McNesby v. Heenan et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting 15 Motion for Summary Judgment. 1. Defendants motion for summary judgment (Doc. 15) is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff. 2. The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this case. 3. Any appeal from this Order will be deemed frivolous, without probable cause and not taken in good faith.Signed by Honorable William J. Nealon on 10/5/2017 (bg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
M. Heenan, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:CV-16-0602
Plaintiff, an inmate confined in the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution
(“SCI-Mahanoy”), Frackville, Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1, complaint). He seeks compensatory and punitive
damages for Defendants alleged indifference to Plaintiff’s safety, when they celled
Plaintiff with inmate Michael Tyron, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id.
The named Defendants are SCI-Mahanoy Superintendent Kerestes; SCI-Mahanoy
Unit Manager Heenan; and Chief Grievance Officer Dorina Varner. Id
Presently before the Court is Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
(Doc. 15). Defendants seek entitlement to judgment, inter alia, for Plaintiff’s
failure to exhaust administrative remedies and for failure to establish personal
involvement of Defendants, Kerestes and Varner, in any constitutional violation.
(Doc. 16). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment will be granted.
II. Summary Judgment
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) requires the court to render summary
judgment “ . . . forthwith 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
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “[T]his standard provides that
the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not
defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would
affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992).
An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257;
Brenner v. Local 514, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America,
927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).
When determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court
must view the facts and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.
Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v. Consolidated Rail
Corporation, 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir. 1992); White v. Westinghouse Electric
Company, 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In order to avoid summary judgment,
however, the nonmoving party may not rest on the unsubstantiated allegations of
his or her pleadings. When the party seeking summary judgment satisfies its
burden under Rule 56(c) of identifying evidence which demonstrates the absence
of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party is required by Rule 56(e)
to go beyond the pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories
or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a
genuine issue. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The
party opposing the motion “must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v.
Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). When Rule 56(e) shifts the burden of
production to the nonmoving party, that party must produce evidence to show the
existence of every element essential to its case which it bears the burden of proving
at trial, for “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the
nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323. See Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992).
Statement of Facts1
The statement of undisputed facts is limited to Plaintiff’s exhaustion of
administrative remedies and Defendants’ involvement therein.
On August 29, 2014, Plaintiff was moved into Building C, Block A, cell
1019 in SCI-Mahanoy. (Doc. 18-4 at 2, Inmate Cell History).
On October 14, 2014, Inmate Tyron, who was also incarcerated at SCIMahanoy, was placed in Building C, Block A, cell 1010 with Plaintiff. (Doc. 18-5
at 2, Inmate Cell History). Defendant Heenan made the decision to cell Tyron with
Plaintiff. Doc. 18-6 at 2, Declaration of Michelle Heenan at ¶ 3). At the time
Heenan placed Tyron with Plaintiff, she had no knowledge of Tyron’s history of
setting fires at a prior institution. Id.
Middle District of Pennsylvania Local Rules of Court provide that in
addition to filing a brief in response to the moving party’s brief in support, “[t]he
papers opposing a motion for summary judgment shall included a separate, short
and concise statement of material facts responding to the numbered paragraphs set
forth in the statement [of material facts filed by the moving party] ..., as to which it
is contended that there exists a genuine issue to be tried.” See M.D. Pa. LR 56. 1.
The rule further states that the statement of material facts required to be served by
the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the
statement required to be served by the opposing party. See id. Because Plaintiff
has failed to file a separate statement of material facts controverting the statement
filed by Defendants, all material facts set forth in Defendants’ statement (Doc. 50)
will be deemed admitted.
On October 17, 2014, at 3:41 a.m., staff responded to a fire in cell 1019.
(Doc. 18-7 at 2, Occurrence Description). Inmate Tyron was issued a misconduct
for setting the fire. Id. Plaintiff was treated for smoke inhalation. (Doc. 18-8 at 2,
Progress Notes). As of 9:00 a.m., Plaintiff was asymptomatic and discharged back
to his Block. Id. Plaintiff told medical personnel that his cellie was threatening
him all night prior to the fire and he then just went to sleep. Id.
On October 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 533269, complaining
that his inmate suffers from mental problems and is putting his life in danger.
