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Bloom v. Hollibaugh

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 18, 2019

RYAN J. BLOOM, Plaintiff,
LISA HOLLIBAUGH, et al., Defendants.


          Karoline Mehalchick, United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a counseled civil rights action, initiated upon the filing of the original complaint in this matter by Plaintiff, Ryan Bloom (“Plaintiff”) on June 6, 2016. (Doc. 1). The amended complaint, which stands as the operative pleading in this matter, asserts federal civil rights and state law claims against various employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”), brought in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, U.S.C. § 1343, and 28 U.S.C. § 1367. (Doc. 68). Plaintiff’s claims arise from his alleged physical and sexual assault while incarcerated at the State Correctional Institutions at Smithfield (“SCI-Smithfield”) and Waymart (“SCI-Waymart”). (Doc. 68).

         Presently before the Court are three separate motions for summary judgment, filed by the remaining Defendants in this matter. (Doc. 131); (Doc. 136); (Doc. 141). On February 27, 2019, the following Defendants (collectively referred to as the “Corrections Defendants”) filed a motion for summary judgment, along with supporting papers: the DOC; Lisa Hollibaugh, Assistant to the Superintendent at SCI-Smithfield; Jay Whitesel, former Deputy Superintendent at SCI-Smithfield; Defendant Oliver, a corrections officer at SCI-Smithfield (“CO Oliver”); Justin Lear, a corrections officer at SCI-Smithfield (“Lt. Lear”); James Bard, a corrections officer at SCI-Smithfield (“CO Bard”); Defendant Abrashoff, a corrections officer at SCI-Smithfield (“CO Abrashoff”); Wayne Gavin, Superintendent at SCI-Waymart; Joseph J. Vinansky, Assistant to the Superintendent at SCI-Waymart; Defendant Martin, a corrections officer at SCI-Waymart (“Sgt. Martin”); Defendant Strasburger, a corrections officer at SCI-Waymart (“CO Strasburger”); Defendant James, a corrections officer at SCI-Waymart (“CO James”); and Defendant Broadhead, a corrections officer at SCI-Waymart (“CO Broadhead”). (Doc. 131); (Doc. 132); (Doc. 133); (Doc. 134); (Doc. 135). Defendant Fisher, the former Superintendent at SCI-Smithfield, and Defendant Gillmen, a former physician’s assistant at SCI-Smithfield (“PA Gillmen”), then respectively filed motions for summary judgment and supporting papers on February 28, 2019. (Doc. 136); (Doc. 137); (Doc. 138); (Doc. 139); (Doc. 141); (Doc. 142); (Doc. 143).

         For the reasons stated herein, the Corrections Defendants’ motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, Defendant Fisher’s motion is GRANTED, and PA Gillmen’s motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background and Procedural History[1]

         The events giving rise to this action occurred between June 2014 and September 2014, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield and then at SCI-Waymart. Plaintiff filed the Original Complaint after he was released on parole in May of 2016, and, after a lengthy procedural history, filed the Amended Complaint on June 19, 2017. (Doc. 68).

         The amended complaint alleges that Plaintiff, a known gang drop out on the DOC’s mental health roster, received administrative custody (“AC”) status for his own protection while incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield. (Doc. 68, at 6). Based on his AC status, Plaintiff was placed in SCI-Smithfield’s restricted housing unit (“RHU”). (Doc. 68, at 6). On June 7, 2014, Lt. Lear ordered that Plaintiff share a cell with another inmate, Michael Holtzman (“Holtzman”). (Doc. 68, at 6). Despite Plaintiff’s objections to the cell assignment, and subsequent requests to be moved, Lt. Lear and CO Abrashoff refused to move Plaintiff from the shared cell. (Doc. 6, at 6). Until his move to a new cell on June 11, 2014, Plaintiff endured repeated acts of sexual assault by Holtzman. (Doc. 68, at 10). Plaintiff alleges that he received no medical or psychiatric care in response to the injuries he sustained from Holtzman, and that several Defendants mishandled his related inmate grievances. (Doc. 68, at 10-26).

         The amended complaint further alleges that, after attempting to take his own life on July 26, 2014, Plaintiff was transferred to a mental health facility at SCI-Waymart. (Doc. 68, at 27-28). While housed in the therapeutic housing unit at SCI-Waymart, Plaintiff had a verbal altercation with CO Strasburger on September 5, 2014. (Doc. 68, 29). CO Strasburger, along with Sgt. Martin, CO James, and CO Broadhead, then allegedly physically assaulted Plaintiff and proceeded to place him in five-point restraints for approximately sixteen hours. (Doc. 68, at 27-34). Plaintiff attempted to grieve this incident through the DOC grievance system but alleges that Defendants Gavin and Vinasky blocked his grievance from moving forward. (Doc. 68, at 34-35).

