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Coit v. Garman

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 26, 2019

KEVIN COIT, Plaintiff
MR. GARMAN, et al., Defendants

         Judge Kane)


         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Kevin Coit (“Plaintiff”), an individual currently confined at the State Correctional Institution Smithfield in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (“SCI Smithfield”), initiated the above-captioned action by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 14, 2017, asserting claims of excessive force, sexual assault, failure to protect, excessive cell searches, unconstitutional conditions of confinement, retaliation, and denial of access to the courts in violation of the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff asserts that these violations occurred while he was incarcerated at SCI Rockview in Pennsylvania. (Id.) On September 6, 2017, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis and directed service of his complaint on Defendants Mr. Garman (“Garman”), Mr. Pasquale (“Pasquale”), Mr. Hashenberger (“Harshbarger”), Lt. Gates (“Gates”), Lylttle (“Lytle”), Sergeant Clevland (“Cleveland”), [1] C.O. Condo (“Condo”), CO Florey (“Florey”), CO Conklin (“Conklin”), CO Seymour (“Seymour”), CO Ward (“Ward”), CO Edwards (“Edwards”), and Hearing Examiner Pilosi (“Pilosi”). (Doc. No. 7.) Defendants filed their answer on December 7, 2017. (Doc. No. 27.)

         After engaging in discovery, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 52) and supporting materials (Doc. Nos. 53, 60). Plaintiff subsequently filed a brief in opposition (Doc. No. 65), statement of facts (Doc. No. 66), and exhibits (Doc. No. 68). Defendants then filed a reply brief. (Doc. No. 69.) On February 25, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting leave to refile his brief in opposition (Doc. No. 75), as well as his proposed corrected brief (Doc. No. 77). In an Order dated April 2, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion and directed Defendants to file any reply brief they wished to file within seven (7) days. (Doc. No. 79.) After receiving an extension of time, Defendants filed their reply brief on April 19, 2019. (Doc. No. 82.)

         On May 2, 2019, observing that Defendants raised the issue of whether Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to certain in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), the Court issued a Paladino Order informing the parties that it would consider the exhaustion issue in the context of summary judgment and, by doing so, would consider matters outside the pleadings in its role as factfinder.[2] (Doc. No. 83.) The Court provided Defendants fourteen (14) days to “amend or supplement their materials to further address whether Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies.” (Id.) The Court further noted that Plaintiff should file a brief in opposition addressing the issue of administrative exhaustion, as well as a statement of material facts specifically responding to Defendants' statement, within twenty-one (21) days from the date that Defendants filed any amended or supplemental materials. (Id.)

         Defendants had until May 16, 2019 to amend or supplement their materials to further address the issue of administrative exhaustion. Defendants, however, did not file any supplemental materials. Accordingly, because there are no supplemental materials for Plaintiff to respond to, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is ripe for resolution.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the Court to render 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.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[T]his standard provides that 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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. See id. at 248; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514, United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., 927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).

         When determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the Court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir. 1992); White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In order to avoid summary judgment, however, the nonmoving party may not rest on the unsubstantiated allegations of his or her pleadings. When the party seeking summary judgment satisfies its burden under Rule 56 of identifying evidence that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party is required to go beyond his pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts that give rise to a genuine issue. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The party opposing the motion “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). When Rule 56 shifts the burden of production to the nonmoving party, that party must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case that it bears the burden of proving at trial, for “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see also Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992).

         In determining whether an issue of material fact exists, the Court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See White, 862 F.2d at 59. In doing so, the Court must accept the nonmovant's allegations as true and resolve any conflicts in his favor. See id. (citations omitted). However, a party opposing a summary judgment motion must comply with Local Rule 56.1, which specifically directs the oppositional party to submit a “statement of the material facts, responding to the numbered paragraphs set forth in the statement required [to be filed by the movant], as to which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue to be tried”; if the nonmovant fails to do so, “[a]ll material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be admitted.” See L.R. 56.1. A party cannot evade these litigation responsibilities in this regard simply by citing the fact that he is a pro se litigant. These rules apply with equal force to all parties. See Sanders v. Beard, Civ. No. 09-1384, 2010 WL 2853261, at *5 (M.D. Pa. July 20, 2010) (stating that pro se parties “are not excused from complying with court orders and the local rules of court”); Thomas v. Norris, Civ. No. 02-01854, 2006 WL 2590488, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 8, 2006) (explaining that pro se parties must follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure).


