ASHFORD v. HAWKINBERRY et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 128 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by AILEAF ASHFORD, and 136 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by BRIAN COLEMAN, GARLAND, EGROS, PLETCHER, PARKER, PELLIS, BRIAN TANNER, ERIC B. PORTER, RICHTE R, HALEY, NEWMAN, DONGILLI, LOWTHER, WORKMAN, DISALVA, ASHLEY COTTON, FRIEND, FORTE, ROBERT HAWKINBERRY. For the reasons explained in the Memorandum Opinion, Plaintiff's motion will be denied and Defendants' motion will be denied in part and granted in part. An appropriate order follows. Signed by Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy on 09/26/2017. (bsc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ROBERT HAWKINBERRY, et al.,
Civil Action No. 14-cv-1718
United States Magistrate Judge
Cynthia Reed Eddy
CYNTHIA REED EDDY, United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff Aileaf Ashford (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner committed to the custody of the
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) and currently confined at the State
Correctional Institution in Marienville, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Forest”). Prior to being transferred
to SCI-Forest, he was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Labelle, Pennsylvania
(“SCI-Fayette”). On December 19, 2014, Plaintiff commenced this civil action by suing
nineteen DOC officials and agents who were employed at SCI-Fayette in 2014.2 Plaintiff claims
that the named officials and agents (hereafter, “Defendants”) violated his rights under federal and
state law during the course of his incarceration at SCI-Fayette.
All parties have consented to jurisdiction before a United States Magistrate Judge; therefore, the Court has the
authority to decide dispositive motions and to eventually enter final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. §636, et seq.
The original named defendants were: “Robert Hawkinberry”; “Lt. Parker”; “Captain Workman”; “Lt. Lowther”;
“Sgt. Richter”; “Sgt. Pletcher”; “Sgt. Friend”; “Ashley Cotton”; “C.O. Dongilli”; “C.O. Pellis”; “C.O. Egros”; “C.O.
DiSalva”; “C.O. Garland”; “C.O. Haley”; “C.O. Newman”; “C.O. McKnight”; “Sgt. Brian Tanner”; “Brian
Coleman, Superintendent”; and “John Doe, Shift Commander on 1/30/14.” On September 4, 2015, “Eric B. Porter”
was substituted as a defendant in his capacity as administrator of the estate of Defendant Braden McKnight, and
McKnight was terminated as a party to this case. See ECF No. 52. On September 21, 2015, “Cpt. Forte” was
substituted for the John Doe defendant. See ECF No. 58.
Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by
Plaintiff [ECF No. 128] and Defendants [ECF No. 136]. For the reasons that follow, the
Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment will be denied. Defendants’ cross-motions for
summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. In addition, Plaintiff’s Eighth
Amendment claim predicated on the alleged denial of exercise will be dismissed pursuant to the
directives of 28 U.S.C. §§1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915a.
A. Factual Background
The events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred in 2014 while Plaintiff was housed in the
Restrictive Housing Unit (“RHU”) at SCI-Fayette. As a general matter, Plaintiff contends that
certain members of the corrections staff and supervisors at SCI-Fayette subjected him to unsafe
or unsanitary living conditions and retaliated against him when he filed grievances about the
conditions of his confinement. Defendants deny any wrongdoing and offer an alternative version
of the relevant events. The parties’ respective statements of fact are set forth below.
1. Plaintiff’s Version of Events
Plaintiff’s statement of the facts comes largely from his own sworn declaration (ECF No.
130), copies of his grievances and request slips (ECF Nos. 131-6, 131-9 through 131-12, and
131-19 through 131-21), some corroborating statements from other inmates (ECF Nos. 131-4,
131-7, 131-8, and 131-13 through 131-16), and other institutional or miscellaneous documents
(ECF Nos. 131-1 through 131-3, 131-5, 131-17, 131-18, and 131-22 through 131-25). Construed
in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, this evidence establishes the following.
On the morning of January 30, 2014, Plaintiff was escorted to the RHU yard of SCIFayette by Sgt. Richter. (ECF No. 129, ¶1; ECF No. 135, ¶1.) At the time, the temperature was
below freezing and there was snow and ice in the RHU yard cages. (ECF No. 129, ¶2; ECF No.
135, ¶2; ECF No. ECF No. 130, ¶2.) As shift commander, Captain Forte had the authority to
cancel yard activity. (ECF No. 130, ¶4; ECF No. 131-1.) Based on the DOC’s class code
system, Lt. Lowther had sole authority and responsibility to cancel yard activities in the event
that a superior officer, like Captain Forte, was not available. (ECF No. 130 ¶5; ECF No. 131-2.)
“Despite [Plaintiff’s] pleas to Defendant Richter to be taken back inside [and] Defendant
Lowther’s acknowledgment that the yard should be cancelled,” Richter and Lowther left Plaintiff
in below-freezing conditions for nearly ninety minutes. (ECF No. 130, ¶2; ECF No. 131-4.)
While in the RHU yard, Plaintiff slipped on an icy patch and injured his knee and back. (ECF
NO. 130, ¶3.) He was seen in the medical department the following day, at which time he was
diagnosed with muscle strain and a sprained knee. (ECF No. 129, ¶12; ECF No. 135, ¶12; ECF
Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a grievance (“Grievance #497654”) concerning his slip and fall
in the RHU yard. (ECF No. 131-6.) The grievance was placed in a lockbox in Plaintiff’s pod on
the morning of February 18, 2014. (ECF No. 130, ¶11.)
Later that morning, the prison’s grievance clerk, Ashley Cotton, was escorted by
Corrections Officer Dongilli to retrieve grievances from the lockbox. (ECF No. 130, ¶12; ECF
No. 131-4.) According to Plaintiff, Cotton allowed Dongilli to read his grievance. (Id.)
Approximately fifteen or thirty minutes later, C.O. Halley3 recited the contents of Plaintiff’s
grievance and made remarks to the effect that Plaintiff should not have filed a grievance and
“would not be going to the yard for a while.” (ECF No. 130, ¶¶13, 45.)
C.O. Halley is incorrectly identified on the Court’s docket as “C.O. Haley.” For purposes of this opinion, the
Court will refer to C.O. Halley by his correct surname.
The following morning, February 19, 2014, Sgt. Richter walked around Plaintiff’s pod to
take the list of names for the yard. (ECF No. 130, ¶14.) When Richter approached Plaintiff’s
cell, he informed Plaintiff that he “might as well lay [sic] down because [he] was not going
outside for a while.” (ECF No. 130, ¶¶14, 46.; see also ECF No. 131-4; ECF No. 131-7; ECF
No. 131-8.) Shortly thereafter, Sgt. Richter & Lt. Hawkinberry began conducting yard activity.
According to Plaintiff, Hawkinberry informed him that he “would not be going out since [he] put
a grievance in” and he “might hurt [his] back again.” (ECF No. 130, ¶¶14, 47; ECF No. 131-4;
ECF No. 131-7; ECF No. 131-8.) Hawkinberry told another inmate, Timothy Gaines, that he
also would not be going out to the yard because he was listed as a witness in Plaintiff’s
grievance. (ECF No. 130, ¶14; ECF No. 131-4.) Plaintiff contends that Richter, Hawkinberry,
or other officers repeated this process for the next twenty-one days, denying him yard activity
until March 11, 2014. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶16, 48.)
Meanwhile, on February 19, 2014, Plaintiff had filed Grievance #498217, in which he
complained of the allegedly improper disclosure of his prior grievance (Grievance #497654) and
the allegedly retaliatory denial of his yard privileges. (ECF No. 131-9.) That same week,
Plaintiff’s “Star” magazines – which usually arrived on a weekly basis -- stopped being delivered
to his cell. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶19, 50-53.) On March 13, 2014, Plaintiff wrote a “request slip” to
the prison mail room to inquire about his magazines. (ECF. No. 130, ¶¶20, 52.) On March 18,
2014, the mail room responded that all magazines they had received had been sent to the
inmates. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶20, 52; ECF No. 131-10 at 6.) Plaintiff also wrote to the magazine
company, which confirmed that all of his “Star” magazines had been sent to the Institution and
none had been returned as non-deliverable. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶20-21, 52; ECF No. 131-10 at 7.)
Plaintiff states that, for the seven-week period between February 19 and April 8, 2014, he
discussed the missing magazines with nearly every officer who passed out mail, including Sgt.
Tanner (whom Plaintiff claims to have spoken with a few times a week) and Captain Workman
(whom Plaintiff claims to have spoken with twice). (ECF No. 130, ¶¶22, 51.) After “a lot of
prodding,” Plaintiff began receiving his magazines again on April 8, 2014. (Id. ¶¶22, 53.)
On May 1, 2014, after using his toilet to defecate, Plaintiff discovered that his toilet
would not flush. Plaintiff reported the problem to a “staff member” that night and was informed
that he should notify Lt. Hawkinberry. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶ 30, 62-63.)
The next morning, Plaintiff sent a request slip to Hawkinberry about the issue, but he
received no reply. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶31, 64; ECF No. 131-12 at 9.) That same day, Plaintiff
notified numerous prison staff members about the problem, including (among others) C.O.
McKnight and Sgt. Pletcher. McKnight attempted to reset the toilet, but he was unsuccessful.
(ECF No. 130, ¶¶32, 64.)
For the next several days, Plaintiff continued to seek assistance with his nonfunctioning
toilet. (Id. ¶32.) On May 3, 2014, Plaintiff informed McKnight, Pletcher, and C.O. DiSalva of
the ongoing problem, among others. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶32, 65.) On May 4, 2014, he spoke to
C.O. Egros, C.O. Pellis, Sgt. Friend and C.O. DiSalva. (Id. ¶¶32, 66.) Plaintiff contends that
none of these individuals fixed the problem, and all of them refused to move him to another cell,
even though empty cells were available. (Id. ¶¶32, 65-66.) Plaintiff also claims that Pellis and
Egros both teased him about the foul odor coming from his cell, and Egros remarked that
Plaintiff should “file a grievance like I always do.” (Id. ¶¶33; see also ECF No. 130, ¶66; ECF
No. 131-13; ECF No. 131-14; ECF No. 131-15; ECF No. 131-16.)
