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MEDINA v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

May 19, 2004.

JOSE MEDINA, Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BERLE M. SCHILLER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Jose Medina commenced this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Philadelphia, Warden Reginald Hammond, Deputy Warden Marco Giannetta, Sergeant George McNally, Corrections Officer Augustine Arroyo and Corrections Officer Joseph Moore.*fn1 In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF"), Defendants searched his cell and unlawfully confiscated his manuscript and read his mail in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the prison's mail policy. Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c).*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted. I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

At all times relevant to this action, Plaintiff was incarcerated at CFCF. Before he was incarcerated, Plaintiff had been working on a manuscript about the Latin Kings, a group formed in Chicago in 1949. (Pl.'s Dep. at 16, 44.) Although the Latin Kings are commonly referred to as a "gang," Plaintiff claims it is "an organization, people who just work together to help people." (Id. at 49.) Because Plaintiff is not a member of the Latin Kings, he gathered information for his book through interviews with current members before he was incarcerated. (Id. at 48.)

  When he entered CFCF, Plaintiff asked his mother to send him the manuscript so that he could continue working on it while incarcerated. (Id. at 16.) On February 27, 2003, shortly after Plaintiff received the manuscript in the mail, Defendants McNally and Arroyo came to his cell and informed him that they were going to search for cigarettes. (Id. at 20.) Arroyo picked up a pack of mail within Plaintiff's cell and began looking through the letters. (Id.) Arroyo then pulled out a yellow envelope marked "legal mail"*fn3 which contained Plaintiff's writings and said, "Here it is," to McNally. (Id. at 20-21, 24.) Plaintiff asked why the officers were taking his mail and they informed him that it violated prison policy. (Id. at 21.)

  Approximately eight months later, on October 1, 2003, Defendants McNally and Moore confiscated a second manuscript from Plaintiff's cell. (Id. at 40.) This second manuscript was confiscated pursuant to a "major shakedown."*fn4 (Id.) Plaintiff stated that this second set of materials was to become part of the same book as the first manuscript (Id. at 40-41.) After this lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff alleges that he suffered various forms of retaliation, including being relieved of his job and being denied access to the law library and school facilities. (Id. at 71.)

 II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c) (1994);Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if sufficient evidence is provided to allow a reasonable jury to find for him at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In order to meet this burden, the opposing party must point to specific, affirmative evidence in the record and not simply rely on mere allegations, conclusory or vague statements, or general denials in the pleadings. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. In reviewing the record, "a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). Furthermore, a court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in making its determination. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002). III. DISCUSSION

  Plaintiff brings his claims for constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which requires him to demonstrate that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of a federal right. Gorman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995). Defendants do not dispute that they are state actors for purposes of § 1983. The issue, therefore, is whether Defendants' conduct violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights.

  A. Claims Against Defendants in their Individual Capacities

  Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants Hammond, Giannetta, McNally, Arroyo, and Moore in their individual capacities. Claims against government officials in their individual capacities seek to impose personal liability upon a government officer for actions taken under color of state law. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991). Thus, to establish individual liability in a § 1983 action, a plaintiff must "show that the official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right." Id. As the Third Circuit has made clear, "[a] defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs" to be held liable. Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 249 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.

  Although Hammond and Giannetta were sued in their individual capacities, Plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence that either of these Defendants were personally involved in the alleged wrongs. In his response to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff fails to differentiate between the claims against these Defendants in their official and individual capacities, subsuming all discussion of these Defendants under the heading "Monell Claim." In his discussion of this claim, Plaintiff fails to present any evidence that either Hammond or Giannetta were personally involved in the censorship or reading of his mail, the confiscation of his manuscripts, or any alleged retaliatory behavior. Furthermore, Plaintiff fails to provide record evidence that either Hammond or Giannetta were actually aware of the events at issue. See id. at 1208 (noting that mere filing of grievances or complaints with official's office is not enough to show actual knowledge). Plaintiff notes only that these Defendants "were responsible for running the prison." (Pl.'s Resp. at 20.) As respondeat superior is not a basis for liability under § 1983, Mabine v. Vaughn, 25 F. Supp.2d 587, 592 (E.D. Pa. 1998), and in the absence of any other basis for liability, Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Hammond and Giannetta in their individual capacities are dismissed from this suit.

  Accordingly, the remainder of the Court's analysis of the individual-capacity claims relates only to Defendants McNally, Arroyo, and Moore.

  1. Confiscation of Manuscript in Violation of First Amendment

  Plaintiff alleges that Defendants McNally, Arroyo, and Moore confiscated his Latin Kings manuscript in violation of his First Amendment rights. Defendants move for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff's manuscripts were ...


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