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Bell v. Little

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 13, 2018

ALEX BELL, Plaintiff,
TIMOTHY LITTLE, Unit Manager, CAPTAIN ACEY, SCI Houtzdale Shift Commander, ANGEL STEWART, SCI Houtzdale Inmate #LC-1251, T.R. ARNOLD, Corrections Officer, SCI Houtzdale, S.R. WOOMER, Lt., Shift Commander, SCI Houtzdale, D.J. CLOSE, Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services, SCI Houtzdale, Defendants.

          Kim R. Gibson District Judge




         For the following reasons, it is respectfully recommended that the Partial Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Little, Captain Acey and T.R. Arnold (ECF No. 29) be granted in part and denied in part. It should be denied to the extent Defendants' seek dismissal of Plaintiff's failure to protect claim against Defendant Arnold. In all other respects, the Motion should be granted.

         II. REPORT

         A. Procedural Background

         Alex Bell (“Plaintiff”) is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale, and initiated the instant pro se prisoner civil rights action on July 5, 2017 by moving for in forma pauperis status (ECF No. 1), which was granted on July 18, 2017 (ECF No. 3). Plaintiff's Complaint, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, was docketed on that same day. (ECF No. 4). As his Complaint relates to the moving Defendants Unit Manager Little, Captain Acey and CO T.R. Arnold (collectively “the DOC Defendants”), Plaintiff claims that they failed to protect him from an assault by another inmate. The DOC Defendants have filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim, (ECF No. 29), and Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition to their Motion (ECF No. 36). It is now ripe for review.

         B. Factual Background

         The following allegations are asserted against the DOC Defendants. First, Plaintiff alleges that he was sexually assaulted by another inmate and reported the incident to Sgt. Sipes, his housing sergeant, on the morning of June 17, 2016. Sgt. Sipes subsequently reported it to control and a PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) investigation into Plaintiff's allegations commenced.

         Plaintiff states that after he returned from UPMC Altoona on June 17, 2016, he spoke to Defendant Little, his Unit Manager, about psychological abuse he was enduring in his housing unit. However, instead of issuing a temporary Z code that Plaintiff requested be issued pursuant to policy, Defendant Little placed him back into the same housing unit where he again “became the constant target of harassment, retaliation, threats, and other verbal abuse from inmates.” Plaintiff claimed to fear for his life so he eventually sought protective custody and was placed in a psychiatric observation cell on June 20, 2016.

         Three days later, Defendant Little put Plaintiff back “in the same cell where the assault took place” instead of putting him on a temporary Z code after Plaintiff asked him for further protection from sexual abuse. Plaintiff was even placed in the same cell as a convicted rapist, which he claims Defendant Little did solely as a means to humiliate him further. Plaintiff again asked Defendant Little to remove him from the housing unit but eventually had to ask Major Joel Barrows, the head of Unit Management, when Defendant Little refused. Major Barrows eventually ordered Defendant Little to move Plaintiff to a different housing unit. Specifically, as to Defendant Little, Plaintiff alleges that he caused him “unnecessary pain, suffering and emotional and mental abuse, making [him] feel unsafe, [and] helpless.”

         Approximately six months later, on January 13, 2017, Plaintiff faced a similar situation when Defendant Capt. Acey failed to remove him from Plaintiff from his housing unit after another inmate by the name of Stewart (“Inmate Stewart”) made a sexual comment to a female corrections officer. Plaintiff states that this “caused an unwarranted incident to transpire the following day.” On January 14, 2017, Plaintiff got into a “bloody altercation” with Inmate Stewart after Stewart harassed Plaintiff and other inmates by making racially derogatory and sexually abusive comments. Plaintiff states that Inmate Stewart followed him into his cell where the two got into a verbal exchange. Inmate Stewart then left Plaintiff's cell and Plaintiff then followed Stewart into his cell where he pushed Plaintiff before Plaintiff tackled him to the ground. At this point, Defendant CO Arnold shut the door of the cell with the both of them inside fighting each other. Inmate Stewart allegedly kicked and punched Plaintiff and bit the side of Plaintiff's face. While Plaintiff was on the floor bleeding, he looked out of the side of his eye and saw that Inmate Stewart had his pants and boxers down with his penis erect. Officers then entered the cell, but, before they escorted Inmate Stewart away, Stewart kicked Plaintiff in the face, breaking his nose and causing a concussion. Plaintiff alleges that the incident would not have occurred had Defendant CO Arnold administered OC spray instead of shutting the cell door. He also alleges that Defendant Lt. S.R. Woomer failed to allow the responding officers to open the cell door in order to separate and prevent them from causing each other more harm.

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he was given a temporary Z code by Defendant D.J. Close in response to the June 17, 2016 PREA investigation but not until after the SCI-Houtzdale administration found out that Plaintiff was filing this lawsuit. Plaintiff states that he was never seen by the Program Review Committee or by his Unit Psychologist, who are normally responsible for issuing Z codes to inmates, and at the time they finally issued it he was already in a comfortable living situation with another cellmate and not at risk of getting attacked.

         C. Stand ...

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