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Pinson v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2019




         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 16, 2018, Plaintiff Jeremy Pinson (“Plaintiff”), [1] an inmate currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona (“FCI Tucson”), filed a pro se complaint pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), alleging that while incarcerated at USP Allenwood, and while suicidal, she displayed a razor to a correctional officer, who failed to retrieve the razor pursuant to applicable Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) policy. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that she then attempted to remove her testicles and scrotum, resulting in surgery to repair the self-inflicted injuries. (Id.) She further maintains that a nurse “used a pair of unclean pli[e]rs to reach into the open wound on her scrotum and forcibly removed a spring resulting in severe pain, injury to the scrotum and the loss of a chunk of flesh.” (Id.) Plaintiff seeks $1 million in damages as relief. (Id.)

         By Memorandum and Order entered on August 8, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed her complaint as duplicative and barred by res judicata. (Doc. Nos. 12, 13.) The Court concluded that Plaintiff was raising the same claim she had previously raised in Pinson v. United States, No. 17-cv-584 (M.D. Pa. 2017). Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration (Doc. No. 14), arguing that while the incidents were similar, they occurred on two separate dates. By Memorandum and Order entered on November 28, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and directed service of the complaint upon the United States. (Doc. Nos. 15, 16.)

         This matter is before the Court pursuant to the motion for summary judgment filed by the United States of America on April 22, 2019. (Doc. No. 22.) After receiving an extension of time to do so (Doc. Nos. 24, 27), the Government filed its supporting materials on May 13, 2019 (Doc. Nos. 28, 29). After receiving an extension of time (Doc. Nos. 30, 31), Plaintiff filed her brief in opposition and counterstatement of material facts on July 22, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 32, 33.) The Government filed a reply on August 5, 2019. (Doc. No. 34.) That same day, observing that the Government raised the issue of whether Plaintiff had exhausted her administrative remedies with respect to her claim regarding the nurse 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. 35.) The Court provided the United States of America fourteen (14) days to file an amended or supplemental brief “to further address the issue of 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 the Government's statement, within twenty-one (21) days from the date that the Government filed any amended or supplemental materials. (Id.)

         On August 8, 2019, the United States of America filed a letter regarding the Court's August 5, 2019 Order. (Doc. No. 36.) In this letter, the Government states that it has “reviewed the brief in support of [its] motion for summary judgment and the statement of material facts previously filed.” (Id.) It “believes it has fully stated and supported its position on the exhaustion issue in those documents.” (Id.) Accordingly, “the United States will not avail itself of the opportunity to file a supplemental memorandum and statement of material facts but will instead rely on the papers previously filed.” (Id.) In light of the Government's letter and decision to not file supplemental materials, there will be no supplemental materials to which Plaintiff can respond. Accordingly, the 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.” 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).


         Plaintiff was incarcerated at USP Allenwood from March 10, 2016 through July 18, 2016. (Doc. No. 28 ¶ 1.) Upon arrival, she underwent a screening by the psychology department. (Id. ¶ 4.) The psychologist noted that Plaintiff “has an extensive history of mental illness dating back to the age of 10.” (Id. ¶ 5.) The psychologist also indicated that “during periods of anger, [Plaintiff] had been identified as someone who hurts others (people and animals) with objects including knives.” (Id. ¶ 6.) The screening indicated that Plaintiff had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria in June of 2015 and that her psychological treatment had included “therapy sessions focused on depressive issues related to gender dysphoria as well as improving DBT (dialectical behavior therapy)[4] skills.” (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) The psychologist conducting the screening further noted that throughout her incarceration, Plaintiff “regularly received individual counseling but continued to engage in self-harm (cutting wrists, swallowing pills, cutting testicles).”[5] (Id. ¶ 9.) The psychologist was concerned that Plaintiff would engage in self-harm “due to poor distress tolerance and perceived lack of control, ” and noted two (2) prior occasions where Plaintiff “engaged in genitalia mutilation for being distressed over having a penis rather than a vagina.” (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.)

         The psychologist recommended that Plaintiff could be placed into general population, but Plaintiff was placed in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) until cleared by custody. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 13-14.) It was recommended that Plaintiff “have a cellmate as a protective factor, especially while housed in the SHU.” (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff was classified as a care level 3 mental health inmate, and the psychologist decided it was appropriate to see Plaintiff weekly in private sessions. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) The psychologist, however, saw Plaintiff “more frequently than once a week.” (Id. ¶ 17.)

         During his incarceration at USP Allenwood, psychologist A. Handel treated Plaintiff approximately 31 times. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff also saw other psychologists during this period. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff “would often claim suicidal thoughts in order to be seen by the psychologist.”[6] (Id. ¶ 20.) On March 11, 2016, Plaintiff asked to speak with psychology, and the discussion “included a belief that [Plaintiff] did better having a cellmate (which was provided upon placement in SHU).” (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff “spoke positively and the thought process was noted as logical, coherent, and goal oriented.”[7] (Id. ¶ 24.)

         On March 15, 2016, Plaintiff “discussed safety concerns for entering general population and a desire to remain in protective custody” in the SHU. (Id. ¶ 26.) She wanted a transfer to another facility and personal property items, such as female undergarments. (Id. ¶ 27.) The psychologist discussed coping skills with Plaintiff and noted that she “had a more positive outlook since first arriving at USP Allenwood.” (Id. ¶ 28.) The psychologist also noted that Plaintiff's legal work served as another positive outlet “to stay focused in the SHU.”[8] (Id. ¶ 29.)