On May 5, 2014, Plaintiff informed C.O. Garland, C.O. Dongilli, and Sgt. Richter about
the issue with his toilet. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶32, 67.) Plaintiff was informed that a work order
would be put in, but none of the staff members would move Plaintiff to an empty cell in the
meantime. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶32, 67; ECF No. 131-12 at 10.) That same day, Plaintiff sent a
request slip to Captain Workman, stating:
I have been trying to remain patient while seeking to get my toilet fixed
(which has not flushed since Thursday 5-1-14). There has been fecal
matter in my toilet since then. The stench is horrible and I’ve been forced
to limit my intake of food & water since Saturday, 5-3-14, to limit my use
of the toilet facilities, which hasn’t been too pleasant of a feeling. And to
top it off, some officers thought it was amusing. . . .
(ECF No. 131-12 at 10.) Plaintiff then listed a number of correctional officers whom he had
spoken with about the issue, noting that “[i]t would have been simple to move me to one of the
five open cells on the pod.” (Id.)
That same day, Plaintiff filed another grievance (“Grievance #508476”) concerning the
ongoing problems with his toilet and the allegedly retaliatory treatment he had received from
staff. (ECF No. 131-12 at 2-3.) In his grievance, Plaintiff stated that his nonfunctioning toilet
was now filled with excrement, causing him to limit his intake of food and fluids in order to cut
down on his use of the toilet. He complained that his environment was becoming “unbearable”
and that bugs were now flying around his cell because of the stench. (Id.) In fact, Plaintiff
claims that C.O. Garland made jokes about the odor coming from Plaintiff’s cell and the bugs it
was attracting. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶33, 68.)
On May 6, 2014, Plaintiff’s toilet was finally fixed. Included in the evidentiary record is
a work order request that Sgt. Richter submitted, and Cpt. Workman approved, on May 5, 2014.
The document indicates that requested repair was classified as a priority code number “4,” (ECF
No. 131-18), which signifies “routine” general repairs and preventive maintenance. (ECF No.
131-17.) Other relevant maintenance codes include:
#1 Emergency – Security repairs – immediate; overtime may be authorized;
#2 Immediate – Health and Safety repairs – work that needs to be addressed
immediately; overtime may be authorized;
#3 Urgent – repairs that need to be address the next schedule[d] work day. Parts
or materials my need to be ordered; . . . .
(ECF No. 131-17 at 4.) Plaintiff maintains that the repair of his toilet should have been
classified as at least “urgent.” (ECF No. 130, ¶36.)
Even after his toilet was fixed, staff members refused to provide him cleaning supplies,
thereby “forcing [him] to cohabitate with the accumulated vermin until Saturday, May 10, 2014,
the day that cell-cleaning commenced.” (ECF No. 130, ¶68.) During that same time period,
C.O. DiSalva allegedly came by his cell and stated that he had gotten “chewed out” by Parker,
the investigating grievance officer, over the manner in which the toilet incident had been
handled. (ECF No. 130, ¶69.)
Plaintiff asserts that, following his filing of Grievance #508476, other acts of retaliation
ensued. On May 5, 2014, the same day that Grievance #508476 was filed, Plaintiff sent his copy
of Grievance #498217 (along with attachments) to the prison library for copying. (ECF No. 130,
¶39.) Plaintiff requested a “copy-return date” of May 8, 2014, because his deadline for filing an
appeal to the central office was May 21, 2014. (Id. ¶¶39, 82-83.) When the library cart came to
his pod on May 8, however, Plaintiff did not receive his copies. (Id. ¶40.) Plaintiff’s
contemporaneous account of the incident indicates that he was informed the books and copies
would be handed out the next day. (See ECF No. 131-19 at 2.)
On Friday, May 9, 2014, Plaintiff asked Officer Costello about his copies from the
library. Costello told Plaintiff that Officers Halley and Garland would be making the deliveries
to Plaintiff’s pod. (ECF No. 130, ¶84; ECF No. 131-19 at 2.) When Plaintiff asked Halley and
Garland for his copies, they allegedly told him that the papers were not on the cart. (ECF No.
130, ¶84.) Plaintiff later spoke to Officers Newman and McKnight, who similarly stated that
Plaintiff’s copies were not on the cart. (Id. ¶85.) On the morning of May 10, Plaintiff spoke to
an inmate worker who allegedly confirmed that he had seen Plaintiff’s copies on the cart. (Id.
¶86.) According to Plaintiff, the inmate led Newman out to where the cart had been but returned
moments later, stating that the cart had been moved. (Id.) Plaintiff then approached Sgt.
Pletcher about the matter and was informed that the only books that were on the cart were for
inmates in different pods. (Id.; ECF No. 131-19 at 2-3.) Based on these events, Plaintiff filed
Grievance #509029, in which he claimed that “[t]his confiscation of legal materials is the latest
retalliatory [sic] act along a growing list of acts.” (ECF No. 131-19 at 3.)
As of May 11, 2014, Plaintiff still had not received the copies he was waiting for. He
discussed the matter with Lt. Hawkinberry. According to Plaintiff, Hawkinberry informed him
that the library cart had been taken back to the library, but he (Lt. Hawkinberry) would retrieve
Plaintiff’s copies for him the following day (May 12). (ECF No. 130, ¶87.)
Plaintiff states that Hawkinberry never followed through on his promise to retrieve the
missing copies of Grievance #498217 on May 12. Instead, Hawkinberry called Plaintiff to his
office on May 17, 2014, at which time he allegedly attempted to persuade Plaintiff into
withdrawing a separate grievance (Grievance #508476) by offering to move a friend of
Plaintiff’s into his pod if the grievance were withdrawn. (ECF No. 130, ¶41.) Plaintiff declined
the offer but, before leaving Hawkinberry’s office, he inquired about his missing copies of
Grievance #498217. According to Plaintiff, Hawkinberry indicated that he would get Plaintiff a
copy of that grievance for his appeal. (Id.)
Two days later, on May 19, 2014, Hawkinberry came to Plaintiff’s cell door and again
attempted to persuade him to withdraw Grievance #508476. (ECF No. 130, ¶42.) Plaintiff
refused to do. (Id.)
On May 23, 2014, Plaintiff was again summoned to Hawkinberry’s office. (ECF No.
130, ¶42.) According to Plaintiff, Hawkinberry gave him an ultimatum and told him that if he
did not withdraw his grievance, he would not get his missing papers and Hawkinberry would
make his stay in the RHU difficult. (Id.)
Five days later, Parker submitted an “Initial Review Response” to Grievance #508476, in
which he deemed the grievance frivolous. (ECF No. 131-12 at 4.) In relevant part, Parker stated
After investigation of your grievance I have spoken to the involved staff
members who state that you never spoke to anyone about you [sic] toilet not
working on the dates that you put in your grievance. You did speak to an officer
about resetting your toilet which was reset and worked properly. Officer Egros
deny’s [sic] making any unprofessional statements toward you. If you have any
problems in the future with your plumbing please feel free to ask the Officers to
speak with me. . . .
Plaintiff appealed Parker’s decision to Superintendent Coleman, claiming that Parker’s
response was merely an attempt to cover-up misconduct by the prison staff. (ECF No. 13-12 at
5.) Although Coleman did not find the grievance to be frivolous, he upheld Parker’s response,
stating (in part):
I spoke with Lt. Parker concerning your grievance and he stated that he
interviewed all staff that you mention in your grievance, with the exception of
Sgt. Richter, and they all stated that you never spoke to anyone about your toilet
not working on the dates that you provide in your grievance. He inadvertently did
not interview Sgt. Richter due to the volume of staff you mentioned in your
grievance. He reported that you did speak to an officer about resetting your toilet
and it was reset and working properly. In your grievance/appeal you claim that
Officer Ergos, Officer Pellis, and Officer Garland made comments to you
concerning the alleged situation. Lt. Parker interviewed the officers and they
deny your allegations. In your appeal you state “If my toilet was reset and
working properly, then why would the plumbers have to come on 5-6-14 and
spend nearly twenty minutes fixing my toilet.” I contacted CFMM3 Hostovich
and he provided me with a copy of the work order that was submitted by Sgt.
Richter on 5-5-14. Therefore, I spoke to Sgt. Richter and he stated that he
submits a work order as soon as these types of incidents are brought to his
attention. It was bought to his attention on 5-5-14 and as you state in your appeal,
it was fixed by the plumbers on 5-6-14. As Lt. Parker stated to you, if you have
any problems in the future with your plumbing, please feel free to ask the officers
to speak with him.
(ECF No. 131-12 at 6.) Plaintiff views Coleman’s response as an attempt “to fix [and] fill the
holes in Defendant Parker’s story” by “providing Defendant Parker with falsified excuses for
why his report did not match the facts.” (ECF No. 130, ¶73.)
In an effort to further investigate the incident with his toilet, Plaintiff sought to obtain a
written statement from McKnight stating the reason why McKnight was not able to fix the toilet
and why Sgt. Pletcher would not allow Plaintiff to be moved from his cell pending a repair.
According to Plaintiff, McKnight would not sign a written statement without talking to Parker
first. (ECF No. 130, ¶74; ECF No. 131-21 at 1.) Plaintiff send a second written request to
McKnight seeking to ascertain why his toilet could not be fixed, whom McKnight informed
about the problem, and the reason why Plaintiff was not moved to a different cell. (ECF No.
131-21 at 3.) The paper was returned to Plaintiff without any written response and, when
Plaintiff later showed it to McKnight, McKnight claimed he had never received it. (ECF No.
130, ¶76; ECF No. 131-21 at 3.) According to Plaintiff, McKnight then took physical possession
of the written request slip and said that he would supply an answer; he never did, however, and
later informed Plaintiff that Parker told him not to return the paper. (Id.)
Plaintiff claims to have sent a request slip to “every other person that [he] spoke to about
the toilet,” seeking to find out whom they notified. (ECF No. 130, ¶77.) Some of the request
slips were sent back unanswered and others were not sent back at all. (Id.)
Meanwhile, on May 26, 2014, Plaintiff had written to the prison librarian, to inquire
about his copies. Plaintiff claims that the librarian acknowledged sending them to Plaintiff’s
block during the week of May 5, 2014. (ECF No. 130, ¶90.)
On June 2, 2014, after Plaintiff’s deadline had passed for appealing Grievance #498217
to the Central Office, Hawkinberry personally delivered a printed copy of the grievance papers to
Plaintiff. (ECF No. 130, ¶91.) That same day, he provided an “Initial Review Response” to
Grievance #509029 in which he stated, in relevant part:
J-Unit Staff were interviewed in regards to the above incident[.] Staff verified
that the Library cart was in disarray and inmate Ashford’s copies were not on the
Library Cart. Staff verified that the Librarian was contacted and the books and
copies were reorganized and passed out. On 6/2/14 this Lt. verified that Inmate
Ashford did receive his copies. Based on the above information this grievance is
(ECF No. 131-19 at 4.) Plaintiff construes Hawkinberry’s response as an attempt to make it
appears as though Plaintiff’s copies were never on the cart and that the librarian had sent
Plaintiff’s copies to him on June 2 when, “in actuality,” Hawkinberry “stole” the grievance
papers that Plaintiff had sent to the library for copying and only printed the document out later in
order to resolve the issue once Plaintiff’s deadline for filing an appeal had passed. (ECF No.
