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Andrews v. May

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 18, 2019

HAKIEM ANDREWS, Plaintiff, Pro Se
v.
GERALD MAY, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Gene E.K. Pratter United States District Judge.

         Hakiem Andrews claims that Gerald May, Warden of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF"), violated his constitutional rights by subjecting him to unsanitary, unsafe, and inadequate prison conditions-namely, housing three inmates in a cell built for two, a practice also known as "triple-celling." In addition to this § 1983 prison conditions claim, Mr. Andrews asserts a claim of civil contempt against Warden May, alleging violations of a settlement agreement between a former class of prisoners challenging the constitutionality of triple-celling and the City of Philadelphia.

         Warden May moves for summary judgment and Mr. Andrews opposes. For the reasons below, the Court grants Warden May's motion for summary judgment on the § 1983 claim but denies the motion on the civil contempt claim.

         Background

         Mr. Andrews was an inmate at CFCF from August 2015 until May 2017, when he was released into state custody. See Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. C (Doc. No. 59-4). Mr. Andrews alleges that throughout his time at CFCF, he spent at least 264 days in a triple cell. See Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. H (Doc. No. 60). While subject to this triple-celling, Mr. Andrews slept on a "boat"-a type of plastic bed-next to the cell's toilet, where he was allegedly exposed to urine and fecal matter. See Compl. at 10 (Doc. No. 5).

         CFCF maintains a grievance procedure through which inmates can seek "administrative resolution of complaints arising from [CFCF's] administration or operation." Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A at 1 (Doc. No. 59-2). The CFCF grievance procedure entitles inmates to file grievances and appeal any responses thereto. See generally Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A (Doc. No. 59-2).

         Mr. Andrews claims that he filed his first grievance complaining of triple-celling on March 27, 2016. See Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A (Doc. No. 60). In response to that grievance, Mr. Andrews allegedly had an oral hearing with two prison officials, Lieutenant Lynn and Sergeant Roney, during which "they basically just told [him] to go back to [his] block and deal with it." See Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. F 22:3-12 (Doc. No. 59-7).

         Mr. Andrews then turned to the judicial system for relief. After applying to proceed in forma pauperis in April 2016, Mr. Andrews filed his complaint on June 8, 2016. See Compl. (Doc. No. 5). Therein he asserted claims for violations of his constitutional rights against the Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney, former Mayor Michael Nutter, Prison Commissioner Blanche Carney, former Prison Commissioner Michael Resnick, and CFCF Warden Gerald May. See id.

         On January 12, 2017, the Court granted the defendants' first motion to dismiss without prejudice, finding Mr. Andrews had failed to allege the defendants were personally involved in the deprivations of his constitutional rights. See Jan. 12, 2017 Order (Doc. No. 13). Mr. Andrews filed an amended complaint in February 2017, which was met with a subsequent motion to dismiss. See Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 14); Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 15). The Court dismissed all claims asserted against Defendants James Kenney, Michael Nutter, Blanche Carney, and Michael Resnick. See June 14, 2017 Order (Doc. No. 20). As to Warden May, however, the Court found that Mr. Andrews had sufficiently set forth allegations that could plausibly support a finding of personal involvement, and Mr. Andrews' § 1983 claim against Warden May survived. See June 14, 2017 Mem. (Doc. No. 19).

         Mr. Andrews later requested leave to amend his complaint again to add a claim against all five original defendants for civil contempt, which the Court granted. See Mot. to Amend Compl. (Doc. No. 33); Feb. 20, 2018 Order (Doc. No. 34). With his civil contempt claim, Mr. Andrews alleged that the defendants had violated a class action settlement agreement regarding prison conditions. See Second Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 37). Following another motion to dismiss, the Court dismissed with prejudice the claims against Defendants James Kenney, Michael Nutter, Blanche Carney, and Michael Resnick. See July 30, 2018 Order n.1 (Doc. No. 43). Finding that Warden May had not moved to dismiss the civil contempt claim, the Court permitted the claim to proceed against him, expressing no view on its viability. Id.

         Warden May now moves for summary judgment on both the § 1983 claim and the claim for civil contempt. Mr. Andrews opposes.

