Williams v. Beard et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry)Based upon the undisputed evidence submitted by Remaining Defendants, especially Millers declaration, there are no facts other than the Plaintiffs speculative contention which could support a claim that Knarr had any personal involvement whatsoever in the purported food tampering incidents of January 21, 2010 and January 26, 2010. Accordingly summary judgment will be entered in favor of that Defendant.It is equally apparent that although Defe ndant Peters was admittedly at work on the two dates at issues, there are no facts presented to show that he had any participation, knowledge or acquiescence in the alleged acts of food tampering. Based upon the undisputed facts, Peters is also enti tled to entry of summary judgment. (See Memorandum) re 247 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Peter M. Knarr, Therese Jellen, A. A. Kitchen, Jimmy Fetterolf, George Miller, Rhonda Tomcavage, S. Gooler Signed by Honorable Richard P. Conaboy on 9/3/14. (cc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
LA-QUN RASHEED WILLIAMS,
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL.,
CIVIL NO. 3:CV-10-979
La-qun Rasheed Williams (Plaintiff), an inmate presently
confined at the Greene State Correctional Institution, Waynesburg,
Pennsylvania (SCI-Greene) filed this pro se civil rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff subsequently filed an
Amended Complaint (Docs. 15 & 16) which seeks relief regarding
actions which allegedly transpired during his prior incarceration
at the State Correctional Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania
By Memorandum and Order dated August 29, 2011, Defendants
Michael Weisner, M.D. and Physician’s Assistant (PA) Brian Davis’
motion to dismiss was granted.
See Doc. 119.
Anascavage and Jacob Davis’ motion to dismiss was granted on
February 13, 2012.
A motion seeking partial dismissal filed by the
Commonwealth Defendants was partially granted by Memorandum and
Order dated September 30, 2011.
See Doc. 124.
granted in favor of the moving Commonwealth Defendants with respect
to: (1) Williams’ damage claims for monetary damages brought
against the Commonwealth Defendants in their respective official
capacities; (2) the allegations of verbal harassment, attempted
bribery, and harassment; (3) Plaintiff’s claims of being the target
of a conspiracy; (4) all claims against Defendants Barnacle, Beard,
Ellett, Michael Miller, Novitsky, Shedleski, and Varano due to lack
of personal involvement; (5) the claims of deliberate indifference
against Defendant McCarty;(6) Williams’ claims relating to the
issuance of four misconduct charges by Lieutenants Fago,
Fetterholf, and Knarr as well as any due process claims against
Hearing Examiner Kerns-Barr; (7) the alleged denial of telephone
privileges on November 19, 2009; (8) Plaintiff’s cell search
claims; (9) the claims of mail interference with regards to the the
yellow envelope, Mint Green and motorcyclist magazine related
mailings; and (10) Williams’ contentions of retaliation, food
deprivation, and being served food loaf.
As a result of those prior rulings by this Court, Remaining
Defendants are the following SCI-Coal Twp. Officials: Correctional
Officers Andrew Kitchen, Michael Knarr, and Jimmy Fetterolf,
Lieutenant Stephen Gooler, Sergeant Alana Peters, Counselor Rhonda
Tomcavage, Major George Miller and Mail Supervisor Therese Jellen.
Plaintiff’s surviving allegations consists of the following two
claims: (1) razor blade pieces were intentionally placed in
Plaintiff’s food, and (2) incoming mail from Williams’ family was
not delivered and the misconduct was covered up.
is Remaining Corrections Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
See Doc. 247.
The opposed motion is ripe for consideration.
Remaining Defendants seek summary judgment on the grounds
that: (1) Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies
with respect to his mail interference claims; (2) there are no
allegations that Defendant Jellen wrongfully withheld Plaintiff’s
personal mail; (3) since it is undisputed that Major Miller
investigated Plaintiff’s claim of mail interference a viable claim
has not been raised against that Defendant; (3) there are no facts
alleged to support a claim that Counselor Tomcavage covered up the
non-delivery of Plaintiff’s personal mail; (4) Plaintiff cannot
establish that Fetterolf and Kitchen either placed or were aware
that razor blades or a scalpel were in the food which those
officials served to the prisoner; and (5) the wholly speculative
claims relating to Gooler, Peters, and Knarr doe not set forth a
viable claim of deliberate indifference.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper if “the pleadings, the discovery
and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(c); See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d
A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the
outcome of the suit under the applicable law.