         Plaintiff also asserts that he was discriminated against and unfairly denied, or limited access to, many aspects of DOC programming because of his mental disability while incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield and SCI-Waymart. (Doc. 68, at 38). These resources included use of the law library, use of the commissary, educational programming, sports activities, physical exercise, common mealtimes, and a security installed mailbox for sending correspondence and filing prisoner complaints to DOC staff. (Doc. 68, at 38-39). Had the DOC offered him reasonable housing accommodations, medical care, and psychological counseling, Plaintiff claims that he would have been able to participate in DOC programming on equal footing. (Doc. 68, at 39). Plaintiff further alleges the DOC, by and through its agents, discriminated against him on the basis of his mental disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-34, and the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 791-94g. (Doc. 68, at 39).

         At this stage of litigation, the following claims in the Amended Complaint remain:

• A Deliberate Indifference to Imminent Harm and Failure to Protect Claim brought under the Eighth Amendment against Lt. Lear and CO Abrashoff (Count II);
• A Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs Claim brought under the Eighth Amendment against CO Bard, CO Abrashoff, and PA Gillmen (Count III);
• An Excessive Use of Force claim brought under the Eighth Amendment against Sgt. Martin, CO Strasburger, CO James, and CO Broadhead (Count V);
• A Failure to Intervene Claim brought under the Eighth Amendment against Sgt. Martin, CO Strasburger, CO James, and CO Broadhead (Count VI);
• A Deliberate Indifference to Imminent Harm and failure to Protect claim brought under the Eighth Amendment against Sgt. Martin, CO Strasburger, CO James, and CO Broadhead (Count VII);
• A Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs Claim brought under the Eighth Amendment against Gavin, Vinansky, Sgt. Martin, CO Strasburger, CO James, and CO Broadhead (Count VIII);
• A Denial of Programs and Services because of Disability claim brought under the ADA and RA against the DOC (Count XI);
• A Discrimination because of Disability claim brought under the ADA and RA against the DOC (Count XII)
• A state law Assault and Battery Claim brought against Sgt. Martin, CO Strasburger, CO James, and CO Broadhead (Count XIII); and
• A state law Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (“IIED”) Claim brought against all individual Defendants (Count XIV)

(Doc. 68, at 42-52).

         As for relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief. (Doc. 68, at 54).

         On February 27, 2019, the Corrections Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 131), along with a supporting brief (Doc. 133), a statement of material facts (Doc. 132), and exhibits. (Doc. 134); (Doc. 135). After receiving an extension of time, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition (Doc. 155) and an answer to the Corrections Defendants’ statement of material facts (Doc. 154) on April 22, 2019. The Corrections Defendants then filed a reply brief and supplemental exhibits on May 6, 2019. (Doc. 158); (Doc. 159).

         Defendant Fisher then filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 136), along with a supporting brief (Doc. 138), a statement of material facts (Doc. 137), and exhibits (Doc. 19), on February 28, 2019. Plaintiff filed his brief in opposition (Doc. 149) and answer to Defendants Fisher’s statement of material facts (Doc. 148) on April 21, 2019. Plaintiff additionally filed several supporting exhibits on April 21, 2019. (Doc. 150); (Doc. 151); (Doc. 152); (Doc. 153). Defendant Fisher filed a reply brief on May 6, 2019. (Doc. 161).

         PA Gillen also filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 141), along with supporting papers (Doc. 143); (Doc. 143), on February 28, 2019. Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition (Doc. 143) and his answer to PA Gillmen’s Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 156) on April 22, 2019. Defendant Gillmen filed a reply brief in May 6, 2019 (Doc. 160), to which Plaintiff filed a sur-reply on June 4, 2019. (Doc. 166).

         Having been fully briefed, Defendants’ motions are ripe for disposition.

         II. Summary of Material Facts[2]

         A. Facts Regarding the Events at SCI-Smithfield

         Plaintiff was formerly incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield from April 28, 2014 through August 28, 2014. (Doc. 132, at 9, ¶ 33). The RHU at SCI-Smithfield, also known as the “K” Block, housed inmates in administrative custody and disciplinary custody. (Doc. 132, at 14, ¶ 49). According to Plaintiff’s cell history, he was housed in the RHU from May 12, 2014 to June 18, 2014 due to his administrative custody status. (Doc. 150-1, at 2-3); (Doc. 154, at 14, 75). During this time, Lt. Lear, CO Abrashoff, and CO Bard worked as correctional officers assigned to the K Block. (Doc. 132, at 14, ¶ 49); (Doc. 132, at 20, ¶ 72); (Doc. 132, at 23, ¶ 84).

