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MOORE v. LEHMAN

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


August 22, 1996

JACQUELINE MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH D. LEHMAN, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONABOY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 Presently before the Court are the Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 64) and the Plaintiff's cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 80). These motions deal with, the issues of whether this court has jurisdiction to hear this case and whether the attorney visitation policy at the State Correctional Institute at Muncy (hereinafter "SCI-Muncy") is unconstitutional as violating the inmates' right to access to the courts. For the reasons, as set forth infra, we shall deny the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 64). We shall also deny the Plaintiff's cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc 80).

 FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

 The facts of this case are well known to all parties involved; however, for purposes of addressing the present motions, a brief recitation of the necessary facts is as follows: On or about April 13, 1993, the Plaintiff, Jacqueline Moore, initiated the present complaint on behalf of herself and other inmates similarly situation at SCI-Muncy *fn1" claiming, inter alia, that the attorney visitation policy at SCI-Muncy violated their constitutional right to access to the courts. *fn2" On two (2) separate occasions, Plaintiff Moore's attorneys were not allowed to visit her, although they contend that their names were either previously placed upon Plaintiff Moore's visitor's list or that they were previously permitted to visit Plaintiff Moore when their names did not appear on Plaintiff Moore's visitor's list. (Doc. 86, App. A1, 23-31).

 When Defendant Byrd became the superintendent of SCI-Muncy, she implemented strict adherence to this policy. (Doc. 86, App. E, 12). Defendant Byrd did not change the format of the policy; rather, she changed the application of the policy by strictly adhering to the it. (Doc. 86, App. A1, 12-14). Additionally, on or about June, 1991; the procedure at SCI-Muncy where an inmate places a prospective visitors' name on her visitor's list was changed to computerized listing (Doc. 86, App. A1, 20-22). This change appears to have created a delay from the time which the inmate actually places the, name of the prospective visitor on the hard copy of the inmate's visitors' list to the time which the hard copy of the inmate's visitors' list is computerized and entered into SCI-Muncy's computer system. Deposition testimony of Defendant Byrd reveals that although Plaintiff Moore's attorneys' names were on the hard copy list, they were not on the official computerized list. (Doc. 86, App E, 12) and therefore were denied visitation with their client. However, once this problem was rectified, Plaintiff' Moore's attorneys were allowed to visit with her.

 On or about December 28, 1995, the Defendants filed the, present Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 64), which resulted in the Plaintiff filing an answer to said motion (Doc. 80) and cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 80).

 Standard of Review

 Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), a motion for summary judgment will only be granted if there is no genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to, relief as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-8, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1985). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would effect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable law in the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-moving party. Hankins v. Temple University, 829 F.2d 437, 440, (3d Cir. 1987).

 In determining whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Electric Company, 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). A moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party does not make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1985).

 Once the moving party has satisfied its burden of identifying evidence which demonstrates an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 694 (3d Cir. 1988), the nonmoving party is required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) to go beyond the pleadings by way of affidavits, depositions or answers to interrogatories in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. When Rule 56(e) shifts the burden of proof to the nonmoving party, that party must proffer evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case which it bears the burden of proving at trial Equimark Commercial Finance Co. v. CIT Financial Services Corp., 812 F.2d 141, 144 (3d Cir. 1987).

 When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must decide whether or not there is a genuine issue of material fact which must be resolved at trial or whether the evidence is so one-sided that one party will prevail over the other. Groff v. Continental Insurance Co., 741 F. Supp. 541 (E.D. Pa. 1990). "Where factual controversies exist), disputes over material facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will probably preclude the entry of summary judgment." Metro Transportation Co. v. North Star Reinsurance Co., 912 F.2d 672, 678 (3d. Cir. 1990).

 I. Defendants' Jurisdiction Argument

 The Defendants contend that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case, based upon the consent decree entered into by the parties of Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp et. al., Nos. 70-3054, 71-513, 71-1006, 70-2545 & 72-2060 (E.D. Pa.) (hereinafter "Shapp").

 The Shapp decision entailed five inmate lawsuits filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Shapp plaintiffs, inmates of six Pennsylvania prisons including SCI-Muncy, sought equitable and monetary relief in regards to several constitutional claims which challenged the conditions of confinement at said Pennsylvania prisons. One of these challenges dealt with the Department of Correction's (hereinafter "Doc") visitation policy.

