Civil Action No. 00-CV-04023.
March 18, 2004
Presently before the Court are motions filed by Sergeant Hall, the sole remaining defendant, seeking dismissal of this action for failure to comply with orders of the court and the grant of summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 30). For the reasons that follow, Defendant Hall's motions are GRANTED.
Plaintiff Edward Smith ("Plaintiff") filed the instant action against Martin F. Horn, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Donald T. Vaughn, Superintendent at State Correctional Institution, Graterford ("SCI-Graterford"), Sergeant Hall of SCI-Graterford ("Hall,"), and Dr. Dennis Moyer, a physician performing medical services at SCI-Graterford, in their official and individual capacities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged the unconstitutional use of excessive force and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. By Memorandum and Order of October 29, 2003, this Court granted the dismissal motions filed by Defendants Horn, Vaughn and Moyer pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the factual record establishes the following: on July 8, 2000, Plaintiff, a 63 years old, five feet four inch,120 pound male, was detained at SCI-Graterford. (Def. Br. at 1). At about 9:00 p.m., Plaintiff, who was wearing underwear beneath a towel which was wrapped around his waist, was returning to his cell from the shower. (Smith Dep. at 14). While returning to his cell, Plaintiff passed a female guard who commented, "Smurf, take it in. I don't want to see your naked-a — body." (Id.). Defendant Hall, who was six feet two inches tall and 280 pounds, overheard this exchange, approached Plaintiff, pushed him against the wall and then handcuffed him (Smith Dep. at 15, 70). Hall then escorted Plaintiff back to his cell. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that while Hall was escorting him back to his cell, other inmates chastised Hall for his rough treatment of Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff admitted cursing Hall during the journey to the cell. (Id. at 16-17, 35-36). Upon reaching the cell, Hall forced Plaintiff into the cell. (Id. at 16, 31-32). Plaintiff alleged that the force of the contact sent him "flying into the cell," causing him to hit his right leg on the bunk and the side of his face on the wall. (Id.). Plaintiff further alleged that, as a result of this incident, he suffered a bruised knee and a lump on his head. (Smith Dep. at 77-79).
Plaintiff testified that, in his opinion, Hall took such action because he believed that Plaintiff was flashing the female guard. (Id.)
Plaintiff testified over the next several weeks he was seen at the infirmary by medical personnel who did not detect any injuries. (Id. at 77-79). Approximately two weeks after the incident, Dr. Moyer conducted a physical examination and did not observe any physical injuries. (Id. at 72, 77-79).
Defendant Hall's Motion for Dismissal for Failure to Comply with the Orders of the Court and/or Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on January 15, 2004. (Dkt. No. 30). On January 23, 2004, the Court ordered Plaintiff to respond to Defendant Hall's motion by February 12, 2004. (Dkt. No. 32). To date, Plaintiff has failed to respond to the Hall's motion, or take any action to further advance this litigation.
Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue of material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In reviewing the record, "a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor."Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). The moving party bears the burden of showing that the record discloses an absence of genuine issues as to any material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Adickes v. S.H. Kress Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1970). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e);see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). There is a genuine issue for trial "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. "Such affirmative evidence — regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial — must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance." Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989).
The core inquiry in evaluating a constitutional claim for violation of a plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights for use of excessive force is whether the force was applied "in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or [to] maliciously and sadistically cause harm." Smith v. Mensinger, 293 F.3d 641, 649 (3d Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). In determining whether a plaintiff establishes an Eighth Amendment violation, the Court must examine the following: "(1) the need for the application of force; (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used; (3) the extent of injuries inflicted; (4) the extent of the threat to safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by responsible officials on the basis of the facts known to them; and (5) any efforts made to temper the severity of the response." Id. at 649 (quoting Brooks v. Kyler, 204 F.3d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 2002)).
Applying the above factors to the instant case, it is clear that Defendant Hall did not violate Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights by the use of excessive force. Based upon the comments of the female guard, Defendant Hall reasonably perceived that Plaintiff had been sexually inappropriate. It was therefore reasonable for Hall to intervene and use a modest amount of physical force to interrupt the interaction and return Plaintiff to his cell. Plaintiff was cuffed and pushed, and no more. He was not struck with a fist, or any instrumentality, nor was he the victim of a violent or protracted assault. At most, he was pushed by a correctional officer who perceived Plaintiff as harassing a female guard. The Court views this force as de minimus and objectively reasonable under the circumstances. See Robinson v. Link, 1994 WL 463400 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 25, 1994) (allegation that prisoner was handcuffed, dragged along corridor, and hit in the back found to be de minimus and not an Eighth Amendment violation); Brown v, Vaughn, 1992 WL 75008 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 1992) (allegation that guard struck inmate in chest and spit on him found to be de minimus and not an Eighth Amendment violation); Colon v. Wert, 1997 WL 137171 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 21, 1997) (allegation that corrections officer slammed a cell door into the prisoner's chest, aggravating a pre-existing back and neck injury, found to be de minimus and not an Eighth Amendment violation).
Further, the record does not reveal that Plaintiff sustained serious any injury. Indeed, the injuries actually inflicted — a bruise on Plaintiff's leg and a bump on his head — were minimal. Finally, given the extreme disparity in size between Plaintiff (five feet four inches and 120 pounds) and Defendant (six feet two inches and 280 pounds), the Court finds that if, in fact, Hall used any significant amount of force, Plaintiff most likely would have suffered more severe injuries. Because the forgoing factors strongly weigh against a finding of the use of excessive force in violation of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights, Defendant Hall's Summary Judgment Motion is granted.
Defendant Hall's motion is further granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) for Plaintiff's failure to prosecute the action and his noncompliance with Court Orders.See FED.R.CIV.P. 41(b). In dismissing an action pursuant to Rule 41(b), the Court should consider the following factors: (1) the personal responsibility of plaintiff, (2) prejudice to the defendants, (3) a history of dilatoriness in the case, (4) the willfulness or bad faith of plaintiff's conduct, (5) the adequacy of alternate sanctions, and (6) the meritoriousness of plaintiff's claim. See Poulis v. State Farm Fire Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984). "Not all of these factors need to be met for a district court to find dismissal is warranted."Burns v. Glick, 158 F.R.D 354, 356 (E.D. Pa. 1994) (citingHick v. Feeney, 850 F.2d 152, 156 (3d Cir. 1988)). Dismissal is discretionary. Burns, 158 F.R.D. at 355.
In the instant action, Plaintiff has failed to take any action with respect to any aspects of his case since August 2000. (See Court Docket). As a pro se litigant, Plaintiff bears full responsibility for such inaction. The Court has accommodated Plaintiff on several occasions by amending the Scheduling Orders to give him additional time to conduct discovery and file appropriate motions, as well as notifying him of the due dates for his required submissions and the consequences of tardy responses. (See Dkt. Nos. 23, 24, 26, 28, and 32). Despite these courtesies, Plaintiff still failed to take any action. "While pro se litigants in general deserve more lenient treatment than those represented by counsel, all litigants, including pro ses, have an obligation to comply with Court orders. When they flout that obligation, they, like all litigants, must suffer the consequences of their actions."Burns, 158 F.R.D. at 356 (citations omitted). Plaintiff's history of dilatoriness in this case, coupled with his claim's lack of merit, warrants the dismissal of this action pursuant to Rule 41(b).
AND NOW this day of March, 2004, upon consideration of Defendants Hall's Motion for Dismissal for Failure to Comply with Orders of the Court and/or Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 30), and the responses thereto, it is hereby ordered that Defendant's Motions are GRANTED.