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Anderson v. Liberty
A factual dispute is
“genuine” only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that
would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the
Id. at 248.
The court must resolve all doubts
as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of
the non-moving party.
Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v.
Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992).
Unsubstantiated arguments made in briefs are not considered
evidence of asserted facts.
Versarge v. Township of Clinton, 984
F.2d 1359, 1370 (3d Cir. 1993).
Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of
evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the nonmoving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324
Instead, it must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own
affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial.”
Id. (internal quotations omitted); see
also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted).
judgment should be granted where a party “fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to
that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden at
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.
“‘Such affirmative evidence
– regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial – must
amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the
evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.’”
Saldana, 260 F.3d
at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458,
460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).
Plaintiff claims that mail sent to him by his family members
during the Fall, 2010 was not delivered and that Counselor
Tomcavage was advised of the problem and attempted to cover up the
Major Miller likewise allegedly failed to correct
the problem and Mail Inspector Jellen was also involved because she
forwarded Plaintiff’s incoming mail to the prison’s Security Office
because the prisoner was designated for mail monitoring.
It also alleged that Lieutenant Gooler was present but
denied any knowledge of the alleged mail interference.
15. ¶¶ 39-40.
Remaining Corrections Defendants argue that Williams failed
to exhaust his available administrative remedies as to his mail
See Doc. 248, p. 5.
They assert that with
respect to said claims Plaintiff only sought administrative relief
by submitting an informal staff request and did not complete the
prison’s well established grievance procedure.
Section 1997e(a) of title 42 U.S.C. provides:
No action shall be brought with respect to
prison conditions under Section 1979 of
the Revised Statutes of the United States
(42 U.S.C. 1983), or any other federal
law, by a prisoner confined in any jail,
prison, or other correctional facility
until such administrative remedies as are
available are exhausted.
Section 1997e(a) requires administrative exhaustion
“irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered through
1. It is well settled that interference with inmate non-legal mail
may amount to a denial of free speech under the First and
Porter v. Nussle, 122 S.Ct. 983, 992
(2002); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n. 6 (2001).
for monetary relief are not excused from the exhaustion
Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 74 (3d Cir. 2000).
Dismissal of an inmate’s claim is appropriate when a prisoner has
failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies before
bringing a civil rights action.
2d 838, 843 (E.D. Pa. 2000).
Ahmed v. Sromovski, 103 F. Supp.
“[E]xhaustion must occur prior to
filing suit, not while the suit is pending.”
Tribe v. Harvey, 248
F.3d 1152, 2000 WL 167468, *2 (6th Cir. 2000)(citing Freeman v.
Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 645 (6th Cir. 1999)); Oriakhi v. United
States, 165 Fed. Appx. 991, 993 (3d Cir. 2006).
The United States Supreme Court in Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S.
199, 219 (2007), stated that the primary purpose of the exhaustion
requirement is to allow “a prison to address complaints about the
program it administers before being subjected to suit, reducing
litigation to the extent complaints are satisfactorily resolved,
and improving litigation that does occur by leading to the
preparation of a useful record.”
exhaustion mandate also implies a procedural default component.
Spruill v. Gillis 372 F.3d 218, 222 (3d Cir. 2004).
As explained by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, a
procedural default rule “prevents an end-run around the exhaustion
Id. at 230.
It also ensures “prisoner compliance
with the specific requirements of the grievance system” and
encourages inmates to pursue their administrative grievances “to
Similarly, the Supreme Court has observed that
proper exhaustion of available administrative remedies is
mandatory, meaning that prisoners must comply with the grievance
system’s procedural rules, including time limitations.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 (2006).
“There is no futility exception” to the exhaustion
Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 112 (3d cir. 2002)
(citing Nyhuis, 204 F.3d at 75.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals
reiterated its no futility exception by rejecting an inmate’s
argument that exhaustion should be excused because prisoner
grievances were regularly rejected.
271, 274 (3d Cir.
Hill v. Smith, 186 Fed.
