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Caldwell v. Wallis

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 5, 2018

FRED T. CALDWELL, Plaintiff,
ROBERT D. WALLIS, Defendant.

          Fred T. Caldwell, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Stuart B. Drowos, Counsel for Defendant.


          ANDREWS, Judge

         Plaintiff Fred T. Caldwell, 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 Robert D. Wallis moves for summary judgment. (D.I. 56). Plaintiff opposes and has filed a motion for an order to redact and/or deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 65). Briefing on the matters is complete.


         This case involves a fire in Plaintiffs cell on February 4, 2015, and the acts leading up to it. On January 15, 2015, Plaintiff was transferred to Building 17, A Tier, Cell L-8. (See D.I. 2 at p.6). His personal property, including electric/electronic appliances, arrived a few days later. (Id.). He alleges that when he used the electrical outlet to check his appliances, he noticed sparks spewing from the electrical outlet next to the television. (Id.). The electric sparks stopped, but started again days later. (Id.).

         On January 26, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a grievance describing problems he had discovered on January 25, 2015. (D.I. 57 at Ex. A). The grievance states that Plaintiff was "shocked by electric coming from the wall out of my TV cable outlet." (Id.). He asked that it be fixed "URGENTLY" because when he later touched it by mistake, he was again shocked. (Id.). The grievance states that Plaintiff told the "8-4 shift" about this "emergency." (Id.).

         The grievance was received by grievance office on January 27, 2015 and reviewed by Cpl. Matthew Dutton who determined that it was a routine maintenance issue and not an emergency. (Id. at Exs. A, B). The grievance was handled, processed and resolved in accordance with the VCC's inmate grievance process/procedure. (Id. at Ex. B). On February 3, 2015, the grievance was referred for investigation to Defendant Lieutenant Wallis, a maintenance foreman and Delaware Department of Correction employee assigned to the VCC's maintenance section. (D.I. 57, at Ex. A, D.I. 71 at Ex. I). It is Defendant's understanding that the matter was determined to be a routine maintenance claim and not an emergency. (D.I. 71 at Ex. I). Defendant's name is printed on the top of Plaintiff's grievance, but he does not know why. (Id.). He did not put it there and assumes it was placed there to indicate that the grievance would be assigned to him. (Id.).

         On the same day, Defendant went to Plaintiffs cell and inspected and examined both the coax cable and outlet/receptacle. (Id.). Defendant explains that he did not have tools with him because he was led to believe the complaint centered on the coax cable and, thus, no tools were necessary. (Id.). Plaintiff states that Defendant had a duty to at least test the outlet condition and that tools, like a voltage tester, exist to perform such testing. (D.I. 62 at p.77). Defendant did not detect or observe any of the activity complained of by Plaintiff and did not receive a spontaneous shock as described in Plaintiff's grievance. (D.I. 71 at Ex. I). According to Defendant, there were no signs of burn marks, defects, or a "poor" condition." (Id.) Nor did he see anything jammed in the outlet and Plaintiff never mentioned this while Defendant was conducting the inspection. (Id.).

         Defendant explained to Plaintiff that no repairs or replacements were needed since he found nothing wrong with either the coax cable or outlet. (Id.). Defendant states that he never promised or indicated that he would replace or repair the outlet. (Id.). When Defendant asked Plaintiff to sign off on the grievance, Plaintiff refused. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, Defendant informed Plaintiff that he would have the outlet replaced based upon his "'mere view' of the poor condition," and he never requested that Plaintiff sign off on the grievance. (D.I. 62 at p.49). Defendant left, completed his report the same day, [1] and Plaintiff appealed the grievance.[2] (D.I. 57 at Ex. A; D.I. 71 at Ex. I.).

         Defendant states that if the outlet was defective, it would have tripped the ground fault circuit interrupter (i.e., GFI) and rendered the outlet and the cell without electrical service. (D.I. 71 at Ex. I). Defendant states that several cells adjoining Plaintiffs were on the same circuit, and the nature of Plaintiff's complaints would have affected the electrical service for those cells. (Id.).

         According to Ernest Kulhanek, correctional officer/physical plant maintenance superintendent II, he is satisfied that Defendant properly investigated, and concluded, that the outlet and coax cable in question were not defective and fully functional as noted in Defendant's report and resolution of Plaintiff's grievance. (D.I. 57 at Ex. D). Kulhanek states that all the cells on each tier are tied in small groupings to the same electrical circuit breaker and, if there is a defective electrical outlet in one cell, that outlet will normally result in the tripping of the related circuit breaker, stopping the flow of electricity to all other cells on the same circuit breaker. (Id.). There were no work orders or grievances concerning this type of problem during the relevant timeframe. (Id.)

