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Randolph v. Wetzel

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 21, 2019

SAMUEL B. RANDOLPH, IV, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Samuel B. Randolph, IV, a prisoner currently incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, brings this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against more than fifty Defendants, the majority of whom either work at SCI Phoenix or SCI Greene, where Randolph was previously incarcerated. Randolph seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Randolph leave to proceed in forma pauperis, sever his claims against certain Defendants, dismiss certain claims against other Defendants, and give him an opportunity to amend his Complaint or proceed against the remaining Defendants at this time. Randolph also filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction, which the Court will deny without prejudice.

         I. FACTS [1]

         Randolph's claims are predominately based on allegations that he was unnecessarily force fed on several occasions and handled with excessive force on several occasions beginning with events that occurred at SCI Greene in 2017.[2] Randolph names Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel as a Defendant, apparently with regard to claims based on events at SCI Greene and at SCI Phoenix, and he names a group of Defendants related to events at SCI Greene in 2017 and another group of Defendants related to events at SCI Phoenix in 2019.

         The Defendants named with regard to Randolph's claims arising from events at SCI Greene (“SCI Greene Defendants”) are: (1) Superintendent Gilmore; (2) Deputy DiAlesandro; (3) Deputy Zaken; (4) Major Caro; (5) Mr. Funk; (6) Lt. Trout; (7) Dr. Denise Smyth; (8) Dr. Lawrence Alpert; (9) CO Jordan; (10) CO Feather; (11) CO Brandt; (12) William Nicholson; (13) Mike Hice; (14) John McAnany; (15) P.A. Ridings; (16) Five-member CERT Team from May 5, 2017; (17) T.A. Lewis; (18) Harry Cancelmi; (19) Bruce Pokol; and (20) three Jane/John Doe Nurses. The Defendants named with regard to Randolph's claims arising from events at SCI Phoenix (“SCI Phoenix Defendants”) are: (1) Superintendent Ferguson; (2) Mr. T. Fauber; (3) Dr. Weiner, Medical Director; (4) Dr. Hanicek; (5) Dr. Sarah; (6) Ms. Gene Walsh; (7) Deputy Terra; (8) Major Terra; (9) Deputy Sorber; (10) CO Ellerbe; (11) CO Karnizan; (12) CO McKevitts; (13) Nurse Dennis; (14) Five member CERT Team from May 7, 2019; (15) Sgt. Moyer; (16) CO Policki; (17) CO Belador; (18) CO Ms. Johnson; (19) CO Smothers; (20) Lt. Ridgely; and (21) Nurse Paul.[3]

         A. Events at SCI Greene

         Randolph alleges that on May 5, 2017, Wetzel, Gilmore, DiAlesandro and Caro “all issued orders to force feed [him].” (Compl. at 8.)[4] Based on those orders, Defendants DiAlesandro, Hice, Nicolson and five unidentified “CERT members” entered Randolph's cell and informed him that he was going to be placed in a restraint chair and force fed. (Id.)

         Randolph alleges that he is handicapped as a result of a prior assault and, accordingly, explained that he was not able to sit in a chair because of his injuries because he has been “confined to a bed and unable to walk, since 2009.” (Id.) Randolph also informed the officers that he did not need to be force fed because he was “willing to consume nutrition” and requested a Boost nutritional drink. (Id.) Nicholson allegedly repeatedly denied Randolph's requests and stated, “No, it's too late for that and I told you we will fix you and teach you a lesson.” Hice added that “I told you we're going to stuff your [expletive] into a restraint chair and shove this big [expletive] tube up your [expletive] nose.” (Id.)

         DiAlesandro directed that Randolph be placed in the chair and force fed. Randolph again protested on the same grounds, but DiAlesandro stated that Randolph was too late. A captain and five CERT team members entered Randolph's cell, handcuffed and shackled him, and placed a taser device on his chest. Randolph was taken by a gurney to an observation cell and secured to a bed. Hice raised the bed to an elevated position and Randolph began to shout because of the pain caused to his neck, back, spine, and legs. Randolph asked to “drink the liquid nutrients” instead of having them force fed to him, but his request was denied. (Id.)

