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Stanford v. Walton

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 9, 2019



          Maureen P. Kelly, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Orlando Stanford ("Plaintiff), who is currently incarcerated at State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale ("SCI-Houtzdale"), brings this pro se civil rights action arising out of alleged violations of his constitutional rights during his incarceration in the Restricted Housing Unit at the Westmoreland County Prison in September 2016.

         Presently before the Court are two Motions for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of Defendants. ECF Nos. 161, 163. For the reasons that follow, the Motions for Summary Judgment will be granted.[1]


         Plaintiffs claims arise out of twenty-nine days during which he was incarcerated in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") at Westmoreland County Prison. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights through the conditions of his confinement in the RHU, where he was denied access to showers, recreation, and clean linens from between 8 and 20 days, and subjected to constant illumination and isolation. Plaintiff claims that, as a result of these conditions, he developed a fungal toenail infection; deterioration of his mental health; decreased vision, cluster headaches, digestion problems, and irregular heartbeat. ECF No. 176 ¶ 18, 29; ECF No. 176-1 ¶ 31.

         In addition, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying him medical treatment with respect to a purported toenail infection and mental healthcare in the RHU. Finally, he asserts violations of his First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights as a result of Defendants' purported failure to provide him with legal materials necessary to prepare his criminal defense, and by hindering his ability to pursue his administrative remedies within the prison.

         The Defendants remaining in the case at this stage in the litigation are Westmoreland County Prison and the Westmoreland County Prison Board (the "Prison Board"), and prison officials John Walton ("Walton"), Eric Schwartz ("Schwartz"), Steven Cmar ("Cmar"), Brad Tomasello ("Tomasello") and George Lowther ("Lowther"). Walton is the Warden of Westmoreland County Prison.

         A. The RHU

         Plaintiff was confined at the Westmoreland County Prison from September 2, 2016 to October 27, 2016, and he was placed in the RHU on September 6, 2016 for a rule infraction. ECF No. 185 ¶¶ 1, 3. He was released from the RHU on October 5, 2016. Id. ¶5; ECF No. 185-1 at 6.

         Plaintiff relies on an affidavit he prepared in opposition to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment.[2] ECF No. 176-1. In his affidavit, Plaintiff asserts that, while in the RHU, he was not given a recreation hour from September 6, 2016 to September 21, 2016. ECF No. 176- 1 ¶ 3. He was not provided access to a shower from September 8, 2016 to September 16, 2016. Id. He also claims that he was not given clean linens or a clean uniform from September 6, 2016 to September 26, 2016. Id. Plaintiffs cellmate, Christopher Smarr ("Smarr"), attests in an affidavit that he witnessed a corrections officer tell Plaintiff that "he now has a set schedule and denied [Plaintiff] a shower or recreation." ECF No. 175-20 at 2.

         Although Plaintiff claims he was kept in solitary confinement, the record before the Court is silent as to whether, and for how long, this occurred. Smarr claims that he was Plaintiffs cellmate in the E-Unit. Defendants state that Plaintiff was transferred to E-Unit on September 19, 2016 and remained until October 5, 2016, when he was released from the RHU and transferred to A-Unit. ECF No. 175-12 at 18; ECF No. 175-13 at 2. Additionally, Plaintiff claims he was exposed to "24-hour lighting" and constant illumination, but he does not proffer any evidence regarding the brightness, location, or other details regarding the light. ECF No. 176 ¶ 29.

         B. Plaintiffs Medical Complaints

         1. Toenail infection

         During his confinement in the RHU, Plaintiff claims that he requested treatment for what he claimed to be a toenail infection. ECF No. 175-8; ECF No. 176-1 ¶ 18. On September 26, 2016, Dawn Bickerton ("Bickerton"), a physician assistant employed by Wexford Health at the Westmoreland County Prison, evaluated Plaintiffs symptoms. ECF No. 185-1 at 10; ECF No. 185 ¶ 13. According to Bickerton's notes of her evaluation, Plaintiff self-diagnosed a soft-tissue infection in his "right great toe." ECF No. 185-1 at 10. Bickerton examined both of Plaintiff s feet and determined there was: "older ecchy under nail and at base of the nail. [V]ery minimal swelling at the base of the toenail. [N]o warmth. [N]o redness. [N]o swelling of toe. [N]o open areas." Id. She concluded there was no evidence of infection and that no treatment was required.