         The majority of inmates housed in the RHU are placed in single cells. (Doc. 132, at 14, ¶ 49). On June 6, 2014, however, Lt. Lear informed Plaintiff that he was being moved into a cell with Holtzman. (Doc. 132, at 23, ¶ 85). The receipt of new inmates into the RHU, and resulting need for additional bed space, prompted Plaintiff’s cell assignment with Holtzman. (Doc. 132, at 23, ¶ 85). Although Plaintiff initially refused to move into the cell, Lt. Lear indicated that Plaintiff would receive a misconduct if he failed to comply with the re-assignment order. (Doc. 132, at 23, ¶ 85).

         Plaintiff submits that he showed Lt. Lear his Form DC-141, which indicated that he could not receive any cellmates, upon being told to cell with Holtzman. (Doc. 154, at 16, ¶ 86). Nonetheless, the Parties dispute whether Lt. Lear located any such substantiating documentation when he ordered Plaintiff to move. (Doc. 132, at 24, ¶ 86); (Doc. 154, at 16, ¶ 86). Lt. Lear contends that he contacted the Security Office regarding any concerns with celling Plaintiff and Holtzman together, but that the Security Office found none. (Doc. 132, at 24, ¶ 86). As such, Plaintiff moved into the same cell as Holtzman. (Doc. 132, at 24, ¶ 86). Plaintiff claims that Holtzman proceeded to sexually assault him in their cell between June 8, 2014 and June 11, 2014, once he was moved to a different cell. (Doc. 142, at 1, ¶ 1).

         Lt. Lear did not believe that celling Plaintiff with Holtzman posed a serious risk of harm to him. (Doc. 132, at 25, ¶ 93). Plaintiff disputes this fact, however, and asserts that Holtzman had threatened to kill Lt. Lear-a threat of which Lt. Lear was purportedly aware-a few days prior to ordering the June 6, 2014 cell assignment. (Doc. 154, at 17, ¶ 81). Plaintiff further submits that Holtzman yelled loudly that he would kill any cellmate Lt. Lear assigned to his cell. (Doc. 154, at 18, ¶ 93). In addition, Plaintiff highlights that he was incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield for a non-violent offense, whereas Holtzman had a long history of violent misconducts. (Doc. 154, at 17-18, ¶ 93).

         It is undisputed that CO Abrashoff and CO Bard had no input in the decision to cell Plaintiff with Holtzman. (Doc. 132, at 15, ¶ 50); (Doc. 132, at 21, ¶ 74). The Parties dispute, however, whether Plaintiff asked for CO Abrashoff’s help after his placement in the cell with Holtzman. (Doc. 132, at 21, ¶ 75); (Doc. 154, at 15, ¶ 75). According to Plaintiff, he asked CO Abrashoff to remove him upon fearing that Holtzman would harm him, but that CO Abrashoff declined to assist him. (Doc. 154, at 14, ¶ 75). Plaintiff did not inform CO Abrashoff of the alleged rape, of which CO Abrashoff only became aware upon the initiation of the related investigation days after the incident. (Doc. 132, at 21, ¶ 76). Plaintiff also did not inform Lt. Lear that Holtzman had threatened him after being placed in the cell. (Doc. 132, at 24, ¶ 89). Plaintiff nonetheless indicates that he did not further report his concerns because Holtzman had threatened to harm him if he did. (Doc. 154, at 17, ¶ 89).

         On June 11, 2014, Plaintiff was removed from the cell with Holtzman and placed in another cell in the RHU. (Doc. 132, at 15, ¶ 50). On June 17, 2014, CO Bard indicates that Plaintiff told him that something had happened without specifying what. (Doc. 132, at 15, ¶ 52). Plaintiff disputes this notion, and contends that he gave CO Bard a sick-call slip and further informed him of Holtzman’s sexual assault. (Doc. 154, at 9, ¶ 52). CO Bard subsequently took Plaintiff’s sick call slip to the on-duty shift commander, who then directed CO Bard to call the medical department. (Doc. 132, at 15, ¶ 53). Plaintiff wanted to speak with a nurse privately, and approximately three hours passed before a nurse arrived. (Doc. 154, at 9-10, 53). Plaintiff asserts that the nurse did not provide him with any medical treatment at that time. (Doc. 154, at 10, ¶ 53).