The Court of Appeals has also rejected
“sensitive’ subject matter or ‘fear of retaliation’ as a basis for
excusing a prisoner’s failure to exhaust.”
Pena-Ruiz v. Solorzano,
281 Fed. Appx. 110, 113 (3d Cir. 2008).
An inmate is not required to specifically plead or
demonstrate exhaustion in his or her complaint.
U.S. at 216;
See, Jones, 549
see also Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287 (3d Cir. 2002)(a
prisoner does not have to allege in his complaint that he has
exhausted administrative remedies).
Rather, pursuant to the
standards announced in Williams v. Runyon, 130 F.3d
568, 573 (3d
Cir. 1997), it is the burden of a defendant asserting the defense
of non-exhaustion to plead and prove it.2
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) has
established a Consolidated Inmate Grievance Review System which has
In Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003), the
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit similarly
stated that “[f]ailure to exhaust administrative remedies is an
affirmative defense for the defendant to plead.”
been periodically amended.
Section V of DC-ADM 804 (effective
December 8, 2010) states that “every individual committed to its
custody shall have access to a formal procedure through which to
seek the resolution of problems or other issues of concern arising
during the course of confinement.”
See Doc. 29, p. 8.
that the formal procedure shall be known as the Inmate Grievance
System and provides a forum of review and two (2) avenues of
Section VI ("Procedures") of DC-ADM 804 provides that,
after attempted informal resolution of the problem, a written
grievance may be submitted to the Facility Grievance Coordinator
within fifteen (15) working days after the events upon which the
claims are based, but allowances of extensions of time will be
granted under certain circumstances.
An appeal from the Grievance Coordinator's Initial Review
decision may be made in writing within ten (10) working days to the
Facility Manager or Superintendent.
A final written appeal may be
presented within fifteen (15) working days to the Secretary’s
Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals (SOIGA).
A prisoner, in
seeking review through the DOC grievance system, may include
reasonable requests for compensation or other legal relief normally
available from a court.
However, an improperly submitted grievance
will not be reviewed.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized that under
the DOC’s administrative review system a prisoner’s grievance
should identify specific persons, if practicable.
F.3d at 234.
The Court of Appeals explained that an unexplained
failure to identify a responsible prison official in a grievance
constitutes a procedural default of the claim.
It also noted that
the prison’s grievance process could excuse such a procedural
default by identifying the unidentified person and acknowledging
that they were fairly within the compass of the prisoner’s
Jones, 549 U.S. at 219, the United States
Supreme Court established that “exhaustion is not per se inadequate
simply because an individual later sued was not named in the
In support of their argument, a declaration under penalty of
perjury by DOC Grievance Review Officer Leilani Sears has been
See Doc. 250-1.
Sears verifies Plaintiff never
appealed a grievance to final review regarding the merits of his
mail interference claims “of failure to receive or be able to send
letters to friends and family” between July 1, 2010 and December
Id., ¶ 8.
Attached to Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint are copies of
various inmate requests which he initiated regarding alleged
interference with his mail from family.
However, there are no
documents which show that Williams administratively exhausted to
final review any mail interference related grievance.3
Based upon an application of the well settled administrative
exhaustion standards and the undisputed supporting evidence
presented by the Remaining Defendants, they have satisfied their
burden of demonstrating that the substance of the mail interference
3. The exhibits do show that Williams exhausted a grievance
regarding a mail related problem he allegedly had with an outside
company, US Mint Green Ltd.
claims asserted against Defendants Tomcavage, Miller, Gooler, and
Jellen was not encompassed within any grievance filed to final
administrative review by Williams.
Accordingly, those three
Defendants are entitled to entry of summary judgment on the basis
of non-exhaustion of administrative remedies.4
Kitchen and Fetterolf
Plaintiff initially alleged that he was delivered a food
tray by Correctional Officers Andrew Kitchen and Jimmy Fetterolf on
January 21, 2010.
A sandwich on the food tray allegedly contained
hidden pieces of razor blade which were put in Plaintiff’s sandwich
and sliced his tongue open.
Williams was subsequently granted
leave to amend his food tampering claim to allege that it was a
scalpel and not a razor blade which caused his injury.