         According to Kulhanek, Plaintiff's claim has no scientific basis because there cannot be spontaneous sparks without the insertion of a metal object or appliance plug into an outlet. (D.I. 57 at Ex. D). If an outlet is defective it will normally cause a short circuit when a metal object or appliance plug is inserted and the amperage of the outlet is exceeded. (Id.). When this happens, the circuit breaker will trip and the electricity will shut off as a safety feature. (Id.). Kulhanek states that if the outlet was defective, until grounded, [3] the circuit would be incomplete and no electricity would flow and, thus, no sparks or shocking would occur. (Id.).

         Plaintiff states that he is a "certified home/building inspector[, ] trained to inspect home/and multi-unit building general, structural, 'electrical,' plumbing, 'HVAC,' kitchen, general interior, general exterior, conditions and report condition observations." (D.I. 62 at pp. 74-75). Plaintiff refutes Kulhanek's statements on the basis of his personal knowledge, expert opinion, and observations. (Id. at p. 75). Plaintiff states that no power outage/short circuit happened and therefore, the circuit was closed, allowing the flow of electricity to create sparking, but the circuit breaker safety did not trip and the ground fault circuit interrupter was not functioning and did not operate. (Id.) Plaintiff states that he believes a previous occupant jammed something within the outlet causing the defect, and the "unnoticed (defect cause) was caused by something that was (jammed/stuck) within the outlet which broke the interior barrier from one side to the other closing the circuit causing the sparks." (Id. at 76). Plaintiff states that the sparks were not caused by him or by a stinger. (Id.).

         Plaintiff states that Defendant never moved him for his safety as Plaintiff requested. (D.I. 62 at p.96). Defendant does not recall Plaintiff asking to be moved to another cell. (D.I. 71 at Ex. I). Defendant states that there was no need, given the circumstances. (Id.). Defendant further states that had there been a need, he would have immediately notified the area supervisor to make that decision because he is not authorized to have an inmate moved to another cell. (D.I. 57 at Ex. B; D.I. 71 at Ex. I).

         The next day, February 4, 2015, Plaintiff discovered a fire in his cell that spread to his sheet and blanket, and he unsuccessfully tried to put it out. (D.I. 2 at p.7). Plaintiff alleges the fire was the result of a faulty outlet in his cell. (Id. at p.6). Sergeant George Gill and his partner arrived at Plaintiffs cell. (D.I. 71 at Ex. IV). Plaintiff was on the floor with his head pointing towards the cell door, and he was unresponsive. (Id.). The cell was full of smoke, and any flames were apparently extinguished by the unit's sprinkler system. (Id.). Plaintiff was pulled from the cell, he began moving and coughing, and he was secured with handcuffs. (D.I. 57 at Ex. H; D.I. 71 at Ex. IV). Gill inspected the cell to ensure all flames were extinguished and saw a blanket and sheet on the floor, partially burnt and covered with black residue from the smoke. (D.I. 71 at Ex. IV). Just outside the cell, Gill found a stinger with three square pieces of metal and three wires wrapped in Styrofoam plastic.[4] (Id.). Gill states that the materials were not present when he and his partner had previously been on the tier. (Id.). Plaintiff states that "no stinger was ever present or found inside or outside of [his] cell door/floor." (D.I. 62 at p. 64).

         Plaintiff was escorted to the nurse's station where he was examined for any injuries. (D.I. 57 at Exs. E, H; D.I. 71 at Ex. IV). His lungs were clear and all results were within normal limits.[5] (D.I. 57 at Ex. E). He was also seen by mental health and, when cleared by mental health and medical, Plaintiff was transferred to Secure Housing Unit, a pre-detention hearing disciplinary unit. (D.I. 57 at Exs. F, H). Based upon his years of experience, Gill concluded that Plaintiff had been using the stinger and apparently ignited the bedding materials. (D.I. 71 at Ex. IV). Plaintiff was charged with arson, creating a health, safety or fire hazard and possession of dangerous contraband (i.e., the stinger, wires and square metal pieces). Plaintiff waived the 24-hour notice of hearing, and a disciplinary hearing was held on February 5, 2015. (D.I. 57 at Ex. F, H; D.I. 71 at ...

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