         Just eight days later, former Defendant Amy Widmar ("Widmar"), Health Services Administrator, evaluated Plaintiff again on October 4, 2016 at the Westmoreland County Prison. ECF No. 59 ¶¶ 33-35. Plaintiff claims that there is no record of this examination, and that Widmar refused to look at his toe, simply deferring to Bickerton's conclusions. ECF No. 59 ¶¶ 33-35; ECF No. 176 ¶ 26. However, in response to Plaintiffs prior Motion for Preliminary Injunction in this action, Widmar filed the following notes of her October 4, 2016 examination of Plaintiff:

[E]xamined inmates big toe on left foot due to repeated complaints of "soft tissue infection". Inmate had been examined several times previous to this occasion both by PA and nurse. Todays exam noted no puss, no swelling, no redness, no evidence of infection. Inmate insistent on receiving antibiotics, this is denied as there is no medical indication for antibiotics. Inmate instructed to keep area clean with soap and water, and dry. Inmate instructed to notify medical if any NEW symptoms of "infection" present.

ECF No. 98-1 at 6.

         After Plaintiff was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene"), on November 5, 2016, Plaintiffs toe was evaluated by Nurse Dice ("Dice"). ECF No. 175-18 at 2. According to the medical records, Plaintiff was evaluated in connection with his left great toe. Dice's notes indicate that Plaintiffs toenail was loose at the cuticle, discolored and brownish. Id. Dice concluded that there was no infection noted, but referred Plaintiff to "sick call" to be evaluated by a doctor or physician assistant. Id.

         Two days later, on November 7, 2019, medical records indicate that Plaintiff was evaluated in connection with reported "left great toenail pain" and Plaintiffs request to review his medication. ECF No. 175-18 at 3. According to notes from this visit, Plaintiffs left great toenail was thick, discolored, slightly loose, and "suggestive of onychomychosis" (a fungal infection of . the nail). Id. Plaintiffs "transfer health information" sheet dated November 21, 2016 also indicates that Plaintiff was diagnosed with the fungal infection Tinea Unguium. ECF No. 175-18 at 4. The medical records do not indicate the source or cause of Plaintiff s symptoms.

         2. Mental health

         As of July 6, 2016, prior to his placement in the RHU, records indicate that Plaintiff had been diagnosed with "other specified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder" and "adjustment order with anxiety." ECF No. 175-5. As of August 31, 2016, a Department of Corrections ("DOC") temporary transfer record characterizes Plaintiff as "seriously mentally ill." ECF No. 175-15.

         Plaintiff received ongoing treatment from mental health professionals while incarcerated, ECF No. 175-14 and ECF No. 175-5, and he was prescribed medication for treatment of his condition. ECF No. 175-18 at 4; ECF No. 175-5. Plaintiff continued to receive medication for his psychiatric condition while housed in the RHU at Westmoreland County Prison. ECF No. 59 at 4; ECF No. 185-2 at 14.

         Plaintiff states in his affidavit that, due to the incident alleged, his "mental symptoms worsened" and became more intense. ECF No. 176-1 ¶ 31. Plaintiff has not produced any other . supporting evidence, medical records or expert opinion documenting a change in his mental health symptoms or opining as to either the cause or treatment of any purported symptoms.

         3. Other medical complaints

         Plaintiff asserts in his Concise Statement of Material Facts that his "eyesight decreased due to being under constant 24 hour lighting" and this also caused Plaintiffs migraines to progress to cluster headaches, digestion problems and irregular heartbeat. ECF No. 176 ¶ 29. In support of this statement, Plaintiff produces various medical records.