Later, on January 26, 2010,
Plaintiff was again purportedly
delivered a food tray by Fetterolf and Kitchen which also contained
pieces of razor blade/scalpel.
It is also vaguely alleged that
Defendants Gooler, Peters, and Knarr were involved or acquiesced in
the food tampering.
The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual
punishment imposes duties on prison officials to provide prisoners
with the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing,
shelter, sanitation, medical care and personal safety.
v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993).
Prison conditions may amount
to cruel and unusual punishment if they cause “unquestioned and
4. In light of this determination discussion of the remaining
summary judgment arguments concerning Plaintiff’s mail interference
claim is not warranted.
serious deprivations of basic human needs ... [that] deprive
inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”
Tillman v. Lebanon County Correctional Facility, 221 F.3d 410 (3d
An Eighth Amendment claim against a prison official
must meet two requirements:
(1) “the deprivation alleged must be,
objectively, sufficiently serious;” and (2) the “prison official
must have a sufficiently culpable state of mind.”5
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
In prison conditions cases,
“that state of mind is one of ‘deliberate indifference’ to inmate
health or safety.”
Remaining Defendants contend that Williams has not satisfied
the subjective component of Farmer because “he cannot establish
that Defendants Fetterolf and Kitchen either placed the razor
blades/a scalpel in his food or knew that they were there when they
served the food to him.”
Doc. 248, p. 11.
In support of their argument they have provided similar
declarations under penalty of perjury by Kitchen and Fetterolf.
Correctional Officer Kitchen states that “[a]t no time have I ever
placed a razor blade or any foreign body in Plaintiff’s food.”
Doc. 250-7, ¶ 5.
In addition to denying placing anything in
Williams’ food, Defendant Fetterolf adds that he is “unaware of any
Under Farmer, deliberate indifference is a subjective
standard in that the prison official must actually have known or
been aware of the excessive risk to inmate safety. Beers-Capitol
v. Whetzel, 256 F. 3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001). This requirement of
actual knowledge means that “the official must both be aware of
facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial
risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.”
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.
other Department of Corrections personnel having ever placed razor
blades or any foreign objects in Plaintiff’s food.”
Doc. 250-6, ¶
Declarations by Knarr, Gooler and Peters have also been
provided and each of those officials denies any involvement in the
alleged food tampering incidents.
Also submitted is a declaration
under penalty of perjury by SCI-Coal Twp. Security Captain Charles
Stetler who asserts that he completed an internal investigation
into Plaintiff’s claims of receiving tampered meal trays on January
21, 2010 and January 26, 2010.
See Doc. 250-4.
that the investigation concluded that “no staff member was
responsible for placing the razor blades in the food trays issued
to Inmate LaQun Williams.”
Id. at ¶ 7.
Stetler further opines
that in his [professional opinion based on Plaintiff’s conduct
while in prison and the the inmate’s “manipulative personality” he
obtained the blades/scalpel himself “and then placed them in his
own food to set up staff for a lawsuit.”
Id. at ¶ 8.
Remaining Defendants also note that in his deposition
testimony, Williams clearly acknowledged
that he could not see
anyone placing the foreign objects on his food on either of the two
dates at issue.
See Doc. 250-2, p. 9.
In opposition to Remaining Defendants’ argument, Plaintiff
has submitted a declaration from fellow inmate Michael Tacker who
states that on January 21, 2010 he witnessed Kitchen and Fetterolf
delivering food trays on the tier above him.
indicates that Fetterolf looked around and reached into his pants
pocket and pulled something out which the officer then handed to
See Doc. 259, ¶ 9.
The next sentence of Tacker’s
declaration is garbled as it appears that the original sentence was
written over a second time.
The next sentence states “I no longer
could see C/O AA Kitchen and Fetterolf because they was over top of
Id. at ¶ 11.
Tacker further asserts that shortly thereafter
on that same day he told Plaintiff what he had seen.6
As detailed above the parties have submitted conflicting
It is not the function of this Court to
determine which view is more reasonable.
Rather, this Court must
only undertake a resolution as to whether Remaining Defendants have
satisfied their burden of showing that there is no genuine issue as
to any material fact.
