United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
RICHARD CAPUTO United States District Judge
Ronald Stockton, an inmate formerly housed at the Smithfield
State Correctional Institution (SCI-Smithfield) in
Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, filed this civil-rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting two Eighth
Amendment claims against various Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections employees. Mr. Stockton's claims that on December
20, 2013, Defendants Corrections Officer (CO) Barndt, CO
Harpster, CO Parks, CO Willinsky, CO Wilson and Lt. Bard
assaulted him when he exited his Restricted Housing Unit
(RHU) cell after his cell door was mysteriously
opened. Following the assault, he claims Nurse
Houck denied him medical treatment for his injuries. (ECF No.
before the Court is Defendants' properly supported motion
for summary judgment with supporting brief, statement of
undisputed facts and exhibits. (ECF No. 95, 96, 97, and 98.)
Plaintiff has filed multiple opposition briefs, answers to
Defendants' statement of material facts and exhibits.
(ECF Nos. 102, 103, 104, 110, and 111.) Defendants' have
filed a Reply and a Court sanctioned Supplemental Reply. (ECF
Nos. 105 and 112.)
summary judgment Defendants argue that: (1) Mr.
Stockton's excessive use of force claim is barred by the
holdings in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114
S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994) and Jacobs v.
Bayha, 616 Fed.Appx. 507 (3d Cir. 2015) following his
criminal conviction for aggravated assault of CO Willinsky
during the December 2013 altercation; (2) Nurse Houck was not
deliberately indifferent to Mr. Stockton's medical needs
that day; (3) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity;
and (4) Mr. Stockton failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies against CO Harpster and Nurse Houck. (ECF No. 98.)
Contrary to Defendants' assertions, Mr. Stockton argues
that his criminal aggravated assault conviction for striking
CO Willinsky does not bar his excessive use of force claim
and that the force Defendants used against him was excessive
for the situation. He claims to have properly exhausted his
administrative remedies against all Defendants either through
a misconduct, grievance, or the inmate abuse allegation
policy. As for Nurse Houck, he claims “the blood
pouring down [his] face clearly shows that Plaintiff needed
some form of treatment” yet she did not examine his
injuries or provide him with any treatment. (ECF No. 111 at
3.) The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition by
Court will grant in part and deny in part the Defendants'
motion for summary judgment. As there are genuine issues of
material fact whether Defendants used excessive force to
subdue Mr. Stockton prior to transporting him to the strip
search cell, Defendants' motion will be denied with
respect to CO Park, CO Barndt, CO Harpster, CO Willinsky, CO
Wilson, and Lt. Bard. Summary judgment will be entered for
Defendant Houck with respect to Mr. Stockton's Eighth
Amendment claim against her. This matter will be set for
trial at the convenience of the Court.
Summary Judgment Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate if, after reviewing the
entire record in a case, the court is satisfied that no
genuine issues of material fact exist, and that the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
The court must view all facts in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in
that party's favor. Forrest v. Parry, 930 F.3d
93 (3d Cir. 2019). An issue of fact is “genuine”
if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party. (Id.) Issues of
fact are “material” only if establishment of such
facts might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the
governing substantive law. (Id.)
prevail on summary judgment, the moving party must
affirmatively identify those portions of the record which
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410 (3d Cir. 2015). If
this burden is met, the nonmoving party “must do more
than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to
material facts.” Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N.
Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation
and internal quotation marks omitted). Rather, the party
opposing summary judgment “must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir.
2001) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S.Ct. 1348,
89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)).
Statement of Undisputed Facts
following facts are undisputed or, where disputed, reflect
Mr. Stockton's version of the facts, pursuant to this
Court's duty to view all facts and reasonable inferences
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Forrest, 930 F.3d at 105.
Related Criminal Proceeding
September 16, 2014, following a jury trial, Mr. Stockton was
convicted of aggravated assault, 18 Pa. C.S. §
2702(a)(3). (ECF No. 96-2.) Specifically, a jury
convicted Mr. Stockton of assaulting CO Willinsky on December
20, 2013 in SCI-Smithfield's RHU. (ECF No. 96, Defs.'
Statement of Material Facts (DSMF) at ¶ 20; see
also ECF No. 96-3 at 2.) On November 13, 2014, Mr.
