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Singleton v. Shearer

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 25, 2019




         Plaintiff, Albert Singleton (“Singleton”), a state inmate, filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on June 12, 2017, alleging that he was transferred from the State Correctional Institution at Rockview (“SCI-Rockview”) to the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield (“SCI-Smithfield”) in retaliation for filing a Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”), 42 U.S.C. § 15602, complaint against Defendant Shearer. (Doc. 1). The matter is proceeding via an amended complaint (Doc. 24) which names Corrections Officer Shearer, Jr. (“Shearer”), Corrections Officer Miller (“Miller”), and Hearing Examiner T. Pilosi, now known as Trisha Walter (“Walter”), as Defendants. (Doc. 95, n.4). Included in the amended complaint are First, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, a civil rights conspiracy claim, and state law claims. (Doc. 24).

         Pending is Defendants' motion (Doc. 93) for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment.


         Summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). “[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) (emphasis in original); Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097, 1111 (3d Cir. 1990). A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Id.; 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. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d Cir. 1996). Although the moving party must establish an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not “support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Celotex, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can meet its burden by “pointing out ... that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims.” Id. at 325.

         Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (stating that the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”); Wooler v. Citizens Bank, 274 Fed.Appx. 177, 179 (3d Cir. 2008). The party opposing the motion must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of proving at trial, because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see also Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992). “[T]he non-moving party ‘may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must . . . set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.'” Picozzi v. Haulderman, 2011 WL 830331, *2 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2)). “Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true.” Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America. Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         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. The adverse party must raise “more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor” and cannot survive by relying on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant will not be adequate to support a denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for the non-movant on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.


         A. PREA Incidents

         On December 27, 2016, Singleton verbally reported to PREA Investigating Lieutenant Eric Selfridge (“Selfridge”), incidents of sexual harassment by Defendant Shearer that occurred on December 22, 2016. (Doc. 95, ¶ 1). Selfridge interviewed Singleton on December 29, 2016, and Singleton submitted a written statement identifying two separate incidents of sexual abuse and harassment. (Id. at 2). Singleton reported that, while walking up the stairs, Shearer allegedly stuck his hand through the bottom of the stairs and touched his foot. (Doc. 93-3, Declaration of Selfridge (“Selfridge Decl.”), ¶ 9). The second incident occurred later that evening. (Id. at 10). Specifically, Singleton reported that Shearer approached him on A-Unit 4 range and made inappropriate comments. (Id.).

         After reviewing camera footage of the stairwell, Selfridge concluded that the allegation was inconclusive and would not be investigated further. (Id. at 11). Seflridge made Singleton aware of this conclusion during the interview. (Id. at 12). Following review of the camera footage of the A-Unit 4 range incident, which depicted Shearer having a conversation with Singleton, Selfridge launched an investigation into the allegation of sexual harassment. (Id. at 13). Singleton did not have any witnesses. (Id. at 14). He did, however, indicate that he reported the A-Unit 4 range incident to Lieutenant Monoskey (“Monoskey”) on December 23, 2016, while they were in the yard. (Doc. 93-3, Selfridge Decl., ¶17). Because there was no allegation of physical contact, Shearer remained on Singleton's housing unit during the investigation. (Id. at 15).

         Selfridge limited disclosure of Singleton's complaints to his designated supervisors and individuals necessary to assist in investigating the claims. (Id. at 16). He interviewed Monoskey on December 29, 2016, who confirmed that Singleton did approach him but did not provide specific details; Monoskey advised Singleton to contact Selfridge. (Id. at 18). Selfridge was unable to interview Defendant Shearer until January 23, 2017. (Id. at 25). When interviewed, Shearer stated that at the time of the incident he was assigned to A-Unit on December 22, 2016. He admitted to having a conversation with Singleton about what Singleton was doing on the 4 range when he lived on 5 range. (Id. at 26). Shearer stated that at no time did he say anything inappropriate to Singleton. (Id.)

         On February 17, 2017, Selfridge notified Singleton that his allegation of sexual harassment was unsubstantiated due to insufficient evidence to prove his version of events. (Id. at 28).

         Defendant Shearer did not become aware of the PREA complaint against him until the January 23, 2017 interview with Selfridge. (Doc. 93-3, Selfridge Decl., ¶ 25). Defendants Miller and Walter were not aware that Singleton filed a PREA complaint until they read his complaint. (Doc. 93-8, Declaration of Officer Zachary Miller (“Miller Decl.”) ¶ 5; Doc. 93-9, Declaration of Trisha (Pilosi) Walter (“Walter Decl.”) ¶ 16).

         B. January 2, 2017 Assault

         Singleton alleges that upon returning to his cell on January 2, 2017, unknown inmates attacked him and left him bleeding on his cell floor. (Doc. 24, ¶¶ 36, 38). Allegedly, one of the inmates stated “Don't kill him, Shearer just said f--- him up.” (Id. at 37). He alleges that he saw the silhouette of a corrections officer during the assault who stated “don't tell…take it like a man.” (Id. at 38). He now contends, that witnesses are “clearly willing to testify that Defendant Shearer was the officer who stood by and watched several inmates assault [him]….” (Id.). Singleton did ...

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