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Zamichieli v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 9, 2019

LAMONT ZAMICHIELI, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          CYNTHIA REED EDDY, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Rehabilitation Act filed by pro se Plaintiff Lamont Zamichieli, a Pennsylvania inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill. There are currently four motions for summary judgment pending before the Court. Three of the motions were filed by Defendants: (1) the Commonwealth Defendants, which is comprised of the Department of Corrections, and the following individuals who were employed at SCI-Greene during the relevant time period: CHCA William Nicholson, Unit Manager Tina Staley, Mr. Spiker, CO Liptak, CO Price, CCPM Karen Sokol, DSCS Mark DiAlesandro, Dan Caro, Superintendent Robert Gilmore, and Tracey Shawley (collectively referred to as the “Commonwealth Defendants”) (ECF No. 101); (2) Dr. Robert Valley, who was employed by the prison's medical contractor and examined / treated Plaintiff during the relevant time period (ECF No. 96); and (3) Defendants Natalie D. Austin, PA-C, Lori Ridings, CRNP, and Mike Hice, medical staff employees of the prison's medical contractor during the relevant time period (collectively referred to as the “Medical Defendants”) (ECF No. 122). Plaintiff directly responded to each of these motions and also filed his own motion for summary judgment against all Defendants, (ECF No. 126), to which all Defendants have responded.

         In light of the issuance of the recent decision of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Furgess v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, --- F.3d --, 2019 WL 3720871 (3d Cir. Aug. 9, 2019), the Court ordered that by September 6, 2019, the parties were submit supplemental briefing addressing the application of that decision, if any, to their pending motions for summary judgment. Defendants have complied with that order (ECF Nos. 156, 157, and 159) and their supplemental briefing has been taken into consideration. At the time of filing this Memorandum Opinion, Plaintiff had not filed a supplemental brief.

         The motions are have been fully brief[2] and are ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motions, the voluminous material in support and opposition thereto, the memoranda of the parties in support and opposition thereto, the relevant case law, and the record as a whole, the Court will grant each of the Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment in their entirety and deny Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment in its entirety.

         Background

         Plaintiff has had an order for lower tier/ lower bunk since March 21, 2015, as an accommodation for his seizure disorder. On December 22, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred to SCI-Greene, where the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred.[3] Upon arrival at SCI-Greene, Plaintiff was temporarily housed in the administrative custody unit where he was housed in a lower tier/ lower bunk. On December 30, 2016, he was released to general population, where he was housed in a lower bunk, upper tier cell. According to Plaintiff, after he was released to general population, he regularly began making requests to both prison and medical staff to be moved to a lower tier cell to accommodate his disability. On the morning of February 13, 2017, while in line to receive medication a nurse noticed that Plaintiff's eyes were dilated and suspected he just had, or was about to have, a seizure. He was referred to Dr. Valley, who sent Plaintiff to Washington Hospital Greene, the local hospital, for evaluation and treatment. Plaintiff returned to SCI-Greene that afternoon and was sent back to general population. Sometime after his return that day, Plaintiff was informed by Defendant Spiker that he would be moved to a lower tier/ lower bunk cell, but the move would have to wait until the next day when an appropriate bed would be available. The next morning, February 14, 2017, he was told to pack his things as he was being moved to a lower tier cell. While descending the staircase to move his property from the second tier to his lower tier cell, he had a seizure and fell down the stairs suffering a number of injuries. Plaintiff claims that his rights under the Eighth Amendment, the ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act were violated when all Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by failing to timely move him to a lower tier cell to accommodate his seizure condition.

         Next, he claims that his constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment were violated when he was sexually abused by Defendant Nurse Austin, and when Defendants Ridings and Hice failed to protect him from such sexual abuse.[4]

         He also claims that he was subjected to a number of retaliatory actions by several defendants, including a retaliatory transfer to SCI-Huntingdon and several false/retaliatory misconducts, which violated his constitutional rights under the First Amendment.

         Standard of Review

         The standard for assessing a Motion for Summary Judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is well-settled. A court should grant summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Furthermore, “summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 250.

         On a motion for summary judgment, the facts and the inferences to be drawn therefrom should be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)). The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The party opposing the motion, however, cannot rely merely upon bare assertions, conclusory allegations, or suspicions to support its claim. The nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, and must produce more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact. See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America, Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         This standard is somewhat relaxed with respect to pro se litigants. Where a party is representing himself pro se, the filings are to be construed liberally. Thus, if the Court can reasonably read Plaintiff's pleadings together with his summary judgment submissions to show an entitlement to relief, the Court should do so despite any failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or the litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969) (although a filing prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn, it should be read “with a measure of tolerance”). Nonetheless, at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings, the Court is not required to credit any “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions” that are unaccompanied by evidentiary support. Jones v. UPS, 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990) (“[U]nsupported allegations . . . and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment.”).

         Notably, these summary judgment rules do not apply any differently where there are cross-motions pending. Lawrence v. City of Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008). As stated by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit,"' [c]ross-motions are no more than a claim by each side that it alone is entitled to summary judgment, and the making of such inherently contradictory claims does not constitute an agreement that if one is rejected the other is necessarily justified or that the losing party waives judicial consideration and determination whether genuine issues of material fact exist.'" Id. (quoting Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968)). If review of cross-motions reveals no genuine issue of material fact, then judgment may be granted in favor of the party entitled to judgment in view of the law and undisputed facts. Iberia Foods Corp. v. Romeo, 150 F.3d 298, 302 (3d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

         Discussion

         Following the Court's ruling on the motions to dismiss, the remaining claims in this case are: (1) ADA and Eighth Amendment claims against all Defendants for delay in approving lower bunk status; (2) Eighth Amendment claims against Defendant Austin for sexual assault and against Hice and Ridings for failing to protect Plaintiff against the sexual assaults; and (3) First Amendment retaliatory claims against the Commonwealth Defendants and Defendants Austin and Ridings. See Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part the motions to dismiss. ECF Nos. 62, 63.

