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Case Name Busbee v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections PC-PA-0052
Docket / Court 1:20-cv-02401-CCC-SES ( M.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Case Summary
This wrongful death suit arose when correctional officers pepper sprayed an incarcerated person who suffered from chronic asthma. After the officers pepper sprayed him, the decedent suffered from an asthma attack and eventually passed away from asphyxiation. On December 22, 2020, the decedent’s ... read more >
This wrongful death suit arose when correctional officers pepper sprayed an incarcerated person who suffered from chronic asthma. After the officers pepper sprayed him, the decedent suffered from an asthma attack and eventually passed away from asphyxiation. On December 22, 2020, the decedent’s mother filed this lawsuit on behalf of his estate in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections—as well as, in their individual capacities, the prison superintendent, the prison deputy superintendent, and correctional officers and medical personnel—under §1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Pennsylvania state law concerning medical neglect, wrongful death, and survival action. Represented by the Abolitionist Law Center, the plaintiff sought monetary damages. She claimed that the defendants violated her son’s Eighth Amendment rights by subjecting him to prolonged and excessive pepper spray exposure, failing to provide appropriate and timely medical care, and leaving him in solitary confinement despite his obvious medical distress.

The plaintiff filed the complaint on December 22, 2020. The case was initially assigned to Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab, but the case was reassigned to Judge Christopher C. Conner and referred to Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab on March 24, 2021.

On February 12, 2021, Judge Schwab granted the parties’ joint motion to stay proceedings while they engaged in settlement negotiations.

Settlement negotiations lasted until September 7, 2021, when the plaintiff filed a motion for settlement. Under the terms of the agreement, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections agreed to pay $8.5 million in the form of one check made payable to the plaintiff’s counsel. The plaintiff’s counsel requested $2.83 million for attorneys’ fees and $2,243.39 for travel, record collection, and court fees. The plaintiff requested the remaining $5.66 million be divided equally between the wrongful death beneficiaries’ claims and the estate’s survival claims.

In addition to the monetary damages, the defendants agreed to implement system-wide training and protocol modifications addressing the numerous breakdowns in care that led to the death. First, the defendants agreed to provide mandatory new-hire and annual training for all corrections and medical staff regarding the increased risk pepper spray may pose to incarcerated persons with asthma or other respiratory disease. Second, the defendants agreed to clarify mandatory procedures for providing post-pepper spray care to incarcerated persons with asthma or other respiratory disease, including examining their medical chart, obtaining a pulse ox reading, contacting the on-call medical provider, and receiving the medical provider’s professional opinion about whether the patient can be cleared. The defendant’s counsel agreed to provide a status report to the plaintiff’s counsel four and eight months from the date of the agreement and to provide written verification once the modifications were completely implemented.

On October 18, 2021, Judge Conner granted the plaintiff’s motion for settlement and dismissed the case.

Laura Irei - 11/22/2021

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Content of Injunction
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Assault/abuse by staff
Excessive force
Failure to discipline
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Pepper/OC spray
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
State law
Defendant(s) Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description The plaintiff brought the suit as the mother of the decedent and administrator of his estate.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filed 12/22/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
M.D. Pa.
PC-PA-0052-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
M.D. Pa.
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-PA-0052-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: Public.Resource.Org
M.D. Pa.
Plaintiff's Petition to Settle Wrongful Death and Survival Action [ECF# 21]
PC-PA-0052-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
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Judges Conner, Christopher C. (M.D. Pa.) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cozzens, Quinn (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0052-0002 | PC-PA-0052-9000
DeFelice, Chase M. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Feinberg, Jonathan H. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0052-0001 | PC-PA-0052-0002 | PC-PA-0052-9000
Grote, Bret D. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0052-0001 | PC-PA-0052-0002 | PC-PA-0052-9000
Hoke, Kelly J (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Morgan, Jamelia N. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0052-0002 | PC-PA-0052-9000
Wikhian, Tara J (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs

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