 The Shapp litigation culminated in a consent decree which addressed all of the claims of the plaintiffs. With respect to the DOC visitation policy, the Shapp consent decree implemented three change's in the visitation policy. *fn3" The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as the court which approved the decree, retained jurisdiction in that matter. *fn4"

 

The scope of a consent decree must be discerned within its four (4) corners. The goal of the task of interpreting a contract is to ascertain the intent of the parties as manifested by the language of the written instrument. Consequently, a court may examine the circumstances surrounding the consent decree, including the context in which the parties were operating, without departure from the so-called four (4) corners rule.

 Beehler v. Jeffes, 664 F. Supp. 931 (M.D. Pa. 1986) (Nealon, J.) (internal citations omitted)(quoting New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 596 F.2d 27, 37 (2d. Cir.), cert. denied, sub. nom, Coughlin v. New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc., 444 U.S. 836, 62 L. Ed. 2d 46, 100 S. Ct. 70 (1979).

 While this Court has refused to entertain matters concerning the Shapp consent decree in other cases, see Howard v. Fulcomer, 89-CV-0286 (M.D. Pa.) (Muir, J.); Beehler v. Jeffes, supra, this Court has also held that individual claims concerning the same issues which had not been addressed in the Shapp case may be brought before this Court. See Lockey v. Fulcomer, 85-CV-1325 (M.D. Pa. 1985) (Rambo, J.); Beehler, 664 F. Supp. at 938. By Memorandum and Order dated July 15, 1996, this Court decertified the class which was proceeding on the visitation claim. The only attorney visitation claim which remains is that of Plaintiff Jacqueline Moore. Furthermore, the Plaintiff's claim not only is an individual's claim that the attorney visitation policy itself denies one access to the courts, but also is a claim that the attorney visitation policy as applied by SCI-Muncy denies one access to the courts. Neither of these issues was not previously addressed in the Shapp decree. We therefore retain jurisdiction, in this matter and shall deny the Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. *fn5"

 II. Plaintiff's Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

 Contained within the Plaintiff's opposition brief to the Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was a cross Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 80). The Plaintiff seeks partial summary judgment on the issue that the attorney visitation policy itself denied the Plaintiff access to the courts, and that there is no rational basis for either the policy itself or the application thereof by SCI-Muncy officials *fn6" We disagree as to both of the Plaintiff's views. *fn7"

 

Prisoners have a well-established constitutional due process right to access to the courts. It is fundamental that access to the courts for the purpose of challenging confinement or violations of civil rights may not be denied or obstructed. . . .Although the right of court access is not absolute and may be curtailed to accommodate institutional security interests, the burden rests with the state to demonstrate the adequacy of the methods it chooses in extending this right.

 Tillery v. Owens, 719 F. Supp. 1256, 1281-82 (W.D. Pa. 1989) (internal citations omitted).

 We state at the onset that every prisoner is guaranteed "meaningful access to the courts." Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 823, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1976). Accord, Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 96 L. Ed. 2d 64, 107 S. Ct. 2254 (1986); Casey v. Lewis, 4 F.3d 1516 (9th Cir. 1993); Young v. Larkin, 871 F. Supp. 772 (M.D. Pa. 1994) (Vanaskie, J.). This, contrary to the Defendants' interpretation, includes the inmate's visitation with his counsel. Mann v. Reynolds, 46 F.3d 1055, 1061 (10th Cir. 1995) (quoting Ching v. Lewis, 895 F.2d 608, 610 (9th Cir. 1990)). However, this right does not necessarily entail unfettered or totally unrestricted visitation with counsel, for it must yield to legitimate penological interests. See Sturm v. Clark, 835 F.2d 1009, 1013 (3d Cir. 1987). *fn8"

 Plaintiff Moore contends that the analysis of Turner v. Safley, supra is warranted in this matter; the Defendants claim that an analysis of Bounds v. Smith, supra, controls this claim. Under either analysis, the outcome is the same. Neither the attorney visitation policy in general nor the application thereof by SCI-Muncy officials violate Plaintiff Moore's right to access to the courts.