         An unidentified nurse began the force-feeding procedure by forcing a tube into Randolph's nose “and directly into [his] lungs.” (Id.) Randolph began to choke and/or suffocate because he could not breathe. He alleges that the nurse perforated his lungs and poured the liquid directly into his lungs. (Id. at 9.) Randolph also alleges that the nurse allowed him to choke and gag and caused a hematoma to his arm. Randolph claims that he still suffers injuries in the form of fluid in his lungs. He alleges that he was force fed on ten additional occasions between July 7, 2017 and July 10, 2017. It is not clear which of the Defendants were involved in those subsequent incidents.

         The Complaint reflects that the force-feeding occurred with the permission of court orders. Randolph, alleges that to procure those orders, Nicholson and Dr. Denise Smyth “overexaggerated [his] true condition and health by inflating several numbers/readings from tests, and making it appear as if [he] was on death's doorstep and needed immediate nutrition to prevent him from perishing, ” which Randolph claims was untrue. (Id. at 9.) Randolph alleges that the “Defendants were fully aware that [he] was never suicidal, and that [he] simply preferred to consume his own food, due to the Defendants constant retaliation.”[5] (Id.)

         Randolph also claims that Harry Cancelmi, who was appointed to represent Randolph in connection with the proceedings in state court, violated his due process rights by “secretly entering into an agreement with the Defendants, unbeknownst to [him], and against [his] interest/rights.” (Id.) Randolph provides little additional elaboration on this alleged agreement, but claims Cancelmi was operating under a conflict of interest and should not have accepted the appointment. More information and background about the order obtained from the state court is provided in Randolph's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction and supporting documents, which he filed with his Complaint.

         B. Events at SCI Phoenix

         On February 19, 2019, Randolph was transferred from SCI Greene to SCI Phoenix. On that day, Superintendent Ferguson and Defendant Fauber met with him about their expectations. Ferguson stated that Gilmore called to warn her about Randolph. When Randolph attempted to speak, Ferguson cut him off and stated, “we don't play that [expletive] you do down here, so if you want anything, as far as a shower, yard, activities, etc, then you better get your [expletive] in a wheelchair.” (Id. at 10.) Randolph explained his spinal cord, back, and leg injuries and asserted that he was not able to ambulate or utilize a wheelchair “until he receive[s] the necessary surgery.” (Id.) It is not clear from the Complaint what surgery Randolph believes he requires.

         Fauber stated that there was nothing wrong with Randolph and that “we have all of the same orders from Greene, so you'll be treated the same exact way, the minute you step out of line.” Randolph asked what he meant and Fauber responded “the little food game you're playing, by refusing to accept trays.” Randolph explained that he had not taken a tray at SCI Greene for about a year “due to the retaliation” and preferred to eat his own food. (Id.) Fauber told Randolph that he would be put in a restraint chair if he refused to take a tray, and Ferguson confirmed that sentiment. Accordingly, Randolph alleges that he took food trays out of fear.[6]

         On May 7, 2019, Lt. Ridgley, CO Karnizan, and CO McKevitts came to Randolph's cell. McKevitts allegedly stated “stand up Randolph I'll knock you the [expletive] out, I know [you're] not paralyzed.” Randolph asked McKevitts to repeat what he said. After McKevitts did so, Randolph threw water on him and told him to go away and close the door. Randolph alleges that McKevitts and Karnizan then filed false misconduct reports claiming that Randolph had assaulted both of them (and possibly Ridgley) even though neither Karnizan nor Ridgley was hit with the water. Karnizan also allegedly stated “I told you I'd get your [expletive] back for suing me, ” which Randolph alleges is a reference to the fact that he named Karnizan as a Defendant in a lawsuit he previously filed, Randolph v. Wetzel, Civ. A. No. 13-4116.

