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Frye v. Wilt

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 24, 2019

DEVON FRYE, Plaintiff
SGT. NATHANIEL WILT, et al., Defendants.


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Devon Frye, was an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview (“SCI-Rockview”) in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”). He brings this suit against several DOC officials pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they were deliberately indifferent to a serious risk of harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, Frye alleges that the defendants were deliberately indifferent with respect to his cell assignment and the subsequent failure to remove him from the cell, which he contends resulted in him being raped by his cell mate.

         The defendants now move for summary judgment, arguing that Frye failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and that Frye's Eighth Amendment claim has no merit. For the reasons that follow, we find there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment at this time. Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         II. Background and Statement of the Case

          Construing the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, as we are required to do when considering a defense motion for summary judgment, the evidence reveals that Devon Frye was sexually assaulted by his cellmate, Brian White, on July 23, 2014, while he was incarcerated at SCI-Rockview in Centre County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 2, 21.) White had submitted an inmate cell agreement request to be celled with Frye on July 16, 2014, but the request was denied by Unit Manager Pasquale because a cell was not available. (Doc. 55, Ex. E.) After this request was denied, White allegedly submitted another cell agreement request two days later to Sergeant Wilt, without Frye's knowledge, and Wilt approved the cell agreement. (Doc. 13, ¶ 11.) Frye alleges that Wilt failed to receive Unit Manager Pasquale's approval of this cellmate change, despite the fact that such consent is required by the rules at SCI-Rockview. (Id., at ¶ 13.) Further, Frye alleges that, at that time, White was incarcerated for a conviction of rape and was known to be an assaultive prisoner who had been disciplined at the prison for assaulting a prior cellmate. (Id., at ¶¶ 9, 20.)

         It is alleged that shortly after being transferred to White's cell, Frye asked Sergeant Wilt to remove him from the cell because White was becoming overly aggressive and because Frye had not been made aware of White re-submitting the cell agreement request to Wilt after it had been denied by Pasquale. (Doc. 13, ¶ 15.) Wilt allegedly told Frye that he could not be moved from the cell for ninety days. (Id., at ¶ 16.) On or about the second day that Frye was celled with White, Frye claims that White became aggressive and prevented Frye from exiting the cell by physically grabbing him as he was attempting to leave. (Id., at ¶ 17.) This occurred after Frye denied White's request to have a sexual relationship with him. (Id.) Frye again asked Wilt to remove him from the cell, after informing him of the aforementioned incident, and apparently indicated that he was very fearful of White and was in grave physical danger if he were to be kept in the cell with White. (Id., at ¶ 18.) Wilt again denied Frye's request, explaining that he could not be removed from the cell for ninety days. (Id., at ¶ 19.)

         On July 23, 2014, White violently raped Frye, after striking him, choking him, covering his mouth to prevent him from screaming, punching him, and throwing him on the bed face down. (Id., at ¶ 21.) At the time of the incident, Frye yelled and screamed for officers to help him, but no officer responded for at least an hour. (Id., at ¶ 22.) On April 24, 2015, White pleaded guilty to raping Frye and was sentenced to four to eight years in prison. (Id., at ¶ 23.) Frye alleges that when he reported the rape to prison officials, he told someone in the security office about his two removal requests to Wilt, as well as Wilt's response on both occasions that Frye could not be removed for ninety days. (Doc. 8, Ex. B, at 108.)

         On May 9, 2016, Frye filed this action, asserting claims against Superintendent Glunt, Sergeant Wilt, Unit Manager Pasquale, and Corrections Officer John Doe for Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment violations related to his cell assignment and subsequent assault. (Doc. 1). The defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss Frye's complaint on June 20, 2016, which this Court granted in part and denied in part. (Doc. 7.) On November 11, 2016, the Court dismissed Frye's Fourteenth Amendment claims and “reckless disregard for safety” tort claim but denied the motion in all other respects. (Doc. 15.) Frye filed an Amended Complaint on October 27, 2016 (Doc. 13), which the defendants subsequently answered on December 1, 2016. (Doc. 17.)

         On June 2, 2017, the defendants filed a motion for leave to file bifurcated motions for summary judgment in order to separately contest administrative exhaustion and the merits of Frye's claims. (Doc. 24.) This Court granted the motion to bifurcate on June 8, 2017, (Doc. 33.), but denied the first motion for summary judgment, which was based on Frye's failure to exhaust administrative remedies, on December 15, 2017 without prejudice. (Doc. 41.) At that time we explained that “[w]hile . . . Frye failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under DC-ADM 804 . . . ‘filing an Official Inmate Grievance pursuant to DC-ADM 804 is not required for inmates alleging sexual harassment and/or sexual abuse.'” (Doc. 40, at 19.) Specifically, we found that either DC-ADM 804 or DC-ADM 008 may be used to satisfy administrative exhaustion requirements. (Id., at 18.)

         On March 22, 2019, the defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, claiming that Frye failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under DCM-008 and that his Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against is meritless. (Doc. 52.) For his part, Frye concedes summary judgment with respect to Defendants Glunt and Pasquale. (Doc. 59, ¶ 1.)[1] However, Frye maintains that Defendant Wilt was deliberately indifferent to a serious risk of harm with respect to the initial cell assignment and subsequent failure to remove him from the cell, which allegedly caused Frye to suffer the loss and violation of his constitutional rights. (Doc. 13, ¶ 37.)

         After a review of the record, we find that there are genuine disputes of material fact that preclude summary judgment on Frye's remaining claims at this time. Specifically, the defendants have not shown as a matter of law that Frye has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Further, a stark factual dispute exists concerning whether Sergeant Wilt knew of a serious risk of harm to Frye. Thus, for the following reasons, the defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         III. Standard of Review

         A. Summary Judgment

          The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment in this case. Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the court shall grant summary judgment 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. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Through summary adjudication, a court is empowered to dispose of those claims that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any material fact, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), and for which a trial would be “an empty and unnecessary formality.” Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Int'l, Inc., No. 07-0493, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31615, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2010). The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and “[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). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248-49.

         The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, “the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.” Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the non-moving party “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 at trial, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. ...

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