United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
January 20, 2004.
TERESA NEUMEYER and LARRY NEUMEYER, Plaintiffs
JEFFERY BEARD and KENNETH KYLER, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MUNLEY, District Judge
Before the court for disposition is Magistrate Thomas M. Blewitt's
report and recommendation with regard to cross-motions for summary
judgment filed by the parties to the present case. The Magistrate's
report recommends that summary judgment be granted to the defendants. The
plaintiffs are Teresa Neumeyer and Larry Neumeyer and the defendants are
Jeffery Beard, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
("DOC") and Kenneth Kyler, Superintendent of the State Correctional
Institution at Huntingdon ("SCIH"). Plaintiffs have filed objections to
the report and recommendation. For the reasons that follow, the
objections will be overruled and the report and recommendation adopted.
According to a policy of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
("DOC"), prison visitor vehicles parked on facility grounds are subject
to random searches after the owner or
operator consents in writing. If a prison visitor refuses to
provide written consent permitting SCIH corrections officers to search
his or her vehicle, then the visitor will not be allowed to enter the
prison to visit any prisoner on that day.
On various dates, the plaintiffs visited Teresa Neumeyer's father,
Preston Pfeifly, at the SCIH. On May 28, 2001, and May 27, 2002, the
plaintiffs' vehicle was searched by SCIH corrections officers after it
was parked on institutional property. Prior to the searches, Plaintiff
Teresa Neumeyer had signed a "Consent To Search Vehicle" form, which gave
her consent to having the vehicle searched.
There does not exist any information or allegations in any SCIH records
or reports indicating that the plaintiffs have brought, or attempted to
bring, unlawful contraband and illegal narcotics into SCIH or possessed
the same in their vehicle. DOC policy does not require corrections
officers to have a search warrant, probable cause or reasonable suspicion
to search a vehicle on SCIH grounds as such vehicle searches are
conducted only after obtaining the written consent of the owner or
Not every prison visitor vehicle is searched as SCIH. There are no
written standards as to how the searches are to be conducted; in general,
they are conducted randomly as time and complement permit. The discovery
of illegal narcotics in a prison visitor vehicle by SCIH corrections
officers triggers notification of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Plaintiffs contend that having their vehicle subjected to search under
these circumstances violates the Fourth Amendment. They have brought suit
under 42 U.S. § 1983
seeking declaratory injunctive relief but not damages. Defendants
have moved for summary judgment arguing that as there is no dispute that
the plaintiffs consented to both searches, the proper analysis must be
made under the First Amendment's right of association and that
conditioning visiting prisoners on the visitor agreeing to permit
searching their vehicle when parked on state correctional institution
property is constitutional. Plaintiffs have also filed a motion for
On November 20, 2003, Magistrate Thomas M. Blewitt issued a report and
recommendation concluding that defendants' motion for summary judgment
should be granted and that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should
be denied. Plaintiffs have filed objections to the report and
recommendation, bringing the case to its present posture.
Standard of review
In disposing of objections to a magistrate's report and recommendation,
the district court must make a de novo determination of those
portions of the report to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636
(b)(1)(C): see also Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 877 (3d
Cir. 1987). This court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in
part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate. The judge
may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the
magistrate with instructions. Id.
In his R&R, the Magistrate concluded that searches of prison
visitor vehicles do not infringe upon, or violate, their constitutional
rights to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.
Plaintiffs object to this conclusion and argue that "[p]ermitting
prison guards to rummage through vehicles without any written standards
as to vehicle selection and search techniques is the precise evil the
Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent." Plaintiffs' Brief, p. 2
(citations omitted). We disagree.
Visitors to prisons are not afforded the same Fourth Amendment
protections as individuals "on public streets or in a home." See
Spear v. Sow ders, 71 F.3d 626, 629-30 (6th Cir. 1995) ("[A] citizen
does not have a right unfettered visitation of a prisoner that rises to a
constitutional dimension. In seeking entry to such a controlled
environment, the visitor simultaneously acknowledges a lesser expectation
of privacy."). As a result, prison officials have greater authority to
conduct searches of prison visitors. Id. at 630 ("[P]rison
authorities have much greater leeway in conducting searches of visitors.
Visitors can be subjected to some searches . . . merely as a condition
of visitation, absent any suspicion.").
Plaintiffs acknowledge that prison visitors may enjoy a reduced
expectation of privacy as a result of entering prison property but argue
that a "reasonable suspicion" standard must be met before a vehicle can
be constitutionally searched. Plaintiffs, however, incorrectly rely on
Wiley v. Department of Justice, 328 F.3d 1346, 1353 (Fed. Cir.
2003), to support their proposition. In Wiley, however, the
plaintiff whose vehicle was searched by prison officials was an employee
of the federal correctional institution and not a prison visitor.
Id. at 1347-48.*fn2 Accordingly, plaintiffs' reliance on
Wiley is misplaced.
Plaintiffs further argue that the Magistrate's conclusion that a
vehicle search is not an invasive search is clearly erroneous. We
disagree. The Magistrate was comparing vehicle searches to strip and body
cavity searches, the latter of which courts have recognized as "an
embarrassing and humiliating experience." Spear, 71 F.3d at 630
(citing Hunter v. Auger, 672 F.3d 668, 674 (8th Cir. 1982)
(holding that the Fourth Amendment "requires that prison authorities have
at least a reasonable suspicion that the visitor is bearing contraband
before conducting" a strip and body cavity search.)) We agree with the
Magistrate and with other courts that have concluded that, "[o]bviously,
while unpleasant, the nature of an automobile search is far less
intrusive than a strip and body cavity search. . . ." Id. at
633. Accordingly, we also conclude that the Fourth Amendment does not
require reasonable suspicion of contraband before prison officials can
conduct a vehicle search.