         A. Statement of Material Facts [3]

         1. Facts Regarding the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) Grievance Procedure

         DOC policy DC-ADM 804 provides that an inmate may file a grievance when “personally affected by a Department or institutional action or policy or by the action of a Department employee.” (Doc. No. 53 ¶ 63.) A grievance must be submitted, in writing, to the Facility Grievance Coordinator at the facility where the events complained of occurred, using the grievance form available on all housing units and blocks. (Id. ¶¶ 63-64.) A grievance must be submitted within fifteen (15) working days from the event upon which it is based. (Id. ¶ 63.) The grievance must: (1) include a statement of relevant facts; (2) identify anyone who may possess information that could assist in resolving the grievance; and (3) specifically state any claims “concerning violations of Department directives, regulations, court orders, or other law.” (Id. ¶ 65.) Upon receipt, the Facility Grievance Coordinator “assign[s] a properly submitted grievance to a grievance officer not involved in the case to make a written response to the grievant.” (Id. ¶ 66.) The Facility Grievance Coordinator reviews the response before it is provided to the inmate. (Id.)

         An inmate may appeal the initial response to the Facility Manager (Superintendent). (Id. ¶ 67.) The Facility Manager then provides a written response to the inmate. (Id. ¶ 68.) The Facility Manager “may uphold the response, uphold the inmate, dismiss, dismiss as untimely, or uphold in part/deny in part.” (Id.) The Facility Manager can also choose to remand the initial response to the grievance officer for further investigation or reconsideration. (Id.)

         An inmate may appeal the Facility Manager's response to final review by the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals (“SOIGA”) within fifteen (15) working days of the date of the Facility Manager's decision. (Id. ¶ 69.) Only issues appealed to the Facility Manager may be appealed to SOIGA. (Id.) SOIGA then reviews the grievance, the initial response, the appeal to the Facility Manager and the Facility Manager's response, any relevant investigative reports, and the appeal to final review. (Id. ¶ 70.) SOIGA “may uphold the response, uphold the inmate['s argument], dismiss the appeal, dismiss as untimely or uphold in part/deny in part.” (Id. ¶ 71.) SOIGA maintains a copy of its response and provide a copy of the response to the inmate and the Facility Manager. (Id.) “An inmate has not properly completed the grievance procedure unless he properly appeals his grievance to” SOIGA. (Id.)

         2. Facts Regarding the Handcuff Incident

         On February 24, 2017, Plaintiff refused to allow Defendants Cleveland and Condo to pat-search him while he was outside of his cell. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff went back inside his cell but refused to have the handcuffs removed. (Id. ¶ 4.) Accordingly, a tether was attached to the handcuffs. (Id.) Defendants Cleveland and Condo held the tether and struggled to remove Plaintiff's handcuffs through the aperture of his closed cell door.[4] (Id. ¶ 5.) After the handcuffs were removed, Plaintiff refused to put his hands and arms back inside the cell. (Id. ¶ 6.) After a struggle, Defendants Cleveland and Condo successfully pushed Plaintiff's hands and arms back into the cell. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Less than four (4) minutes later, a corrections officer observed Plaintiff cutting himself with an object. (Id. ¶ 8.) When asked, Plaintiff confirmed that he had been cutting himself. (Id. ¶ 9.) Two (2) minutes later, an officer arrived and asked Plaintiff if he wanted to go to the medical department. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff was ultimately removed from his cell and taken to the medical department. (Id. ¶ 11.) On March 17, 2017, a report of the incident was completed. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         3. Facts Regarding Plaintiff's Cell Conditions and Searches and Allegations of Abuse, Harassment, and Retaliation

         Plaintiff's cell was searched on February 24, 2017.[5] (Id. ¶ 13.) On March 3, 2017, the grievance coordinator received grievance 667858 from Plaintiff, in which Plaintiff complained about what happened on February 24, 2017. (Id. ¶ 14.) On March 6, 2017, the grievance coordinator received grievance 667721 from Plaintiff, in which Plaintiff raised claims of abuse, harassment, and threats by corrections officers. (Id. ¶ 16.) On March 9, 2017, Plaintiff withdrew grievance 667858 and an allegation of abuse. (Id. ¶ 15.) Grievance 667721 was ultimately denied, and Plaintiff's appeal was dismissed as untimely. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) On final appeal, the dismissal of Plaintiff's appeal as untimely was upheld. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         On March 13, 2017, Plaintiff submitted grievance 668547, claiming that he had been assaulted by another inmate and that corrections officers had failed to protect him. (Id. ¶ 19.) The grievance was denied, and Plaintiff's appeal of the denial was dismissed as untimely. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) The dismissal of Plaintiff's appeal as untimely was upheld in his final appeal.[6] (Id. ¶ 21.) On April 14, 2017, the grievance coordinator received grievance 673645, in which Plaintiff claimed that he had been placed in a cell covered in feces and had been abused by corrections officers. (Id. ¶ 46.) The grievance was also denied, and Plaintiff did not appeal. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         On April 17, 2017, the grievance coordinator received grievance 673563, in which Plaintiff raised claims of harassment, retaliation, and excessive cell searches.[7] (Id. ¶ 48.) After the grievance was denied, the denial was upheld at both appellate stages. (Id. ¶ 49.) On May 22, 2017, the grievance coordinator received grievance 678886, in which Plaintiff raised claims of threats of abuse, harassment, and retaliation by correctional officers. (Id. ¶ 58.) Similar to his other grievances, this grievance was denied, and Plaintiff's appeal to the facility manager was also dismissed as untimely. (Id. ¶ 59.) On June 6, 2017, the grievance coordinator received grievance 681148, in which Plaintiff again raised claims of harassment and retaliation. (Id. ¶ 60.) This grievance was rejected for not being submitted within fifteen (15) days of the events of which Plaintiff complained. (Id. ¶ 61.) On appeal, the facility manager upheld the rejection, and the appeal to final review was dismissed because Plaintiff had not provided required or legible documentation for review. (Id. ¶ 62.)