         On March 22, 2016, Plaintiff reported to the psychologist “feelings of relief and satisfaction with the current cellmate.” (Id. ¶ 32.) She was scheduled for a tele-psychiatry consult later that week so she could discuss a psychiatric medication regimen. (Id. ¶ 34.) She again asked about “appropriate undergarments.”[9] (Id. ¶ 35.) On April 5, 2016, Plaintiff told psychology that she had been experiencing mood swings since “switching to new estrogen medication” and that she was unable to deal with the mood swings.[10] (Id. ¶ 37.) On April 11, 2016, the psychologist noted that Plaintiff “met the criteria to be considered a care level 3 mental health inmate requiring enhanced outpatient mental health care and would be seen weekly.” (Id. ¶ 39.) The psychologist also noted that Plaintiff “threatens to sue staff and engage in self harming behaviors when frustrated” and that she has a long history of “inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger and is prescribed anti-psychotic medication.”[11] (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.)

         On April 21, 2016, it was noted that Plaintiff had recently been released from the administrative detention section of the SHU to the compound, and that she was “adjusting to living in an open space versus being locked down, going to the yard to exercise, cooking food and socializing in the unit.” (Id. ¶¶ 45-46.) Plaintiff reviewed coping skills and “denied suicidal/homicidal or self-injurious behavior ideation, intention or plan.” (Id. ¶ 48.)

         On April 25, 2016, the psychologist noted that Plaintiff “was continuing to adjust to the compound and was looking for a job.” (Id. ¶ 49.) They discussed medications and the importance of Plaintiff taking them as prescribed. (Id. ¶ 50.) Plaintiff was “happy with a mentor assignment and was talking with him every day.” (Id. ¶ 51.) The psychologist and Plaintiff discussed coping skills, and Plaintiff “denied suicidal/homicidal or self-injurious behavior ideation, intention or plan.” (Id. ¶ 52.)

         On May 2, 2016, Plaintiff reported that her adjustment to the compound was “going great, ” she had a job in the kitchen washing pots and pans, and that she “was continuing to do legal work to stay busy and focused.” (Id. ¶¶ 53-54.) Plaintiff denied “suicidal/homicidal or self-injurious behavior ideation, intention or plan.” (Id. ¶ 55.) This report “was viewed as very positive given the lengthy period of time [Plaintiff] was in lockdown status prior to arriving at USP Allenwood.” (Id. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff was “transitioning well to general population.” (Id. ¶ 57.)

         On May 9, 2016, Plaintiff reported having a good week, that she enjoyed working in the kitchen, and that she liked general population at USP Allenwood. (Id. ¶ 58.) She and the psychologist discussed available programs at USP Allenwood and USP Terre Haute. (Id. ¶ 59.) Plaintiff “denied suicidal/homicidal or self-injurious behavior ideation, intention or plan.” (Id. ¶ 60.)

         Later that day, the Chief Psychologist was notified by a Special Investigative Agent (“SIA”) that Plaintiff had reported allegations related to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”). (Id. ¶ 61.) Plaintiff told the Chief Psychologist that another inmate “threatened to ‘pimp' out [Plaintiff] and [her] cellmate.” (Id. ¶ 62.) Plaintiff declined services from a victim advocate. (Id. ¶ 63.) A lieutenant determined “it was appropriate for [Plaintiff] to be housed in the SHU temporarily” while an investigation occurred. (Id. ¶ 64.)

         On May 13, 2016, a psychologist performed a Suicide Risk Assessment of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 65.) Plaintiff's “history was recounted and current problems were listed as ‘extreme inward emotional pain and frustration.'” (Id. ¶ 66.) Plaintiff expressed frustration and irritation at being in the SHU again, stated that she “hated being ‘placed in a box, '” and that she was experiencing urges to cut herself. (Id. ¶ 67.) The psychologist reminded Plaintiff that her placement in the SHU “was a result of the report of PREA and safety concerns which needed to be investigated.” (Id. ¶ 68.) The psychologist noted that Plaintiff's current suicide risk was “moderate” and “present.” (Id. ¶ 70.) A formal suicide watch was initiated “via the use of inmate suicide watch companions.” (Id. ¶ 72.) While on suicide watch, a psychologist evaluated Plaintiff daily. (Id. ¶ 74.) Plaintiff, like other inmates on suicide watch, was not permitted to receive a razor to shave. (Id. ¶ 75.)

         On May 14, 2016, Plaintiff refused to come to the door of her cell to talk to a psychologist. (Id. ¶ 76.) It was noted that she was uncooperative, was being watched by an inmate companion, and that she should stay on suicide watch. (Id. ¶¶ 76-77.) On May 15, 2016, a psychologist noted that Plaintiff's “affect was normal and mood was euthymic.” (Id. ¶ 78.) Plaintiff “reported working closely with a primary psychologist and was upset following placement in SHU due to the fact that emotions oscillate as a result of hormone therapy.” (Id. ¶ 81.) She had not wanted to talk to the psychologist the day before because she “was cold and wanted to stay under the blanket.” (Id. ¶ 82.) Plaintiff explained that at the time of her initial assessment, she was “very upset” about being placed in the SHU. (Id. ¶ 83.) The psychologist concluded that “there was no reason to continue suicide watch placement.”[12] (Id. ¶ 84.)

         On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff expressed “annoyance” at being in the SHU. (Id. ¶ 87.) She “emphasized hating being in isolation again and being on an ‘emotional roller coaster.'” (Id. ¶ 88.) Plaintiff asked about the possibility of having her medication increased. (Id. ΒΆ 89.) The psychologist and Plaintiff ...

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