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SIMPSON v. HORN

January 14, 2000

SEIFUDDIN SIMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
MARTIN HORN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

EXPLANATION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Seifuddin M.A. Simpson ("Simpson") brought this § 1983 lawsuit against Pennsylvania Corrections Commissioner Martin Horn and several officials at SCI-Graterford ("SCIG" or "Graterford"), alleging that the classification system for assigning cellmates violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn1 The history of this case is set out in my August 28, 1998 Memorandum and Order, in which I denied summary judgment on plaintiff's equal protection claim against defendants, SCI-Graterford Superintendent Donald Vaughn, and four other Graterford officials, Unit Managers William Conrad and Joseph Murphy and Lieutenants Rick Sundermier and William Mash. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. All defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, to the extent that plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, summary judgment will be granted on plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief. Summary judgment will otherwise be denied.

I. Scope of Complaint

In his complaint, plaintiff states "that he has been made to feel that he cannot be placed in a cell with another inmate of another race because as an African American he will be considered a threat to any other inmate of another race." (Pl.Compl. ¶ 23). Defendants first contend that the complaint alleges racial discrimination on August 30, 1995, the date of plaintiff's cell assignment on D-Block, not during plaintiff's entire stay on D-Block. Defendants concede, however, that the Court may interpret plaintiff's complaint to include his entire stay on D-Block, from August 30, 1995 to September 6, 1996. I interpret plaintiff's complaint to encompass his entire stay on D-Block as plaintiff's complaint states that "there is continual discrimination because inmates are housed according to race." (Pl.Compl. ¶ 23).

Second, defendants argue that plaintiff's claim is limited to his stay on D-Block and therefore, plaintiff's experiences on the "new side"*fn2 and on B-Block, where plaintiff is currently housed, are irrelevant to plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff contends that his claim includes his entire incarceration at Graterford. After reviewing plaintiff's complaint and recognizing that plaintiff's complaint was drafted when plaintiff was proceeding pro se,*fn3 I interpret plaintiff's complaint to include his stay on the "new side." However, I do not construe plaintiff's complaint to include plaintiff's incarceration on B-Block, where plaintiff is currently housed, as no allegation of discrimination regarding this block exists.

To summarize, I find that plaintiff's complaint encompasses his stay on the "new side" and his entire incarceration on D-Block.

II. Discussion

To bring a successful claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a denial of equal protection, Simpson must show that: 1) defendants intentionally discriminated on the basis of race in making cell assignments; 2) plaintiff suffered a legally cognizable injury; and 3) defendants were personally involved in the alleged violation.

Defendants contend that summary judgment should be granted in their favor. First, defendants have not racially discriminated in cell assignments, and therefore have not violated plaintiff's right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, plaintiff has not alleged a cognizable injury. Third, defendants lack the requisite personal involvement to establish liability for an equal protection violation under § 1983. Further, defendants argue that plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief is moot and that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from monetary damages. I will address each of these arguments in turn.

A. Racial Discrimination in Cell Assignments

SCIG has a double-celling policy statement that lists compatibility factors to be considered in making celling assignments. Exhibit D-1, an Administrative Memorandum dated March 29, 1990, with the heading "Inmate Housing-Double Celling," lists "race and ethnic biases of the inmate" as one of the factors to be considered in making involuntary double-celling assignments. Exhibit D-4, a policy statement from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections on single celling ("Z code") and double celling housing policy, dated December 23, 1996, adds the following proviso to the race and ethnic bias factor: "this factor shall not be interpreted to mean that only inmates of the same race should be celled together-rather its intent is to ensure that inmates who have exhibited documented history of interracial violence or a propensity to engage in such, should not be celled with a person upon whom they would be likely to act out."