Plaintiff also asserts that his “Star” magazines once again stopped being delivered to him
immediately after he filed Grievance #508476 on May 5, 2014. (ECF No. 130, ¶23.) Plaintiff
notified Cpt. Workman of this fact in a request slip dated May 9, 2014, but Workman never
responded. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶24, 55; ECF No. 131-10 at 8.) Plaintiff subsequently sent a request
slip to the mail room seeking information about his magazines, and the mail room attendant
confirmed that Plaintiff’s magazines were being forwarded to him as soon as they arrived. (ECF
No. 130, ¶¶25, 56; ECF No. 131-10 at 9.) Plaintiff also wrote the magazine company, which
confirmed that his magazines were being sent to the prison and none had been returned as nondeliverable. (ECF No. 10, ¶¶26, 56; ECF No. 131-10 at 11.)
After many unsuccessful attempts to get the problem resolved, Plaintiff filed a grievance
on the matter (“Grievance #510183) on May 19, 2014. (ECF No. 130, ¶27; ECF No. 131-10 at
2.) Plaintiff’s grievance noted that he had spoken to Sgt. Tanner “numerous times” about the
issue, as well as a “host of officers that were passing the mail out.” (ECF No. 131-10 at 2.) He
had also spoken and written to Captain Workman about the issue, to no avail. (Id.). Plaintiff
claims that, after filing Grievance #510183, his magazines began arriving again the following
week. (ECF No. 130, ¶59.)
About a month later, however, on June 25, 2014, C.O. Godines was passing out mail and
stopped by Plaintiff’s cell. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶28, 60.) While he stood there, Plaintiff noticed that
he had a “Star” magazine in his hand with Plaintiff’s name on it. According to Plaintiff, Godines
refused to give him the magazine and left the pod with it. (Id.) When Plaintiff spoke to Sgt.
Tanner about the incident, Tanner allegedly remarked that “stuff comes up missing when you file
grievances on staff.” (ECF No. 130, ¶¶28, 60; ECF No. 131-11.)
2. Defendants’ Version of Events
In support of their cross-motion for summary judgment, Defendants have supplied copies
of Plaintiff’s grievances and their own responses thereto (ECF Nos. 139-1, 139-4, and 139-5), as
well as a copy of Plaintiff’s Inmate Cumulative Adjustment Records (ECF No. 139-6).
Defendants also rely on declarations from Richter, Halley, Cotton, and Parker (ECF Nos. 139-2,
139-3, 139-7, and 139-8) to rebut Plaintiffs’ allegations concerning the restriction of his yard
privileges, the publication of his grievance, the misappropriation of his magazines, and the
problems with his toilet.
To begin, Defendants deny that Plaintiff was ever restricted from yard activities on an
individualized basis or for retaliatory reasons. (ECF No. 139-2, ¶10; ECF No. 139-3, ¶¶4-5.)
Defendants maintain that, if yard activity is cancelled by the shift commander, then it is
cancelled with respect to all inmates, not just a select few. (ECF No. 139-2, ¶¶11-12; ECF No.
139-3, ¶¶8-9.) Inmates in the RHU, like Plaintiff, are given an opportunity to sign up for yard
every morning. (ECF No. 139-2, ¶9; ECF No. 139-3, ¶7.) When the time for yard activity
comes, officers ask each inmate whether he wants to participate. (Id.) If an inmate signed up for
yard and wants to participate, he is given an opportunity to go outside; if he chooses not to
participate, however, he is not forced to go. (Id.)
Defendants also deny the allegation that Ms. Cotton ever allowed Officer Dongilli to read
Plaintiff’s grievance. They maintain that, as a matter of policy, grievances are placed in a locked
box on the RHU block; they are retrieved by the grievance clerk and then delivered to the
grievance coordinator without being read to or by anyone. (ECF No. 139-3, ¶10; ECF No. 1397, ¶¶2, 5.) When Ms. Cotton was the grievance clerk, she would be escorted by an officer as she
retrieved grievances from the RHU. She was the only person with a key to open the locked box
where the grievances were stored. (ECF No. 139-7, ¶¶3-4.) Defendants deny that Ms. Cotton
ever discussed anyone’s grievances with Officer Dongilli or with any other officer who escorted
her around the RHU. (ECF No. 139-3, ¶12; ECF No. 139-7, ¶¶5, 7.)
Defendants deny any involvement in improperly withholding Plaintiff’s mail or
magazines. (ECF No. 139-8, ¶¶ 4-5.) Moreover, they deny any awareness that Plaintiff was
experiencing problems with his magazines. (ECF No. 139-5.) As a general policy, if mail is
received by the institution and cleared to be delivered to an inmate, it is delivered to the inmate
that same day. (ECF No. 139-8, ¶ 6.) According to Lt. Parker, none of the officers who were
involved in handling Plaintiff’s mail on the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift were aware of his previouslyfiled grievances or withheld mail from him. (Id., ¶8.)
With regard to Plaintiff’s plumbing issues, Defendants acknowledge that Plaintiff
reported a broken toilet on May 2, 2014. (ECF No. 139-1.) They maintain, however, that
officers reset the toilet that same day, after which it functioned properly. (Id.) Defendants
further assert that Plaintiff’s only other complaint about his toilet occurred on May 5, when
Plaintiff notified Sgt. Richter that his toilet was clogged. (ECF No. 131-18; ECF No. 139-2, ¶3.)
Richter submitted a work order to have the issue addressed, and it was fixed the following day.
(ECF No.139-2, ¶¶4-5.) Defendants insist that, given the routine nature of the problems that
Plaintiff was experiencing with his toilet, there was never any need to transfer him to another
cell. (ECF No. 139-2, ¶8.)
B. Procedural Background
Plaintiff commenced this litigation on December 19, 2014, with the filing of a motion for
leave to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff’s motion was granted on December
23, 2014 (ECF No. 2), and his complaint (ECF No. 3) was filed that same day. By orders dated
September 4, 2015 (ECF No. 52) and September 18, 2015 (ECF No. 58), Plaintiff was permitted
to make certain amendments to the complaint. Subsequently, in a Memorandum Opinion and
Order dated June 2, 2016, this Court dismissed some of the claims asserted in the complaint.
(See ECF Nos. 79 and 80.)
At this juncture, the following claims remain: (i) an Eighth Amendment claim for
allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Compl. ¶162); (ii) an Eighth Amendment
claim predicated on the denial of exercise (Compl. ¶164); (iii) an Eighth Amendment claim
predicated upon Cotton’s alleged “deliberate indifference” to Plaintiff’s safety when she failed to
keep his grievance confidential (Compl. ¶156); (iv) various First Amendment claims predicated
on the alleged retaliation against Plaintiff after he engaged in protected activity (Compl. ¶¶15760); (v) a claim for alleged conspiracy to violate Plaintiff’s federal constitutional rights (Compl.
¶167); and (vi) a common law negligence claim arising from Plaintiff’s injury in the RHU yard
The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and supporting materials,
with respect to all remaining claims. (ECF Nos. 128, 129, 130, 131, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139,
141, 142, 143.) As a result of these filings, the parties’ motions are ripe for resolution. The
Court’s analysis follows.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall be granted
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.” The moving party has the initial burden of proving to
the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007);
UPMC Health System v. Metropolitan Live Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004).
The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a
genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) and (e); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa.,
891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989) (the non-movant must present affirmative evidence—more
than a scintilla but less than a preponderance—which supports each element of his claim to
Plaintiff has also asserted a “claim” for “supervisory liability” on the part of Workman, Hawkinberry, and Parker.
(See Compl. ¶¶165-66, ECF No. 3.) Because supervisory liability is a theory of liability rather than an independent
cause of action, the court will address the Defendants’ supervisory liability, if any, in the context of Plaintiff’s
substantive §1983 claims. To the extent Plaintiff asserts a separate claim against Workman for his alleged “failure
to protect” Plaintiff, the Court deems this claim to be duplicative of Plaintiff’s other “supervisory liability” claims,
as it is predicated on Workman’s alleged “failure . . . in all instances, to intervene after having knowledge of the
wrongdoings by his staff, [which] made him deliberately indifferent in his failure to protect.” (ECF No. 3, ¶155.)
defeat a properly presented motion for summary judgment). The non-moving party must go
beyond the pleadings and show specific facts by affidavit or by information contained in the filed
documents (i.e. depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions) to meet his burden of
proving elements essential to his claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; see Saldana v. Kmart Corp.,
260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). The non-moving party “must present more than just bare
assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue.”
Garcia v. Kimmell, 381 F. App’x 211, 213 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv.,
409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005)).
When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not permitted to weigh
the evidence or to make credibility determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are
any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both genuine and material. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The Court must consider the evidence, and all
reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). See also El
v. SEPTA, 479 F.3d 232, 238 (3d Cir. 2007).
A. Plaintiff’s Federal Claims
Plaintiff’s federal claims are asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, which provides that:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the
jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an
action at law. . . .
Section 1983 “is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating
federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal
statutes that it describes.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes, 526 U.S. 687, 749 n. 9 (1999)
(quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3 (1979)). To state a claim under section
1983, a plaintiff is required to show that an individual acting under color of state law violated the
plaintiff's constitutional rights or statutory rights. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Individual liability can be imposed under Section 1983 only if the state actor played an
“affirmative part” in the alleged misconduct; it “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,” which “can be shown through allegations of
personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.” Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08. Thus,
supervisors may be liable if they personally “participated in violating the plaintiff's rights,
directed others to violate them, or, as the person in charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced” in
a subordinate's unconstitutional conduct. A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Det. Ctr.,
372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir. 2004)(citation omitted). “Although a court can infer that a defendant
had contemporaneous knowledge of wrongful conduct from the circumstances surrounding a
case, the knowledge must be actual, not constructive.” Id. (citations omitted).
A state prisoner's allegation that prison officials and administrators responded
inappropriately, or failed to respond to a prisoner's complaint or an official grievance, does not
establish that the officials and administrators were involved in the underlying allegedly
unconstitutional conduct. See Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08 (concluding that after-the-fact review
of a grievance is insufficient to demonstrate the actual knowledge necessary to establish personal
involvement); Brooks v. Beard, 167 F. App’x 923, 925 (3d Cir. 2006); see also Croom v.