         Legal Standard

         A court shall grant a motion for summary judgment "if the movant shows that 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). An issue is "genuine" if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id. (citing Anderson, Ml U.S. at 248). Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, "[u]nsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2010).

         The movant bears the initial responsibility for informing the Court of the basis for the motion for summary judgment and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue, the moving party's initial burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

         After the moving party has met the initial burden, the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuinely disputed factual issue for trial by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "Merely because a non-moving party is proceeding pro se does not relieve him of the obligation under Rule 56(e) to produce evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact." Dawson v. Cook, 238 F.Supp.3d 712, 717 (E.D. Pa. 2017) (quoting Boykins v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 78 F.Supp.2d 402, 408 (E.D. Pa. 2000)). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         Discussion

         In his motion for summary judgment, Warden May argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on Mr. Andrews' § 1983 claim because Mr. Andrews (1) did not exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this lawsuit and (2) failed to demonstrate Warden May's personal involvement in any alleged wrongdoing. As to the civil contempt claim, Warden May asserts that he is entitled to summary judgment because there is no supporting evidence in the record.

         As explained in detail below, the Court grants Warden May's motion for summary judgment on the § 1983 claim because Mr. Andrews failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, but the Court denies his motion on the civil contempt claim because Mr. Andrews has set forth sufficient evidence to support a finding that Warden May disobeyed a valid court order.

         I. PLRA Exhaustion

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") commands that a prisoner cannot bring an action "with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 ... or any other Federal law.. . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The PLRA's "exhaustion requirement applies to all prisoners seeking redress for prison circumstances or occurrences." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 520 (2002). "[E]xhaustion in cases covered by § 1997e(a) is ... mandatory." Id. at 524 (citing Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001)).

         The burden is on Warden May to prove that Mr. Andrews failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Small v. Camden Cty., 728 F.3d 265, 271 (3d Cir. 2013) ("The Court correctly placed the burden on Defendants to prove non-exhaustion."). The parties do not dispute that CFCF maintains a grievance system or that Mr. Andrews was aware of the system.[1] They do dispute, however, whether Mr. Andrews exhausted that system's available remedies.[2]

         Warden May first asserts that Mr. Andrews never filed a grievance related to his complaints of triple-celling. In support, Warden May points to the Philadelphia Prison System's electronic records, which purport to list all grievances filed by Mr. Andrews since he was admitted to CFCF in 2015. See Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. B (Doc. No. 59-3). According to these records, Mr. Andrews filed only four grievances while incarcerated: (1) a 2015 grievance claiming that items were missing from his commissary; (2) a 2015 grievance claiming a correctional officer denied him time out for recreation; (3) a 2016 grievance requesting to see a social worker; and (4) a 2016 grievance claiming that $7.00 was taken from his account without permission. See Id. These are the only four grievances recorded in CFCF's official system, and none of them complains of triple-celling or its related conditions. Warden May argues that this proves Mr. Andrews failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by not first seeking redress through the grievance system.

         Mr. Andrews responds that he filed three grievances complaining of his triple-celling and asking to be moved to a normal cell. In support, Mr. Andrews directs the Court to three completed grievance forms that he contends were properly submitted: (1) a March 27, 2016 grievance; (2) a June 10, 2016 grievance; and (3) a June 24, 2016 grievance. See Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. Exs. A-C (Doc. No. 60). All three complain of his confinement to a triple cell. Id.

         Warden May contends that even if Mr. Andrews did file these grievances, he still failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by never appealing them. In opposition, Mr. Andrews asserts that he could not start the appeal process because he never received a response to any of his grievances.

         Mr. Andrews' argument, however, is contradicted by his own briefing as well as his deposition testimony. Mr. Andrews alleges he submitted his first grievance about triple-celling to CFCF on March 27, 2016. See Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A (Doc. No. 60). He then received "an unprofessional inappropriate] verbal response" from Lieutenant Lynn and Sergeant Roney to this grievance "[a] few days later." Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. 2 (Doc. No. 60). Consistent with this recitation of events, Mr. Andrews testified during his deposition as follows:

Q. Were any of your grievances ever responded to?
A. One was.
Q. And which one was that?
A. It was for [constant lockdowns, the ...

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