United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
CYNTHIA REED EDDY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a pro se civil rights action initiated by Plaintiff,
Shawn Lee Whitenight, who was incarcerated at Jefferson
County Jail initially as a pretrial detainee from
approximately December 17, 2013, to May 19, 2014, and, as a
result of his sentencing, as a convicted prisoner from May
19, 2014 to June 3, 2014. The defendants are individuals
employed by Jefferson County, including the Warden, and the
contract medical physicians and staff. Whitenight asserts
that he was denied adequate medical treatment and that he was
retaliated against for speaking out about this inadequate
treatment. He also brings a due process claim stemming from
his placement on suicide watch, and multiple state law
three motions for summary judgment are pending before the
Court: (1) ECF No. 178 filed by Warden Thomas Elbel (ECF No.
178); (2) ECF No. 185 filed by Jill Clark, LPN; Jenipher
Pierce, LPN; and Terri Calvert, a psychiatrist, employees of
the jail's medical contractor, PrimeCare Medical, who
treated Whitenight during the relevant time period
(collectively referred to as the “PrimeCare
Defendants”); and (3) ECF No. 181 filed by Susan
Rossino, M.D., a medical doctor under contract to see
prisoners at Jefferson County Jail. Whitenight directly
responded to each of these motions (ECF Nos. 199, 200, 202,
203, 196, and 197) and Defendants each filed reply briefs
(ECF Nos. 205, 206, and 210).
motions are fully brief 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 summary
judgment as to all federal claims. The Court will not
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims
and these claims will be dismissed without prejudice to
refiling in an appropriate state forum.
relevant background is well known to the parties and was
fully discussed in the Court's Memorandum Opinion of
December 5, 2017. (ECF No. 102). Whitenight was arrested on
December 17, 2013, by the Pennsylvania State Police and he
claims that during his arrest he suffered injuries to his
back. In this case, Whitenight alleges that during his
incarceration at Jefferson County Jail he was denied medical
treatment for those injuries. He also alleges that he was
placed in solitary confinement/ suicide protocol in
retaliation for complaining about his perceived lack of
appropriate medical treatment.
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.
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).
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
following claims remain following the Court's ruling on
the Defendants' motions to dismiss: (1) claims against
all Defendants alleging that Whitenight's due process
rights were violated when he twice was placed on suicide
watch protocol; (2) claims against all Defendants alleging he
was placed on suicide watch in retaliation for complaining
about his inadequate medical treatment; (3) claims against
the PrimeCare Defendants and Dr. Rossino alleging deliberate
indifference to Whitenight's serious medical needs; and
(4) state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional
distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress,
conspiracy, and medical negligence/ medical malpractice.
See Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part
and denying in part defendants' motions to dismiss. ECF
Nos. 102, 103.
has now closed and Defendants have each filed motions for
Due Process/Retaliation Claims Arising from
Whitenight's Placement on Suicide Watch.
was placed on suicide watch on two occasions: March 29, 2014,
and April 17, 2014. He contends that his placement on suicide
watch violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process
and his First Amendment right as his placement on suicide
watch was in retaliation for him complaining about his
inadequate medical treatment.
turning to the merits, two preliminary issues must be
addressed. First, all Defendants argue that any claims
arising from Whitenight's March 29, 2014, placement on
suicide watch are barred by the statute of
limitations. It is well settled that claims brought
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are subject to the statute
of limitations for personal injury. Wilson v.
Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266 (1985). In Pennsylvania, the
statute of limitations for a personal injury action is two
years. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5524. See Smith v. Holtz,
87 F.3d 108, 111 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996). As such, for § 1983
actions brought in federal courts located within the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the appropriate limitations
period is two years. Id. See Sameric Corp. of Delaware,
Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir.
1998) (holding that federal courts apply the state statute of
limitations for personal injury in Section 1983 cases which
in Pennsylvania is two years).
statute of limitations requires that a complaint be filed
within its time limits from the time a cause of action
accrues. The date of accrual of claims brought under Section
1983 is governed by federal law. Wallace v. Keto,
549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007); Montgomery v. De Simone,
159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir. 1998). Under federal law “
‘the limitations period begins to run from the time
when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury
which is the basis of the section 1983 action'.”
Montgomery v. De Simone, 159 F.3d at 126 (quoting
Genty v. Resolution Trust Corp., 937 F.2d 899, 909
(3d Cir 1991)). See Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388
(“[I]t is the standard rule that [accrual occurs] when
the plaintiff has a complete cause of action . . . that is,
when the plaintiff can file suit and obtain relief) (internal
quotations and citations omitted).
undisputed that Whitenight was placed on suicide watch on
March 29, 2014, after he threatened self-harm. Thus,
Whitenight had a complete cause of action as of March 29,
2014. He was therefore required to file a complaint raising
his claims by March 30, 2016. Because the original complaint
in this matter has been deemed filed on April 22, 2016,
claim arising out of Whitenight's placement on suicide
watch on March 29, 2014, is time barred. In so holding, the
Court has rejected Whitenight's arguments that this claim
is rendered timely under the continuing violations doctrine.
The continuing violations doctrine does not apply to discrete
and independent acts. Here, each time Whitenight was placed
on suicide watch, he had a cause of action available to him.
As such, Whitenight's claims arising from his March 29,
2014, placement on suicide watch are barred by the statute of
assuming arguendo that such claims were not time
barred, for the reasons discussed below, Defendants are
entitled to summary judgment as the record shows that
Whitenight has presented no set of facts from which a fact
finder could find that his constitutional rights were
violated by his placement on suicide watch on March 29, 2014.
Summary judgment will be granted to all defendants on this
Elbel also argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on
both of Whitenight's claims regarding his placement on
suicide watch as such claims are barred procedurally by the
Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. §
1997e(a) (the “PLRA”), as he failed to exhaust
his administrative remedies before filing this lawsuit. The
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in a
recent unpublished opinion, reiterated the analytical
structure for a failure-to-exhaust affirmative defense:
As formulated in this Circuit, the failure-to-exhaust
affirmative defense has two distinct stages. The first
inquiry is whether the prison-employee defendants can
demonstrate that the inmate failed to exhaust the
on-the-books remedies. See Williams v. Beard, 482
F.3d 637, 639 (3d Cir. 2007) (explaining that the
prison's grievance policy supplies “ ‘the
yardstick' for determining what steps are required for
exhaustion” (quoting Spruill v. Gillis, 372
F.3d 218, 231 (3d Cir. 2004))); see also Ross v.
Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1859 (2016); Rinaldi v.
United States, 904 F.3d 257, 268 (3d Cir. 2018). If the
defendants can make that showing, then at the second stage,
the inmate plaintiff bears the onus of producing evidence
that the on-the-books remedies were in fact unavailable to
him or her.1 See Rinaldi, 904 F.3d at
1 This order of evaluation is not absolute, and it
is permissible to consider the second stage first, see, e.g.,
Small, 728 F.3d at 271-72, but this ordering is
consistent with the prison-employee defendants bearing the
burden of production at the first stage, before ...