 The Attorney Visitation Policy of SCI-Muncy

 a) Bounds v. Smith analysis

 As previously stated, the right of access to the courts must be reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Defendants at oral arguments stated that the Department of Corrections has a specific penological interest in placing such limitations on attorney-inmate visitation due to the risk of attorney assisted escapes or violations of other DOC policies, such as smuggling in of contraband, controlled substances or other prohibited items. The affidavit of Defendant Byrd, submitted in opposition to the Plaintiff's cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, speaks of certain security and safety problems which pose a serious problem to the administration of SCI-Muncy. (Doc. 90, Exh. A, pp. 2-4, PP 2-12). We agree with the Defendants on this point. Although neither party has produced any evidence or specific instances to prove of refute this claim, we feel that the possibility, and not the probability, of such an occurrence constitutes a legitimate penological interest which would justify the general attorney visitation policy at SCI-Muncy. *fn9"

 Under the alternative analysis of Turner v. Safely, supra, the outcome is still the same.

 b) Turner v. Safely analysis

 The Plaintiffs analyze this issue under the four-prong test of Turner v. Safely, supra. Pursuant to this test, in order for a, court to determine whether the prison regulation is valid, the court must consider:

 

(1) whether the prison regulation is rationally related to he governmental interest at stake;

 

(2) whether there are alternative means available to the inmate for exercising the constitutionally protected right;

 

(3) the impact accommodating the asserted right will have on guards and other inmates and the allocation of prison resources generally; and

 

(4) the absence of ready alternatives.

 Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-90.

 In the present case, the attorney visitation policy passes constitutional muster. The security and safety risks which justify the policy are legitimate interests, the policy of requiring that an attorney's name be placed on the visitor's inmate visitors list is rationally related to such an interest, for it tracks the comings and goings of visitors from the outside.

 Defendant Byrd through her affidavit shows this Court that there are alternative means which an inmate can communicate with her attorney. (Doc 90, Exh. A, p. 4 P13). Furthermore, although phone calls are prohibited for inmates in the Restrictive Housing Unit, Defendant Byrd states that "exceptions can be made if circumstances dictate." (Id.).

 The Plaintiff suggests to the Court several alternative means, of enforcing the attorney visitation policy. Such suggestions include having the security guard adding the attorney's name on the computerized list after the attorney clears a security-check and is accepted by the inmate. Plaintiff's counsel suggests that since, the security guards must check the computer list any way, this "would not impact on the resources of SCI-Muncy in any significant way." (Doc. 81, p. 13). Another suggestion was that the inmate complete the visitation form upon arrival of the attorney at the gates, and not prior to said arrival.

 In the Court's opinion, such alternatives are not feasible to the administration and internal workings of a prison. Such suggested alternatives call into question the weighing of time versus utility and the feasibility of such alternatives. The decision of formulating alternative methods should be left up to the discretion of the prison officials, as those officials possess the best judgment in such matters. See Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 827, 41 L. Ed. 2d 495, 94 S. Ct. 2800 (1973).

 Furthermore, such alternatives would, in this Court's opinion, create a substantial burden on the Defendants in performing such suggested methods. Theses methods shift a burden onto the Defendants in affording inmate the choice of accepting or denying the visit. *fn10"

 The attorney visitation policy does provide exceptions in special circumstances. See DC-ADM 812. Furthermore, phone calls and written communication with attorneys are permitted. (Doc. 90, Exh. A, p.4 P13). These alternatives ensure that the inmates are nor being denied access to the courts via their attorney.

 The Attorney Visitation Policy As Applied at SCI-Muncy

 The Plaintiff also contends that the manner in which the Defendants are implementing the attorney visitation policy is unconstitutional as prohibiting Plaintiff Moore access to the courts via her attorneys.

 When Defendant Byrd became the superintendent of SCI-Muncy, she implemented strict adherence to this policy. (Doc. 86, App. E, 12). Defendant Byrd did not change the format of the policy; rather, she, changed the application of the policy by strictly adhering to it. (Doc. 86, App A1, 12-14). Additionally, on or about June, 1991, the procedure at SCI-Muncy where an inmate places a prospective visitor name on her visitor's list was changed to computerized listing. (Doc. 86, App. A1, 20-22). This change appears to have created a delay from the time which the inmate actually places the name of the prospective visitor on the hard copy of the inmate's visitors' list to the time which the hard copy of the inmate's visitors' list is computerized and entered into SCI-Muncy's computer system.

