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PAYTON v. HORN

May 17, 1999

JEFFREY PAYTON,
v.
MARTIN F. HORN, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Jeffrey Payton is currently an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("S.C.I.Greene"). He brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. His amended complaint claims that: (1) he was subject to a series of false misconduct reports in connection with a disturbance at S.C.I. Coal Township, and was denied due process at his misconduct hearings; (2) he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; and (3) amounts have been withheld or withdrawn improperly from his prison account. He seeks damages and injunctive relief. Named as defendants are Martin Horn, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Phillip Johnson, the former Superintendent at S.C.I. Greene; Donald Jones, J. Welby, L. Libhart, and Joanna Johnson, who were all hearing officers at S.C.I. Coal Township; and R. Smith, R. Romiz, C.O. Metzinger, Sgt. Jordan, John Does 1 and 2, and Lt. Strausser, who were all correctional officers and/or employees at S.C.I. Coal Township. Before me are Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction and two motions to dismiss, one filed individually by defendant Horn, the other filed jointly by defendants Phillip Johnson, Jordan, Metzinger, Smith, Strausser, and Romiz. For the reasons expressed below, I will deny Plaintiff's motion and dismiss this case in its entirety.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Payton initiated this suit pro se by filing a proposed complaint and an application to proceed in forma pauperis. In that complaint, he alleged that he was subject to false misconduct reports in connection with a disturbance at S.C.I. Coal Township, and that the defendants*fn1 denied him due process at the hearings on those misconducts by denying him a meaningful opportunity to be heard or to present witnesses on his own behalf. The complaint also alleged that Payton was wrongly sentenced to disciplinary custody following those hearings. Based on those facts, he claimed violations of his rights to equal protection and due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. In my Order, dated September 22, 1997, which granted Payton leave to proceed in forma pauperis, I dismissed his Fourteenth Amendment claims as frivolous based on Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995) stating, "plaintiff's claim that he was denied due process, wrongly convicted of misconduct, and sentenced to disciplinary confinement fails to state a violation of his constitutional rights." I allowed the balance of Payton's complaint to proceed. The claims allowed to go forward included: (1) denial of access to the courts; (2) unreasonable search and seizure; and (3) cruel and unusual punishment.

Upon Payton's subsequent request, I appointed counsel and granted him leave to file an amended complaint. In his amended complaint, he abandons his First Amendment and Fourth Amendment claims. Instead, Payton restates his earlier contention, which I dismissed as frivolous, that he was denied due process at his misconduct hearings, and that, as a result of those misconducts, he has been held in a combination of disciplinary and administrative custody since August, 1995. He claims that confinement in restricted housing for such an extended period constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and restates a claim that money has been improperly withheld and/or withdrawn from his prison account.

FACTS

For the purposes of ruling on the motions to dismiss, I take the facts presented in the amended complaint as true. Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). In August, 1995, when the events at issue in this case began, Payton was an inmate at S.C.I. Coal Township. He had previously pled guilty to receiving stolen property and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and was serving a sentence of two years and nine months to five and one half years. His minimum sentence expired on or about March 16, 1997 and his maximum sentence will expire on or about September 9, 1999. To date, Payton has been denied parole. Amended Compl. ¶ 7.

On August 14, 1995, a disturbance between inmates and staff broke out in the dining hall at S.C.I. Coal Township. Id. ¶ 9. Following the disturbance, Payton received four separate misconduct reports*fn2 arising from the disturbance and his alleged participation in it. Id. ¶ 10. A hearing on the first misconduct report was held on August 21, 1995, before defendant Welby. Payton was denied the opportunity to present witnesses. He pled not guilty to the charge of participating in the riot, but Welby maliciously marked on the hearing sheet that Payton had pled guilty to the charge. Payton was ordered to spend ninety days in disciplinary custody in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") as a result of this misconduct. Id. ¶ 11. A hearing on the second misconduct report was held on September 6, 1995, before defendant Jones. Again, Payton was denied the opportunity to present witnesses on his behalf. Defendants Romiz and Metzinger were witnesses for the Commonwealth. Payton was found guilty of this misconduct, and was sentenced to another ninety days in disciplinary custody. Id. ¶ 12. A hearing on the third misconduct report was held on September 28, 1995, before defendant Libhart. Payton was denied the opportunity to present witnesses, and defendants Jordan and John Does 1 and 2 were witnesses for the Commonwealth. Payton was again found guilty and sentenced to ninety days in disciplinary custody. He was also ordered to pay a percentage of medical costs for the treatment of a correctional officer injured during the disturbance. Id. ¶ 13. A hearing on the final misconduct report was held on October 10, 1995, before defendant Joanna Johnson. Defendants Romiz and Strausser were witnesses. Following this hearing, Payton was sentenced to sixty days in disciplinary custody. Id. ¶ 14. Payton had been placed in the RHU immediately following the disturbance, and spent a total of 330 days in disciplinary custody as a result of disturbance-related charges. Id. ¶ 14. He denies having participated in the disturbance. Id. ¶ 15.

When Payton completed his term in disciplinary custody, he was placed in administrative custody. He was kept in the RHU, with largely the same restrictions on his liberty as exist in disciplinary custody, rather than being returned to the general prison population. Id. ¶ 20. To date, he has never been returned to the general prison population; he has remained in the RHU, in either disciplinary or administrative custody,*fn3 since August 14, 1995. Amended Compl. ¶ 21.

Defendant Horn has moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3) and (6). He makes three arguments: (1) Plaintiff has not alleged Horn's personal involvement in connection with the misconduct hearings, thereby precluding monetary relief against him under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) the case should be dismissed for improper venue; and (3) the applicable two-year statute of limitations bars Plaintiff's cause of action. The motion to dismiss filed by defendant Johnson and the five other individual defendants incorporated by reference Horn's motion to dismiss. It also incorporated by reference defendant Horn's Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Injunctive Relief and Restraining Order, which argued that Payton was unlikely to prevail on the merits of this case because, (1) under Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995) and Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703 (3d Cir. 1997), an inmate does not have a protected liberty interest in placement in the general prison population; and (2) under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) ("PLRA"), Payton has failed to exhaust administrative remedies regarding his placement in administrative custody.

DISCUSSION

In the PLRA, Congress required that prisoners exhaust administrative remedies before bringing suit in federal court under section 1983 over prison conditions:

  No action shall be brought with respect to prison
  conditions under section 1983 of this title or any
  other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any
  jail, prison or other correctional facility until
  such administrative remedies as are available are
  exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). However, the court may dismiss a suit without first requiring exhaustion if "a claim is, on its face, frivolous, malicious, [or] fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(2). Because I find that Payton's allegations fail ...


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