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Cummings v. Bullock

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 12, 2018

WILLIAM CUMMINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. BULLOCK, et al., Defendants.

          Arbuckle, Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM

          RICHARD P. CONABOY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Magistrate Judge William I. Arbuckle's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 86) addressing Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 74) filed by all named Defendants on May 12, 2017. With this motion, Defendants request that summary judgment be entered in their favor on all counts on substantive and procedural grounds. (Doc. 76.) For the reasons discussed below the Report and Recommendation is adopted in part, Defendants' motion is granted on procedural grounds, and claims against Defendant John Doe 1 are dismissed on procedural grounds.

         I. Background

         As set out in the Report and Recommendation, Plaintiff initiated this action against thirteen named Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Defendants on November 23, 2015, alleging claims arising from a “take down” at SCI-Dallas on October 26, 2015, during which Plaintiff asserts he was beaten and subsequently was further beaten and sexually assaulted.[1] (Doc. 86 at 1.) Magistrate Judge Arbuckle notes that the Amended Complaint contains three legal claims: 1) Defendants Volack, Pavlick, Nahill, Konycki, and Ryder used excessive force in connection with the October 26, 2015 takedown and events that followed; 2) Defendants Ryder, Owen, and Williams sexually assaulted him in the trauma room on October 26, 2015; and 3) Defendants Corbett, Yatsko, Fillipiak, Young, and Boyes failed to intervene to stop the alleged use of excessive force and the alleged sexual assault. (Doc. 86 at 19.)

         Relying in part on videotape evidence, Magistrate Judge Arbuckle substantively found that Defendants were entitled to summary judgment on all claims except Plaintiff's claim that Defendant Konycki used excessive force against him in the Medical Department before Plaintiff was secured in the trauma room. (Doc. 86 at 24-35 (video evidence cited as Doc. 79).) He also concluded that, although there remained a genuine issue of fact as to that claim, Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), and therefore, Defendants were entitled to summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 86 at 26-28, 35-40.) Magistrate Judge Arbuckle's procedural conclusion was based on Plaintiff's admission that he did not file any grievances and his failure to provide adequate facts to show that exhaustion was not required. (See Doc. 86 at 39-40 (citing Small v. Camden County, 728 F.3d 265 (3d Cir. 2013); Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1860 (2016)).) Specifically, the Magistrate Judge stated that Plaintiff did “not explain why he did not submit a grievance on regular paper or how many times, and to whom, he made his requests for the proper form.” (Doc. 86 at 40.) Based on these findings, Magistrate Judge Arbuckle recommended that Defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted and Defendant John Doe I should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). (Doc. 86 at 40-41.)

         On April 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation.[2] (Doc. 87.) Plaintiff makes the following assertions regarding the Magistrate Judge's substantive conclusions: the video of the initial takedown upon which the Magistrate Judge relied is misleading and thus disputed in that the officers formed a circle around him so that the camera could not record the excessive force alleged; he did not see the second video which the Magistrate Judge referenced regarding incidents which allegedly took place in the Medical Department trauma room; the trauma room excessive force and sexual assaults occurred when the camera was off so these claims present jury questions; for the same reason, the failure to intervene to stop these assaults present jury questions; and the alleged sexual misconduct constitutes a constitutional violation pursuant to Crawford v. Cuomo, 796 F.3d 252 (2d Cir. 2015). (Doc. 87 at 1-2.) Regarding exhaustion, Plaintiff alleges that exhaustion was not required because he was thwarted from filing grievances by prison administration. (Doc. 87 at 2-3.)

         Based on Magistrate Judge Arbuckle's recommendation regarding exhaustion and the Court's potential resolution of factual disputes under Small v. Camden County, 728 F.3d 265 (3d Cir. 2013), the Court issued an Order pursuant to Paladino v. Newsome, 885 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2018), on May 11, 2018, inviting the parties to supplement the record with any evidence relevant to the issue of exhaustion. The parties have now done so with Plaintiff reiterating many of his previous assertions (Docs. 92, 94) and Defendants providing additional evidence on the issue (Doc. 93).

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standards

         1. Standard of Review

         When a magistrate judge makes a finding or ruling on a motion or issue, his determination should become that of the court unless objections are filed. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150-53 (1985). When no objections are filed, the district court is required only to review the record for “clear error” prior to accepting a magistrate judge's recommendation. See Cruz v. Chater, 990 F.Supp. 375, 378 (M.D. Pa. 1998). When objections are filed, the district judge makes a de novo review of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. See Cippolone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 822 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 976 (1987). The de novo standard applies only to objections which are both timely and specific. Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). Although the review is de novo, the court may rely on the magistrate judge's recommendations to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         2. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant demonstrates there is no “genuine issue as to any material fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be ...


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