Stockton received a sentence of 27 to 100 months'
confinement to run consecutively to any sentence he was
serving at that time. Commonwealth v. Stockton,
CP-31-CR-0254-2014 (Huntingdon Cty. Ct. Com. Pl.)(docket
Stockton, represented by counsel, did not testify at this
criminal trial. (ECF No. 96-3.) CO Park, Lt. Bard, CO
Willinsky, CO Barndt, CO Wilson, CO Harpster all testified,
under oath, at the criminal trial. (Id.)
testified that he was working in the K Block control bubble
on December 20, 2013. He mistakenly remotely opened Mr.
Stockton's and another inmate's RHU cell doors that
day. (Id. at 16.) CO Park opened the control bubble
window and verbally ordered both RHU inmates to return to
their cells. (Id.) Only Mr. Stockton came out of his
cell. (ECF No. 96-5 at 4.) Mr. Stockton then returned to his
cell, donned his jumpsuit, and came out of his cell.
notified area officers and Lt. Bard that Mr. Stockton was out
of his cell. (ECF No. 96-3 at 19.) Lt. Bard ordered Mr.
Stockton to return to his cell. (Id. at 23.) CO
Willinsky also ordered Mr. Stockton to return to his cell.
(Id. at 31; DSMF at 22.) As CO Willinsky approached
Mr. Stockton, he ordered Plaintiff to face the wall and place
his hands behind his back. CO Harpster recounted hearing Mr.
Stockton say “Fuckin' make me go in.” Mr.
Stockton ignored the order and took a defensive stance as CO
Willinsky approached and punched the officer in the head.
(ECF No. 96-3 at 17, 30 and 49; DSMF at 23.) Mr. Stockton
threw multiple closed fist punches at CO Willinsky, many of
them landed on his head and neck. (ECF No. 96-3 at 32; DSMF
at 24.) Other officers arrived and attempted to subdue Mr.
Stockton by striking him. Mr. Stockton continued to be
combative and kick. (ECF No. 96-3 at 24, 32 and 50.) After
additional officers responded, they assisted in getting Mr.
Stockton to the ground and secured him in handcuffs.
(Id. at 42.)
The Escort Video
video does not capture the events of December 20, 2013, in
SCI-Smithfield's RHU prior to prison staff applying leg
shackles and a tether to an already handcuffed Mr. Stockton.
The 34-minute video depicts the process of escorting Mr.
Stockton off the RHU tier to the unit's strip search
cell, his strip search, an encounter with Nurse Houck and his
transfer back to his RHU cell. See ECF No. 96-4,
Attach. A. Mr. Stockton claims Defendants ceased their
assault once the video camera arrived on the scene.
video commences with Mr. Stockton, who is wearing an orange
jumpsuit, face down on the floor of the tier surrounded by
several staff members. As the officers applied the leg
shackles and tether to Mr. Stockton, a small spot of blood
from his right index finger is visible on the back of his
jumpsuit. Less than a minute later a staff member makes a
radio request to call “medical.” Five staff
members escort Mr. Stockton from the top tier of the RHU to
the stairwell. One staff member, holding the tether, leads
Mr. Stockton who walks backwards and bent at the waist, to
the staircase. Another staff member stands in front of Mr.
Stockton while two officers flanked either side of Mr.
Stockton hold his arms. One officer supervised the process
and gave verbal directions to the other officers and Mr.
Stockton. Staff tell Mr. Stockton he must go to the strip
search cell. Staff permit Mr. Stockton to stand up, face
forward and walk down the steps. Still escorted by staff, Mr.
Stockton remains upright as he walks off the unit without
incident or assistance. Mr. Stockton does not attempt to
physically resist the process. Staff do not push, pull,
shove, or strike Mr. Stockton during this process. Mr.
Stockton and staff pass through at least two secure doors
prior to reaching the strip search area without incident. Mr.
Stockton did not appear confused, disoriented, or clumsy as
he walked backward off the tier or down the steps. No. blood
is visible on his face or the front of his jumpsuit.
members of the escort team depart while others place Mr.
