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Williamson v. Cynthia Link

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 15, 2019

CYNTHIA LINK, Defendant.


          JOSHUA D. WOLSON, J.

         In this civil rights action, Defendant Cynthia Link moves for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiff Willie Williamson did not exhaust his administrative remedies. (ECF No. 14.) Williamson did not respond to the summary judgment motion. The Court therefore treats the facts stated in Link's Statement of Undisputed and Undisputable Material Facts (ECF No. 14-1) as undisputed for proposes of resolving this Motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2); see also Chestnut v. Finck, 722 Fed. App'x 115, 119 (3d Cir. 2018) (where plaintiff “failed to dispute the defendants' statement of material facts, the District Court properly deemed those facts admitted”). Because those undisputed facts establish that Williamson did not exhaust his remedies, the Court grants the motion and enters summary judgment on the remaining count against Link.

         I. FACTS

         A. Williamson Suffered An Injury While Incarcerated.

         During the relevant time, Williamson was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford (“SCI-Graterford”). (ECF No. 14-1 ¶ 1.) On August 25, 2016, Williamson transferred to C Block in the prison. (Id. ¶ 4.) At that time, Williamson was assigned to “bottom bunk status” due to a pre-existing medical condition. (Id. ¶ 5.) During the move to a new cell, Williamson received an index card that identified his new cell assignment but not his bottom bunk status. (Id. ¶ 6.) When Williamson arrived at his new cell, an absent cellmate's bed linens were already on the bottom bunk. (Id. ¶ 7.) Williamson told a guard that he had bottom bunk status, and the guard directed Williamson to the C Block's unit manager's office. (Id. ¶ 8.)

         The unit manager was not in his office, but two other individuals were. (Id. ¶ 9.) Williamson reported to them that he had bottom bunk status, and one of the individuals in the office, a Sgt. Nyce, told Williamson to “[d]o what you can do.” (Id. ¶¶ 11-12). When Williamson returned to his cell, his cellmate ignored Williamson's claim that he needed the bottom bunk. (Id. ¶ 13.) Williamson tried to climb to the top bunk and fell, injuring his left shoulder. (Id. ¶ 14.) Afterwards, Williamson's cellmate agreed to let Williamson use the bottom bunk. (Id. ¶ 15.) A few days later, Williamson submitted a sick call slip and visited a healthcare provider. (Id. ¶ 16.) According to his medical records, Williamson first reported an injury to his left shoulder on September 8, 2016, and he first reported that he slipped while climbing onto a top bunk on October 4, 2016. (Id. ¶ 18.) When making these reports, Williamson did not claim that his fall and resulting injury were related to a lack of access to a bottom bunk. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 31.)

         B. Williamson Failed To Follow The Prison's Administrative Procedures To Grieve About His Injury.

         At the time of Williamson's fall and injury, SCI-Graterford had procedures in place for inmates to submit grievances. The applicable grievance policy went into effect in May 2015. (Id. ¶ 20.) That policy permitted Williamson to grieve about how Sgt. Nyce responded to Williamson's concerns and about any policy or practice that Williamson believed that Sgt. Nyce followed. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 23.) The policy also allowed Williamson to request damages for his injury resulting from his fall after trying to climb to the top bunk. (Id. ¶ 22.) If Williamson wanted to file a grievance, he had to do so within fifteen (15) days, using a special form. (Id. ¶ 25.) The grievance forms were available in multiple locations, and bins with the forms were stocked as needed and checked daily. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.) The grievance policy required that Williamson identify the problem, identify who was involved, and set forth any monetary damages requested. (Id.)

         Williamson knew or should have known all of this. On July 21, 2016, Williamson signed a receipt indicating that he received a copy of the inmate handbook that contained information about the applicable grievance procedure, but he never read the handbook. (Id. ¶ 28.) Nonetheless, during his time at SCI-Graterford, Williamson filed numerous grievances, including one that was filed just weeks before his fall. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 30.) Despite knowing how to submit a grievance pursuant to the applicable policy, Williamson never submitted a grievance related to the events at issue in this case. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 24.)

         C. Williamson Filed Suit Due To His Injury.

         Rather than follow the prison's established grievance policy, on August 20, 2018, Williamson filed this lawsuit. (ECF No. 1.) At the time he filed suit, Williamson was incarcerated at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 14-1 ¶¶ 33-34.) The Amended Complaint, which is the operative pleading, raised the following claims: 1) Count I - Section 1983 claim based on an alleged Eighth Amendment violation and a substantive due process violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; 2) Count II - various state common law claims; and 3) Count III - federal claims mirroring those in Count I but focusing on respondeat superior liability due to policies/procedures/training. (ECF No. 1.) Link moved to dismiss all but the Eighth Amendment claim against her, and Williamson's counsel wrote to the Court, advising that Williamson did not oppose Link's partial Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 10.) On November 29, 2018, the Honorable Juan R. Sánchez granted Link's motion, dismissing all federal and state law claims against Link with prejudice except for Williamson's Eighth Amendment claim in Count I. (ECF No. 11.)

         On May 30, 2019, Link filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking judgment in her favor on Williamson's remaining claim based on failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. (ECF No. 14.) Williamson's response was due by June 13, 2019. See Local Civil Rule 7.1(c). Williamson never filed an opposition to Link's Motion, which is now ripe for disposition.

         II. STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) permits a party to seek, and a court to enter, 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). “[T]he plain language of Rule 56[(a)] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who 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 of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quotations omitted). In ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion.'” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (quotation omitted). However, “[t]he non-moving party may not merely deny the allegations in the moving party's pleadings; instead he must show where in the record there exists a genuine dispute over a material fact.” Doe v. Abington ...

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