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UNITED STATES EX REL. RATCHFORD v. MAZURKIEWICZ

May 23, 1978

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. JOHN M. RATCHFORD
v.
JOSEPH MAZURKIEWICZ (Individually and in Official Capacity) Superintendent, State Correctional Institution, Box A, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

 LUONGO, J.

 John M. Ratchford, a prisoner confined at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania, filed this complaint pro se on May 25, 1977. Ratchford seeks both damages and equitable relief under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 (1970), and under the fourteenth amendment, as well as a declaratory judgment. Defendant Mazurkiewicz, the superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, moved for summary judgment on November 30, 1977. I took no action on that motion while Ratchford tried to secure private counsel to assist him in this case. Ratchford's efforts in this regard were unavailing, however, and he advised the court by letter that he desired a prompt ruling on the pending motion for summary judgment, to which he has filed no response. For the reasons hereafter stated, I conclude that defendant Mazurkiewicz' motion for summary judgment should be granted.

 The facts of this case, viewed in the light most favorable to Ratchford, *fn1" may be stated as follows. At the time of the events in question, Ratchford was confined at the State Correctional Institution at Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. While there, Ratchford had assisted Harry Phillips, another inmate at the Bellefonte institution, in preparing a civil action. At the request of counsel for the (unidentified) defendant in Phillips' action, Bellefonte officials authorized a conference between Phillips and defense counsel so that Phillips' deposition could be taken. This conference took place at the prison on the morning of October 6, 1976. Also in attendance were Lieutenant Shilling of the Bellefonte staff, a stenographic reporter, and Ratchford.

 Later that day, Superintendent Mazurkiewicz learned that Ratchford had attended the conference, although no prior authorization had been requested or obtained. Mazurkiewicz took this to mean that Ratchford had been absent from his assigned work area that morning without authorization. At this point, Mazurkiewicz instructed Lieutenant Shilling to write up a misconduct report on this incident, which would trigger an investigation of the underlying facts Lieutenant Shilling then prepared a misconduct report, which charged Ratchford with (1) being in an unauthorized area (the conference room), (2) unauthorized absence from work, and (3) violating prison regulations pertaining to attendance at a conference between another inmate and his attorney.

 At 9:00 P.M. that same day, the block sergeant locked Ratchford in his cell, and placed "a special padlock and lock bar" on the door "for double locking." Complaint p. 3. The block sergeant then handed Ratchford a copy of the misconduct report prepared by Lieutenant Shilling.

 At 7:45 the following morning, when the other prisoners "were called to attend Catholic mass and services in the [prison] Chapel," Ratchford was prevented from attending due to his lockup status. Complaint p. 6. Ratchford sent word to Monsignor Walsh, the prison chaplain, who came to Ratchford's cell, read the copy of the misconduct report, and talked to Ratchford about his first amendment right to practice his religion. Id.

 At 9:00 that same morning, Ratchford filled out a prison request slip addressed to Deputy Superintendent Wilson, seeking permission to telephone a federal district judge sitting in the Western District of Pennsylvania to request a protective order in a pending case brought, with Ratchford's assistance, by inmate Phillips. However, "the Deputy Superintendent took no immediate action on the request slip . . . and therefore [Ratchford] was not permitted to telephone the [judge] as acting attorney for the inmate Harry Phillips." Complaint p. 4.

 On October 8, 1976, the following day, a hearing committee found Ratchford not guilty on all three charges contained in the misconduct report. Defendant Mazurkiewicz' affidavit states that

 
"the misconduct was dismissed and destroyed since it was established that the inmate was absent from work for administrative reasons. The other charge regarding the plaintiff being in an unauthorized area without prior authorization was also dismissed even though the plaintiff did not have administrative authorization to be in that area because the supervising lieutenant permitted the inmate to enter into that area without challenging the plaintiff's authorization to be in that area."
 
Mazurkiewicz Affidavit at 5.

 On May 15, 1977, Ratchford filed this complaint, asserting claims under section 1983 and under the fourteenth amendment. Ratchford contends that he was denied equal protection of the laws, and that his right of access to the courts was violated, when Lieutenant Shilling attended the conference on Phillips' case. Ratchford also asserts that Mazurkiewicz retaliated against him for representing Phillips in that case by ordering his lockup on an intentionally falsified misconduct report. Furthermore, Ratchford contends that his lockup without a prior hearing was a denial of procedural due process. Finally, insofar as his lockup status on the morning of October 7 prevented him from attending religious services and from telephoning a federal judge on behalf of Phillips, his "client," Ratchford urges that this violated both his first amendment right to the free exercise of religion and his due process right of access to the courts. Mazurkiewicz, as I noted earlier, seeks summary judgment on all of Ratchford's claims.

 With respect to motions for summary judgment, Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part:

 
"The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that ...

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