         Discovery has now closed and the parties have each filed motions for summary judgment. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims are deficient on the merits. Additionally, all Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies as to his claims regarding the delay in transferring him to a lower tier cell, and the Medical Defendants further argue that Plaintiff did not properly exhaust any of his claims against them, which results in those claims being barred by the mandatory exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). The Court will first turn to Defendants' arguments regarding PLRA exhaustion.

         A. Claims Not Exhausted Under The PLRA

         As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently stated:

The PLRA states that ‘[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [§ 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.' 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion is considered separately for each claim brought by an inmate, and if a complaint includes both exhausted and unexhausted claims, courts will dismiss the latter but not the former. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 219-20 (2007). The Supreme Court has held that the PLRA requires what is known as ‘proper exhaustion,' meaning that inmates must comply with the rules and procedures of prison administrative systems. See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006) (“Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.”). We have held that these procedural requirements are drawn from the policies of the prison in question rather than from any free-standing federal law. Spruill [v. Gillis], 372 F.3d [218,, 231 (3d Cir. 2004)]. Thus, we look to the grievance policy at SCI Graterford to determine whether [Plaintiff] has properly exhausted his remedies as required by the PLRA. See Inmate Grievance System -DC-ADM 804, Pa. Dep't of Corr. (May 1, 2015) (“DC-ADM 804”), available at https://www.cor.pa.gov/About%20Us/Documents/DOC%20Policies/804%20Inm ate%20Grievances.pdf

Shifflett v. Korszniak, -- F.3d --, 2019 WL 3772104, at *6 (3d Cir. Aug. 12, 2019). “The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). Because “prison grievance procedures supply the yardstick for measuring procedural default, ” Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218');">372 F.3d 218, 231 (3d Cir. 2004), inmates who fail to fully complete the prison grievance process are barred from subsequently litigating those claims in federal court. See, e.g., Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289 (3d Cir. 2000), aff'd, 532 U.S. 731 (2001).

         As recognized by the court in Shifflett, DC-ADM 804 governs the grievance and appeals process in Pennsylvania corrections systems. DC-ADM 804 “provides a three-step process, with final review of grievances performed by the Secretary's Office [of Inmate Grievances and Appeals (“SOIGA”)], ” and “a plaintiff must follow each of these steps to exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA.” Spearman v. Morris, 643 Fed.Appx. 82, 85 (3d Cir. 2016) (citing Booth, 206 F.3d at 299; Jenkins v. Morton, 148 F.3d 257, 259 (3d Cir. 1988)) (emphasis in original). Against this backdrop, the Court will discuss whether Plaintiff has properly exhausted his administrative remedies as to each of his claims.[5]

         1. Eighth Amendment, ADA, and Rehabilitation Act - Failure to Timely Move Plaintiff to Lower Tier Status[6]

         All three groups of Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to his claim about reassignment to a lower tier cell. Plaintiff contends that he made numerous complaints, both orally and in writing, to the Defendants about his need for a lower tier cell. The summary judgment evidence of record, however, demonstrates that Plaintiff did not file any grievances complaining of his placement on an upper tier during the period of December 30, 2016, through February 13, 2017. In fact, the parties agree, and the summary judgment record reflects, that the only grievance filed by Plaintiff regarding his cell placement was filed on February 15, 2017, the day after he was assigned to a lower bunk / lower tier and fell moving to his lower tier cell. See Grievance 6605043, dated 2/15/2017 (ECF No. 104-3). See also Declaration of Carol Scire (Plaintiff “did not file a grievance relating to his cell placement on an upper tier” during the time period December 30, 2016 through February 13, 2017.) (ECF No. 104-2); Declaration of Constance Green (Plaintiff “did not file any requests or grievances between 12/30/2016 and 2/14/1017 relating to his cell placement on an upper tier, or any reason.”) (ECF No. 147-2).

         In his deposition, Plaintiff conceded that he had never filed a grievance about his cell placement prior to his fall. See Plaintiff s Depo at 39 (ECF No. 125-13).[7] And although Plaintiff testified that he told Defendant Austin that he needed a lower tier cell, the medical record evidence is void of any reference that Plaintiff ever told anyone in the medical department that he needed a lower tier cell. The Verifications of Natalie Austin, Lori Ridings, and Michael Hice, offered in support of the Medical Defendants' motion for summary judgment, all reflect the following:

• At no time, between December 2016 and February 14, 2017, the day Lamont Zamichieli fell, did he ever discuss with the Medical Defendants that he needed or wanted a bottom tier, bottom bunk cell.
• At no time, between December 2016 and February 14, 2017, did the Medical Defendants receive or were made aware of any Inmate Request Forms from Lamont Zamichieli regarding needing or wanting to be on a bottom tier, bottom bunk cell.[8]
• At no time, between December 2016 and February 14, 2017, did the Medical Defendants ever receive a grievance from Lamont Zamichieli complaining that he needed or wanted a bottom tier, bottom bunk cell.

See ECF No. 125-14, 125-15, 125-16.

         Dr. Valley produced an Affidavit in which he likewise avers that,

• At no time, between December 2016 and February 14, 2017, did he receive any written or oral communications from Lamont Zamichieli regarding the need ...

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