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RICE v. SOBITOR

January 16, 2004.

CARVELL RICE, Plaintiff
v.
GERALD SOBITOR, et. al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANKLIN VAN ANTWERPEN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff has filed a complaint against Defendants Gerald Sobitor, T.J. Dohman, and David DiGugielmo ("Defendants") for alleged violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments during his incarceration at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford ("Graterford") in Pennsylvania. Defendants are all employed as security personnel at Graterford. Plaintiff has filed this complaint pro se and is seeking damages and declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. Before us now is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, we grant Defendants' Motion.

I. Facts

  The following facts have been alleged by Plaintiff. On April 20, 2003, between approximately 5:00 and 6:00 pm, a security team entered Plaintiff's cell at Graterford to search for contraband. In addition to his cell being searched, Plaintiff was strip searched and escorted out of his cell for urinalysis. No contraband was found. Two days later, on April 22, 2003, Plaintiff's cell was again searched and he again underwent a strip search at the request of Page 2 Defendant Dohman. After this second search, Plaintiff was escorted to see Defendant Dohman. Dohman showed Plaintiff a photo of an inmate and asked Plaintiff if the inmate in the photo had given him a jar of peanut butter. Plaintiff indicated to Dohman that he had not, whereupon Dohman assured Plaintiff that he was "`not in any trouble about a jar of peanut butter.'"

  Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff reported this incident to the unit manager, Ms. Bessie Williams. That afternoon, Plaintiffs cell was searched again and he was strip searched. This search also produced no contraband. Plaintiff was again escorted to see Dohman, who questioned him further about the peanut butter. Dohman accused Plaintiff of lying about who had given him the peanut butter and Plaintiff insisted that he was given the peanut butter by another inmate who had been released the day before. Dohman again accused Plaintiff of lying and threatened to place him in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) if he did not tell him who was bringing contraband into Graterford. Plaintiff was then sent to RHU, where he received a written report that stated that he was placed in administrative custody because he posed a threat to the prison population. Plaintiff was later told that his review before the Program Review Committee (PRC) regarding his placement in RHU was scheduled to take place in 90 days. In the interim, Plaintiff filed several grievances with prison staff. On May 29, 2003, Plaintiff was transferred to the RHU at State Correctional Institute at Frackville until June 5th, when he was returned to the RHU at Graterford.

  On June 13, 2003, a copy of a report recommending Plaintiff's transfer from Graterford mysteriously appeared in his cell. The report stated that Plaintiff had been cited for misconduct and that he

  should be separated from Graterford based on information gathered from CSIs Page 3 [confidential sources of information] and monitoring his mail found him and other inmates to be manipulating staff to allow them to do illegal activity that included selling items from the block and bringing drug and jewelry into the institution.

 Maintaining that this report was false, Plaintiff filed additional grievances with prison staff and appealed them when relief was denied. When Plaintiff showed the report to Defendant Sobotor and asked him about the allegations therein, it was confiscated. Plaintiff's appeals to prison staff on July 10th, July 17th, and August 4th were all denied. On July 15th, Plaintiff was transported to Skippack Township to be questioned by a district attorney regarding the origin of the peanut butter. Prior to and after being questioned, Plaintiff waited in a "hot van" for other inmates to return from their proceedings. Although Plaintiff does not state how long he waited, it could not have been more than five hours in total, since he alleges that they arrived in Skippack at 8:00 am and returned to Graterford sometime between 12:00 and 1:00 pm. On August 28, 2003, Plaintiff was released from the RHU.

  II. Standard of Review

  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss a claim in whole or in part "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all the allegations set forth in the complaint and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs. Ford v. Schering-Plough Corp., 145 F.3d 601, 604 (3d Cir. 1998). Dismissal is proper only if plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claims which would entitle them to relief. Id.

  III. Discussion

 a. Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Claim

  Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment's protection from Page 4 unreasonable searches and seizures by either monitoring or censoring his mail. It is unclear whether Plaintiff is asserting only that his mail was monitored or that it was also censored. Plaintiff states in his "Preliminary Statement" that he is "alleging censoring mail in violation of the Fourth Amendment." However, the censorship of prisoners' mail has generally been addressed by the courts within the context of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. See Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401 (1989); Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396 (1974). Moreover, the only fact Plaintiff offers in support of this claim is that he saw a copy of a report which stated that information regarding Plaintiff's involvement in contraband activities was gleaned from "monitoring his mail," not censoring his mail. Nonetheless, since Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and therefore subject to less stringent pleading requirements, we will deem his complaint to have alleged monitoring and censoring of his mail in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, respectively. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

  The practice of monitoring inmates' correspondence has long been deemed an acceptable means of maintaining prison security. Stroud v. United States, 251 U.S. 15, 21 (1919). Thus even if Plaintiff is able to prove that prison officials read his mail, such an act does not constitute a violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment ...


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