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Washington v. Barnhart

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 25, 2018

HENRY UNSELD WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN BARNHART, et al., Defendants.

          Henry Unseld Washington Counsel for Defendants

          Lisa Pupo Lenihan Magistrate Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION RE: ECF NO. 30

          LISA PUPO LENIHAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         Presently before the Court is a motion for more definite statement and to sever filed by Defendants Brian P. Hyde (“Hyde”), B. Costea (“Costea”), Lt. Cinko (“Cinko”), J.R. McDannell (“McDannell”), J. Foster (“Foster”), and K. Turner (“Turner”) (“the Commonwealth Defendants”) (ECF No. 30). For the reasons stated below, the Court recommends that the Commonwealth Defendants' motion for more definite statement and motion to sever be denied.

         II. REPORT

         A. Relevant Background

         Henry Unseld Washington (“Plaintiff” or “Washington”) is a pro se inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset (“SCI-Somerset”). On April 28, 2017, Washington instituted the instant prisoner civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1]by filing a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis along with a proposed Complaint. (ECF No. 1). Thereafter, he filed five supplements to his proposed Complaint. (ECF Nos. 2, and 4-7). On May 18, 2017, the motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted and his Complaint, consisting of the original Complaint and the five supplements, was docketed. (ECF Nos. 11; 11-1; 11-2; 11-3; 11-4; and 11-5).

         Within Washington's Complaint, he lists fifteen defendants whom he is suing. He then alleges conduct by sixteen individuals[2] whom he contends violated his rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (Id.).

         On January 11, 2018, the Commonwealth Defendants filed a motion for more definite statement and to sever and a supporting brief. (ECF Nos. 30-31). Washington filed his response in opposition to the motion for more definite statement and to sever on January 29, 2018. (ECF No. 32). On February 23, 2018, Washington filed a “Clarity of List of Defendants.” (ECF No. 37). On March 5, 2018, Defendants John Stramat, M.D. (“Dr. Stramat”), Roxanne Playso (“Playso”), Angela Johnston (“Johnston”), Richard Hutchinson (“Dr. Hutchinson”), and Jonathan Barnhart (“Barnhart”) (“the Medical Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and a supporting brief. (ECF Nos. 39-40). On March 28, 2018, Washington filed a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 41). To date, nothing has been filed on behalf of defendants Dr. Robinson, Richard Irwin, Mark Mayle, and Tesa Adelekan. The motion for a more definite statement and to sever is now ripe for review.

         B. Pro se pleadings in general

         When considering pro se pleadings, a court must employ less stringent standards than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003). In a § 1983 action, the court must “apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name.” Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)). See also Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (“Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.”) (quoting Higgins, 293 F.3d at 688). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. See, e.g., Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002); Riddle v. Mondragon, 83 F.3d 1197, 2102 (10th Cir. 1996).

         C. Factual allegations in Complaint relevant to Washington's claims against the Commonwealth Defendants

         Washington's Complaint alleges that all fifteen defendants, and Ms. Sroka, violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. For purposes of deciding the Commonwealth Defendants' motion for more definite statement and to sever, the Court shall focus on Washington's allegations with respect to the Commonwealth Defendants, Hyde, Turner, Costea, Cinko, McDannell, and Foster.

         1. Washington's claims against the Commonwealth Defendants related to his medical conditions- obtaining medical care and cell placement

         In the Facts section and Counts I, II, and III of his Complaint, Washington alleges that between May 15, 2015 and December 28, 2018, the Commonwealth Defendants engaged in conduct with respect to his medical conditions that violated his rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. First, Washington alleges that Hyde and Turner's actions (or lack thereof) in obtaining medical care for Washington's serious physical impairments[3] between November 6, 2015 and December 28, 2016 violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Second, Washington alleges that Costea, Cinko, McDannell and Foster's cell assignments for Plaintiff on November 8, 2016 and November 11, 2016 violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment because they placed his life at risk. Third, Washington alleges that the Commonwealth Defendants' treatment of him in a different manner than how they treated other inmates, especially white inmates, with respect to his medical care (Hyde and Turner) and cell assignments (Costea, Cinko, McDannell, and Foster), for non-medical and non-penological reasons, violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Fourth, Washington alleges that Hyde and Turner denied him medical care for his serious medical impairments and Costea, Cinko, McDannell, and Foster assigned him cells that placed his life at risk for filing grievances against, and suing, Department of Corrections (“DOC”) staff and medical personnel, and for his continuous communications with authorities about his alleged mistreatment, in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.[4]

