Williams v. PA Department of Corrections et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 16 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by PA Department of Corrections, N.D. Novallis, C.L. Wydra, Kathy Biscoe. Signed by Honorable Robert D. Mariani on 2/16/21. (jam)
Case 3:19-cv-01261-RDM-CA Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 1 of 14
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Civil No. 3:19-cv-1261
ANTHONY S. WILLIAMS,
PA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS,
Plaintiff Anthony Williams ("Williams), an inmate confined at the State Correctional
Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania, ("SCI-Coal Township"), initiated this civil rights
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Named as Defendants are Unit Manager
Kathy Biscoe and Correctional Officers Novallis and Wydra. Presently ripe for disposition is
Defendants' motion (Doc. 16) for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion.
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Statement of Undisputed Facts 1
On December 29, 2018, Williams was on janitorial work detail at SCI-Coal Township.
(Doc. 19, Statement of Material Facts,~~ 1-2; Doc. 23, Counterstatement of Material Facts,
1-2). Janitorial work detail involves sanitizing, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning. (Id. at
3). As part of his janitorial duties, Williams was required to shake out cell rugs to clean
any debris off of them, an act known as "rug popping." (Id. at~ 4). Williams asserts that he
was shaking out a rug when debris from the rug flew into his face, arms, and hands, causing
eye irritation, a rash, nausea, a stomachache, and vomiting. (Doc. 19-1, Doc. 23, pp. 4-35,
Deposition of Anthony Williams ("Williams Dep."), at 13:3-4; 13:22-24; 14:1-3; 16:14-16).
Williams contends that he immediately asked Defendant Wydra for medical attention, but
Wydra refused to send him to the medial department. (Doc. 23 ~ 5). Williams was treated
by medical staff approximately two to three days later. (Doc. 19 ~ 5; Doc. 23 ~~ 5, 6).
Williams states that he received treatment for his eye from December 31, 2018 to January
26, 2019. (Doc. 23 ~ 6). Defendants maintain that Williams has no lasting injuries from this
event. (Doc. 19 ~ 6).
Local Rule 56.1 requires that a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56 be supported "by a separate, short, and concise statement of the material facts, in numbered
paragraphs, as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried." LOCAL RULE OF
COURT 56.1. A party opposing a motion for summary judgment must file a separate statement of material
facts, responding to the numbered paragraphs set forth in the moving party's statement and identifying
genuine issues to be tried. Id. Unless otherwise noted, the factual background herein derives from the
parties' Rule 56.1 statements of material facts . (Docs. 19, 23).
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Williams never spoke directly to Defendant Biscoe, the Unit Manager, regarding "rug
popping" duties. (Doc. 19 ~ 7). Williams asserts that he told Defendant Novallis that he
was uncomfortable shaking out rugs without personal protective equipment. (Doc. 23 ~ 7).
Defendant Novallis allegedly informed Williams that he spoke to Defendant Biscoe about
getting personal protective equipment and that "she was on top of it." (Id.) .
Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not
present a "genuine dispute as to any material fact. " FED. R. CIv. P. 56(a). "As to materiality,
... [o]nly 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).
The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence
of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106
S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving
party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a
genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Nat'/ Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871 , 888 (1990) .
Therefore, the non-moving party may not oppose summary judgment simply on the basis of
the pleadings, or on conclusory statements that a factual issue exists. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 248. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the
assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record . .. or showing that the
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materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an
adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." FED. R. CIv. P.
56(c)(1)(A)-(B). In evaluating whether summary judgment should be granted, "[t]he court
need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record."
FED. R. CIv. P. 56(c)(3). "Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then
the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am. , Inc., 974
F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir.1992), cert. denied 507 U.S. 912 (1993).
However, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party
only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts ." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127
S. Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007). If a party has carried its burden under the
summary judgment rule,
its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts. Where the record taken as a whole could not
lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine
issue for trial. 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. When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is
blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe
it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a
motion for summary judgment.
Id. (internal quotations, citations, and alterations omitted).
