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HILL v. BLUM

February 22, 1996

STEVEN HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
DALE BLUM, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOYNER

 Joyner, J.

 We address today the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties in this 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 case arising from an alleged sexual assault. The pro se plaintiff is Steven Hill, a prison inmate who was housed at the State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pennsylvania during the time period relevant to this lawsuit. In his complaint, Mr. Hill seeks monetary relief on the following theories: (1) that Defendant Dale Blum, a prison guard, assaulted him in violation of the rights guaranteed to him under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution; and (2) that he was discharged from his assignment in the kitchen in retaliation for his filing of a grievance. Both parties have since submitted motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, we will grant Defendant's motion and deny Mr. Hill's motion.

 STANDARD

 In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must consider whether the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, show there is no genuine issue of material fact, and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court must determine whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). In making this determination, all of the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 256. Once the moving party has met the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party "must establish the existence of each element on which it bears the burden of proof." J.F. Feeser, Inc. v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, 1531 (3d Cir. 1990)(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 921, 113 L. Ed. 2d 246, 111 S. Ct. 1313 (1991).

 BACKGROUND

 The facts emerging from discovery are as follows. On October 28, 1994, Mr. Hill was working in the kitchen at Frackville. At the conclusion of the shift, Officer Blum conducted a pat search of Mr. Hill. *fn1" The plaintiff claims that during the "process of pat searching me down, he, like, cupped my -- my genital, my nuts and squeezed them, you know, fairly hard." Plaintiff's depo. at 4. Mr. Hill further testified that the incident lasted for "about two seconds." Id. at 5. Mr. Hill filed a complaint with the grievance officer at Frackville, who concluded that Officer Blum "is conducting his pat searches in the manner in which he was trained." Frackville's superintendent sustained the Grievance Officer's finding on November 15, 1994. In December 1994, the kitchen support team at Frackville removed Mr. Hill from his kitchen position, citing Mr. Hill's poor attitude. Mr. Hill alleges that this action was taken in retaliation for his filing of the grievance. Mr. Hill filed the instant action on January 23, 1995.

 ANALYSIS

 We first resolve Officer Blum's motion for summary judgment, and therefore consider the facts presented in the light most favorable to Mr. Hill. As noted above, Mr. Hill asserts that Officer Blum violated rights secured to him by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Officer Blum contends that even if he did squeeze Mr. Hill's genitals in the manner alleged, that such conduct fails to rise to the level of a constitutional violation. We therefore must consider whether, under the facts presented by Mr. Hill, Officer Blum's action deprived Mr. Hill of one of the constitutional rights identified in the complaint. After careful consideration, we conclude that Officer Blum is entitled to an award of summary judgment, since he did not violate Mr. Hill's constitutional rights by his alleged conduct. Thus, we must deny Mr. Hill's summary judgment motion.

 1. First Amendment Claim

 A prisoner has a constitutional right to the free exercise of his religion. Williams v. Sweeney, 882 F. Supp. 1520, 1523 (E.D. Pa. 1995)(citing O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 96 L. Ed. 2d 282, 107 S. Ct. 2400 (1987)). Thus, prison officials are constitutionally required to accommodate the religious beliefs of the inmates. Muslim v. Frame, 854 F. Supp. 1215, 1224 (E.D. Pa. 1994)(citing Africa v. Pennsylvania, 662 F.2d 1025, 1031 (3d Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 908, 72 L. Ed. 2d 165, 102 S. Ct. 1756 (1982)). In prison, however, religious practices are subject to reasonable restrictions in order to maintain order and ensure safety. Id. (citing Long v. Parker, 390 F.2d 816, 820 (3d Cir. 1968)). Thus, in Muslim, a county prison regulation prohibiting prisoners from wearing shorts while showering was justified by the interest in protecting the prison population from violence, and was therefore not a First Amendment violation, even though it was contrary to the plaintiff's religious beliefs to shower naked in the presence of others. 854 F. Supp. at 1226.

 Mr. Hill alleges that Officer Blum encroached upon his moral, ethical, and religious beliefs as a Muslim when he touched Mr. Hill's genitals during the pat search, and that this act constituted a violation of his First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion. Mr. Hill concedes that a pat search conducted in accordance with prison regulations is a legitimate, constitutionally permissible action, but argues that the particular search at the heart of this dispute was improper in that it went beyond the bounds of the regulations. Specifically, Mr. Hill contends that the regulations allow a guard to search a prisoner's "crotch," but not his genitals. *fn2"

 In response to this contention, we note first that the regulations explicitly provide that the guard must search the crotch and lower abdominal areas carefully. See emphasized language in note 1, supra. Further, the Webster's definition of crotch includes the region where the legs meet. See note 2, supra. As the phrase is understood in normal usage, a search of the "crotch area" or "crotch region" would include examination of the genitals. Thus, we conclude, based on the facts provided by Mr. Hill, that the search performed by Officer Blum was conducted in accordance with the regulations. Moreover, it appears that the regulation at issue here is essential for maintaining order in the prison. See Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 96 L. Ed. 2d 64, 107 S. Ct. 2254 (1987)(holding that a prison regulation impinging upon an inmate's First Amendment rights is valid if it is "reasonably related to legitimate penological ...


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