(Doc. 18-2 at 2, Grievance No. 533269). There is no specific Defendant named in
Plaintiff’s grievance as being directly involved in the complained of event. Id.
Plaintiff requested the following for relief:
Z Code due to the trauma from this incident.
Bottom bunk status, due to me being on top bunk when
Mr. Tyron lit the bottom bunk on fire.
I would like to file charges against Mr. Tyron for
endangering my life and well being, causing severe
emotional distress and problems.
Compensatory, punitive and nominal damages due to my
mental health state and physical damage done. I’m now
suffering from extreme anxiety, depression, breathing
problems and PTSD symptoms.
Id. On October 27, 2014, Plaintiff’s grievance was received by Grievance
Coordinator Jane Hinman. Id.
On November 16, 2014, Acting Unit Manager Heenan denied Plaintiff’s
grievance with the following:
Inmate McNesby, you are grieving the fact that your former cellmate
(Tyron KV1063) was unpredictable and you submitted two cell
agreements that were never acknowledged. You also claim that your
former cellmate started making threatening comments and said that he
told the Lieutenant and Sergeant he would hurt himself or someone
else if they didn’t believe him. You then claim he showed you
paperwork from SCI-Frackville where he lit a cell on fire.
According to the inmate Handbook page 10 letter B. Cell Assignments
- “Upon initial reception into the DOC and after transfer to other
facilities, you will be evaluated for your cell assignment. Cell
assignments will be based on the staff’s evaluation of your previous
behavior in a facility. Cell assignments will not be made based solely
on race. It is your responsibility to inform the staff of any preferences
you have about your cell assignment. A preference filed by you will
be assessed by staff but not necessarily granted.”
In speaking with myself and Major Damore, you stated you felt
threatened by your cellmate’s comments, and DOC staff should have
known you were in danger. However, between 15:30 pm and 3:30 am
you had the opportunity to hit your cell button to alert the block CO
that there were issues, and during that time frame, there were four
scheduled counts, in which the CO walked and stopped at your cell
door. You at no time told staff during that time frame that you felt
threatened or that you were in danger.
In conclusion, I find this grievance to be without merit and is
(Doc. 18-2 at 4, Initial Review Response).
On November 16, 2014, Plaintiff appealed the denial of Grievance No.
533269 to the Facility Manager. (Doc. 18-2 at 5, Appeal). Plaintiff’s appeal
contained no reference to any specific individual as being directly involved in the
complained of event. Id.
By Response dated December 1, 2014, the Facility Manager upheld the
initial response, stating that “[my] review of these documents indicates that Ms.
Heenan has properly researched your issues and has provided you with an
appropriate response.” (Doc. 18-2 at 7, Facility Manager’s Appeal Response).
On December 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed an appeal to final review, (Doc. 18-2
at 8, Inmate Appeal to Final Review), which was denied on January 30, 2015, with
the following response:
You state that on 10/16/2014 your cellmate made a scene during TC
in which the officers had to lock the block down. You state that your
cellmate was making threats to everyone and using profanities. You
state that after staff spoke to him you were told to lock in. You state
that you felt threatened by what your cellmate was telling you and the
next morning you woke up to your cell being filled with smoke due to
your cellmate starting a fire. Your concerns have been reviewed.
Review of the initial review response indicates that it adequately
addressed your concerns. Records reflect that you did not advise staff
that you felt threatened or were in danger. Therefore, your grievance
appeal to this office is denied as well as your requested relief.
(Doc. 18-2 at 10, Final Appeal Decision).
The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that inmates exhaust the
administrative remedies that are available to them prior to bringing suit in federal
court. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Specifically, the PLRA provides that “[n]o 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 have been exhausted.” Id.
The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that “[t]here is
no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA.” Ross v. Blake, –––
U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856, 195 L.Ed.2d 117 (2016), quoting Woodford v.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006), accord Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007).
“And that mandatory language means a court may not excuse a failure to exhaust,
even to take [ ] [special] circumstances into account.” Ross at 1856.
Because the PLRA is a statutory exhaustion provision, “Congress sets the
rules—and courts have a role in creating exceptions only if Congress wants them
to. For that reason mandatory exhaustion statutes like the PLRA establish
mandatory exhaustion regimes, foreclosing judicial discretion.” Id. at 1857.