         With respect to Plaintiffs headaches, Plaintiff relies on a medical report dated August 17, 2017, nearly a year after his incarceration in the RHU at Westmoreland County Prison, indicating, that Plaintiff had been experiencing headaches almost every day for the past month, which included light and sound sensitivity, and pressure in the temporal region. The report concludes that his headache is most likely a "cluster" headache. ECF No. 175-19 at 7. There is no indication as to a specific cause of the headaches.

         With respect to his eyesight, Plaintiff produces a medical report dated May 4, 2018, which indicates that "inmate was seen 3 years ago glasses were ordered then he was released, that occurred in 2015." Id. at 2. Plaintiff was referred to optometry. Id. There is no indication of any decreased eyesight following Plaintiffs confinement in the RHU at Westmoreland County Prison in 2016. There is no indication as to a specific cause of any vision problems.

         With respect to his digestion, Plaintiff introduces medical reports dated March 2017, six months after his incarceration in the RHU at Westmoreland County Prison, indicating that Plaintiff was experiencing constipation, nausea, dry heaving and abdominal pain. Id. at 2-4. The records indicate that the was treated for these symptoms and his condition improved. Id. There is no indication as to a specific cause of these symptoms.

         Finally, with respect to his heart, Plaintiff relies on a medical testing report dated March 13, 2018, more than a year after his incarceration in the RHU at the Westmoreland County Prison, indicating that Plaintiff has "normal sinus rhythm" and "early repolarization." Id. at 6. There is no indication of the cause or effect of the early repolarization diagnosis.

         4. Plaintiffs requests for medical treatment

         Plaintiff claims that he attempted to receive treatment for a purported toenail infection while in the RHU, but was not seen until September 26, 2016. According to the Westmoreland County Prison Handbook (the "Prison Handbook"), produced and relied upon here by Plaintiff, the following notification procedure is required to obtain medical services:

To receive medical services, you must fill out an inmate request slip, outlining your problem and place it in the medical request slip box on the unit. Do not turn it over to a unit officer, and do not place it in any other request slip box other than the designated "medical request slip box."

ECF No. 175-3 (emphasis in original).

         For "sick calls," the Prison Handbook indicates as follows:

You are to submit a written request to the medical staff, if you wish additional medical care. You are to place this request in the designated "medical request slip box", not in the regular inmate request slip box. You are to indicate your name, booking number, and medical complaint on the request slip.
If you are having a medical emergency that cannot wait for the next scheduled physician's visit, have the housing unit officer contact his/her immediate supervisor, who in turn will contact the medical staff. Do not attempt to have a nurse examine you during "medication distribution periods."

Id. (emphasis in original).

         Plaintiff verified that he received a copy of the Prison Handbook on at least three occasions prior to entering the RHU: May 24, 2016, July 15, 2016 and September 3, 2016. ECF No. 185-1 at 12-14.

         In an affidavit, Plaintiff claims that, in an effort to receive treatment for his toenail, he informed corrections officers as they passed by, and he informed a nurse of his request while she was passing out medications. ECF No. 176-1 ¶¶ 18, 19. Plaintiff also asserts that he "wrote several requests for medical treatment to no avail" over the course of several weeks. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff indicates that he did not receive medical attention until September 26, 2016, after informing prison officials at his board hearing of "his denial of medical treatment for his infection," after which Defendant Lowther directed that he "be seen." Id. ¶ 21; ECF No. 176 ¶ 22. The hearing record reflects that Defendant Schwartz was present at this hearing, in addition to board members Floyd E. Murphy and Shane K. Smith. ECF No. 175-7.

         With the exception of these board members, who are identified in the records provided, the record does not specifically identify which individuals Plaintiff attempted to inform of his need, for medical treatment, or where or to whom he directed the written requests. The parties produced one written request slip related to Plaintiffs toenail condition, which is directed to the medical department. This request slip is dated Friday, September 23, 2016, and it states:

I keep writing & requesting to have my foot checked for that soft tissue infection[.] Can ...

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