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Rivera v. Rendell

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 2, 2018

GOVERNOR ED RENDELL, et al., Defendants.



         Presently before me is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 245) filed by Defendant Jerome Walsh (“Walsh”). Plaintiff Roberto C. Rivera (“Rivera”), an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Dallas”), commenced this civil rights action pro se against various prison officials for the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights related to the loss of his single cell status. The sole cause of action remaining in this case is Rivera's claim that Walsh was deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health needs when Walsh failed to reinstate his single cell status in March 2009. Because the record is devoid of evidence that Walsh was deliberately indifferent to Rivera's serious mental health needs, the motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         I. Background

         Rivera is a Department of Corrections (“DOC”) inmate serving a life sentence. (See Doc. 247, Defendant's Statement of Material Facts (“Def.'s SMF”), ¶ 1; Doc. 253, Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts (“Pl.'s SMF”), ¶ 1).[1] In March 2009, the time relevant to the claim remaining this action, Walsh was the Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services at SCI-Dallas. (Doc. 136-3, Walsh Decl., ¶¶ 1-2).

         In April 2005, Rivera was granted a “Z” housing code (“Z Code”). (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 3; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 3).[2] Walsh, a Unit Manager at the time, participated in the decision to recommend a Z Code for Rivera. (See Walsh Decl., ¶¶ 3, 5). Z Code was recommended because Rivera was exhibiting paranoid behaviors that may have posed a threat to a cellmate. (See id. at ¶ 6).

         The criteria for obtaining a Z Code is set forth in Policy 11.2.1, Section (5)(C), which provides that an inmate who meets “any of the following criteria shall be carefully reviewed by staff and considered for Program Code ‘Z' housing classification”: (A) inmates who are evaluated by psychiatric or psychological staff as having mental health problems (examples of mental health problems include conditions where the inmate is dangerous to self, dangerous to others, is self-mutilative, unable to care for self, and/or where the inmate is being actively monitored by the Psychological Review Team (PRT)); (B) inmates with medical conditions indicating a possible need for a single cell (infectious disease, colostomy, etc.); (C) inmates who staff believe may be victimized as a result of double celling; (D) inmates who have a documented history of predatory behavior toward cell partners or who staff has reason to believe would exhibit assaultive or predatory behavior towards cellmates; and (E) inmates with known or documented homosexual behavior. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 5; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 5). That policy further provides that Z Code “is not necessarily a permanent status. An inmate who is classified with a ‘Z' Code shall be reviewed at least annually and at any other staffing to insure the code is still the most appropriate housing classification.” (Doc. 136-3, 26).

         On December 16, 2008, Rivera's Z Code status was reviewed by his unit management team. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 20; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 20). That review was attended by, among others, Rivera's counselor, psychologist, and unit manager. (See Doc. 136-3, 62). During that review, the psychologist noted that Rivera was stable, doing well, and was no longer on any psychotropic medication. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 21). The reviewing staff on December 16, 2008 supported removal of Rivera's Z Code. (See Doc. 136-3, 62). Walsh, as Deputy Superintendent, reviewed the recommendation and concurred in the removal of Rivera's Z Code. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 26). Superintendent Klopotoski then made the final decision to remove Rivera's Z Code. (See id. at ¶ 27). On December 23, 2008, Rivera was informed by his counselor, Thomas Sokaloski, that his Z Code was removed. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 28; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 28)

         Shortly thereafter, Rivera set his cell on fire. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 29). Based on his statements that he was having suicidal thoughts, Rivera was admitted to a psychological observation cell. (See id. at ¶ 30; see also Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 30). Rivera was interviewed by Dr. Kasayapanand on December 24, 2008, and he noted that Rivera was not psychotic and would not answer questions about suicidal ideation. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 32). Dr. Kasayapanand concluded that Rivera suffered from major depressive disorder and that “this is a protest gesture about Z Code.” (Id.). Dr. Kasayapanand spoke with Rivera two days later, and he similarly noted that the “bone of [Rivera's] contention was his Z Code.” (Id. at ¶ 34).

         Rivera was confined in the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) after his release from the psychological observation cell. (See id. at ¶ 35; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 35). At a misconduct hearing for lighting his cell on fire, Rivera pled guilty to two charges and was sanctioned 90 days of disciplinary custody and assessed the costs associated with the fire. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶¶ 36-37; Pl.'s SMF, ¶¶ 36-37).

         While in the RHU, Rivera was seen by mental health professionals, including on December 31, 2008, January 12, 2009, January 28, 2009, February 23, 2009, and March 9, 2009. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶¶ 39-40, 42, 44, 47).

         On March 20, 2009, Rivera was seen by the Program Review Committee (“PRC”) to review his confinement in the RHU. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 49; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 49). Walsh was one of three prison officials participating in the PRC. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 50; Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 50). Rivera was advised at the PRC review that he would be released to general population on March 22, 2009 upon completion of his disciplinary custody. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 51). According to the PRC's review notes, Rivera “was advised by PRC that based on his not meeting the criteria for single celling he would have to be double celled.” (Doc. 136-3, 41). Rivera agreed to be double celled with his cousin who was also housed on L-Block. (See id.). Rivera was further informed that “his unit team would continue to monitor his progress in an effort that he would make a successful transition back to population.” (Id.).

         During Rivera's time in the RHU and after his release to general population, Walsh understood that Rivera was being monitored by mental health professionals. (See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 55). None of Rivera's “treating mental health providers informed [Walsh] that [Rivera] required placement in a single cell to address mental health concerns.” (Walsh Decl., ¶ 33).

         Based on the foregoing, Rivera commenced this action against twenty-six (26) defendants for various reasons related to the loss of his single cell status. (See Doc. 1, generally; see also Doc. 73, generally). Following decisions on motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment filed by the defendants, only one claim remains in this action: Rivera's Eighth Amendment claim that “Walsh was deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health needs in March 2009 when failing to reinstate his Z Code.” (Doc. 171, ¶¶ 6-7).

         After additional discovery took place on that claim, Walsh, on July 31, 2017, filed the instant motion for summary judgment. (See Doc. 245, generally). That motion ...

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