Wagner, No. 06-1431, 2006 WL 2619794, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 11, 2006) (holding that neither
the filing of a grievance nor an appeal of a grievance is sufficient to impose knowledge of any
wrongdoing); Ramos v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 2006 WL 2129148, at *2 (M.D. Pa. July 27, 2006)
(holding that the review and denial of the grievances and subsequent administrative appeal does
not establish personal involvement).
1. Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment Claim Premised on a Non-Functioning Toilet
Under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, individuals are protected against
the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. This protection,
enforced against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees incarcerated persons
humane conditions of confinement. In this regard, “prison officials must ensure that inmates
receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care, and must ‘take reasonable measures to
guarantee the safety of the inmates.’” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting
Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)).
Not every injury raises constitutional concerns. A prison official violates the Eighth
Amendment only when two requirements are met. The inmate must show that: 1) he suffered a
risk of “serious” harm; and 2) prison officials showed “deliberate indifference” to such risk.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. The first element is satisfied when the alleged “punishment” is
“objectively sufficiently serious.” Id. In determining whether a prisoner has alleged a risk that is
objectively serious, a court must consider not only the seriousness of the potential harm and the
likelihood that the harm will actually occur, but evidence that unwilling exposure to that risk
violates contemporary standards of decency. In other words, the prisoner must show that the risk
of which he complains is not one that today’s society chooses to tolerate. Helling v. McKinney,
509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993).
The second criterion, deliberate indifference, requires an inmate to show that the prison
official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind. The Supreme Court clarified this deliberate
indifference standard in Farmer as follows:
[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for
denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of
and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; 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. This approach
comports best with the text of the Amendment as our cases have interpreted it.
The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual “conditions”; it
outlaws cruel and unusual “punishments.” An act or omission unaccompanied by
knowledge of a significant risk of harm might well be something society wishes
to discourage, and if harm does result society might well wish to assure
compensation.... But an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he
should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot
under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837-838 (internal citations omitted).
In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Hawkinberry, Pletcher, DiSalva, Egros,
Pellis, Garland, Dongilli, Friend, and Richter violated his Eighth Amendment rights by depriving
him of a functioning toilet for five days and by not moving him to a different cell, despite the
fact that his toilet was full of excrement, emitting a foul odor and attracting insects. Plaintiff
contends that the lack of access to a functioning toilet caused him to limit his intake of fluids and
food during the time period in question, leading to dehydration, stomach pains, and
lightheadedness. In addition to suing the aforementioned Defendants, Plaintiff appears to assert
supervisory liability claims against Parker and Workman relative to the conditions of his
Defendants assert that no Eighth Amendment violation can be demonstrated because
Plaintiff’s complaints were promptly addressed and the problem with his toilet was remedied,
making it unnecessary for Plaintiff to be transferred to another cell. According to Defendants,
Plaintiff reported a broken toilet on May 2, 2014, on which date the officers reset the toilet, and
it began working. Defendants deny any further issues until May 5, 2014, when they say Plaintiff
notified Sgt. Richter that his toilet was clogged. That same date, Richter submitted a work order
to have the plumbing issue addressed, and the toilet was fixed the following day. According to
Defendants, there was no need to transfer Plaintiff to a different cell because his plumbing issues
presently only routine problems which were promptly addressed and they never posed a threat to
his health and safety. In moving for summary judgment, Defendants analogize this case to
Ridgeway v. Guyton, No. 13-1254, 2015 WL 877778, (W.D. Pa. Mar. 2, 2015), wherein the court
ruled that “confinement in a cell for up to thirty days with a toilet that ‘often’ backs up is
insufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim.” Id. at *6 (citing Burkholder v. Newton, 116 F.
App’x 35, 363 (3d Cir. 2004)).
This Court previously determined that Plaintiff’s allegations concerning the ongoing
problems with his toilet were sufficient to state a §1983 claim based on allegedly
unconstitutional conditions of confinement. See ECF No. 79 at 11-14. In so doing, the Court
considered the Defendants’ reliance on Ridgeway, which was cited in their brief supporting their
motion to dismiss. (See Br. Supp. Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss at 7, ECF No. 66.) The Court implicitly
rejected Defendants’ argument that the ruling in Ridgeway requires a dismissal of Plaintiff’s
Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim. Rather, the Court observed that
the denial of access to a lavatory has been found to violate the Eighth Amendment
“where it is unconscionably long or where it constitutes an ongoing feature of an
inmate’s confinement.” Cook v. Wetzel, No. Civ. A. 13-6575, 2015 WL 2395390,
at *5 (E.D. Pa. May 20, 2015). The lack of access to restroom facilities violates
the Eighth Amendment where it compromises the psychological or physical
health of the inmate. Young v. Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351, 365 (3d Cir. 1992).
Here, we find that Plaintiff has stated an Eighth Amendment claim for
Defendants’ failure to provide him with adequate access to a working toilet for
five days and subjecting him to unsanitary living conditions for that period of
time by forcing him to remain in a cell with raw sewage and swarming insects
after Plaintiff repeatedly reported the problem to countless prison officials over
the five days, asked to be moved to one of the five empty cells on the unit and
submitted multiple unanswered grievances on the matter. What is more, Plaintiff
was forced to endure these conditions for 23 hours a day, as he was confined to
his cell in the RHU, and alleges that he limited his intake of food and water for
five days to prevent himself from having to use the toilet. Such a practice is a
danger to Plaintiff’s health, dignity and hygiene. Plaintiff’s allegations are in line
with other cases that have found the denial of the access to restroom facilities and
unsanitary living conditions violated the Eighth Amendment.
Mem. Op. at 12 (ECF No. 79.)
Based on the record at hand, it is evident that disputed issues of fact exist with Plaintiff’s
Eighth Amendment claim, making an entry of summary judgment inappropriate as to most of the
Defendants named in the complaint. Fundamentally, Plaintiff claims he was subjected to
increasingly unsanitary conditions of confinement – and a corresponding lack of adequate
toileting facilities – over the course of a five-day period, whereas Defendants contend that
Plaintiff’s plumbing issues involved only two discreet incidents, both of which were promptly
and adequately resolved. This factual discrepancy will have to be resolved by a jury at time of
Of course, plaintiff must still show that each of the officers he has sued was personally
involved in the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 430 F.3d 140,
151 (3d Cir. 2005) (“In order to prevail on a § 1983 claim against multiple defendants, a plaintiff
must show that each individual defendant violated his constitutional rights.”); Rode v.
Dellacriprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) (noting that each defendant “must have
personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing”). Here, Plaintiff has not shown personal
involvement on the part of Hawkinberry. At most, the evidence shows that Plaintiff sent
Hawkinberry a request slip about his broken toilet on May 2, 2014 and never heard back. “A
defendant's failure to respond favorably to a request slip, however, does not amount to personal
involvement within the context of § 1983.” Kokinda v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., No. 2:16cv1457, 2017
WL 4049255, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 29, 2017) (citing Rode, 845 F.2d at 1208; Mincy v.
Chmielwski, 508 F. App'x 99, 104 (3d Cir. 2014); Pressley v. Beard, 266 F. App'x 216, 218 (3d
Cir. 2008)), report and recommendation adopted, 2017 WL 4046347 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 12, 2017).
Accordingly, the Court will enter summary judgment in favor of Hawkinberry.
In addition, the Court will enter a grant of summary judgment in favor of Richter. Here,
Plaintiff’s own declaration establishes that Richter was first notified of the problems with
Plaintiff’s toilet on May 5, 2014. (ECF No. 130, ¶35.) That same day, Richter completed a
work order to have the problem addressed and submitted the work order to Captain Workman for
approval. (ECF No. 131-18.) Plaintiff faults Richter for refusing to move him to a different cell
in the interim and for failing to assign the work order a higher priority code. In this Court’s
estimation, however, no reasonable jury could find that Richter was deliberately indifferent to
Plaintiff’s health or safety under these circumstances. Accordingly, the Court will grant the
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment insofar as it relates to the claim against Richter.
To the extent Plaintiff is asserting a supervisory liability claim against Workman, the
claim fails as a matter of law. Workman’s only involvement was his approval of Richter’s work
order on the same day that Plaintiff sent Workman a request slip informing him about the
problems with his toilet. Plaintiff complains that Workman did not respond to his request slip
but, as noted, a defendant's failure to respond to a request slip does not amount to personal
involvement within the context of § 1983. Kokinda, 2017 WL 4049255, at *4. In any event,
Workman’s approval of Richter’s work slip on the same day that he was notified of the plumbing
problem precludes a finding that he was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s health or safety.
Summary judgment will therefore be entered in favor of Workman on the conditions of
Similarly, to the extent Plaintiff is asserting a supervisory liability claim against Parker,
the claim fails as a matter of law. Here, Parker’s alleged misconduct stems from his submission
of an Initial Review Response to Grievance #508476, in which he allegedly fabricated facts to
cover up the unconstitutional conditions of Plaintiff’s confinement. (ECF No. 130, ¶72; ECF
No. 131-12 at 4.) Parker’s only other conduct involved his alleged attempts to discourage
officers from answering Plaintiff’s request slips, which occurred well after the plumbing issue
had been resolved. As a matter of law, Parker’s alleged actions, even if proven, are insufficient
to establish his personal involvement in the underlying constitutional violation. See Alexander v.
Gennarini, 144 F. App’x 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005)(defendant’s involvement in post-incident
grievance process does not establish a basis for §1983 liability); Kruge v. Johnston, No. 3:14-cv192, 2015 WL 3609927, at *5 (W.D. Pa. June 8, 2015) (“[A]ny attempt by Plaintiff to establish
liability against the Warden and Deputy Warden solely based upon their substance or lack of
response to his institutional grievances does not by itself support a constitutional claim.”).
Accordingly, the Defendants’ motion will be granted insofar as it relates to the claim against
As to the remaining Defendants – i.e., Pletcher, DiSalva, Egros, Pellis, Garland, Dongilli,
and Friend -- Plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence of personal involvement on their part for
purposes of withstanding summary judgment. Accordingly, the claims against these seven
Defendants will proceed to trial.
2. Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment Claim Premised on the Denial of Exercise
Plaintiff asserts a separate Eighth Amendment claim predicated on the theory that
Defendants Hawkinberry and Richter subjected him to “cruel and unusual punishment” by
depriving him of exercise for a period of twenty-one (21) days. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶13-17.) Based
on the sworn declarations of Halley and Richter (ECF Nos. 139-2 and 139-3), Defendants deny
that Plaintiff was ever restricted from participation in yard activity on an individualized basis.
