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Allen v. Eckard

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 14, 2019

ANTHONY ALLEN, Plaintiff
v.
J.A. ECKARD, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          SYLVIA H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Anthony Allen (“Allen”), who is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution Pine Grove in Indiana, Pennsylvania (“SCI Pine Grove”), initiated this civil action by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on June 8, 2017 against Defendants J.A. Eckard (“Eckard”), A. Eberling (“Eberling”), K.M. Sparr (“Sparr”), R.W. Goughnour (“Goughnour”), A. Himes (“Himes”), C. McConnell (“McConnell”), and Nurse Jane Doe. (Doc. No. 1.) Allen alleges that while he was incarcerated at SCI Huntingdon: (1) Defendants Sparr and Goughnour violated his Eighth Amendment rights by using excessive force against him, (2) Defendants Eckard and Eberling violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from the use of force and by failing to train and supervise the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) officers regarding the use of force; (3) Defendant Himes violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by sanctioning him to ninety (90) days in disciplinary confinement; (4) Defendant Himes conspired to “cover up” the use of excessive force by Defendants Sparr and Goughnour; and (6) Defendants McConnell and Jane Doe violated his Eighth Amendment rights by demonstrating deliberate indifference to his medical needs. (Id.) By Order entered on July 19, 2017, the Court granted Allen leave to proceed in forma pauperis and directed service of his complaint upon the Defendants. (Doc. No. 8.)

         On October 16, 2017, Defendants Eckard, Eberling, Goughnour, Himes, and Sparr filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. Nos. 20, 21.) Allen filed a brief in opposition (Doc. No. 24), and a motion for leave to file a supplemental complaint, seeking to substitute C. Swanger for Nurse Jane Doe (Doc. No. 25). By Order entered on January 5, 2018, the Court granted Allen's motion and directed the Clerk of Court to serve his complaint upon Defendant Swanger. (Doc. No. 27.) The Court also directed Allen to, within ten (10) days, provide a current address for Defendant McConnell or show good cause as to why his claims against Defendant McConnell should not be dismissed without prejudice for failure to effect service upon him. (Id.)

         Allen responded with a motion for leave to file a supplemental complaint or, in the alternative, to show cause why the complaint should not be dismissed without prejudice as to Defendant McConnell. (Doc. No. 29.) By Order entered on February 13, 2018, the Court granted Allen's motion insofar as the Clerk of Court was directed to serve the complaint upon Defendant McConnell at the address provided by Allen. (Doc. No. 31.) A summons was issued and mailed, by certified mail, to Defendant McConnell that same day. (Doc. No. 32.) On February 21, 2018, the Court received the signed certified mail receipt, indicating that an unknown individual signed for the summons and copy of the complaint mailed to Defendant McConnell. (Doc. No. 33.)

         By Memorandum and Order entered on May 8, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Defendants Eckard, Eberling, Goughnour, Himes, and Sparr. (Doc. Nos. 39, 40.) Specifically, the Court granted the motion as to Allen's failure to protect claim against Defendants Eckard and Eberling and his due process and conspiracy claims against Defendant Himes and dismissed Defendant Himes from the action. (Id.) The Court denied the motion as to Allen's excessive force and failure to train and supervise claims. (Id.)

         After discovery concluded, Defendants Eberling, Eckard, Goughnour, and Sparr filed a motion for summary judgment and supporting materials. (Doc. Nos. 53, 54, 55.) By Order entered on April 8, 2019, the Court, noting that Defendant Swanger had failed to file a waiver of service, directed that a summons be issued and that the United States Marshals Service serve her with Allen's complaint. (Doc. No. 57.) On April 11, 2019, observing that Defendants Eberling, Eckard, Goughnour, and Sparr raised the issue of whether Allen exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to some of his claims 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.[1] (Doc. No. 58.) The Court provided Defendants fourteen (14) days to “amend or supplement their materials to further address the issue of whether Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies.” (Id.) The Court further noted that Allen 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.)

