The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN PADOVA, District Judge
Pro se Plaintiff Gregory Alex Demeter brings this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Todd Buskirk, James
Smith, and Bob Meyers, all of whom are officials of the Northampton
County Prison ("NCP") in Easton, Pennsylvania, for alleged violations of
his federal and state constitutional rights while he was a pretrial
detainee. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the matter has been
briefed by both parties. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment in its entirety.
The following facts are essentially undisputed. On or about May 14,
2003, Plaintiff was arrested by officers of the Bethlehem Police
Department and charged with theft and receipt of stolen property. (Am.
Compl. ¶ 1; Demeter Dep. at 5.) After Plaintiff failed to post $5000
bail, he was committed to the Northampton County Prison for pretrial
detention. (Am. Compl. ¶ 2; Demeter Dep. at 5-6.) Plaintiff had been
previously incarcerated at NCP on at least four separate occasions.
(Buskirk Aff. ¶ 4.) On May 16,
2003, Defendant Todd Buskirk, NCP Warden, decided to transfer
Plaintiff to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF") in
Philadelphia, (Am. Compl. ¶ 3; Buskirk Aff. ¶ 6), which is 62.49
miles away from NCP. (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 17, n.5.) Plaintiff
was transferred pursuant to an agreement between wardens of local county
correctional facilities. (Buskirk Aff. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff was not given
an opportunity to be heard in opposition to the transfer. (Am. Compl.
¶ 5.) At the time of his transfer, Plaintiff was litigating three
pro se § 1983 actions against NCP officials in the United
States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is
located in Philadelphia. (Buskirk Aff. ¶ 13.)
On May 19, 2003, Plaintiff sent a grievance slip to Defendant Buskirk
requesting his return to NCP. (Pl.'s Ex. I.) By letter dated May
29, 2003, Defendant Buskirk denied Plaintiff's grievance. (Pl.'s Ex. 2.)
Enclosed with the letter were two Northampton County Public Defender
appointment forms. (Demeter Dep. at 12.) Plaintiff submitted a completed
form to NCP, and a criminal defense attorney thereafter entered an
appearance for Plaintiff in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas
on June 23, 2003. (Id. at 20, 26.) On or about June 23, 2003,
Plaintiff was transported from CFCF to NCP so that he could appear in
court the next day for the preliminary hearing on the criminal charges.
(Id. at 26-27.) Plaintiff was timely transferred from CFCF to
NCP every time that
he received a notice of a court appearance in connection his
criminal case. (Id. at 40, 53.)
Plaintiff met with his attorney for the first time on the day of his
preliminary hearing. (Id. at 27.) He did not ask his attorney
why she had not met with him earlier. (Id. at 30.) During their
meeting, Plaintiff's attorney advised him to waive the preliminary
hearing, as the prosecution would be willing to drop some of the criminal
charges in exchange. (Id. at 30.) Plaintiff's attorney also
advised him that waiving the preliminary hearing would enable him to
promptly obtain mental health treatment, which was his main concern.
(Id. at 30, 32.) Upon his attorney's advice, Plaintiff decided
to waive the preliminary hearing. (Id. at 31.)
Plaintiff subsequently reconsidered his decision to waive the
preliminary hearing. (Id. at 36.) He sent his attorney
approximately fifteen letters requesting a preliminary hearing.
(Id. at 37.) Plaintiff did not receive any response from his
attorney concerning his request for a preliminary hearing. (Id.
at 38.) Plaintiff also sent his attorney approximately fifteen more
letters requesting that she provide him with discovery and file various
motions on his behalf, including a motion for bail reduction.
(Id. at 58-59, 83.) Plaintiff did not receive any response to
those letters until November 2003, when his attorney provided him with
copies of discovery. Plaintiff's attorney has informed him that she
received the letters. (Id. at 83, 85.) She
has also advised him that her ability to represent him was not
hampered by the fact that he was incarcerated at CFCF. (Id. at
69-70.) On or about October 15, 2003, Plaintiff filed a petition to
remove counsel. (Id. at 62-63.)
Notwithstanding his petition to remove counsel, Plaintiff met with his
attorney in November 2003 and entered a guilty plea through her on or
about December 19, 2003. (Id. at 61, 73.) On February 11, 2004,
Plaintiff's attorney filed a motion for bail reduction on his behalf. The
motion was granted, and Plaintiff's bail was reduced to $500.
(Id. at 81-82.)
While incarcerated at CFCF, Plaintiff has been attacked twice by other
inmates. (Id. at 110-111.) After Plaintiff submitted complaints
to CFCF prison officials, the offending inmates were relocated in the
prison. (Id. at 111.) To Defendant Buskirk's knowledge, CFCF is
no more dangerous than any other county correctional institution.
(Buskirk Aff. ¶ 10.)
In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts several constitutional
claims against NCP Warden Todd Buskirk, NCP Director of Corrections James
Smith, and NCP Intake Administrator Bob Meyers based on his transfer from
NCP to CFCF.*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff
argues that Defendants violated his federal and state
constitutional rights by transferring him to CFCF in retaliation for his
filing of lawsuits against various NCP officials. Plaintiff also contends
that Defendants violated his federal and state constitutional due process
rights by transferring him to CFCF without first according him an
opportunity to be heard in opposition to the transfer. Plaintiff further
asserts that his transfer to CFCF by Defendants interfered with his
access to counsel, caused unnecessary delays in his bail being reduced,
and subjected him to punitive prison conditions, in violation of his
federal and state constitutional rights.
Summary Judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers
to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) ("Rule 56"). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual
dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under
governing law. Id.
A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial
responsibility for informing the district court of the basis for its
motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Where the non-moving
party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the
movant's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by "pointing
out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support
the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving
party has met its initial burden, "the adverse party's response, by
affidavits or otherwise as provided in this rule, must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(e). That is, summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party
fails to rebut by making a factual showing "sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322. Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on
the motion in the light most favorable to the opposing party.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. "If the opponent [of summary
judgment] has exceeded the `mere scintilla' ...