Accordingly, exhaustion is required regardless of the availability of the requested
relief, and regardless of the nature of the underlying claim, whether it arises from
excessive force, or a violation of the constitution. Id., citing, Booth v. Churner,
532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 520 (2002); Woodford,
548 U.S. at 91.
Additionally, exhaustion must be “proper,” which “demands compliance
with an agency’s deadlines and other critical procedural rules.” Woodford, at 90.
This serves to protect “administrative agency authority” over the matter, giving an
agency “an opportunity to correct its own mistakes ... before it is haled into federal
court,” and “discourages ‘disregard of [the agency’s] procedures.” Id. at 89,
quoting McCarthy v. Madigan, 503 U.S. 140, 145 (1992).
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ administrative remedies for
inmate grievances are provided for in Department of Corrections Administrative
Directive 804. See www.cor.state.pa.us, DOC Policies, DC-ADM 804, Inmate
Grievance System Policy (“DC-ADM 804"). This policy establishes the
Consolidated Inmate Grievance Review System, through which inmates can seek
to resolve issues relating to their incarceration. Id. The first step in the inmate
grievance process is initial review. Id. Grievances must be submitted for initial
review within 15 working days after the event upon which the grievance is based.
Id. After initial review, the inmate may appeal to the superintendent of their
institution. Id. Upon completion of the initial review and the appeal from the
initial review, an inmate may seek final review. Id.
Importantly, the policy specifically requires that the grievant specifically
name the individuals involved in the events complained about:
The text of the grievance must be legible, understandable,
and presented in a courteous manner. The inmate must
include a statement of facts relevant to the claim.
The inmate shall identify individuals directly involved in
The record before this Court reveals that Plaintiff exhausted to final review,
a grievance pertaining to his cellmate threatening him and endangering his life.
However, at no time does Plaintiff identify any of the named Defendants within his
grievance or subsequent appeals.
“[I]n the absence of any justifiable excuse, a Pennsylvania inmate’s failure
to properly identify a defendant constitute[s] a failure to properly exhaust his
administrative remedies under the PLRA.” Williams v. Commonwealth, 146 F.
App’x 554, 557 (3d Cir. 2005). Where, as here, the provisions of a grievance
process expressly require the identification of named defendants, the Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit has found procedural default in an inmate’s failure to
comply as instructed. See, e.g., Rosa-Diaz v. Dow, 683 Fed.App’x. 103, 105–06
(3d Cir. 2017) (inmate procedurally defaulted on claim where grievance policy
required identification of defendants, and inmate failed to name particular
defendant in grievance related to assault); Watts v. Herbik, 364 Fed.App’x. 723 (3d
Cir. 2010) (finding that Watts’ failure to mention Tretinik in his administrative
grievance and did not place him on notice of alleged wrongdoing, Watts
procedurally defaulted all claims against him).
In Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 230 (3d Cir. 2004), our Court of Appeals
held that congressional policy objectives were best served by interpreting the
statutory “exhaustion requirement to include a procedural default component.”
The court further ruled that procedural default under § 1997e(a) is governed by the
applicable prison grievance system, provided that the “prison grievance system’s
procedural requirements [are] not imposed in a way that offends the Federal
Constitution or the federal policy embodied in § 1997e(a).” Id. at 231, 232. As
explained in Spruill, “[t]he purpose of the regulation here is to put the prison
officials on notice of the persons claimed to be guilty of wrongdoing.” Spruill, 372
F.3d at 234. The current version of DC-ADM 804 is even more compelling given
the inclusion of the phrase “shall identify.”
In this case, while Plaintiff presented and pursued a grievance which made
complaints about his cellmate, and Plaintiff’s concern for his safety, he failed to
ever identify any individual that was directly involved with the assigning of inmate
Tyron to his cell. McNesby offers no explanation as to why he did not name
Defendant Heenan in his grievance. Thus, he has sustained a procedural default.
In Spruill, the Third Circuit found that a procedural default component to the
exhaustion requirement served the following congressional objectives: “(1) to
return control of the inmate grievance process to prison administrators; (2) to
encourage development of administrative record, and perhaps settlements, within
the inmate grievance process; and (3) to reduce the burden on the federal courts by
erecting barriers to frivolous prisoner lawsuits.” 372 F.3d at 230. In Pusey v.