         Washington's claims against the Commonwealth Defendants related to his medical conditions are based upon the following alleged conduct. Washington submitted two-three sick call requests per week and Hyde regularly discarded these requests. (ECF No. 11-2 at ¶ 66). On or near May 25, 2016, June 2, 2016, August 17, 2016, and October 26, 2016, Hyde did not make the necessary arrangements for Washington's laser eye surgery after co-defendants Dr. Mayle and Dr. Irwin recommended Plaintiff for laser eye surgery.[5] (Id. at ¶¶ 66, 73, 123, 125, 129, and 136). Washington had undergone laser eye surgery with Mr. Mayle sometime prior to May 15, 2015, but additional eye surgery was needed. (ECF No. 11-3 at ¶ 157). On or near November 6, 2015, at a sick call where Washington was wearing sunglasses, his right eye was discharging pus and blood, he was dripping semen, and his pain and discomfort was such that he was moving in slow motion, Hyde denied Plaintiff's request to be seen by a medical professional, made an obscene gesture, said sit on it, and pointed towards the door. (ECF No. 11-2 at ¶¶ 114-115). On or near December 1, 2015, and again on December 28, 2016, notwithstanding the optometrist's recommendation that Washington have laser eye surgery, Hyde ignored the recommendation and did not schedule Plaintiff for eye surgery which caused Washington to experience greater problems with his eyesight. (Id. at ¶ 116; ECF No. 11-3 at ¶¶ 150-151). On or about April 27, 2016, at a sick call with Hyde and co-defendant Playso, Washington's feet were covered in blood and he had difficulty remaining still due to continuous pain and discomfort in his digestive tract. (ECF No. 11-2 at ¶ 120). Playso and Hyde told Washington his ailments were not their concern. (Id.). Playso and Hyde also ignored an optometrist's recommendation that Washington receive laser eye surgery, disregarded the risk, and did not schedule Plaintiff for eye surgery. (Id. at ¶ 121). On November 8, 2016, despite knowing from Washington as well as a counselor, pod officers, and A-Block sergeants that Washington had a history of experiencing heart attack symptoms when placed in a bottom-tier cell, Costea placed Washington in a bottom-tier cell and then had him placed in solitary confinement. (Id. at ¶¶ 78, 87, 137-138). On or near November 21, 2016, Costea again had Washington moved from an upper tier cell and placed in solitary confinement. (Id. at ¶¶ 142-143). On or near November 21, 2016, despite Washington's repeated warnings and the prior cautionary measures used by RHU staff without incident to Washington, Cinko, Foster, and McDannell placed Washington in the RHU, a location known to be a likely risk to him, whereupon Washington experienced heart attack symptoms, and collapsed. (Id. at ¶¶ 143-144; ECF No. 11-3 at ¶ 145). Prior to his collapsing in the RHU on November 21, 2016, Washington told Turner and a nurse delivering medicine to the RHU, that he was beginning to experience chest pain and difficulty moving his left leg. (Id. at ¶ 81). Turner and the nurse walked away leaving Washington experiencing signs of oncoming emergency. (Id.). On or near November 22, 2016, Turner, during his supervision of a medical check by Barnhart in psychiatric observation cell #3, did nothing as Washington was denied medical care by Barnhart, and encouraged the misconduct, even though Washington was experiencing continuous pain and discomfort, he was barely audible, both feet were bleeding, he was dripping semen, and needed assistance to get back to his bed. (ECF No. 11-3 at ¶¶ 152-154). Costea disregarded Plaintiff's special needs while housed on Pod AA in order to accommodate white inmates on Pod AA without any special needs.[6] (ECF No. 11-2 at ¶¶ 38-41). At sick calls, Playso and Hyde, along with co-defendants Barnhart, Adelekan and Drs. Robinson, Irwin, Hutchinson, and Stramat, successfully provided medical care, especially to white inmates, but while conducting the same sick call, denied Washington the same care. (ECF No. 11-3 at ¶ 159). Costea, Cinko, McDannell, and Foster, along with Ms. Sroka, provided cells to white inmates upon their request and self-claimed medical concerns, and then, for non-penological reasons, denied Plaintiff the same care and safety upon his request and self-claimed medical concerns. (Id. at ¶ 160). Hyde and Turner, upon finding out that Washington was being denied medical care, refused to intervene or prevent such abuse from occurring, and encouraged the abuse. (ECF No. 11-2 at ¶¶ 30-31). Hyde, Costea, Cinko, and Turner witnessed the relevant acts in this legal action, failed to stop the misconduct, and encouraged the continuation of misconduct. (ECF No. 11-3 at ¶ 161).

         Hyde, Costea, Cinko, McDannell, Foster, and Turner, along with the other co-defendants “on more than two occasions; some defendant[s] three-four times each time plaintiff was in their presence declared they were going to penalize plaintiff for filing grievances[s] against them personally; or their fellow coworker; for suing DOC staff [and] medical professionals at SCI- Greene; their family members, friends, neighbors, army buddies, etc.; and for Plaintiff[‘s] continuous communications with authorities, which includes the court DOJ and filing grievances [and] request to staff concerning their continuous retaliations against plaintiff. . . .” (ECF No. 11-4 at ¶ 225). Each defendant professed repeatedly and openly to Washington that his continuous communications with authorities, his petitioning the government for redress of grievances, his submitting grievances, and his pursuit of justice for the defendants violating his ...


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