(Id.) Although this conflict might normally present a genuinely disputed issue of fact, in this
case, the Court finds that the dispute is not material. That is because this Court is independently
obligated, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B) and §1915A, to determine the sufficiency of
Plaintiff’s claims and, based on the facts he has alleged, his Eighth Amendment “denial of
exercise” claim fails to state a cause of action for which relief can be granted.
To establish an Eighth Amendment violation based on the denial of exercise, a prisoner
“must demonstrate that such a denial is sufficiently serious to deprive [him] of the minimal
civilized measure of life's necessities.” Gattis v. Phelps, 344 F. App’x 801, 805 (3d Cir. 2009)
(determining that the prisoner “was not guaranteed outdoor exercise at all times” and the
limitation of exercise to three (3) days per week was insufficiently serious to implicate the
Eighth Amendment). Although “meaningful recreation is extremely important to the
psychological and physical well-being of the inmates,” Peterkin v. Jeffes, 855 F.2d 1021, 1031
(3d Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), the “lack of [an] opportunity to
exercise can only rise to a constitutional level ‘where movement is denied and muscles are
allowed to atrophy, [and] the health of the individual is threatened.’” Dickens v. Danberg, Civ.
No. 10–786, 2012 WL 2089516, at *6 (D. Del. June 8, 2012) (quoting Spain v. Procunier, 600
F.2d 189, 199 (9th Cir. 1979)).
Here, Plaintiff has not alleged, much less proved, any type of physical injury or a serious
threat to his health as the result of the alleged 21-day deprivation of access to the yard. As such,
his Eighth Amendment claim predicated on denial of exercise fails to state a viable claim for
relief and must be dismissed. See Jordan v. Rowley, Civil No. 1:16-cv-1261, 2017 WL 2813294,
at *3 (M.D. Pa. June 29, 2017) (prisoner failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim based on
allegations that he had been denied outdoor exercise, recreation, and fresh air during a period of
six months); Dickens, 2012 WL 2089516, at *6 (dismissing Eighth Amendment claim as
frivolous where plaintiff alleged he was deprived of exercise for three months but did not allege
any tangible physical harm resulting from his lack of exercise); Illes v. Deparlos, Civil No. 1:09cv-1166, 2012 WL 86938, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 11, 2012) (finding “insufficient evidence to
support an inference of deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm” where the
prisoner was allegedly denied out-of-cell exercise for twenty-eight (28) consecutive days).
Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim predicated on his alleged deprivation of exercise will be
dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B) and §1915A.5
3. Plaintiff’s Deliberate Indifference Claim Against Cotton
Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that Cotton’s failure to keep his grievance confidential
until its official filing made her “deliberately indifferent to [P]laintiff’s safety, in that she was in
violation of prison rules and safety codes.” (ECF No. 3, ¶156.) To the extent Plaintiff is
attempting to establish an Eighth Amendment violation on the part of Cotton, the claim fails as a
matter of law. Assuming, as we must, that Cotton did in fact allow Dongilli to read Plaintiff’s
grievance, the Court concludes that such conduct is insufficient to establish either: (i) that the
breach of confidence created a risk of serious harm to Plaintiff or (ii) that Cotton was
subjectively aware of, and deliberately indifferent to, such a risk. The fact that Cotton’s alleged
actions may have violated SCI-Fayette’s internal policies is of no legal moment, because “the
Although Plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim predicated upon a denial of
exercise, the Court will still consider the allegations as they relate to Plaintiff’s claim for alleged retaliation, since
the two claims are governed by different legal standards. See Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 224 (3d Cir. 2000)
(“Government actions, which standing alone do not violate the Constitution, may nonetheless be constitutional torts
if motivated in substantial part by a desire to punish an individual for exercise of a constitutional right.”) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court will discuss the First Amendment retaliation claim below.
failure to comply with prison policies and regulations does not amount to a Constitutional
violation.” Meekins v. Beard, No. CIV. 3:CV-06-290, 2008 WL 647738, at *6 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 5,
2008) (citing authority). In sum, the evidence of record, even when construed most favorably to
Plaintiff, fails to state a viable §1983 claim against Cotton, making a grant of summary judgment
in her favor appropriate.
4. Plaintiff’s First Amendment Retaliation Claims
Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that various prison officials retaliated against him in a
number of ways after he filed his grievances. The alleged retaliation involved prison staff: (a)
denying Plaintiff access to yard activities; (b) subjecting Plaintiff to unsanitary conditions after
his toilet stopped working; (c) misappropriating grievance materials that Plaintiff had sent to the
library for copying on May 5, 2014; and (d) improperly withholding Plaintiff’s magazines.
It is well established that “[r]etaliating against a prisoner for the exercise of his
constitutional rights is unconstitutional.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 376 (3d Cir. 2012)
(citations omitted). “To state a claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) he was
engaged in constitutionally protected conduct, (2) he suffered some adverse action at the hands
of the prison officials[,] and (3) his constitutionally protected conduct was a substantial or
motivating factor in the decision to take that action.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). If a prisoner shows the three retaliation elements, prison officials “may still prevail by
proving that they would have made the same decision absent the protected conduct for reasons
reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest.” Rauser v. Horn, 241 F.3d 330, 333-34
(3d Cir. 2001).
For purposes of establishing the first element, it is clear that the use of a prison grievance
system qualifies as protected activity. See, e.g., Pepe v. Lamas, 679 F. App’x 173, 175–76 (3d
Cir. 2017) (concluding that plaintiff stated a plausible First Amendment claim where he alleged
that defendants removed him from his job in the prison kitchen in retaliation for filing a
grievance); Burgos v. City of Phila., --- F. Supp. 3d ---, 2017 WL 3917620, at * (E.D. Pa. Sept.
6, 2017) (Plaintiff could state a plausible First Amendment violation by alleging that his repeated
complaints, lodged through prison grievance system, resulted in prison officials returning him to
a three-person cell). Here it is undisputed that Plaintiff filed a number of grievances while
incarcerated at SCI-Fayette. He has therefore established the first element of his First
Amendment claim as a matter of law.
The second element of a retaliation claim requires Plaintiff to establish that he suffered
some adverse action at the hands of the prison officials. Bistrian, 696 F.3d at 376. An adverse
action is one that is sufficient “to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his First
Amendment rights.” Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 225 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted)). “Government actions, which standing alone do not violate the
Constitution, may nonetheless be constitutional torts if motivated in substantial part by a desire
to punish an individual for exercise of a constitutional right.” Id. at 224 (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). The retaliatory conduct “need not be great in order to be actionable” but
must be “more than de minimus.” McKee v. Hart, 436 F.3d 165, 170 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal
quotations and emphasis omitted).
In this case, each of the retaliatory acts alleged by Plaintiff – if proven – might well be
sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his First Amendment rights, and
Defendants do not contend otherwise. To the extent the Defendants dispute the second element
of Plaintiff’s retaliation claims, they deny having engaged in the type of conduct alleged or they
dispute Plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate personal involvement on the part of the Defendants who
have been sued.
To prove the third element -- that a protected activity was a substantial or motivating
factor in an alleged retaliatory action, a plaintiff must show “(1) an unusually suggestive
temporal proximity between the protected activity and the allegedly retaliatory action, or (2) a
pattern of antagonism coupled with timing to establish a causal link.” Watson v. Rozum, 834
F.3d 417, 424 (3d Cir. 2016). Importantly, however, “‘[t]hese are not the exclusive ways to
show causation, as the proffered evidence, looked at as a whole, may suffice to raise the
inference.’” Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 280 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting
Kachmar v. SunGard Data Sys., Inc., 109 F.3d 173, 177 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Here, the Defendants deny subjecting Plaintiff to adverse action and further deny that
they acted with a retaliatory motive. The Court will address each aspect of Plaintiff’s retaliation
a. Denial of Yard Activity
In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Hawkinberry and Richter retaliated against him for
filing Grievance #497654 by denying him access to the prison yard. (ECF No. 3, ¶157.) In
support of this claim, Plaintiff has adduced evidence indicating that: (i) he filed Grievance
#497654 (pertaining to his injury in the yard) on February 18, 2014, naming fellow inmate
Timothy Gaines as a witness (ECF No. 130, ¶11; ECF No. 131-6 at 2); (ii) later that morning,
Cotton retrieved the grievance and permitted Dongilli to read it (ECF No. 130, ¶12); (iii) within
fifteen minutes thereafter, Officer Halley recited portions of the grievance to Plaintiff and
remarked that Plaintiff should not have put a grievance in about the yard and “would not be
going to the yard for a while” (ECF No. 130, ¶¶13, 45); (iv) the next morning, Defendant
Richter, while drawing up the yard list, told Plaintiff he “might as well lay [sic] down because
[he]was not going outside for a while” (ECF No. 130, ¶¶14, 46); (v) shortly thereafter,
Hawkinberry, who was running yard movement with Richter, made a similar remark, telling
Plaintiff that he would not be “going to the yard for a while,” adding that Plaintiff “might hurt
[his] back again” (ECF No. 130, ¶¶ 14, 48); (vi) Hawkinberry also precluded Inmate Gaines
from participating in yard activity that day, allegedly because he was listed as a witness in
Grievance # 497654 (ECF No. 130, ¶14); and (vii) Richter and Hawkinberry, along with other
officers, continued this pattern over the course of the next several weeks (ECF No. 130, ¶¶16,
48). In addition to his own declaration, Plaintiff has submitted sworn statements from Inmates
Timothy Gaines, Wesley McKenney, and Daryl Johnson, all of whom generally corroborate
Plaintiff’s account. (ECF Nos. 131-4, 131-7, and 131-8.) Notably, Inmate McKenney claims
that, when Richter denied Plaintiff access to the yard on February 19, 2014, he told Plaintiff to
“put another grievance in because you’re not going out.” (ECF No. 131-8.)
Defendants dispute the second and third elements of Plaintiff’s retaliation claim. With
regard to the “adverse action” element, they deny that Hawkinberry or Richter ever precluded
Plaintiff from participating in yard activities. As set forth in the declarations of Richter and
Halley, it is standard policy in the RHU to allow inmates like Ashford to decide for themselves
whether they want to participate in yard activity on any given day. (ECF No. 139-2, ¶9; ECF
No. 139-3, ¶7.) Defendants maintain that, if Plaintiff did not participate in yard activity, it was
either due to inclement weather – in which case the shift commander would have cancelled yard
activity for all inmates -- or due to Plaintiff’s own personal decision not to participate. (ECF No.