Belanger, No. Civ. 02-351, 2004 WL 2075472 at *2-3 (D. Del. Sept. 14, 2004), the
court applied Spruill to dismiss an inmate’s action for failure to timely pursue an
administrative remedy over the inmate’s objection that he did not believe the
administrative remedy program operating in Delaware covered his grievance. In
Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 86-88 (2d Cir. 2004), the court affirmed the dismissal
of an inmate’s action with prejudice where the inmate had failed to offer
appropriate justification for the failure to timely pursue administrative grievances.
In Ross v. County of Bernalillo, 365 F.3d 1181, 1186 (10th Cir. 2004), the court
embraced the holding in Pozo, stating that “[a] prison procedure that is
procedurally barred and thus is unavailable to a prisoner is not thereby considered
exhausted.” These precedents support this Court’s decision to grant summary
judgment, as a matter of law, in favor of Defendant Heenan.
B. Personal Involvement
In a § 1983 civil rights action, the Plaintiff must prove the following two
essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person
acting under color of state law; and that the conduct complained of deprived the
Plaintiff of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the law or the Constitution
of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); Kost v. Kozakiewicz,
1 F.3d 176, 184 (3d Cir.1993); Beattie v. Dept. of Corrections SCI–Mahanoy, 2009
WL 533051, *3 (M.D. Pa.). Further, Section 1983 is not a source of substantive
rights. Rather, it is a means to redress violations of federal law by state actors.
Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284–85 (2002).
Moreover, it is well established that personal liability in a civil rights action
cannot be imposed upon an official based on a theory of respondeat superior. See,
e.g., Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison
Officials, 1546 F.2d 1077, 1082 (3d Cir.1976); Parratt, supra. The doctrine of
respondeat superior does not apply to constitutional claims. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, (2009) (“Government officials may not be held liable for
unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat
superior.” ); see also Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir.2005) (claims
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat
superior ) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1988)).
Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint’s allegations, to
have been personally involved in the events underlying a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
675 (“[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through
the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”). As the Court
stated in Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1998):
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 appropriate particularity.
See also Beattie v. Dept. of Corrections SCI–Mahanoy, 2009 WL 533051, *3 (“a
prerequisite for a viable civil rights claim is that a Defendant directed, or knew of
and acquiesced in, the deprivation of a Plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”), citing
Finally, a prison official’s response or lack thereof to an inmate’s
Administrative remedies is not sufficient alone to hold the official liable in a civil
rights action. Glenn v. Delbalso, 599 Fed.App’x. 457 (3d Cir. 2015)(access to
prison grievance procedures is not a constitutionally-mandated right, and
allegations of improprieties in the handling of grievances do not state a cognizable
claim under § 1983); Mincy v. Chmielsewski, 506 Fed. App’x. 99 (3d Cir.
2013)(an officer’s review of, or failure to investigate, an inmate’s grievances
generally does not satisfy the requisite personal involvement); Brooks v. Beard,
167 Fed. App’x. 923 (3d Cir. 2006)(holding that although the complaint alleges
that Appellees responded inappropriately to Brook’s later-filed grievances about
his medical treatment, these allegations do not establish Appellees’ involvement in
the treatment itself).
It is apparent from Plaintiff’s allegations that the only roles of Defendants
Kerestes and Varner, were connected to the filing of Plaintiff’s grievance and
subsequent appeals. However, such claims that these Defendants violated his
constitutional rights regarding their handling of his grievance, fails as a matter of
law, and these Defendants are entitled to dismissal. Thus, Defendants Kerestes and
Varner are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted. An appropriate
order will follow.
Dated: October 5, 2017
/s/ William J. Nealon
United States District Judge
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
M. Heenan, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:CV-16-0602
AND NOW, THIS 5th DAY OF OCTOBER, 2017, for the reasons set forth
in the Memorandum of this date, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Doc. 15) is
GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter
judgment in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff.
The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this case.
Any appeal from this Order will be deemed frivolous,
without probable cause and not taken in good faith.
/s/ William J. Nealon
United States District Judge
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