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Payne v. Gordon

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 1, 2018


v.
MARGARET GORDON, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          ROBERT D. MARIANI, UNITEDD STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Joshua Payne ("Payne"), an inmate confined at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Mahanoy"), initiated the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Named as Defendants are the following officials and employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"): Margaret Gordon, Ulrich Klemm, John Wetzel, Theresa A. Delbalso, Bernadette Mason, and John Steinhart (collectively, "Commonwealth Defendants"). (Id.). Also named as a Defendant is Courtney Rodgers, D.O.[1] (Id.).

         In the complaint, Payne alleges that Defendants refused to provide him with his previously approved therapeutic diet, and informed him that he must first submit to a blood test to determine whether he actually has food allergies. (Id.). Payne contends that a blood test was not required by the DOC policy in effect at the time, and that other inmates were not required to undergo blood testing to verify their food allergies prior to being placed on a nonstandard therapeutic diet. (Id.). Payne sets forth the following theories of liability: (1) Defendants refused to provide Payne his therapeutic diet in retaliation for filing a prior lawsuit against them, (2) Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical need for a therapeutic diet, (3) Defendants violated his equal protection rights by requiring him to submit to a blood test in order to receive his therapeutic diet, when other inmates were not required to submit to a blood test and there was no official policy in effect requiring inmates to undergo a blood test, and (4) Defendants conspired with prison officials to refuse Payne his therapeutic diet. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-51).

         On September 28, 2017, the Commonwealth Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). (Doc. 18). On May 30, 2018, the Court provided notice to the parties of its intent to convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 38). Accordingly, the motion is treated as one for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

         When a party moves to dismiss, but where "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d). Typically, when a court converts a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, notice must be given to all parties of the court's intent to do so. Id.; Garcia v. Newtown Twp., 2010 WL 785808, at *3 (E.D. Pa. 2010). As stated, the Court previously provided notice to the parties of its intent to convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 38). Therefore, the motion will be treated as one for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

         Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "As to materiality, ... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). Therefore, the non-moving party may not oppose summary judgment simply on the basis of the pleadings, or on conclusory statements that a factual issue exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record ... or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). In evaluating whether summary judgment should be granted, "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). "Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir.1992), cert, denied507 U.S. 912 (1993).

         However, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). If a party has carried its burden under the summary judgment rule,

its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. 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 no genuine issue of material fact. When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.

Id. (internal quotations, citations, and alterations omitted).

         III. Allegations of the Complaint

         Payne alleges that in 2012 he was approved to receive a nonstandard therapeutic diet. (Doc. 1 ¶ 14). At the end of April 2016, Payne allegedly went to sick call to renew his nonstandard therapeutic diet and was approved for the diet. (Id. at ¶ 16). However, he claims that he did not receive this diet. (Id. at ¶ 19). On May 2, 2016, Payne presented to the medical department for chronic care review and was informed that his nonstandard therapeutic diet was on hold pending litigation. [Id. at ¶¶ 19-20, 42). Also at this visit, Payne alleges that he was told that he must first submit to a blood test to determine whether he actually has food allergies. [Id. at ¶ 21). Payne acknowledges that he refused to submit to blood testing and, therefore, was not placed on the therapeutic diet. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-49).

         Payne contends that other inmates were not required to undergo blood testing to verify their food allergies prior to being placed on a nonstandard therapeutic diet. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-49). He further alleges that a blood test was not required by the DOC policy in effect at the time. (Id.). Payne asserts that the DOC did not amend the relevant policy until December 28, 2016, at which time the policy was amended to require inmates to submit to allergy testing in order to verify all self-reported allergies. (Id. at ¶ 39). Thus, he alleges that Defendants violated his equal protection rights by requiring him to submit to a blood test. (Id.).

         Payne alleges that the denial of his diet was retaliatory in nature, based on a previous lawsuit he filed against Defendants Gordon, ...


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