Based upon the the evidence submitted by the
parties, especially the declaration by Inmate Tacker, there are
clearly issues of material fact which undermine Kitchen and
Fetterolf’s argument of entitlement to entry of summary judgment.
Gooler, Peters, and Knarr
According to the Amended Complaint on June 26, 2009 Knarr
stuck his thumb in Plaintiff’s food tray.
See id. At ¶ 76.
and Gooler allegedly acquiesced in Knarr’s conduct by not favorably
responding to Plaintiff’s complaints. From that point forward,
hostilities between Knarr and Plaintiff allegedly continued and
escalated to include Kitchen, Fetterolf, Peters, and Gooler and
6. This averment is contradicted by Plaintiff’s subsequent
deposition testimony where he indicates only that he believed
Kitchen and Fetterolf to be responsible because they were the ones
who delivered the tray. Tacker’s account is not referenced by
plaintiff’s deposition testimony.
were usually associated with the delivery of food trays, especially
Remaining Defendants next argue that the allegations against
Gooler, Peters, or Knarr “are even more speculative and attenuated.
Doc. 248, p. 12.
They add that alleged involvement of Gooler is
improperly based up his supervisory capacity.
defendants have all submitted declarations under penalty of perjury
wherein they deny placing razor blades or any foreign bodies in the
They also aver that they have no knowledge that
any correctional staff member undertook any
A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights
claim, must plead two essential elements:
(1) that the conduct
complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law,
and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right,
privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the
See Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628,
638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135,
1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).
Furthermore, federal civil rights claims brought under §
1983 cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior.
v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988).
named defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to
have been personally involved in the events or occurrences which
underlie a claim.
See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton
v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077 (3d Cir. 1976).
explained in Rode:
A defendant in a civil rights action must have
personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. . .
. [P]ersonal involvement can be shown through
allegations of personal direction or of actual
knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of
participation or actual knowledge and
acquiescence, however, must be made with
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.
Inmates also do not have a constitutional right to a prison
See Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners Labor
Union, 433 U.S. 119, 137-138 (1977); Speight v. Sims, No. 08-2038,
2008 WL 2600723 at *1 (3d. Cir. Jun 30, 2008)(citing Massey v.
Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001)(“[T]he existence of a
prison grievance procedure confers no liberty interest on a
prisoner.”) Consequently, any attempt by Plaintiff to establish
liability against the Warden and Deputy Warden
solely based upon
the substance or lack of response to his institutional grievances
does not by itself support a constitutional due process claim.
also Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 Fed. Appx. 924, 925 (3d Cir.
2005)(involvement in post-incident grievance process not a basis
for § 1983 liability); Pryor-El v. Kelly, 892 F. Supp. 261, 275 (D.
D.C. 1995) (because prison grievance procedure does not confer any
substantive constitutional rights upon prison inmates, the prison
officials' failure to comply with grievance procedure is not
Based upon a careful review of the Amended Complaint the
claims against Lieutenant Gooler are either premised upon his
supervisory capacity within Plaintiff’s housing unit or failure to
take favorable action in response to Plaintiff’s administrative
Pursuant to the above discussion, either approach is
insufficient to establish civil rights liability against Defendant
As such, Defendant Gooler’s request for entry of summary
judgment will be granted.
With respect to Defendant Knarr, a declaration by Major
George Miller provides that with respect to the two dates when
Plaintiff was allegedly given adulterated meals, Knarr was off work
on January 21, 2010 and was assigned to perimeter patrol of the
prison on January 26, 2010,
Based upon the undisputed evidence submitted by Remaining
Defendants, especially Miller’s declaration, there are no facts
other than the Plaintiff’s speculative contention which could
support a claim that Knarr had any personal involvement whatsoever
in the purported food tampering incidents of January 21, 2010 and
January 26, 2010.
Accordingly summary judgment will be entered in
favor of that Defendant.
It is equally apparent that although Defendant Peters was
admittedly at work on the two dates at issues, there are no facts
presented to show that he had any participation, knowledge or
acquiescence in the alleged acts of food tampering.
Based upon the
undisputed facts, Peters is also entitled to entry of summary
S/Richard P. Conaboy ___________
RICHARD P. CONABOY
United States District Judge
DATED: SEPTEMBER 3, 2014
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