256 F.3d 120 (3rd Cir. 2001), 00-2479, Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel

Docket Nº:00-2479
Citation:256 F.3d 120
Party Name:AMIE MARIE BEERS-CAPITOL; ALIYA TATE, Appellants v. BARRY WHETZEL, an individual; SHIRLEY ROBINSON, in her official capacity; ROBERT LIGGETT, in his individual and official capacity; YOUTH DEVELOPMENT CENTER AT NEW CASTLE; NORA BURLEY, in her individual and official capacity; NICK PIHIOU, in his individual and official capacity; JOHN DOE, in his/he
Case Date:June 11, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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256 F.3d 120 (3rd Cir. 2001)

AMIE MARIE BEERS-CAPITOL; ALIYA TATE, Appellants

v.

BARRY WHETZEL, an individual; SHIRLEY ROBINSON, in her official capacity; ROBERT LIGGETT, in his individual and official capacity; YOUTH DEVELOPMENT CENTER AT NEW CASTLE; NORA BURLEY, in her individual and official capacity; NICK PIHIOU, in his individual and official capacity; JOHN DOE, in his/her individual and official capacity; CHARLES LEE EARNHART, in his individual and official capacity; JOSEPH FLECHER, in his individual and official capacity (D.C. Civil No. 97-CV-00292).

ALIYA TATE

v.

BARRY WHETZEL, in his individual capacity; SHIRLEY ROBINSON, in her individual and official capacity; ROBERT LIGGETT, in his individual and official capacity; YOUTH DEVELOPMENT CENTER AT NEW CASTLE; JOHN DOE, in his/her individual and official capacity, NORA BURLEY, in her individual and official capacity; NICK PIHIOU, in his individual and official capacity (D.C. Civil No. 97-CV-00313).

No. 00-2479

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

June 11, 2001

Argued February 5, 2001,

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil No. 97-CV-00292 and 97-CV-00313) Honorable Gary L. Lancaster.

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BARBARA M. WOLVOVITZ, ESQUIRE (ARGUED), GARY M. LANG, ESQUIRE, Feldstein, Grinberg, Stein & McKee, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA, Counsel for Appellants.

D. MICHAEL FISHER, ESQUIRE, Attorney General, HOWARD G. HOPKIRK, ESQUIRE (ARGUED), Deputy Attorney General, CALVIN R. KOONS, ESQUIRE, Senior Deputy Attorney General, JOHN G. KNORR, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Chief, Appellate Litigation Section, Office of Attorney General, Harrisburg, PA, Counsel for Appellees.

Before: BECKER, Chief Judge, AMBRO and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

BECKER, Chief Judge.

Plaintiffs Amie Marie Beers-Capitol and Aliya Tate, two female former residents at

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the Youth Development Center at New Castle, Pennsylvania (YDC), a detention facility for juveniles run by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, appeal from the District Court's grant of summary judgment against them in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit that they brought against various YDC employees and supervisors. During their time at YDC, the plaintiffs were sexually assaulted by Barry Whetzel, a YDC employee who was working as a youth development aide at the time he committed the assaults. Whetzel was eventually convicted of criminal charges arising out of these incidents. Beers-Capitol and Tate then brought a civil rights action alleging violations of their Eighth Amendment rights and naming as defendants: Whetzel; three of his supervisors, Robert Liggett, the Executive Director of YDC, Charles Earnhart, a YDC director, and Joseph Flecher, a YDC manager; and two of his co-workers, Nora Burley, a YDC counselor, and Shirley Robinson, a YDC youth development aide. After the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of all of the other defendants, the plaintiffs won a judgment of $ 200,000 against Whetzel.

An Eighth Amendment claim against a prison official must meet two requirements: (1) "the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, sufficiently serious;" and (2) the "prison official must have a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 128 L.Ed. 2d 811, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994) (quotation marks and citations omitted). In prison conditions cases, "that state of mind is one of 'deliberate indifference' to inmate health or safety." Id. "Deliberate indifference" is a subjective standard under Farmer--the prison official-defendant must actually have known or been aware of the excessive risk to inmate safety. The parties agree that the sexual assaults against Beers-Capitol and Tate were sufficiently serious, so the determinative issue in this case is whether the defendants' actions and inaction rose to the level of deliberate indifference. Depending on the roles and responsibilities of the respective defendants, the plaintiffs have set forth two bases for their claims of deliberate indifference. With respect to the defendants who are alleged to have had notice that Whetzel was having sex with one or more of the female residents at YDC, the plaintiffs assert that these defendants took inadequate (or no) measures in response to this notice. With respect to the defendants who are not alleged to have had knowledge of the specific risk that Whetzel posed, the plaintiffs claim that these defendants either implemented or failed to implement YDC policies that created a situation in which an employee like Whetzel would be able to sexually assault female residents at YDC without being discovered for some time, and that these defendants were aware that such policies created this risk but ignored it.

