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Newsome v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 3, 2020

JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants.



         Pro se Plaintiff Brakeer Newsome (“Plaintiff”), an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Forest, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments rights that transpired during his incarceration at the State Correctional Institution at Greene (“SCI Greene”). (ECF No. 8). Named as Defendants in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are John Wetzel (“Secretary Wetzel”), Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; SCI Greene Corrections Officers Teagarden (“CO Teagarden”); Carter (“CO Carter”); C. R. Smith (“CO Smith”); Lt. John Doe; Sgt. John Doe; Robert D. Gilmore (“Superintendent Gilmore”), Superintendent Facility Manager at SCI Greene; and D. Benner (“Hearing Officer Benner”), Disciplinary Hearing Officer at SCI Greene (collectively “Defendants”).

         Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' partial motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 36). Specifically, Defendants seek dismissal of Hearing Officer Benner, Superintendent Gilmore, and Secretary Wetzel from the case. (Id.). Additionally, Defendants ask the Court to dismiss all official capacity claims against the remaining Defendants. (Id.). For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' motion will be granted.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff commenced the present action by moving for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. On November 20, 2018, Plaintiff's motion was granted, and his complaint was docketed the same day.

         In his initial complaint, Plaintiff alleged that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated through the excessive use of force and that his extensive disciplinary confinement violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Subsequently, Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss in which they sought dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against Secretary Wetzel, Hearing Officer Benner, and Superintendent Gilmore because Plaintiff had failed to allege their personal involvement in an incident that is alleged to have occurred on April 24, 2017.

         In response, Plaintiff sought and was granted permission from Court to file an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 32). Defendants then filed the currently pending motion with an accompanying brief to which Plaintiff has responded. (ECF Nos. 36, 37, 46). Accordingly, the matter is ripe for consideration.

         II. Relevant Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiff's claims in this action stem from an incident which is alleged to have occurred on April 24, 2017 (the “April Incident”). (Am. Compl. at ¶ 2). According to the allegations of the Amended Complaint, while Plaintiff was being escorted from intake to the F-block strip cage, he was verbally assaulted in a “low tone” by CO Teagarden and other unidentified officers. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 9). This verbal assault continued after he was escorted out of the strip cage and when he arrived at his housing unit, CO Teagarden forcibly pushed him and pinned his shoulder. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12). He was then forced to the ground and ankle restraints were attached, after which his escort to his housing unit continued. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 15).

         Upon arriving at his cell in SCI Greene's Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”), he was asked to kneel so that the restraints could be removed, then stood and was told to enter his cell. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 17; see Id. at 3). As he took a step, he was pushed forcibly from behind by CO Carter, causing him to turn awkwardly. (Id. ¶ 18). As his cell door was being closed, CO Smith and CO Carter began forcibly pulling on a tether in an effort to pull his hands through the wicket, which represented an unnecessary use of force with malicious intent, resulting in injuries to Plaintiff's wrists. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20).

         Plaintiff was subsequently taken to medical triage and it was decided that he should be seen by medical personnel at an outside hospital. (Id. ¶¶ 23-29). He was first taken to Washington Hospital and then sent to Presbyterian Hospital, where he was treated with stitches for a severed vein and a torn tendon; an x-ray was also taken. (Id. ¶¶ 29-32). Upon his return to SCI Greene, he was placed back in the RHU. (Id. ¶ 32).

         Plaintiff claims that he was initially refused medical attention, but after he advised a unit manager that his stitches had become undone, he was taken to the main medical triage and placed in a psychiatric observation cell. (Id. ¶¶ 33-36). Plaintiff did not want SCI Greene's medical staff to treat him and requested that they contact his family before they performed any medical treatment, but they refused to do so. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 38). When Plaintiff requested to be treated at an outside hospital, he was placed in a smock and gown despite the fact that there was no need to do so. (Id. ¶¶ 39-41). Plaintiff was then forcibly taken out of the cell and his clothing was cut off, exposing his body and private parts and causing him a “period of humiliation.” (Id. ¶¶ 42, 43). While exposed on a blanket, he was searched, checked by the medical staff, photographed and placed back into the cell. (Id. ¶ 44). He then went on a hunger strike between April 25, 2017 and May 1, 2017 because he was not able to advise his family about what happened, although the hunger strike is “not likely to be recorded.” (Id. ¶¶ 45, 46).

         On May 2, 2017, Plaintiff had a disciplinary hearing with respect to the April Incident at which he asked Hearing Officer Benner to review the video of what had occurred. (Id. ¶ 47). This request was denied but Plaintiff then was advised that no video existed. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Hearing Officer Benner sentenced him to 180 days in disciplinary custody without “properly explaining the findings of the guilty verdicts.” (Id.). On appeal, the Program Review Committee (“PRC”) at SCI Greene upheld Hearing Officer Benner's decision. (Id. ¶ 48). Plaintiff then filed a second level appeal to Superintendent Gilmore. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Superintendent Gilmore did not provide a “proper response;” however, he also alleges that Superintendent Gilmore denied his appeal (Id. ¶¶ 48, 51).

         Plaintiff alleges that Secretary Wetzel knew about Defendants' violations but refused to reply to his appeal and denied any relief. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 52). He also alleges that at ¶ 90-day review of his disciplinary custody, the PRC told him he was being placed on restricted release by Secretary Wetzel because of the April Incident. (Id. ¶ 50). This further extended his confinement. (Id.). Plaintiff acknowledges that he grieved his claims to final appeal. (Id. ¶¶ 51, 52).

         III. Standard Of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMCShadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). ...

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