because genuine issues of material fact are in dispute.[3] The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition by the Court.

         II. Standard of Review

          Summary judgment may 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court's function is not to weigh the evidence, to determine the truth of the matter, or to evaluate credibility. See Montone v. City of Jersey City, 709 F.3d 181 (3d Cir. 2013). Rather, the Court is only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. In evaluating the evidence, the Court must interpret the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2007).

         III. Discussion

         A. Exhaustion

         Before turning to the merits, the Court must first decide whether Wolowski has exhausted his administrative remedies in accordance with the mandate of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (the “PLRA”). Defendants contend that they are entitled to the entry of judgment in their favor as a matter of law because Wolowski did not comply with all requirements of WCCF's grievance system and thereby failed to exhaust all administrative remedies available to him. Plaintiff responds that the prison officials interfered with his ability to utilize the grievance system, thereby resulting in administrative remedies not being available to him.

         The exhaustion requirement is mandatory and a prisoner is required to pursue all avenues of relief available to him within the prison's grievance system before bringing a federal civil rights action. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 291 (3d Cir. 2000), aff'd, 532 U.S. 731 (2001). Prisoners who fail to fully exhaust administrative remedies may not subsequently litigate those claims in federal court. Ghana v. Holland, 226 F.3d 175, 184 (3d Cir. 2000).

         Moreover, the PLRA also requires “proper exhaustion” meaning that a prisoner must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules of that grievance / appeal system and a procedurally defective administrative grievance or appeal precludes action in federal court. Fennell v. Cambria County Prison, 607 Fed.Appx. 145, 149 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84, 90-91 (2006) and Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)).

         The exhaustion requirement is a “bright-line rule” and “it is beyond the power of this court - or any other - to excuse compliance with the exhaustion requirement, whether on the ground of futility, inadequacy, or any other basis.” Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 73 (3d Cir. 2000). Likewise, as previously stated, our appellate court has been very clear that all available remedies must be exhausted prior to filing suit. Oriakhi v. United States, 165 Fed.Appx. 991, 993 (3d Cir. 2006).

         The broad rule favoring full exhaustion allows for a narrowly defined exception, an exception with potential application here. If the actions of prison officials in some fashion contributed to an inmate's procedural default on a grievance, the inmate will not be held to strict compliance with this exhaustion requirement. See Camp v. Brennan, 219 F.3d 279 (3d Cir. 2000). However, courts have recognized a clear “reluctance to invoke equitable reasons to ...

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