We will affirm the District Court's grant of summary judgment for defendants Liggett, Earnhart, Flecher, and Robinson, because the evidence that the plaintiffs proffer against these defendants fails to raise an inference that these defendants actually knew or were aware of the significant risk of harm to the plaintiffs. However, we will reverse the grant of summary judgment for defendant Burley, because the plaintiffs have presented evidence that Burley told one of the plaintiffs that she "kind of knew" that Whetzel was "messing" with the female residents at YDC. This evidence, along with Burley's admission in her deposition that she heard numerous rumors that Whetzel was having sex with the female residents, is sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether Burley was aware of the significant risk that Whetzel posed to the plaintiffs

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but did not adequately respond to this risk.1

I. Facts and Procedural History

YDC is a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare institution that houses adjudicated delinquent juvenile offenders, both male and female; the female residents range in age between 13 and 21 years and come from all areas of the state. YDC is divided into several "Units," and each of these Units is itself divided into several "cottages." Beers-Capitol and Tate were housed in Unit 7, which contained the female residents. Unit 7 is comprised of three cottages: 7A, 7B, and 7C.

Defendant Robert Liggett is the Executive Director of YDC; as such he has ultimate responsibility for the overall operation of YDC. His duties include managing YDC's daily operation, supervising and training the staff, and formulating and implementing all operational policies, regulations, and practices. Defendant Charles Lee Earnhart was the unit director for Units 7 and 8 during the relevant time period. Earnhart was responsible for the day-to-day operations of Unit 7, including the supervision of the staff of the unit, and the review and evaluation of staff reports and scheduled work. Liggett directly supervised Earnhart, who in turn directly supervised the unit managers, meeting with these managers daily. Defendant Joseph Flecher was the unit manager for Unit 7 during the relevant time period. Unit managers are responsible for developing, coordinating, and administering program services for their unit; they also directly supervise the cottage supervisors within their unit. Cottage supervisors directly supervise counselors, youth development aides, and other staff in their cottages (no cottage supervisor is a defendant in this case). Defendant Nora Burley was a counselor who worked in Unit 7, and defendant Shirley Robinson was a youth development aide in Unit 7. Counselors provide security in the units and monitor resident interactions, and youth development aides perform a similar role. Whetzel was also a youth development aide in Unit 7.

New staff members at YDC receive two weeks of training on YDC policies. Because the residents incarcerated at YDC often have previously suffered sexual abuse and have become sexually active at an early age, this training includes instruction on how to identify and appropriately handle cases of sexual victimization and abuse, and how to deal with female residents who express sexual interest in staff members. The staff are taught that the YDC residents are likely to express attraction to them and to approach them in a sexual manner, and that any sexual relations with residents are unethical and absolutely forbidden. Alice Peoples, the Training Manager at YDC, testified that YDC employees are taught that children who are sexually abused often afterwards deny that the abuse occurred. Peoples also stated that she informs YDC employees at their training that they are legally responsible to report any allegations of abuse, and that failure to report such allegations could result in them being charged with abuse themselves.

YDC is subject to 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6311, a Pennsylvania state law on child

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abuse reporting which provides that any staff member of a facility like YDC who receives an allegation of abuse or otherwise becomes aware of such abuse must notify the person in charge of the facility (in this case, Executive Director Liggett).2 Earnhart testified that there is no discretion for YDC employees under this law; notification of any allegation of or information about abuse must go to Liggett. Liggett is then responsible for initiating an investigation into the alleged abuse. Part of the process of such an investigation includes sending notification of the alleged abuse within 24 hours to Child Line, a hotline for child abuse allegations.3

Because this is an appeal of a grant of summary judgment, we must review the facts in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was entered. See Pi Lambda Phi...

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