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Breeland v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 19, 2018

CAPTAIN JONES, et al, Defendants.



         A. Relevant Procedural History

         Plaintiff, acting pro se, originally filed this case on April 28, 2016. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to protect him from assault by another inmate. As Defendants to the original complaint, Plaintiff named Captain Jones, Nancy Giroux, Melinda Adams, Deputy Clark, Unit Manager Flinchbaugh, and Sgt. Delaney. ECF No. 3.

         Plaintiff later filed a motion requesting that Defendants Jones, Giroux, Adams, Clark and Flinchbaugh be dismissed. ECF No. 48. Following a hearing on the matter, this Court granted Plaintiff's motion leaving Sgt. Delaney as the sole Defendant to this action. ECF No. 55. Thereafter, Defendant Delaney filed an answer in response to the complaint. ECF No. 64.

         In March of 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave to amend the complaint and Plaintiff's motion was granted. ECF No. 72; ECF No. 77. The operative complaint is the Amended Complaint. ECF No. 83. As Defendants to this action, Plaintiff named Jones and Garlick. However, at a telephonic hearing held May 11, 2017, Defendants agreed that Ceramuga was a proper party to the Amended Complaint. ECF No. 85. During that hearing, this Court determined that “all allegations in the complaint are against both” Garlick and Ceramuga and “the amended complaint is deemed to include Defendant Ceramuga wherever Defendant Garlick is named.” ECF No. 159, page 9. Thereafter, Ceramuga was added as a Defendant and Captain Jones was terminated. On June 5, 2017, the Office of the Attorney General entered an appearance on behalf of Ceramuga and Garlick. ECF No. 87.

         In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on January 11, 2016, Inmate Gilbert was moved into Plaintiff's cell. ECF No. 83, ¶ 10. Gilbert informed Plaintiff that he was not supposed to be in general population because he “was pending a transfer to the gang-unit.” Id. at ¶ 11. Plaintiff alleges that Gilbert threatened him with bodily harm and that when Plaintiff notified prison staff of the threat, prison staff took no action to protect Plaintiff. Id. Sometime during third shift while Plaintiff was asleep on the top bunk, he was attacked by Gilbert and suffered injuries. Id.

         Each Defendant has filed an answer in response to the Amended Complaint. ECF No. 99 (Garlick); ECF No. 111 (Ceramuga).

         On October 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he is entitled to summary judgment against Defendant Ceramuga but does not mention Defendant Garlick in his motion/brief. ECF No. 120.[2]

         On November 22, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that: 1) Defendant Garlick had no personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation as he was not at the prison at the time of the assault; 2) Plaintiff has not demonstrated a failure to protect claim (against Ceramuga); and 3) the uncontradicted record and video refute claims of injury and render Plaintiff's allegation of attack incredible. ECF No. 135.

         All parties have filed briefs in opposition to the pending dispositive motions. Accordingly, the dispositive motions are fully briefed and are ripe for disposition by this Court.

         B. Standards of Review

         1) Pro se Litigants

         In reviewing a pro se plaintiff's complaint, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to the pro se plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007); Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). A complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Id. at 555. The court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (internal citation omitted). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Additionally, a civil rights claim “must contain specific allegations of fact which indicate a deprivation of constitutional rights; allegations which are nothing more than broad, simple and conclusory statements are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983.” Alfaro Motors, Inc. v. Ward, 814 F.2d 883, 887 (2d Cir. 1987).

         Finally, a court must employ less stringent standards when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (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) (internal quotation omitted). 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.”). Notwithstanding this liberality, pro se litigants are not relieved of their obligation to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim.

         2) Motion for summary judgment

         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.” Under Rule 56, the district court must enter summary judgment against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Summary judgment may be granted when no “reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 quoting F.R.Civ.P. 56.

         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, 477 U.S. at 330. See also 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). When a non-moving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party has no burden to negate the opponent's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party need not produce any evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 325. “Instead, ... the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. After the moving party has satisfied this low burden, the nonmoving party must provide facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial to avoid summary judgment. Id. at 324. “Rule 56(e) permits a proper summary judgment motion to be opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves.” Id. See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001); Garcia v. Kimmell, 2010 WL 2089639, at * 1 (3d Cir. 2010) quoting Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (the non-moving party “must present more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue.”).

         In considering these evidentiary materials, “courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). See also Doe v. Cnty. of Centre, Pa., 242 F.3d 437, 446 (3d Cir. 2001) (when applying this standard, the court must examine the factual record and make reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment).

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both genuine and material. Anderson., 477 U.S. at 248, 255 (“only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.”). In determining whether the dispute is genuine, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 249. The court may consider any evidence that would be admissible at trial in deciding the merits of a motion for summary judgment. Horta v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 2, 8 (1st Cir. 1993).

         C. Plaintiff's ...

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