Case 3:19-cv-01261-RDM-CA Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 5 of 14
Lack of Personal Involvement of Defendant Biscoe
Defendant Biscoe argues that Williams fails to state a claim against her because she
lacks personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. (Doc. 20, pp. 4-6). Individual liability can
be imposed under section 1983 only if the state actor played an "affirmative part" in the
alleged misconduct and "cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat
superior." Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting 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. . . . Personal involvement can be shown
through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode,
845 F.2d at 1207-08; see also Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Atkinson v. Taylor, 316
F.3d 257 (3d Cir. 2003). Such allegations, however, must be made with appropriate
particularity in that a complaint must allege the particulars of conduct, time, place, and
person responsible. Evancho, 423 F.3d at 354; Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08. Alleging a
mere hypothesis that an individual defendant had personal knowledge or involvement in
depriving the plaintiff of his rights is insufficient to establish personal involvement. Rode,
845 F.2d at 1208.
Williams states that Defendant Biscoe is a Unit Manager at SCI-Coal Township and
"is in charge of the supervision and discipline of the Unit Management Team of D Unit at
SCI-Coal." (Doc. 1 ~ 8). The only claim against Defendant Biscoe is that Defendant
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Novallis allegedly informed Biscoe about placing an order for more personal protective
equipment. (Id. at~ 22). Williams concedes that he never spoke to Defendant Biscoe.
(Williams Dep. 17:9-14). At his deposition, Williams testified, in response to defense
counsel's questions, as follows:
Q [Attorney]: When did you talk to [Biscoe], if at all?
A [Williams]: Well, I hadn't spoken with her. Defendant Novallis said that he
spoke to her and that he informed her that inmates are
requesting , me in particular are requesting PPE or safety
equipment when popping out rugs.
Q [Attorney]: You never talked to Biscoe?
A [Williams]: No.
Q: [Attorney]: You just heard what she may or may not have said from the
A [Williams]: Correct.
Q [Attorney]: And [Biscoe] was not present or involved the specific day of this
A [Williams]: She was not present during this incident.
(Williams Dep. 17:9-14; 21 :19-23; 23:3-5).
It appears that Williams attempts to hold Defendant Biscoe liable based on her
supervisory role of Unit Manager. Any attempt by Williams to hold Defendant Biscoe liable
for the actions of her subordinates is essentially an assertion of respondeat superior liability
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which seeks to hold her liable based on her supervisory role. This ground of constitutional
liability has been squarely rejected by the courts. See Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207. Williams
has failed to establish that Defendant Biscoe was personally involved in the alleged violation
of his constitutional rights. Accordingly, Defendant Biscoe is entitled to judgment in her
favor to the extent that Williams' claims against her rely on a respondeat superior theory of
Eighth Amendment Conditions of Confinement Claim
Williams asserts that his requirement to work in "unsafe, hazardous conditions"
constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
(Doc. 1, p. 6). A condition of confinement violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is so
reprehensible as to be deemed inhumane under contemporary standards or such that it
deprives an inmate of minimal civilized measure of the necessities of life. See Hudson v.
McMil/ian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). When an
Eighth Amendment claim is brought against a prison official it must meet two requirements:
(1) the deprivation alleged must be objectively, sufficiently serious; and (2) the prison official
must have been deliberately indifferent to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). 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 ). "[C]laims of negligence, ...
without some more culpable state of mind, do not constitute 'deliberate indifference. "'
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Singletary v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 266 F.3d 186, 192 n.2 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Rouse v.
Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999)).
As part of his prison job, Williams was required to perform basic janitorial duties such
as cleaning showers, disinfecting gym equipment, wiping down surfaces, mopping and
sweeping , and shaking out rugs. (Williams Dep. 7:6-24). Williams asserts that he was
required him to shake out rugs without appropriate personal protective equipment and he
suffered injuries by working without such safety gear. (Williams Dep. 9:17-25; 12:23-13:9).
First, the record does not establish that Williams was exposed to an unreasonably
high level of harm by shaking out rugs that posed a substantial risk to his present or future
health. There is no evidence that Williams' common janitorial work duties, including shaking
out rugs, meets the high standard required to show a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Second, the record fails to establish that Defendants were aware of and disregarded
an excessive risk of harm to Williams. The record reflects that Williams informed
Defendants Wydra and Novallis that the was "uncomfortable" shaking out rugs without
personal protective equipment. (Doc. 23~7; Williams Dep.10:14-19; 11 :1-6; 12:11-21).
