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Szubielski v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 16, 2018

GERARD SZUBIELSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN DAVID PIERCE, Defendant.

          Gerard Szubielski, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware; Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Ryan Patrick Connell, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware; Counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Gerard Szubielski, an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He proceeds pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Defendant former VCC Warden David Pierce has filed a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment.[1] (D.I. 37, 42). Plaintiff opposes the motion to dismiss but, despite being given additional time, did not file a response to the motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 41, 46). Plaintiff has filed a request for counsel. (D.I. 47).

         BACKGROUND

         On March 2, 2007, Plaintiff was sentenced as a habitual offender to life in prison. See Szubielski v. State, 82 A.3d 730 (Del. 2013). The complaint (D.I. 3) and amended complaint (D.I. 7) (the Court considers them together as the operative pleading) allege that in early 2007, Plaintiff was transferred to the VCC and housed in maximum security solitary confinement ("SHU"). (D.I. 3 at p.5; D.I. 7 at ¶ 3). Once a year, Plaintiff is classified by the Institutional Based Classification Committee ("IBCC"). When he commenced this action, Plaintiff had been classified to SHU since 2007. (D.I. 3 at p.5; D.I. 7 at ¶ 2). Defendant became the warden at the VCC in August 2013 when he replaced Perry Phelps.[2] See https://doc.delaware.gov/news/pdfs/13press0822-2.pdf (last visited Jan. 2, 2018).

         The IBCC conducted Plaintiff's annual classification review in August 2012, 2013, and 2014. (D.I. 35-1 at pp.1-3). The Delaware Department of Correction institutional classification system instructional handbook, dated April 11, 2011, provides that offenders assigned to maximum security will be reviewed every twelve months. (D.I. 15 at p.14). After each review, the IBCC recommended Plaintiff's housing in maximum security. (Id.)

         In early 2015, Plaintiff wrote to Pierce and requested a transfer from SHU. Pierce replied that he would consider the transfer shortly after the August 2015 classification review. On August 6, 2015, the ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. filed a § 1983 lawsuit against the Delaware DOC over the mental health treatment provided inmates in SHU and the length of time they are housed there. See Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. v. Coupe, Civ. No. 15-688-GMS (D. Del.). The inmates were not specifically named in the lawsuit, but Plaintiff was one of the inmates described in the lawsuit. On May 11, 2015, Plaintiff was notified by counsel for Community Legal Aid that he would be identified to the attorney for Delaware DOC even though Plaintiff would not be identified in the lawsuit. (D.I. 41 at p.6).

         The IBCC conducted its annual review in 2015 and, on September 1, 2015, classified Plaintiff to medium security, medium high programs, and inmate worker. (Id. at p.4). Thereafter, Plaintiff was notified that Pierce "did an over-ride and stopped" Plaintiff's transfer from SHU. (D.I. 3 at p.5; D.I. 7 at ¶ 5). On October 14, 2015, Pierce vetoed the IBCC medium security level classification and ordered Plaintiff's continued housing in maximum security. (D.I. 35-1 at pp.4-5).

         Plaintiff alleges that he met the requirements for a transfer from SHU, and was retaliated against following the filing of the ACLU lawsuit through excessive shakedowns and by Pierce ordering Plaintiff's continued housing in SHU despite his medium security classification. Plaintiff also alleges he was not afforded his procedural due process rights because his solitary confinement reviews occurred only once a year, he was not given an opportunity to meet with the review committee or speak for himself, and he only saw a DOC counselor once a year for no more than five minutes and then was usually told he was staying in maximum security. (D.I. 7 at p.5).

         Plaintiff was transferred out of SHU on June 15, 2016. (D.I. 43, Ex. B). Plaintiff's annual review took place in August 2016. (Id. at Ex. A at DOC6). On September 1, 2016, an order was entered in the ACLU/Community Legal Aid case and the case was closed. See Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. Civ. No. 15-688-GMS at D.I. 40. On September 15, 2016, the IBCC classified Plaintiff to medium security and academic programs. (Id.). Plaintiff was transferred out of maximum security housing altogether on October 11, 2016. (Id. at Ex. B).

         Plaintiff alleges unlawful conditions of confinement resulting from extreme isolation and inadequate medical care over an extended period of time from January 2007 up to the date he commenced this action. Plaintiff alleges Defendant "knows and is deliberately indifferent to the harm that solitary confinement imposes on Plaintiff." (D.I. 7 at pp.9-10). Plaintiff complains of 24-hour cell confinement, limited recreation, extreme social isolation, environmental deprivation, limited telephone calls, and limited visits.

         Plaintiff suffers from schizophrenia, severe manic depression, and an anxiety disorder. He alleges his conditions were under control until early 2012 when his medications were taken from him because they were no longer on the "DOC approval list." (D.I. 7 at p.9). Plaintiff states that he is not on any medication at the present time because side effects do not allow him to be properly treated. His mental health treatment is limited and/or non-existent. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) Plaintiff's claims for prospective injunctive relief are moot; (2) Defendant is shielded from suit by reason of qualified immunity; and (3) Defendant lacks personal knowledge or involvement as to the Eighth Amendment claim.

         STANDARDS ...


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