139-2, ¶¶9-12; ECF No. 13-3, ¶¶7-9.)
Defendants also dispute the third element of Plaintiff’s retaliation claim. To that end,
they have submitted evidence of standard RHU policy concerning the confidentiality of
grievances. As set forth in the declarations of Halley and Cotton, inmates in the RHU who wish
to file a grievance hand their grievances to the officers on the pod and the officers place the
grievances in a locked box. (ECF No. 139-3, ¶10.) The only person with a key to the box is
someone from the front office who is escorted by an officer to retrieve the grievances on a daily
basis. (ECF No. 139-3, ¶10.) During times relevant to this litigation, that person was Cotton.
(ECF No. 139-7, ¶¶2-4.) Cotton denies ever reading inmate grievances, discussing them, or
showing them to corrections officers during her time as a grievance clerk. (ECF No. 139-7, ¶¶5,
7.) She claims she knew nothing about Grievance #497654 prior to reading the complaint in this
litigation. (Id. ¶6.) Halley similarly denies ever seeing Cotton read inmate grievances or discuss
them with anyone. (ECF No. 139-3, ¶12.) He further states that he never witnessed an officer
read an inmate’s grievance prior to placing it in the locked box. (ECF No. 139-3, ¶11.) Halley
maintains that he would have no way of knowing whether Plaintiff even wrote a grievance or
what the contents were unless Plaintiff told him about it or he was interviewed about it. (ECF
No. 139-3, ¶6.)
In this case, the evidence gives rise to competing conclusions about whether Defendants
Richter or Hawkinberry restricted Plaintiff’s yard privileges and/or whether they did so for
retaliatory reasons, as Plaintiff claims. This Court, however, may not weigh evidence, determine
credibility, or resolve factual disputes at the summary judgment stage. See Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 255 (“Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate
inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, whether he is ruling on a
motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict.”) Consequently, neither party is entitled
to an entry of summary judgment with respect to this aspect of Plaintiff’s First Amendment
b. Refusal to Address the Problem with Plaintiff’s Toilet
Plaintiff alleges that Officers Egros and Pellis retaliated against him by denying him
access to a working toilet and subjecting him to unsanitary conditions in his cell. (ECF No. 3,
¶158.) Plaintiff contends that he informed both of these officers, among others, about his
plumbing problems but they refused to help him address the problem and refused to move him to
one of the empty cells on his block. Beyond this, the officers joked about the problems Plaintiff
was having with his toilet.
Defendants deny that the officers were inattentive to Plaintiff’s problem. As discussed
above, Defendants insist that Plaintiff made only two discreet reports of a plumbing issue during
the time frame at issue and both times the problem was addressed in a timely manner. In
addition, Defendants deny that there is any causal connection between the filing of Grievance
#497654 and the conduct of which Plaintiff complains, since the latter occurred nearly three
months after Grievance #497654 was filed.
Here, the evidence establishes that Plaintiff filed Grievance #497654 on February 18,
2014 and Grievance #498217 the following day. (ECF Nos. 131-6 at 2 and 131-9 at 2.) As
previously discussed, these filings constituted protected activity for purposes of the first element
of Plaintiff’s retaliation claim.
Plaintiff’s declaration establishes that, on May 4, 2014 he informed Pellis and Egros of
the ongoing problems he was having with his toilet, but they refused to take any action to resolve
the problem and also refused to move Plaintiff to an empty cell. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶32, 66.)
According to Plaintiff, the officers teased him about the foul odor emanating from his cell. (Id.
¶¶33, 66.) Arguably, this conduct constitutes the type of adverse action that would deter a
person of ordinary firmness from engaging in protected activity. Consequently, even though the
Defendants may dispute whether the alleged misconduct occurred, a triable issue of fact exists
relative to the second element of Plaintiff’s retaliation claim.
With respect to the third element of Plaintiff’s retaliation claim, the Court finds that there
is no evidence in the record to establish that Pellis’ conduct was substantially motivated by
knowledge that Plaintiff had filed grievances on February 18 and 19, 2014. First, there is no
“unusually suggestive temporal proximity between the protected activity and the allegedly
retaliatory action.” Watson, 834 F.3d at 424. Second, there is no evidence of “a pattern of
antagonism coupled with timing” that might establish a causal link. Id. Finally, the record as a
whole does not support an inference that Pellis acted with a retaliatory motive. See id.
(“[C]ausation, like any other fact, can be established from the evidence gleaned from the record
as a whole.”). In fact, there is no evidence in the record to establish that Pellis was personally
aware of Plaintiffs’ protected activity at the time that Pellis allegedly ridiculed Plaintiff and
declined to assist him. Accordingly, the Court will grant the Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment insofar as it relates to the retaliation claim against Pellis.
The Court reaches a different result with respect to the claim against Egros. According to
Plaintiff, Egros ridiculed him and told him to “file a grievance like I always do.” (ECF No. 130,
¶33.) Plaintiff’s account is generally corroborated by several witnesses, including Inmate
Wesley McKenney, who states that he heard Egros tell Plaintiff “to file another grievance like he
always do[es].” (ECF No. 131-14.) In this Court’s estimation, the foregoing evidence, if
credited by a jury, would be sufficient to demonstrate that Plaintiff’s protected activity was a
substantial or motivating factor in Egros’ alleged misconduct. Accordingly, summary judgment
will be denied with respect to the retaliation claim against Egros.
c. Theft of Grievance Materials
Plaintiff has also asserted retaliation claims against Officers Garland, Halley, Newman,
McKnight, Pletcher and Hawkinberry based on their alleged involvement in misappropriating
Plaintiff’s grievance materials. (ECF No. 3, ¶159.) Plaintiff’s claim is that he sent Grievance
#498217 (and supporting documents) to the library for copying on Monday, May 5, 2014, so that
the copies could be returned the following Thursday, May 8, and mailed out on May 9, 2014 in
connection with Plaintiff’s appeal of Grievance #498217. Plaintiff theorizes that his copies were
returned from the library to his unit on May 8, 2014, but that Garland, Halley, Newman,
McKnight, and Pletcher each claimed to be unable to locate the papers and/or the library cart on
which they were returned. Plaintiff further contends that Defendant Hawkinberry offered to
provide Plaintiff with copies of Grievance #498217 but then later refused to do so after Plaintiff
declined to withdraw a separate grievance.
Defendants did not move for summary judgment on this claim, and their response to
Plaintiff’s “Statement of Undisputed Facts” suggests that they did not squarely address the
matter because they did not perceive that Plaintiff’s allegations related to any cause of action that
was still pending. (See ECF No. 135, ¶¶56-61.) Defendants’ confusion in this regard may be
due to the fact that, in its prior opinion of June 2, 2016, this Court addressed the missing
grievance materials primarily in the context of Plaintiff’s claim that he had unlawfully been
denied access to the courts. (See ECF No. 79 at 14.) The Court made only passing reference to
the fact that Plaintiff had adequately stated a retaliation claim predicated on the improper
confiscation of his grievance papers, and the reference was made in the context of discussing
Plaintiff’s civil conspiracy claim. (Id. at 15.) Although the Court did not elaborate on this
particular theory of retaliation, the claim is fairly set forth in the complaint (ECF No. 3, ¶159), so
the Court will address it now.
In sum, after careful review of the record, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s retaliation
claims against Officers Garland, Halley, Newman, McKnight, and Pletcher will proceed forward
because Defendants have not met their prima facie burden of demonstrating that no genuinely
disputed issues of material fact exist relative to this claim. Although the claim is tenuous, it is
minimally sufficient for purposes of surviving summary judgment. The first element of
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim is satisfied by the fact that his filing of Grievance #498217 and
related appeals in that matter are constitutionally protected activity. The second and third
elements hinge on Plaintiff’s theory that: (a) copies of Grievance #498217 were, in fact, present
on the library cart when the cart was delivered to his unit on May 8, 2014; and (b) Garland,
Halley, Newman, McKnight and Pletcher were each personally aware that Plaintiff’s grievance
materials were available but they deliberately refused to provide the copies to Plaintiff. The
evidence on this point is ambiguous, and Plaintiff’s own declaration is arguably in conflict with
certain aspects of the account he contemporaneously gave when he filed Grievance #509029,
concerning this incident. Further, Plaintiff’s assertion that his copies were available for delivery
on May 8 is ultimately dependent on hearsay evidence in the form of out-of-court statements by
an unidentified inmate worker and the prison librarian. The Court cannot presently make a
definitive determination about whether these hearsay statements will be reducible to an
admissible form of evidence at time of trial. There are also unresolved issues of fact and
competing inferences concerning each Defendant’s personal involvement – or lack thereof – in
the alleged confiscation of Plaintiff’s grievance materials. In light of these circumstances, the
Court will deny both parties’ motions for summary judgment as they relate to the claims against
Garland, Halley, Newman, McKnight, and Pletcher.
The Court will also deny the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment relative to
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim against Hawkinberry. In his sworn declaration, Plaintiff states that
Hawkinberry called him to his office on May 17, 2014 and attempted at that time to persuade
Plaintiff to withdraw Grievance #508476, which Plaintiff declined to do. (ECF No. 130, ¶41.)
Plaintiff states that he asked Hawkinberry about the missing copies of Grievance #498217 at that
time and Hawkinberry indicated he would obtain the missing copies for Plaintiff. (Id.) Four
days later, however, Hawkinberry allegedly posed an ultimatum to Plaintiff, stating that, unless
Plaintiff withdrew Grievance #508476, Hawkinberry would not provide the missing copies of
Grievance #498217 and would make Plaintiff’s life in the RHU difficult. (Id.) Plaintiff claims
that he declined to withdraw Grievance #508476, and that Hawkinberry subsequently delayed
delivery of the missing grievance papers until June 2, 2014 – after Plaintiff’s deadline for filing
an appeal for Grievance #498217 had passed. (Id., ¶¶89, 91.)
Plaintiff’s claim against Hawkinberry is predicated upon sworn allegations that are
inferentially contradicted by other evidence in the record and may not ultimately be credited by a
jury. Nevertheless, they are sufficient for present purposes to support a retaliation claim against
Hawkinberry. If credited, Plaintiff’s evidence is sufficient to show that he engaged in protected
activity (filing grievances and pursuing appeals thereof), that Hawkinberry undertook a course of
adverse action against Plaintiff, and that Plaintiff’s grievance activities were a substantial or
motivating factor in the alleged misconduct. At the same time, a reasonable jury would not be
compelled to return a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor. Accordingly, entry of summary judgment is
inappropriate relative to the retaliation claim against Hawkinberry, and the matter will proceed to
d. Misappropriation of Plaintiff’s Magazines
Plaintiff has also asserted retaliation claims against Defendants Sgt. Tanner and Lt.