Although Williams expressed his concern about working without personal protective
equipment, there is simply no evidence that Defendants were aware of or should have been
aware of an excessive risk to Williams' safety. The record establishes that shaking out rugs
is "a normal practice" at SCI-Coal Township, it has been occurring since approximately
2017, and the work assignment is well within prison policy. (Williams Dep. 19:5-12; 20:258
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21 :1). Williams offered no evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that the
Defendants knew of and disregarded the risk that caused him to suffer injuries.
In sum, Williams has failed to establish that he was exposed to a serious risk to his
health or safety, or that any Defendant was aware of and failed to protect him from a serious
risk of present or future injury from performing basic janitorial duties of shaking out rugs.
The Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment on this ground.
Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference Claim
Williams asserts that Defendant Wydra was deliberately indifferent to his serious
medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, for refusing to allow him to see
medica 1 immediately after shaking out the rugs.2 (Doc. 1 ,, 32, 38). The Eighth
Amendment prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment on prisoners. Fuentes
v. Wagner, 206 F.3d 335, 344 (3d Cir. 2000). In the context of medical care, the Eighth
Amendment "requires prison officials to provide basic medical treatment to those whom it
has incarcerated." Rouse, 182 F.3d at 197. To establish an Eighth Amendment claim
based on a prison's denial of medical care, an inmate must allege acts or omissions by
prison officials that were sufficiently harmful to establish deliberate indifference to a serious
medical need. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 235 (3d Cir. 2004); Natale v. Camden
Cty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). The relevant inquiry is whether the
Williams makes no claims regarding the adequacy of his medical treatment once he was
treated by the medical department.
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defendant: (1) was subjectively deliberately indifferent (2) to the plaintiff's objectively serious
medical needs. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 837; Chavarriaga v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 806 F.3d
210, 226 (3d Cir. 2015).
The "deliberate indifference" prong of the applicable Eighth Amendment analysis
requires that the defendant actually know of and disregard "an excessive risk to inmate
health or safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Circumstantial evidence can establish
subjective knowledge on the part of the defendant if it shows that the excessive risk was so
obvious that the official must have known about it. See Beers-Capitol, 256 F.3d at 133
(citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842). The Third Circuit has found deliberate indifference when a
prison official : "(1) knows of a prisoner's need for medical treatment but intentionally refuses
to provide it; (2) delays necessary medical treatment based on a non-medical reason ; or (3)
prevents a prisoner from receiving needed or recommended medical treatment. " Rouse,
182 F.3d at 197.
The second prong of the Eighth Amendment inquiry is whether the plaintiff's medical
needs were serious. A serious medical need is "one that has been diagnosed by a
physician as requiring treatment or one that is so obvious that a lay person would easily
recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention ." Monmouth Cty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v.
Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987). Not every condition is a serious medical need;
instead, the serious medical need element contemplates a condition of urgency, namely,
one that may produce death, degeneration, or extreme pain. See id.
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Williams asserts that when he was shaking out a rug, debris from the rug flew into
his face, arms, and hands. (Williams Dep. 13:3-4). As a result, he suffered eye irritation, a
rash , nausea, a stomachache, and vomiting. (Williams Dep. 13:22-24; 14:1-3; 16:14-16).
Williams testified that the nausea, stomachache, and vomiting were a "momentary thing"
and only occurred right after the incident. (Williams Dep. 16:14-21). With respect to the eye
injury and rash , Williams received medical treatment for these ailments. Two days after the
incident, a nurse prescribed eye drops to flush-out any particles in Williams' eye and
advised him to purchase ointment from the commissary to "solve the rash issues."
(Williams Dep. 15:9-16; 16:4-13; Doc. 23, p. 39-40). Williams testified that he used the eye
drops on an as-needed basis for three to four months, the drops healed his eye, and after
he finished the last bottle of eye drops, he was "fine." (Williams Dep. 15:17-25; 16:1-3:
17:4-6). Williams further asserts that he received treatment for his eye from December 31 ,
2018 through July 26, 2019, and that he has no permanent injuries from this incident. (Doc.
