United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
January 16, 2004.
CARVELL RICE, Plaintiff
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. § 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.
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
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
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
[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.
a. Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Claim
Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment's
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 rights and he has failed to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted in this regard.
However, a claim may exist when prison officials censor prisoners'
mail, but fail to comply with procedural safeguards derived from the
Fourteenth Amendment. Procunier, 416 U.S. at 418. In Procunier, the Court
held that when mail addressed to a prisoner is withheld, the "liberty
interests" created by the Fourteenth Amendment dictate that the prisoner
be notified and given an opportunity to protest the censorship. Id.
Plaintiff states hypothetically that if
Defendants' have in fact censored his mail, they have violated his
constitutional rights by failing to notify him and give him a chance to
contest the censorship. Thus, while Plaintiff has properly stated the law
regarding this claim, he has failed to allege any facts which, if
proven, would entitle him to relief under Procunier. Plaintiff merely
makes a conclusory statement that he filed this action "alleging
censoring mail in violation of the Fourth Amendment" and refers to a
report he saw which stated that his letters were "monitored." These
statements alone do not purport to allege facts which would support a
claim that Defendants' unlawfully censored Plaintiff's mail. Without some
facts to support Plaintiff's allegation, if proven, such as that he was
missing letters that were sent to him, we must dismiss this claim.
b. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Claim
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by placing him in the RHU,
falsifying documents, transferring him, harassing him, and mentally,
emotionally, and psychologically abusing him. When considering a
violation of a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights, we must determine
whether "`the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind'
and if the alleged wrongdoing was objectively `harmful enough' to
establish a constitutional violation." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8
(1992), citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991). The application of
these standards varies according to the type of complaint made.
Plaintiff's primary complaint under the Eighth Amendment is that his
placement in the RHU constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The
Supreme Court has interpreted the Eighth Amendment as requiring that
prison officials maintain "humane conditions for prisoners" by ensuring
that "inmates are provided with adequate food, clothing, shelter, and
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994), citing Deshaney v. Winnebago
County Dept. of Social Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 198-99 (1989). In complaints
concerning the condition of confinement, Plaintiff must first show that
the alleged deprivation was "sufficiently serious" such that it resulted
in "the denial of `the minimal civilized measure of life necessities.'"
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, citing Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298. Second, the
officials will only be deemed culpable if Plaintiff is able to
demonstrate that their actions constituted "deliberate indifference" to
the condition. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297.
Plaintiff has not alleged that he was deprived of food, clothing,
shelter or medical care. Nor has he alleged facts which, if proven, would
show that he was denied `the minimal civilized measure of life
necessities." Even if Plaintiff is able to prove that he was wrongly
accused of lying and therefore wrongly placed in the RHU, unless
Plaintiff alleges a "sufficiently serious" deprivation, he has not stated
a claim upon which relief can be granted. As the Court said in Wilson,
"The Constitution . . . does not mandate comfortable prisons." Id. at
298, citing Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Because we hold
that Plaintiff has not met the first part of the test in challenging the
conditions of his confinement under the Eighth Amendment, we need not
consider whether the officials responsible for confining him were
culpable. Nor has Plaintiff alleged facts to support any of the other
wrongs he has alleged under the Eighth Amendment. Having failed to allege
facts which would entitle him to relief, we must dismiss Plaintiff's
Eighth Amendment claim.
c. Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Claim
Plaintiff alleges that his right to procedural due process under the
Fourteenth Amendment was violated when he was placed in the Restricted
Housing Unit (RHU), or administrative
custody, without a hearing. However, due process protection for state
created liberty interests is limited to where the deprivation "imposes
atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the
ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 486
(1995). The Third Circuit has held that confinement to administrative
custody for fifteen months does not pose an "atypical or significant
hardship" and "falls within the expected parameters of the sentenced
imposed." Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703, 706-8, citing Sandin,
515 U.S. 472, 485. Plaintiff was placed in the RHU, or administrative
custody, for approximately four months. He has not alleged that the
conditions of this confinement were "atypical" in any way or that they
presented a "significant hardship." Thus he is not entitled to procedural
due process protections and this claim must therefore be dismissed for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Plaintiff's Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims must be
dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
because Plaintiff has failed to allege facts which, if proven, would
entitle him to relief. An appropriate order will follow.
AND NOW, this 16th day of January, 2004, upon consideration of
Plaintiffs Complaint, filed on October 8, 2003; Commonwealth Defendant's
Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum of Law in support thereof, filed on
December 9, 2003; and Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss, filed on December 31, 2003, it is hereby ORDERED that
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED. This case is closed.
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