In my August 28, 1998 opinion, I determined that the official policy in place at SCIG for classification of inmates for cell assignment meets the reasonableness standard set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987). However, at that time I found that at issue was whether this stated policy was in fact the actual policy used by defendants in making cell assignments. To establish a violation of Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that a defendant intended to racially discriminate. See Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265-66, 97 S.Ct. 555, 50 L.Ed.2d 450 (1977); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 241, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976). In my August 28, 1998 opinion, I concluded that three pieces of evidence were "some evidence of intent." Additionally, based on the record before me at the time, I could not determine whether plaintiff had adequately tied each defendant to the classification system allegedly used for making cell assignments to establish liability.

1. Whether defendants practice official DOC policy

Defendants assert that they practice the DOC's official double-celling policy. (Defs. Motion for Summ. J at 23). In support, defendants refer to the depositions of the four defendants responsible for giving inmates cell assignments. Defendants cite to the depositions of two of the four defendants, Lt. Sundermier*fn4 and Unit Manager Conrad in which they testified that they practice initial random "celling" subject to inmate requests for reassignment and DOC policy. Conrad explained that an inmate was assigned "randomly" and that race can be considered as a compatibility factor if evidence of racial bias exists. (Conrad Dep. at 11-12, 15). Defendants also point to the deposition of Lt. Mash who testified that he makes cell assignments in a similar manner subject to bias concerns. (Mash Dep. at 23-24). The fourth defendant, Unit Manager Murphy, indicated that he did not make random assignments, but explained how he applies official cell-assignment policy.*fn5

Plaintiff asserts that portions of defendants' deposition testimony show that defendants were not following the official prison double-celling policy. Plaintiff appears to contend that although racial or ethnic bias is a legitimate compatibility factor under the DOC policy, the depositions of two defendants indicate that they believe race itself is a factor in making cell assignments. Specifically, plaintiff cites the depositions of defendants, Murphy and Mash. In Murphy's deposition, he stated that race was a compatibility factor used when assigning cells. (Murphy Dep. at 45-46). Similarly, in Mash's deposition, Mash stated that race was one of the factors considered. (Mash Dep. at 11, 24-26).

Additionally, plaintiff points to two memoranda as evidence of unconstitutional racial classification. Plaintiff offers memoranda written by DOC employees as evidence of misinterpretation of compatibility factor (c), "Race and ethnic biases of the inmates to be housed together" existed during the period in which plaintiff was housed in D-Block. First, plaintiff offers a November, 1991 memo written by Deputy Commissioner Reid. Reid's memorandum states that "some institutions may be misinterpreting" the compatibility factor involving race. Reid explains that the factor should not be interpreted "to mean that only black inmates should be celled with blacks, or whites with whites" and states that the purpose of the factor was to ensure that inmates who have history of violence against other races or a propensity to act in this manner would not be housed placed with an inmate "whom they would likely act upon." Further, "[t]he race of an inmate . . . as the sole factor . . . shall not dictate cellmate assignment." Second, plaintiff points to a March, 1996 memorandum issued by Deputy Commissioner Clymer which similarly clarifies the use of the race and ethnic bias compatibility factor. Defendants suggest that these memoranda are not persuasive evidence that defendants were not practicing official DOC policy as neither document indicates which institutions were misinterpreting the race and ethnic bias factor.

Plaintiff also contends that Judge Shapiro's decision in Abbott v. Smaller, demonstrates that the official DOC double-celling policy was not being followed. In that case, Judge Shapiro held that an SCI-Graterford sergeant violated an inmate's right to Equal Protection by ordering him to change his cell solely because of his race. See Abbott v. Smaller, No. 88-2800, 1990 WL 131359 (E.D.Pa., Sept.5, 1990). The court found that defendant applied an "unwritten prison policy" that prevented different races from sharing a cell unless no other cell was available. Id. at *2. Defendants distinguish Abbott from this case, stating that Abbott involved a different defendant and, at that time, no explanation existed as to how the compatibility factors included in the DOC policy should be applied. Since 1990, however, the DOC cell-assignment policy has been clarified.

Because plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence that a factual question remains as to whether defendants practice the official DOC double-celling policy, I will evaluate whether plaintiff has presented ...


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