19 ~ 6; Doc. 23 ~ 6; Williams Dep. 21 :9-11 ).
Assuming that Williams has suffered a serious medical condition sufficient for
purposes of a deliberate indifference claim, the summary judgment record lacks any
evidence tending to show that Defendant Wydra was deliberately indifferent to his serious
medical needs. On the day of the incident, December 29, 2018, Williams informed
Defendant Wydra that "something flew into [his] eyes and [his] face" and he requested
Case 3:19-cv-01261-RDM-CA Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 12 of 14
medical attention for his eye irritation.3 (Williams Dep. 14:11-12). The record fails to
establish that Defendant Wydra had actual knowledge or reason to believe that any debris
in Williams' eye constituted an excessive risk to his health or safety. The delay attributable
to Defendant Wydra's alleged failure to secure immediate treatment for Williams was two
days. Williams sustained injuries on December 29, 2018 and was treated by the medical
department on December 31, 2018. (Doc. 23 ~~ 2, 6; Doc. 23, pp. 46-47) . Williams has
failed to establish that his need for more immediate medical attention was so obvious that
the delay he experienced constituted deliberate indifference. Furthermore, the record
demonstrates that the two-day delay in receiving medical treatment did not result in any
permanent, lasting injuries to Williams. See, e.g. , Ayala v. Terhune, 195 F. App'x 87, 91 (3d
Cir. 2006) (holding that there was no deliberate indifference when a prisoner suffered
sporadic delays of up to four days in receiving prescription medicine).
The Court finds that Defendant Wydra, a correctional officer, lacked the requisite
knowledge to realize the potential for a serious eye injury which required urgent medical
attention, and thus could not have been deliberately indifferent. Williams has failed to
establish an Eighth Amendment medical claim against Wydra and Defendants' motion for
summary judgment will be granted on this basis as well.
Williams did not experience a skin rash until a few days after the incident. (Williams Dep.
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Even if Williams had stated a colorable constitutional claim, the Defendants are
nevertheless entitled to qualified immunity from this claim for damages. In order to establish
a civil rights claim, Williams must show the deprivation of a right secured by the United
States Constitution or the laws of the United States. However, government officials
performing "discretionary functions ," are insulated from suit if their conduct did not violate a
"clearly established statutory or constitutional right[ ] of which a reasonable person would
have known." Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999).
"The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil
damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known ." Pearson v.
Callahan , 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Qualified immunity
balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they
exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction,
and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. It
"provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate
the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335,341 (1986). "Thus, so long as an official
reasonably believes that his conduct complies with the law, qualified immunity will shield
that official from liability." Sharp v. Johnson , 669 F.3d 144, 159 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing
Pearson , 555 U.S. at 244). Although qualified immunity is generally a question of law that
Case 3:19-cv-01261-RDM-CA Document 24 Filed 02/16/21 Page 14 of 14
should be considered at the earliest possible stage of proceedings, a genuine dispute of
material fact may preclude summary judgment on qualified immunity. Giles v. Kearney, 571
F.3d 318, 325-26 (3d Cir. 2009).
A qualified immunity determination involves a two-pronged inquiry: (1) whether a
constitutional or federal right has been violated ; and (2) whether that right was "clearly
established." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001 ), overruled in part by Pearson , 555
U.S. at 236 (permitting federal courts to exercise discretion in deciding which of the two
Saucier prongs should be addressed first). As stated , the Court finds that Williams failed to
establish the violation of a constitutional right. Defendants simply could not have
recognized that shaking out rugs as part of janitorial duties would violate a "clearly
established statutory or constitutional right[ ] of which a reasonable person would have
known ." Wilson , 526 U.S. at 609. Therefore, Defendants are protected from liability by
The Court will grant Defendants' motion (Doc. 16) and enter judgment in their favor.
A separate Order shall issue.
RO oe rt D
United States District Judge
Dated: February ~
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