 Defendant Byrd's deposition testimony reveals that there was no change in the policy itself, just the application thereof, as there previously was a rather lax enforcement of the policy:

 

As I understood--as I understood the question whenever the question was posed about visits to the institution, my adherence to the policy was new to the extent that apparently I've been told an informal relationship of some sort existed where an attorney would perhaps call the superintendent or her assistant to gain entrance to the institution absent the requirement of being listed on the inmate's visitor's list.

 (Doc. 82, Exh. A1, p. 13).

 Defendant Patton testified at his deposition that Defendant Byrd "would no longer be making exceptions for attorneys to visit. That attorneys would be required to follow the policies as everyone else. " (Doc. 82, Exh. E, p. 12).

 It appears that what the Plaintiff is really aggrieved by is not the application of the policy by Defendant Byrd itself, but rather the decision to stop allowing exceptions and, to revisit the original visitation policy, a policy which is rationally related to significant penological interests. In essence, Defendant Byrd "drew a line" of strict adherence to the visitation policy. "So long as reasonable and effective means of communication remain open and no discrimination in terms of content is involved, we believe that, in drawing such lines, "prison officials must be, accorded latitude." Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 826, 41 L. Ed. 2d 495, 94 S. Ct. 2800 (1973).

 The Plaintiff's argument also implies that the transition from the hard paper to computer system listing and the time necessary for entering the paper list into the computer also plays a role in the denial of access to the courts claim. We decline to second guess these internal workings of a state correctional facility, for the policy itself is valid. The avenue which the administration chooses to utilize in carrying out its regulations is best left to the discretion of the administration. However, we do take this opportunity to comment that such a delay which the Plaintiff is said to have incurred does not constitute an injury for an access to the courts claim. See Peterkin v. Jeffes, 855 F.2d 1021, 1039 (2d. Cir. 1988) (quoting Hudson v. Robinson, 678 F.2d 462, 466 (3d. Cir. 1982) (where the court held that there must be an actual denial of access to the courts, and not a delay in gaining access to the courts). Compare Lewis v. Casey, 135 L. Ed. 2d 606, U.S. , 116 S. Ct. 2174, 2179 (1996). Plaintiff Moore was permitted to visit with her attorneys once the problem was rectified, and her complaint was, filed within the prescribed time period of the statute of limitations.

 While we understand the Plaintiff's frustration and grievance, the Plaintiff must understand that SCI-Muncy has over 900 inmates and that the administration has the duty and burden of running an efficient prison system which does not violate the inmates constitutional rights. And so long as the regulations enforced are rationally related to a penological interest and no constitutional violation occurs because of the regulation, we leave the choice of how to implement that prisons regulation up to the discretion of the prison officials. "The role of the courts. . .is to enforce constitutional standards and to protect the constitutional rights, of prisoners. But this role does not include 'second-guessing prison administrators or supervising prison administration', or becoming 'enmeshed in the minutae of prison administrators." Tillery v. Owens, 719 F. Supp. 1256, 1261 (W.D. Pa. 1989) (internal citations omitted). Al inmates must be cognizant and understanding of this fact to the extent that the regulations do not constitute a detrimental impact, on the attorney-client relationship. See e.g. Dreher v. Sielaff,, 636 F.2d 1141, 1144 (7th Cir. 1980).

 CONCLUSION

 Based upon the foregoing reasons, we shall deny the Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 64). We shall also deny the Plaintiff's cross motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 80). An appropriate Order is attached.

 Richard P. Conaboy

 United States District Judge

 DATE: 8/22/96

 ORDER

 AND NOW, THIS, 22nd DAY OF AUGUST, 1996, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:

 

1. The Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 64) is DENIED.

 

2. The Plaintiff's cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 80) is DENIED.

 

3. This Order disposes of Documents number 64 and 80.

 

4. The Clerk of Court is directed to mark the docket sheet accordingly.

 Richard P. Conaboy

 United States District Judge


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