Additionally, it is well-settled that there is not a constitutional
right to visitation for convicted prisoners, their family and
spouses.*fn3 See, e.g., Young v. Vaughn, No. 98-C4630,
2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10667, at *8 (E.D. Pa. July 1, 2000) (holding
that "there is no constitutionally protected right to prison
visitation"); Flanagan v. Shively, 783 F. Supp. 922, 934 (M.D.
Pa. 1992) ("Inmates have no constitutional right to visitation . . .
Prison authorities have discretion to curtail or deny visitation if they
deem appropriate, and no due process right is implicated in the exercise
of that discretion."); Young v. Vaughn, No. 98-C4630, 2000 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 10667, at *5 (E.D. Pa. July 31, 2000) ("Convicted prisoners,
their family and spouses have no constitutional right to visitation.");
Africa v. Vaughn, No. 96-C0649, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1622, at
*1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 14, 1996) ("Neither convicted prisoners nor their
family members have an inherent constitutional right to visitation.").
Additionally, there are no Pennsylvania regulations expressly mandating a
right to prison visitation. See Africa v. Vaughn, 1996 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 1622, at *4.
Accordingly, since there is neither a Constitutional nor a state
statutory right to visit prison inmates, the Magistrate was correct to
conclude that the search of plaintiffs' vehicle should not be scrutinized
under Fourth Amendment standards.*fn4
Plaintiffs further object to the Magistrate's conclusion that this case
analyzed under the reasonableness standard set forth in Turner
v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). The Magistrate, however, only
evaluated the plaintiffs claim under the reasonableness standard in the
alternative; the Magistrate first correctly evaluated plaintiffs' claim
under the legitimate penological objectives standard set forth in
Young v. Lane, 922 F.2d 370, 374 (7th Cir. 1991). Using that
standard, the Magistrate correctly concluded that the searches of
plaintiffs' vehicle do meet legitimate penological objectives, i.e. to
prevent drugs and other contraband from entering the prison and to reduce
assaults in prison. See KylerDec. (Doc. 24).
In also analyzing the case under the reasonableness standard, the
Magistrate sought to establish that, even if the plaintiffs had a
fundamental right to visitation, the right was properly restricted by DOC
policy. Plaintiff argues that, under this standard, it is clear that
prison vehicle searches are not rationally related to prison security. We
disagree. And while we need not analyze this issue as the searches are
constitutional under the legitimate penological standard, we will address
it for purposes of completeness. The factors for determining
reasonableness are as follows:
1) a rational connection between the prison
decision and the governmental interest supported;
2) the existence of alternative means of
exercising the abridged right; 3) the impact of an
accommodation of the abridged right on prison
resources; and 4) the absence of alternatives for
exercising the right at de minimis cost to
Young v. Vaughn, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10667, at *6-7.
Visitor vehicle searches are rationally related to the prison's
interest in maintaining
security. "Visitors are a security risk, and deference should be to
prison officials' visitation decisions." Id. Plaintiffs,
themselves, acknowledge that "the presence of illegal narcotics inside a
prison impairs security and endangers the lives of both inmates and
staff." Plaintiff's Brief (Doc. 39), p. 6. Vehicle searches help to
uncover narcotics and other contraband in order to protect the staff,
visitors and inmates. See Defendants' brief (Doc. 24), p. 6.
Plaintiff argues that "common sense tells us that only the prison
visitor, not the automobile, enters the facility to visit." Plaintiff's
Brief (Doc. 39), p. 7. The defendants have, however, pointed out that
SCIH has inmates who live outside the prison walls and inmates who have
outside prison work details. See Defendants' brief (Doc. 24),
Attachment #1, ¶ 13. These inmates may have access to visitors'
vehicles parked at the prison. Id. Plaintiff finally complains
SCI-Huntingdon is located in a residential area
yet prison officials only search vehicles located
in their parking lot. It is simply not rational
for the State to insist that prison visitor
vehicles must be searched to safeguard the
facility while automobiles and houses surrounding
the prison (which no doubt contain firearms and
other dangerous items) are never searched and are
equally accessible to prisoners.
Plaintiff's Brief (Doc. 39), p. 7.
We disagree. We find that it is rational for prison officials to search
visitors' vehicles on prison property, after having duly notified the
visitors that their vehicles may be searched and after having obtained
the permission of the visitors for the search. We also find that it is
rational for prison officials not to search private homes on
private property, which are owned by individuals who are not seeking to
enter the prison and have not given their consent to
have their homes searched.
Accordingly, we find that there is a rational connection between
visitor vehicle searches and prison security. Therefore, even if the
"legitimate penological objectives standard" is not the correct standard
to apply, the stricter "reasonableness standard" is also met.
For the reasons set forth above, petitioner's objections to the
Magistrate's report and recommendation are overruled. Accordingly,
petitioner's motion for summary judgment will be denied and defendant's
motion for summary judgment will be granted. An appropriate order