         4. Facts Regarding Plaintiff's Assault by Another Inmate

         On March 22, 2017, Plaintiff was assaulted and stabbed by another inmate while in SRTU Room 102.[8] (Id. ¶ 22.) Three (3) corrections officers immediately responded and separated Plaintiff from the other inmate.[9] (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff received medical attention for his injuries. (Id. ¶ 24.) On March 23, 2017, the Facility Grievance Coordinator received grievance 670073, in which Plaintiff claimed that the assault and stabbing resulted from corrections officers' failure to protect him. (Id. ¶ 25.) The grievance was denied, and that decision was upheld through both levels of appeal. (Id. ¶ 26.) On March 23, 2017, the Facility Grievance Coordinator received grievance 670072, in which Plaintiff raised claims of harassment, threats, retaliation, and destruction of legal documents by corrections officers.[10] (Id. ¶ 27.) The grievance was also denied, and that denial was upheld by the Facility Manager. (Id. ¶ 28.) On final review, SOIGA dismissed the grievance as untimely. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         5. Facts Regarding Plaintiff's Cell Extraction for Medical Assessment

         On April 10, 2017, Plaintiff refused to be assessed by medical staff. (Id. ¶ 30.) Corrections officers planned to take Plaintiff to the medical department to be monitored because he had refused ten (10) consecutive meals. (Id. ¶ 31.) Accordingly, an extraction team was assembled and briefed. (Id. ¶ 32.) When the extraction team arrived at his cell, Plaintiff complied with orders to leave. (Id. ¶ 33.) He was placed in a restraint chair and escorted to the medical department without incident.[11] (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.)

         After arriving at the medical department, Plaintiff was removed from the restraint chair and placed in TBO cell 101. (Id. ¶ 36.) At this time, he refused a medical assessment. (Id.) After medical staff took photographs, Plaintiff refused to comply with orders to change into an anti-suicide smock; therefore, it was ordered that his clothes be cut off with shears. (Id. ¶ 37.) As officers started to cut away Plaintiff's clothes, Plaintiff became aggressive, shouting for them to stop twisting his wrist and to remove a finger from his eye. (Id. ¶ 38.) As the smock was placed on Plaintiff, he began “to yell at the officers, ‘get your finger out of my ass.'” (Id. ¶ 40.) Video of the incident, however, shows that Plaintiff's wrists were not twisted and that nothing was placed in his eye or his rectum.[12] (Id. ¶¶ 39, 41.) Plaintiff attempted to move away from the officers, and they placed him on the ground to regain control. (Id. ¶ 42.) Once they regained control of him, officers placed Plaintiff on the cell bed to put the smock on and to have more medical photographs taken. (Id. ¶ 43.) Plaintiff told the officers that he was going to start spitting, so they placed a spit hood on him. (Id. ¶ 44.) Subsequently, the officers removed Plaintiff's shackles and spit hood and left him in the medical cell. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         On April 24, 2017, the grievance coordinator received grievance 674828, in which Plaintiff claimed that the officers had used excessive force against him during the April 10, 2017 incident. (Id. ¶ 54.) The grievance was denied, and Plaintiff's appeal to the facility manager was dismissed as untimely. (Id. ¶ 55.) Plaintiff returned from medical on May 16, 2017 and was moved into cell GA-1002.[13] (Id. ¶ 56.)

         6. Facts Regarding Plaintiff's Misconduct Hearing

         Plaintiff appeared before Defendant Pilosi for a misconduct hearing on April 17, 2017. (Id. ¶ 51.) This misconduct hearing involved three (3) separate incidents, including Plaintiff's “combative behavior towards the officers during the April 10, 2017 escort to medical.” (Id. ¶ 52.) The misconduct involving the events of April 10, 2017 was dismissed without prejudice. (Id. ¶ 53 n.3.) For the other two misconducts, Plaintiff was sanctioned to 180 days of loss of privileges and 180 days of disciplinary custody. (Id. ¶ 53.)

         B. Defendants' Motion ...

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