         On June 18, 2014, Physician’s Assistant Vincent Capone (“PA Capone”) saw Plaintiff. (Doc. 142, at 2, ¶ 3). PA Capone noted that Plaintiff would not initially talk to him, but eventually came to his cell door and reported that he was fine but experienced rectal bleeding the day before. (Doc. 142, at 2, ¶ 3). PA Capone also noted that Plaintiff then held up a note on which he wrote that he had been raped. (Doc. 142, at 2, ¶ 3). PA Capone immediately reported the contents of this note to the RHU lieutenant, to which CO Abershoff responded that Plaintiff’s statement was already under investigation. (Doc. 142, at 2, ¶ 3). Thereafter, Plaintiff was transferred to a Psychiatric Observation Cell (“POC”) in the infirmary. (Doc 132, at 16, ¶ 54).

         On June 20, 2014, PA Gillmen saw Plaintiff in the POC cell to follow up on his claims of a small amount of rectal bleeding. (Doc. 142, at 3, ¶ 4). PA Gillmen assessed that his problems had resolved, and that no action was required at that time. (Doc. 142, at 3, ¶ 4). Plaintiff, however, states that PA Gillmen merely communicated with him through closed doors and did not examine, or otherwise provide treatment for, him. (Doc. 156, at 2, ¶ 4). Plaintiff also asserts that he attempted to file grievances while confined in the POC, but that Defendant Fisher, amongst others, tampered with the grievance process at SCI-Smithfield. (Doc. 148, at 3, ¶ 30). Plaintiff eventually returned back to a cell in the RHU on July 23, 2014. (Doc. 156, at 2, ¶ 5).

         Plaintiff’s allegations of sexual assault were referred to SCI-Smithfield’s Security Office and subsequently investigated. (Doc. 132, at 18, ¶ 65). On June 18, 2014, the State Police interviewed Plaintiff before he was moved to the POC. (Doc. 154, at 10, ¶ 54). In a memo dated June 4, 2015, the Security Office concluded that Plaintiff’s allegations against Holtzman were unsubstantiated. (Doc. 132, at 18, ¶ 64). Plaintiff disputes this fact insofar as it implies that the State Police determined he had fabricated Holtzman’s attack. (Doc. 154, at 11-12, ¶ 65).

         B. Facts Regarding the Events at SCI-Waymart

         The facts regarding Plaintiff’s alleged assault by prison staff at SCI-Waymart on September 5, 2015 are relatively sparse. Defendant Gavin contends that he did not have any involvement in the day-to-day operations of the individual housing units at SCI-Waymart, and that the officers involved in the alleged use of force-Sgt. Martin, CO Strasburger, CO James and CO Broadhead-did not report to him. (Doc. 132, at 26-27, ¶¶ 95, 98). Both Defendants Gavin and Vinansky (collectively, the “Supervisory Defendants”) assert that they were not responsible for staffing the Forensic Treatment Unit where Plaintiff was housed. (Doc. 132, at 27, ¶ 99); (Doc. 132, at 32, ¶ 115). Additionally, the Supervisory Defendants claim that they did not supervise SCI-Waymart’s mental health or medical department staff. (Doc. 132, at 28, ¶ 102); (Doc. 132, at 32, ¶ 116).

         The Supervisory Defendants also submit that they did not tolerate profanity, bigotry or the use of hate language by SCI-Waymart staff. (Doc. 132, at 28, ¶ 103); (Doc. 132, at 33, ¶ 117). Nor did Defendants Gavin and Vinansky purportedly condone the mistreatment of inmates or the improper use of restraints by staff. (Doc. 132, at 28, ¶ 104); (Doc. 132, at 33, ¶ 118). Plaintiff disputes these facts, however, insofar as his grievances regarding the “racially motivated violence” he endured were either diverted or not processed while at SCI-Waymart. (Doc. 154, at 18, ¶¶ 103-04). Similarly, Plaintiff disputes that Defendant Vinansky, the grievance coordinator at SCI-Waymart, properly recorded and processed his inmate grievances. (Doc. 154, at 19, ¶ 106). III. Standard of Review Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be granted only if “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). A fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is “genuine” only if the evidence “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In deciding a summary judgment motion, all 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.” Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of __ Pa. __, 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,” and demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the non-movant must set forth specific facts, supported by the record, demonstrating that “the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251–52. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990); Schaar v. Lehigh Valley Health Servs., Inc., 732 F.Supp.2d 490, 493 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (finding that “unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions” are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment) (citing Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989)); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (noting that the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court’s function is not to make credibility determinations, weigh evidence, or draw inferences from the facts. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Rather, the court must simply “determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Sectio ...

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