         On the same evening, Ridgely and five CERT team officers appeared at Randolph's cell to extract him because of the water incident. Ridgley explained that he had orders to put Randolph in a restraint chair regardless of whether Randolph complied with his orders. Ridgley then directed the CERT team members to handcuff and shackle Randolph. Randolph stated that he was not fighting or resisting and asked for a gurney due to his medical condition and allegedly to avoid causing further injuries. Ridgley radioed the request to Deputy Terra and Ferguson, but they denied it and insisted that Randolph be placed in the chair. Ridgley ordered the CERT team members to place Randolph in the chair and they did so, at which point he began yelling and screaming due to the pain caused by them forcing him into the chair.

         The officers were not able to get Randolph into the chair. According to Randolph, they kept trying for twenty to thirty minutes with assistance at times from nurses who joined in. Ridgley called Deputy Terra and Ferguson and allegedly explained that it was impossible to place Randolph in the chair due to his injuries and that the efforts were causing harm to Randolph. Ridgley requested a gurney, and one was sent. Randolph was placed on the gurney, taken to a cell, and placed on the floor. He was stripped naked, then partially dressed again. He requested immediate medical attention, but none was provided and he “was ignored for weeks.” (Id. at 12.)

         On May 9, 2019, Deputy Terra visited Randolph's cell. Randolph asked Terra to send medical care because he was in pain but Terra responded, “you're getting nothing.” Randolph also asked for a “legal call” and unspecified legal property, but Terra denied his requests. (Id. at 13.) Randolph asked Terra why he issued the earlier orders. Terra responded by asking Randolph whether he learned his lesson and stating he would do it again.

         On May 13, 2019, Randolph requested access to his “stockpiled food, ” but his requests were denied. He claims he is “being intentionally isolated and kept on a psychiatric unit, despite [him] never having or being treated with any psych issues.” (Id.) He claims that he is hungry, wants to eat, and is not on a hunger strike, but that he prefers to eat his own food. He also states that he is drinking fluids to stay hydrated but that several doctors are “trying to fabricate [his] exact condition to make it appear as [if he] will perish very soon, ” which is similar to what he alleges the doctors at SCI Greene did prior to obtaining the court order permitting them to force feed him. (Id.) At this point, it does not appear that officials at SCI Phoenix have sought a court order to force feed Randolph.

         On May 17, 2019 Ferguson visited Randolph's cell. Randolph asked for his food, a legal call, and unspecified legal work, but Ferguson denied his requests stating “you'll get nothing in here.” Randolph allegedly explained that he had upcoming deadlines, but Ferguson responded that she did not care. She also allegedly admitted to ordering the restraint chair.

         C. Randolph's Claims and Motion

         Randolph asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliation, excessive force, Eighth Amendment violations related to the conditions of his confinement, denial of access to the courts, and due process violations. He also asserts claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act. With regard to his injuries, Randolph claims that he has not received treatment for lung and throat injuries caused by the force feeding, leg injuries and nerve damage, and injuries to his spinal cord. Randolph seeks an injunction prohibiting the Defendants from force-feeding him. He also requests spinal surgery and compensatory damages in the amount of $5 million.

         Randolph also filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction in which he asks for an emergency order preventing the Defendants from force-feeding him.[7] (ECF No. 4.) According to the Motion, certain Defendants at SCI Greene improperly procured what Randolph characterizes as an ex parte order from the state court, even though counsel had been appointed to represent him. Randolph's Declaration, which is attached to the Motion, indicates that the state court's order authorizing the force-feeding is not currently in effect, but that the court indicated that

In the event and by motion of either party, the Court will immediately reinstate the Temporary Injunction without need for the emergency first step circumstances, that is upon Petition of the Plaintiff, the Court will immediately reinstate the Temporary Injunction as it currently exists and the matter will be set for a ...

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