Parker based on their alleged responsibility for the disappearance of Plaintiff’s magazines. (ECF
No. 3, ¶160.) As discussed, Plaintiff filed Grievance #498217 on February 19, 2014. (ECF No.
131-9.) Plaintiff attests that, for a period of about seven weeks thereafter – i.e., from February
19 to April 8, 2014, he stopped receiving a “Star” magazine that usually arrived on a weekly
basis. (ECF No. 130, ¶¶ 18-19, 22.) During this period, Plaintiff talked to Tanner about the
problem “multiple times” each week. (Id. ¶22.) Plaintiff confirmed during this time that the
publishing company was still sending the magazines to SCI-Fayette and the mailroom was
forwarding all of Plaintiff’s mail to his pod. (Id. ¶¶20-21.)
Plaintiff states that, after “a lot of prodding,” (ECF No. 130, ¶22), his magazines began
arriving again on April 8, 2014 and continued to arrive without any problems until he filed
Grievance #508476 on May 5, 2014. (Id. ¶¶22-23.) At that point, his magazines “[i]nstantly. . .
began vanishing again.” (Id. ¶23.) Once again, Plaintiff confirmed that the publishing company
was still sending the magazines to SCI Fayette and the mail room was forwarding all of
Plaintiff’s mail to his pod. (Id. ¶¶25-26.) Plaintiff continued to talk to Tanner about the
problem, but Tanner just “blew [Plaintiff] off.” (Id. ¶57.) Eventually, Plaintiff filed a grievance
(Grievance #510183) on May 19, 2014 to address this alleged retaliation. (ECF No. 113-10.)
Subsequently, on June 25, 2014, Officer Godines was passing out mail when Plaintiff claims to
have noticed him holding a copy of a “Star” magazine that had Plaintiff’s name on it. (ECF No.
130, ¶28.) Plaintiff asserts that Godines refused to give him his magazine and left the pod with
it. When Plaintiff discussed the situation with Tanner, Tanner allegedly remarked that, “Stuff
comes up missing when you file grievances on staff.” (Id. ¶28.)
Based on the foregoing evidence, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s retaliation claim against
Sgt. Tanner is sufficient to survive summary judgment. If credited, Plaintiff’s sworn statements
could support a reasonable inference that Tanner knew his magazines were being
misappropriated in retaliation for protected activity and that Tanner acquiesced in the
Defendants insist that Plaintiff’s retaliation claim fails as a matter of law because officers
on the unit were neither aware of the alleged problems with Plaintiff’s magazines, nor involved
in improperly withholding the magazines. In support of their motion, Defendants have submitted
a sworn declaration from Lt. Parker as well as a copy of Plaintiff’s file for Grievance #510183,
which includes the Initial Review Response of Lt. Parker, the Appeal Response by Defendant
Coleman, and the Final Appeal Decision by the Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals. (ECF
No. 139-5; ECF No. 139-8.) As set forth therein, Lt. Parker investigated Plaintiff’s grievance by
interviewing all staff members involved and observing the procedures that were being used by
staff to pass out mail. Lt. Parker concluded that all of the mail received on the unit was being
passed out on the blocks in accordance with the facility’s established policies and procedures.
All of the officers that Parker interviewed denied engaging in retaliatory conduct and further
denied any awareness of Plaintiff’s past grievances. (ECF No. 139-5; ECF No. 139-8.)
Defendants also point to internal prison records indicating that Plaintiff was interviewed by his
counselor during the time frame in question and “reported no issues or concerns.” (ECF No.
Defendants’ evidence is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of genuinely disputed
issues of fact relative to the retaliation claim against Tanner. At the same time, however,
Defendants’ evidence is not sufficient to resolve the disputed issues as a matter of law.
Accordingly, both Plaintiff’s and Defendants’ motions will be denied relative to the retaliation
claim against Tanner.
On the other hand, Defendants’ motion will be granted insofar as it relates to the
retaliation claim against Lt. Parker. Plaintiff appears to have named Parker as a Defendant under
a theory of supervisory liability, but there is no evidence in the record to demonstrate Parker’s
personal involvement in the alleged misappropriation of Plaintiff’s magazines. As far as this
Court can tell, Parker’s involvement in the matter was limited to his investigation of Grievance
#510183 and his submission of an Initial Review Response. (See ECF No. 131-11.) Plaintiff
appears to be accusing Parker of engaging in a cover-up, but Parker’s involvement in the
grievance process is insufficient as a matter of law to establish his personal involvement in the
alleged misconduct that he was investigating. See Kruge v. Johnston, No. 3:14-CV-00192, 2015
WL 3609927, at *5 (W.D. Pa. June 8, 2015) (“[A]ny attempt by Plaintiff to establish liability
against the Warden and Deputy Warden solely based upon their substance or lack of response to
his institutional grievances does not by itself support a constitutional claim) (citing Alexander v.
Gennarini, 144 F. App’x 924, 925 (3d Cir.2005) (involvement in post-incident grievance process
not a basis for § 1983 liability)). Consequently, summary judgment will be entered in favor of
Parker on this aspect of Plaintiff’s retaliation claim.
To the extent Plaintiff is asserting a supervisory liability claim against Workman, it too
fails as a matter of law. Plaintiff asserts that, between February 19 and April 8, 2014, he spoke
with Workman on two occasions about the fact that his magazines were not being delivered.
(ECF No. 130, ¶22.) Plaintiff claims that, “[a]fter a lot of prodding,” his magazines began
circulating again on April 8. (Id.) This evidence, even if credited, is too tenuous to establish
knowledge on the part of Workman of an unconstitutional course of conduct and acquiescence
Plaintiff states that, after he began to experience more problems with his magazines in
early May, he wrote a request slip to Workman about the problem. (ECF No. 130, ¶23; ECF No.
131-10 at 8.) Workman never responded to the request slip. (ECF No. 130, ¶23.) As previously
discussed, however, Workman’s failure to respond to Plaintiff’s request slip is an inadequate
basis for inferring his personal involvement in a constitutional tort. The Court will therefore
grant the Defendants’ motion insofar as it relates to Plaintiff’s supervisory claim against
5. Plaintiff’s Civil Conspiracy Claims
Plaintiff also asserts a §1983 civil conspiracy claim against Hawkinberry, Parker,
McKnight, and Coleman. This claim is predicated on the theory that the aforementioned
Defendants conspired to interfere with the investigations of numerous constitutional violations
and thereby effectuate a cover-up of the wrongdoing. (ECF No. 3, ¶167.) In support of this
claim, Plaintiff makes the following assertions in his “Statement of Undisputed Facts”:
“Defendant Hawkinberry fabricated the record and conspired with Defendant Richter
to interfere with the investigation [of Grievance #498217] when he stated that no
inmate went to yard on 2-19-14 due to weather.” (ECF No. 129, ¶20.);
Defendants Richter and Hawkinberry retaliated against Plaintiff [and] attempted to
cover it up when their rebuttal to Plaintiff’s claims was that nobody went to yard on
2-19-14 (ECF No. 129, ¶21);
Defendant Richter’s sudden admission to conducting yard through Plaintiff’s request
for admissions is a direct reflection of he [sic] and Defendant Hawkinberry’s
retaliation and conspiracy to cover it up with the aforementioned falsehoods.” (ECF
No. 129, ¶22.);
Defendants Parker, Richter, and Hawkinberry again gave false responses when they
said that their responses were truthful in Grievance NO. 498217.” (ECF No. 129,
“Defendant Parker fabricated the record and conspired to interfere with proper
investigation when he said plaintiff did not sign up for medical [until] a later date.”
(ECF No. 129, ¶24.);
“Defendant Parker falsified another grievance response when he said that plaintiff
never spoke to anyone about [his] broken toilet.” (ECF No. 129, ¶25.);
“Defendant Coleman, at no time, reprimanded Defendant Parker for falsifying
documents, but instead corrected his false reports.” (ECF No. 129, ¶28);
C.O. McKnight took Plaintiff’s request slip [seeking information about the events of
May 1-May 6, 2014] on June 19, 2014 and never returned it. (ECF No. 129, ¶54.)
To demonstrate the existence of a conspiracy under Section 1983, “a plaintiff must show
that two or more conspirators reached an agreement to deprive him or her of a constitutional
right under color of law.” Laurensau v. Romarowics, 528 F. App’x 136 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal
citations omitted). “[A] § 1983 conspiracy claim only arises when there has been an actual
deprivation of a right.” Perano v. Twp. of Tilden, 423 F. App’x 234, 239 (3d Cir. 2011); see also
Sweetman v. Borough of Norristown, PA, 554 F. App’x 86, 90 (3d Cir. 2014) (same). “The
essence of a conspiracy is an agreement.” United States v. Kelly, 892 F.2d 255, 258 (3d Cir.
1989). “It is not enough that the end result of the parties’ independent conduct caused the
plaintiff harm or even that the alleged perpetrators of the harm acted in conscious parallelism.”
Perez v. Gamez, 1:13-CV-1552, 2013 WL 6073877, at *9 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 18, 2013). Rather, the
plaintiff must show that the defendants acted in concert with the specific intent to violate the
plaintiff's rights. Davis v. Fox, 3:12-CV-1660, 2013 WL 5656125, at * 5 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 15,
2013). Because direct evidence of a conspiracy is rarely available, the existence of a conspiracy
may be inferred from the circumstances. Capogrosso v. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, 588
F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2009).
Importantly, however, a viable §1983 claim is not stated merely by producing evidence
that individuals engaged in a conspiracy to conceal or cover up a constitutional violation afterthe-fact. See Joseph v. Naji, No. 1:16-CV-01870, 2017 WL 2375703, at *8 (M.D. Pa. May 16,
2017) (“‘A cover-up, without more, cannot be the basis of a conspiracy claim under §1983.’”)
(quoting Epifan v. Roman, No. 3:11-CV-02591-FLW, 2014 WL 4828606, at *7 (D.N.J. Sept.
29, 2014), report and recommendation adopted, No. 1:16-CV-01870, 2017 WL 2362522 (M.D.