Stockton in the strip search cell, direct him to get on his
knees and remain there while staff exit the strip cell. Staff
remove his leg shackles and hand cuffs without incident. Once
secured in the cell, Mr. Stockton stood up, faced the camera,
and stood next to the back wall of the cell. Mr. Stockton
flexed the fingers on his right hand and wiped his hand of
the front of is jumpsuit. After standing silently for four
minutes, Mr. Stockton calmly told the cameraman “Sorry,
(inaudible), I need to call the abuse hotline” as he
visually examined his right hand. The officer responds
“Alright.” Mr. Stockton resumes standing face
forward and leaning against the back of the cell. He
continues to occasionally wipe his right hand on his
minutes into the video, Nurse Melissa Houck enters the strip
search area. The camera operator tells Nurse Houck she may
have to wait to examine Mr. Stockton “until they are
done feeding.” Mr. Stockton continues to silently stand
against the back wall.
and a half minutes into the video someone off camera enters
the area and states that “he just assaulted
staff”. Mr. Stockton responded that he did not assault
staff, but that staff assaulted him while he was in
handcuffs. He voiced that Level 5 housing security procedures
prohibit the opening of his cell door unless he is in cuffs.
He stated his cell door opened and that he was backing up
when staff attacked him. He also said that he was not
supposed to be in the RHU as his disciplinary sentence
asked Mr. Stockton if he would comply with a strip search so
medical could photograph him. He stated that no pictures,
other than of his face, were necessary. Staff explained that
DOC policy required Nurse Houck to take a minimum of four
pictures of him. Mr. Stockton initially refused to allow
medical to take any pictures of his body other than his face
because “that's the only marks I have on my body,
is on my face.” Although Mr. Stockton states “I
ain't got no marks on my body to do no strip search,
” he does not verbally refuse to be strip searched.
Stockton removed his jumpsuit, t-shirt, socks, and shoes
without assistance and handed them to the officer for
inspection. He then removed his undershorts and followed the
officer's verbal instructions for the remainder of the
visual strip search. Mr. Stockton easily and quickly turned
his head to both sides, bent his neck, bent over at the
waist, moved both arms in front of him as well as above his
head. He turned around and stood on alternating feet without
wobbling or losing his balance. An officer returned his
undershorts to him and he put them back on.
Houck returned to the area. Mr. Stockton again told officers
he would only allow her to photograph his face. An officer
commented that Mr. Stockton's “knuckle [was]
bleeding.” Mr. Stockton said, “I'm not
worried about that.” Nurse Houck told Mr. Stockton that
she must take four pictures of him: top, bottom, front and
back. He said, “you just got to take pictures of
anything that got hurt.” He said he was not refusing to
take the pictures but telling staff “where my injuries
minutes into the video, staff ordered Mr. Stockton to back up
to the cell door so staff could reapply his handcuffs before
Nurse Houck entered the cell. At first Mr. Stockton refused
and agreed to allow only pictures of his face because
“you don't see no marks on my body”. Staff
repeated the order for Mr. Stockton to put his hands through
cell door slot to allow staff to apply the handcuffs. Mr.
Stockton continued to argue with staff. Nurse Houck asked him
if he was giving up his right to claim injuries from the
incident. Mr. Stockton responded that he had injuries to his
right shoulder and face. After a period of argument, Mr.
Stockton agreed to be handcuffed but pulled away from
officers when he thought Nurse Houck was taking pictures of
his hands. Eventually Mr. Stockton agreed to allow staff to
handcuff him. Officers then opened the cell door and entered
the strip search cell accompanied by Nurse Houck. She took
several photographs of Mr. Stockton, including his hands.
Nurse Houck and the cameraman had an unobstructed view of Mr.
Stockton during this process. Mr. Stockton also said his lip
was injured. When an officer again noted that his hands were
bleeding, Mr. Stockton said the blood belonged to someone
Mr. Stockton facing forward, two small areas of swelling are
visible on the front of his forehead; one about an inch over
his left eyebrow and the other at his hairline on the outer
portion of his left eyebrow. The video reveals several
unobstructed views of his face and torso from the front and
back. There is no visible bleeding from his forehead or the
bridge of his nose. There are no visible injuries or swelling
to his arms, chest, ribs or back. Nurse Houck asked him
“if anything hurt?” Mr. Stockton replied
“yeah, my face.” Nurse Houck then asked him if he
had any blurred vision. He said, “a little bit.”
Nurse Houck then instructed him to wash the injured area ...