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Hutchinson v. Overmyer

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 28, 2019

MR. OVERMYER, Superintendant, D.F. OBERLANDER, Deputy Superintendent, MS. SHEESLEY, PSS, Individually and in their Official Capacities, Defendants.

          Susan Paradise Baxter, District Judge.




         Plaintiff Akeem Hutchinson ("Plaintiff) is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Forest ("SCI - Forest") in Marienville, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff has filed this civil rights action pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges that Defendants Mr. Overmyer, Superintendent of SCI - Forest, D.F. Oberlander, Deputy Superintendent, and Ms. Sheesley, a psychologist employed at SCI - Forest, have acted in deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs serious mental health issues by failing to provide necessary treatment and in housing him in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") despite his serious mental illness. Plaintiff alleges these acts violate his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. ECF No. 3.

         Pending now are two self-styled non-dispositive motions that shall be construed by the Court as Motions for a Preliminary Injunction. First, on September 24, 2019, Plaintiff filed a "Motion for Help." ECF No. 41. In this motion, Plaintiff alleges that he remains in SCI-Forest's RHU and is not receiving mental health treatment despite the deterioration of his mental illness. In addition, Plaintiff claims that he has not been provided showers for over 90 days, has been denied yard time for over 30 days, is being starved by inadequate food portions, and has had his property and legal paperwork removed, lost, or intentionally misplaced. In addition, he claims that staff are retaliating against him with false misconducts, cell searches, and negative comments. As a result, Plaintiff states his life is in danger and his mental health is deteriorating. In addition, Plaintiff states that his release date from DOC custody is in March 2020, and that he needs mental health treatment and assistance with his transition back into society. Id. Accordingly, Plaintiff seeks this Court's assistance in obtaining appropriate care during his remaining months in DOC custody.

         On September 25, 2019, this Court ordered Defendants to respond to Plaintiffs Motion for Help. ECF No. 45. Defendants filed their response on October 8, 2019, and provided the Court with detailed information disputing each of Plaintiff s allegations as to the denial of mental health treatment, showers, and yard time. ECF No. 48.

         Based upon the evident conflicts raised by Defendants' response and the serious nature of Plaintiffs allegations, this Court scheduled a hearing for October 23, 2019, and required Plaintiff to appear by video. ECF No. 46.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a "Motion for the Court to Listen/Motion to Get Sent to a Mental Health Hospital for Mental Health Treatment." ECF No. 49. In this second motion, Plaintiff alleges that since filing his Motion for Help, staff at SCI-Forest have been retaliating against him and threatening him with discipline if he persists in filing complaints with the Court. Id.

         Also pending before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss, filed on May 24, 2019. ECF No. 17. Plaintiff s response was due July 15, 2019. ECF No. 21. As of September 11, 2019, Plaintiff had not filed a response to the Partial Motion to Dismiss, and this Court entered an Order to Show Cause, requiring Plaintiff to respond by October 1, 2019, and show why the motion should not be granted due to Plaintiffs failure to file his response as previously ordered. ECF No. 38. As of this date, Plaintiff has not filed a response to the Order to Show Cause, or Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss.[1]

         The hearing on Plaintiffs pending motions occurred on October 23, 2019. Plaintiff appeared by video, accompanied by Kevin Cowan, a Psychology Services Specialist; Captain William Gill, the RHU administrator; and three corrections officers. Plaintiffs personal hygiene appeared to be appropriate, and his clothing was clean. The Court determined that he was able to understand and appropriately respond to questions posed. Accordingly, the Court directed the parties to address each issue presented in Plaintiffs motions, which are resolved as follows.

         1. Showers

         Plaintiff concedes that while housed in general population or in the RHU, showers are available. However, he has chosen not to participate because he is afraid of retribution from guards or other inmates. Plaintiff states he screams and kicks his cell door for hours each day and so is afraid that other inmates will retaliate by throwing feces on him while showering. In addition, Plaintiff states there are times when he loses shower privileges because guards will state he has his cell window covered or is not ready when required.

         Captain Gill testified that the showers in the RHU are individual stalls and have doors, so that each inmate showers alone'. He has ordered Plaintiff to take a shower on at least one occasion when it was clear that his personal hygiene was not within acceptable bounds, and stated that Plaintiff has access to a sink in bis cell and routinely performs "bird baths." Plaintiff had previously requested a cell with a shower to accommodate his anxiety. However/ when this privilege was recently granted, Plaintiff dismantled a portion of the in-cell shower and removed screws that he later ingested. The walls of in-cell showers are metal, and Plaintiff would bang on them, creating loud echoes that disturbed inmates and guards on the cell block. Accordingly, staff continue to offer Plaintiff access to a shower in the RHU three times per week, but Plaintiff declines and opts to use his sink to maintain personal hygiene.

         2. Yard Time

         Plaintiff is offered yard time for one hour per day, five days per week. However, as with showers, Plaintiff declines to participate because he is afraid to be outside of his cell in the presence of other inmates, who he believes will throw feces at him. Captain Gill testified that RHU inmates attend yard in individual outdoor blocks, separated by fencing. All inmates are searched before entering the yard, and inmates with known conflicts are separated throughout the 200-foot divided yard. He is aware of a recent incident when an inmate defecated in the yard and threw it at another inmate, but this conduct has not been directed at Plaintiff. That inmate was ...

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