Pa. May 31, 2017). “Rather, a plaintiff must show how the purported cover up violated his
constitutional rights.” Id. at *8 (citing Epifan, 2014 WL 4828606, at *6 and Bush v. City of
Phila., No. CIV. A. 98-0994, 1999 WL 554585, at *4 (E.D. Pa. July 16, 1999) (“Cases decided
in this court and elsewhere show that conspiracy by police officers to file false reports and
otherwise cover up wrongdoing by fellow officers is not in and of itself a constitutional violation.
It provides the basis for a § 1983 action only if it results in some constitutional harm to the
Here, Plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence from which a jury could conclude that
Defendant Hawkinberry conspired with Richter to retaliate against Plaintiff for his
constitutionally protected activity by denying Plaintiff access to the exercise yard. Such a
conclusion is supportable, but not compelled, in light of the disputed evidence on this point.
Accordingly, both Plaintiff’s and Defendants’ summary judgment motions will be denied insofar
as Plaintiff asserts a claim against Hawkinberry for alleged conspiracy to violate his First
Amendment Rights through the retaliatory denial of yard activity.
In all other respects, Plaintiff’s conspiracy claim is insufficient as a matter of law,
because Plaintiff has not adduced evidence to show that Defendants Hawkinberry, Parker,
McKnight, or Coleman engaged in conspiratorial activity that resulted in an independent
violation of his constitutional rights. To the extent that the Defendants’ alleged cover-up
activities prevented Plaintiff from successfully grieving his complaints, no constitutional
violation has been stated because, as this Court previously recognized, “inmates do not have a
constitutionally protected right to a prison grievance system.” Mem. Op. (ECF No. 79) at 14
(citing Freeman v. Dep't of Corr., 447 F. App’x 385, 387 (3d Cir. 2011)). Accordingly,
summary judgment will be entered in favor of Defendants Hawkinberry, Parker, McKnight, and
Coleman with respect to Plaintiff’s §1983 conspiracy claim to the extent it is predicated on the
Defendants’ alleged interference with grievance investigations or attempts to cover up prior
6. Plaintiff’s Request for Declaratory Relief
In his complaint, Plaintiff requested that this Court enter a declaratory judgment stating
that the various named Defendants had violated his federal constitutional rights. See ECF No. 3
at 25-26, ¶¶(A)(1)-(A)(8). It is well recognized that an inmate’s transfer or release from the
facility complained of generally moots claims the inmate might have for declaratory or equitable
relief. See, e.g., Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 248 (3d Cir. 2008); Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4
F.3d 195, 206 (3d Cir. 1993). Claims will not be mooted, however, if a challenged action is
claims are not mooted when a challenged action is “(1) too short in duration ‘to be fully litigated
prior to its cessation or expiration’; and (2) ‘there [is] a reasonable likelihood that the same
complaining party would be subjected to the same action again.’” Sutton, 323 F.3d at 248
(quoting Abdul-Akbar, 4 F.3d at 206). See also Mayon v. Wetzel, No. 2:15-CV-1003, 2017 WL
1211626, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 3, 2017) (noting an exception to the mootness doctrine where the
case presents a question that is “capable of repetition yet evading review”) (citing Cobb v. Yost,
342 F. App’x 858, 859 (3d Cir. 2009)).
Here, nothing in the record before this Court suggests that there is a reasonable
probability that Plaintiff will be returned to SCI-Fayette in the future. Cobb, F. App’x at 859 (3d
Cir. 2009) (“Speculation that [Plaintiff] could return to prison does not overcome the mootness
doctrine.”) (citing Abdul-Akbar, 4 F.3d at 206); Mayon, 2017 WL 1211626, at *2-3 (prisoner’s
claim stemming from incidents at SCI-Pittsburgh were mooted by his transfer to another state
correctional institution, and nothing in the plaintiff’s pleading suggested a reasonable probability
of his return to that facility). Consequently, Plaintiff’s claims for a declaratory judgment are
moot,6 and will be dismissed without prejudice for that reason.7
B. Plaintiff’s State Law Negligence Claim
Plaintiff has also asserted a claim against Richter, Lowther, and Forte under a “failure to
protect” theory, which this Court construes as a negligence claim. This claim is predicated on
the Defendants’ alleged negligence in subjecting Plaintiff to icy conditions in the exercise yard
on January 30, 2014, which allegedly led to Plaintiff falling and injuring his knee and back.
It is necessary for this Court to determine whether Plaintiff’s claims are moot because “‘a federal court has neither
the power to render advisory opinions nor to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants in the case
before them.’” Njos v. Carney, No. 3:12-CV-1375, 2017 WL 3224816, at *7 (M.D. Pa. June 21, 2017), report and
recommendation adopted, No. 3:12-CV-01375, 2017 WL 3217690 (M.D. Pa. July 28, 2017) (quoting Preiser v.
Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975), and citing Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 206 (3d Cir. 1993)).
The Court’s ruling as to mootness does not affect Plaintiff’s claims for compensatory or other damages. See
Weaver v. Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 27 n.13 (3d Cir. 1981) (prisoner's transfer from prison mooted claim for injunctive
and declaratory relief with respect to prison conditions, but not claim for damages). Here, Plaintiff seeks to recover
both compensatory and punitive damages against the named Defendants.
To the extent Plaintiff seeks to recover compensatory damages, he is required, under the Prison Litigation Reform
Act, to demonstrate some physical injury in connection with any claims that are predicated on mental or emotional
harm. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). For purposes of the instant motion, Defendants have not raised any challenge to
Plaintiff’s compensatory damages claims, so the Court will not address the issue at this time.
To establish a cause of action for negligence in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must prove the
following elements: (1) a duty or obligation recognized by law; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a
causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual damages. N.W.
Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Babayan, 430 F.3d 121, 139 (3d Cir.2005); Pittsburgh Nat'l Bank v. Perr,
637 A.2d 334, 336 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1994). Defendants contend that they cannot be liable in
negligence by virtue of the provisions of the Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly has enacted 1 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2310, which
provides in pertinent part:
Pursuant to section 11 of Article 1 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, it is
hereby declared to be the intent of the General Assembly that the Commonwealth,
and its officials and employees acting within the scope of their duties, shall
continue to enjoy sovereign immunity and official immunity and remain immune
from suit except as the General Assembly shall specifically waive the immunity.
(emphasis added). “Section 2310 thus generally ‘shields Commonwealth officials and
employees from civil liability for torts committed within the scope of their duties.’” DeGroat v.
Cavallaro, No. 3:16-CV-1186, 2017 WL 2152376, at *4 (M.D. Pa. May 17, 2017) (quoting Zion
v. Nassan, 283 F.R.D. 247, 265 (W.D. Pa. 2012)); see also Mitchell v. Luckenbill, 680 F. Supp.
2d 672, 681-82 (M.D. Pa. 2010) (“Sovereign immunity bars claims that are asserted against the
Commonwealth, its agencies, and Commonwealth employees acting within the scope of their
office or employment.”) (citing 1 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2310); Jackson v. Nassan, No. 2:08-cv1054, 2009 WL 2707447, at *6 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2009) (“Even where a plaintiff asks for
monetary damages against a [Commonwealth] defendant in his individual capacit[y], sovereign
Here, there is no dispute that Richter, Lowther, and Forte were Commonwealth
employees as of January 30, 2014, when Plaintiff slipped and fell in the RHU yard.
Nevertheless, Plaintiff disputes that they were acting within the scope of their duties during the
time in question. The Court finds this argument specious.
“In order to determine whether a Commonwealth employee was acting within the scope
of his or her employment, courts must consider whether the employee's conduct: (a) is of a kind
and nature that the employee is employed to perform; (b) occurs substantially within the
authorized time and space limits; and (c) is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the
employer. DeGroat, 2017 WL 2152376, at *4 (citing Natt v. Labar, 543 A.2d 223, 225 (Pa.
Commw. Ct. 1988)). Based on a consideration of these factors and the evidence submitted by
Plaintiff himself, there can be no genuine dispute that Richter, Lowther, and Forte were acting
within the scope of their employment at the time of Plaintiff’s fall.
The question thus becomes whether the General Assembly has waived the Defendants’
immunity for the type of conduct that Plaintiff has alleged. Relevantly, the General Assembly
has enumerated only nine strictly construed exceptions to Pennsylvania's sovereign immunity
statute. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8522(b). Here, the only exception with possible relevance
is the “real estate exception,” which applies to claims for damages that are caused by “[a]
dangerous condition of Commonwealth agency real estate.” Id. at §8522(b)(4). “In construing
the real estate exception, Pennsylvania courts have held that the ‘dangerous condition must
derive, originate from, or have as its source the Commonwealth realty.’” Hall v. Southwestern
Pa. Water Auth., 87 A.3d 998, 1000 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2014) (quoting Snyder v. Harmon, 562
A.2d 307, 311 (Pa. 1989)). “The exception is strictly construed,” id., and “substances such as ice,
snow, or debris on the real estate do not qualify . . . .” Nardella v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 34 A.3d
300, 305 (Pa. Cmwlth. Ct. 2011). “[T]he focus must be on whether there is proof of a defect in
the real property itself.” Id. at 304; see Raker v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 844 A.2d 659, 662 (Pa.
Cmwlth. Ct. 2004) (“For an injury to be caused by a ‘dangerous condition of the real estate’ and
fall within the real estate exception, the actual defect or flaw in the real estate itself must cause
the injury, not some substance on the real property such as ice, snow, grease, or debris, unless
such substances are there because of a design or construction defect”).
Here, Plaintiff has offered no evidence that his injury was a result of a defect in the
Commonwealth’s property, as opposed to the ice and snow itself. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s
negligence claim predicated on his slip and fall does not come within the parameters of the “real
estate exception” to sovereign immunity. See Mitchell v. Dep't of Corr., No. 1844 C.D. 2016,
2017 WL 3623508, at *3 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Aug. 24, 2017) (“[B]ecause Mitchell claims that an
ice patch on the sidewalk rather than the sidewalk itself caused his fall, the real estate exception
does not apply.”). The Defendants’ summary judgment motion will be granted insofar as it
relates to the negligence claim against Richter, Lowther, and Forte.
Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment will be denied.
Defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part, as set
forth herein. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B) and §1915a, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s
Eighth Amendment claim predicated on the denial of exercise. The Court will further dismiss
Plaintiff’s requests for declaratory relief on mootness grounds.
An appropriate Order follows.
Dated: September 26, 2017
By the Court,
s/Cynthia Reed Eddy
Cynthia Reed Eddy
United States Magistrate Judge
P.O. Box 945
Marienville, PA 16239
via U.S. First Class Mail
Attorney for Defendants
Yana L. Warshafsky, Esq.
via CM/ECF electronic filing
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