         On April 11, 2019, counsel filed a notice of appearance, waiver of service, and answer on behalf of Defendant Swanger. (Doc. Nos. 59, 60, 61.) The next day, the Court received Allen's motion for an extension of time to file a brief in opposition to the pending motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 62.) By Order entered on April 22, 2019, the Court granted Allen's motion for an extension, noting that Allen could file his brief in opposition within twenty-one (21) days of either April 25, 2019 or the date that Defendants filed their amended and supplemental materials in response to the Court's April 11, 2019 Order, whichever occurred first. (Doc. No. 64.)

         Defendants Eberling, Eckard, Goughnour, Sparr, and Swanger (collectively, “Defendants”) filed an amended motion for summary judgment and supporting materials on April 25, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 65, 66, 67.) Therefore, by Order entered on May 15, 2019, the Court denied as moot the previously-filed motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 68.) After receiving an extension of time (Doc. Nos. 71, 72), Allen filed his brief in opposition and supporting materials on July 12, 2019 (Doc. Nos. 74-77). Defendants filed their reply brief on July 26, 2019. (Doc. No. 78.) Accordingly, the amended motion for summary judgment is ripe for disposition.

         In another Order entered on May 15, 2019, the Court noted that the proof of service attached to the summons issued to Defendant McConnell had never been returned to the Court. (Doc. No. 69.) The Court further noted that while the docket reflected that counsel for the other Defendants was counsel for Defendant McConnell, it appeared that this was an error, “as counsel previously noted that she was unable to accept service on his behalf because he was not a DOC employee and she never entered a notice of appearance on his behalf.” (Id.) Because the Court could not discern whether Defendant McConnell actually received the summons, the Court directed that a summons be issued and that the United States Marshals Service serve Defendant McConnell with the complaint. (Id.) The Court advised Allen that if Defendant McConnell could not be served, his claims against him may be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to effect service. (Id.) On August 2, 2019, following an inquiry, the Clerk of Court learned that the United States Marshal had attempted to execute the summons, but that Defendant McConnell “was not known” at the address provided by Allen.

         II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A. Standard of Review

          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.” 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. 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. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514, United Bhd. of Carpenters and 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. Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v. Consol. Rail Corp., 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir. 1992); White v. Westinghouse Electric 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 which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party is required by Rule 56 to go beyond his pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. 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.” Matsushita Electric 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 which 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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. See 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. White, 826 F.2d at 59. In doing so, the Court must accept the nonmovant's allegations as true and resolve any conflicts in his favor. 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.” 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, No. 09-CV-1384, 2010 WL 2853261, at *5 (M.D. Pa. July 20, 2010) (pro se parties “are not excused from complying with court orders and the local rules of court”); Thomas v. Norris, No. 02-CV-01854, 2006 WL 2590488, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 8, 2006) (pro se parties must follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure).

         B. Statement of Material Facts [2]

         During his incarceration at SCI Huntingdon, Allen was housed in the RHU. (Doc. No. 67 ¶ 1.) On June 30, 2015, Defendants Sparr and Goughnour were escorting Allen to his cell from the law library. (Id. ¶ 2.) Prior to leaving the law library, Defendant Goughnour pulled Allen's jumpsuit out of his socks.[3] (Id. ¶ 3.)

         Subsequently, an unplanned use of force occurred. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendants Sparr and Goughnour, along with Allen, arrived at Allen's cell at 4:02 p.m. (Id. ¶ 5.) Allen began to “tug[] and pull[]” Defendant Sparr into his cell.[4] (Id. ¶ 6.) To gain control of Allen, Defendants Sparr and Goughnour pulled him out of the cell and placed him on the floor while other officers arrived with leg restraints.[5] (Id. ¶ 7.) Allen was then placed inside a secure search area.[6] (Id. ¶ 8.) No. other force was used against Allen. (Id. ¶ 9.) Allen was subsequently found guilty of misconduct charges of assault, threatening an employee, using abusive language, and refusing to obey an order. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.)

         On July 6, 2015, Allen filed grievance 574224 “concerning the use of force incident that occurred between him and Defendants Sparr and Goughnour.” (Id. ¶ 12.) He did not file a grievance against Defendants Eckard or Eberling “related to a failure to train or supervise RHU officers.”[7] (Id. ΒΆ 13.) Moreover, Allen did not file a grievance against Defendant ...


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