United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
May 24, 2004.
THOMAS McEACHIN, Plaintiff,
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDUARDO ROBRENO, District Judge
Pro se plaintiff Thomas McEachin, an inmate at the State
Correctional Institution at Albion, PA ("plaintiff"), brings this
42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983") action against Jeffrey A. Beard,
Secretary of the Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections (the "DOC"), Leslie
Hatcher, Grievance Coordinator of the State Correctional Institute at
Graterford ("SCI Graterford") and Sergeant Joseph Swenski of the State
Correctional Institute at Camp Hill ("SCI Camp Hill").*fn1 The complaint
alleges that plaintiff's Fourteenth, Fifth and First Amendment rights
were violated when his watch was confiscated from him while he was being
transferred from one correctional facility to another. Specifically,
plaintiff contends that his watch was never returned to him and that his "due process equal protection rights"
were violated when he was denied access to the procedures set in place
for filing a grievance. The complaint further alleges that, on a separate
occasion, plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated
when other personal property belonging to the plaintiff was confiscated
from his prison cell without a prior hearing. The relief that plaintiff
seeks is the return of his watch and personal property or monetary
damages in the amount of $200.
Presently before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment
and plaintiff's motion to postpone consideration of defendants' motion
for summary judgment and to compel additional discovery pursuant to Fed.
R. Civ. P. Rule 56(f). For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion
is granted and plaintiff's motion is denied.
A. The First Incident: Plaintiff's Watch.
On September 5, 2001, plaintiff's Casio watch and other personal
effects were confiscated as he was being transferred from SCI Graterford
to SCI Waymart.*fn2 The prison staff member who took the watch filled
out a confiscation slip, but did not provide it to the plaintiff at the time of the confiscation. At
some point later in time, plaintiff was transferred from SCI Waymart to
SCI Camp Hill. The confiscation slip and most of plaintiff's property was
returned to the plaintiff on November 15, 2001, while he was at SCI Camp
Hill, but plaintiff's watch was not returned. Plaintiff wrote a letter to
the Deputy of Security at SCI Graterford about the missing watch and
after receiving no response, filed a grievance with defendant Leslie
Hatcher, the Grievance Coordinator at SCI Graterford, on December 17,
2001. The grievance was assigned number 10106.
On December 20, 2001, Hatcher returned the grievance to plaintiff as
untimely without taking any action on the merits.*fn3 Plaintiff then
appealed Hatcher's decision to the Secretary of Inmate Grievances and
Appeals on January 9, 2002. By letter on January 11, 2002, the
Secretary's office informed plaintiff that no action would be taken
because plaintiff's appeal was incomplete for failure to comply with the
established DOC procedures.*fn4 This letter explained that pursuant to
DOC policy, an appeal to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and
Appeals requires proper documentation of the grievance itself, the
initial response, the appeal to the institution's superintendent, and the
superintendent's response.*fn5 The letter also indicated that any
further correspondence regarding grievance number 10106, which did not
include these mandatory documents, would result in dismissal of the
Despite this instruction, plaintiff did not appeal the grievance and,
on February 3, 2002, wrote a letter to the DOC Secretary, Defendant
Beard, about the same grievance.
B. The Second Incident: Confiscation of Contraband.
In addition to the watch incident, plaintiff complains of an incident
which occurred on November 17, 2001 in which his property was confiscated
by defendant Sergeant Swenski without a prior hearing. Sergeant Swenski
entered plaintiff's cell on November 17, 2001 and demanded that plaintiff put away personal
effects, recently purchased by plaintiff, in boxes so that they could be
confiscated. Prison policy mandated that all personal effects be stored
in only one foot locker and any additional property not capable of
storage in the single footlocker was considered contraband. Despite
plaintiff's objections, the excess property was confiscated by Sergeant
Swenski. As documentation, plaintiff received a confiscation receipt from
Sergeant Swenski describing each of the items confiscated.
A formal misconduct hearing was held on November 27, 2001. After
reviewing the written version of the November 17, 2001 incident and
listening to plaintiff's testimony, the hearing examiner found plaintiff
guilty of contraband possession. As punishment, plaintiff received a
reprimand and a warning. On appeal, the Program Review Committee (PRC)
upheld the hearing examiner's decision.
Plaintiff filed additional appeals, first to Martin Dragovich, the
Superintendent of SCI Camp Hill and then to Robert Bitner of the DOC's
Office of the Chief Hearing Examiner. At each level, the decisionmaker
upheld the lower level decisions. These appeals were taken in connection
with the disposition of the misconduct hearing only. No formal grievance
in connection with the confiscation of his plaintiff's property was filed.*fn7
1. Plaintiff's Rule 56(f) Motion.
Plaintiff seeks to postpone the Court's consideration of defendants'
timely filed motion for summary judgment. In plaintiff's view,
postponement is necessary to allow the parties to resolve an outstanding
discovery dispute. Although motions for summary judgment were due, by
Court order, on January 15, 2004, plaintiff made his discovery request to
defendants on January 31, 2004. The discovery dispute centers on the fact
that defendants provided plaintiff with only four of the twelve items of
documentation requested by plaintiff. Of the twelve items requested by
plaintiff, nine relate to prison policies and procedures concerning
property handling, contraband handling, facility security, searches of
inmate cells, the prison grievance system, inmate discipline, and
procedures followed by hearing examiners. Three relate to past lawsuits,
grievances, and misconduct reports involving the named defendants.
As described in greater detail below, the existence of post-deprivation grievance procedures made available to plaintiff
by prison officials, a fact which is not contested, forecloses
plaintiff's due process claim. Thus, the Court finds that the additional
discovery requested by plaintiff would not advance his due process claim
because the requested documents would, at most, establish what the
specific details of the policies and procedures were for filing inmate
grievances, and not whether actions undertaken by defendants
denied plaintiff, in the two instances in which plaintiff complains,
access to the existing grievance procedures.*fn8
Similarly, additional discovery would not advance plaintiff's First
Amendment claim. Plaintiff's First Amendment right to file a grievance
may be infringed when prison officials punish plaintiff or retaliate
against plaintiff in response to his utilization of the grievance
procedures. See, e.g., Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1288 (9th
Cir. 2003); Smith v. Maschner, 899 F.2d 940, 947 (10th Cir.
1990); Adams v. James, 784 F.2d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 1986).
The discovery requested by plaintiff has no bearing on the actions
defendants took, if any, to punish or retaliate against plaintiff in
response to grievances which were filed by plaintiff.
For these reasons, plaintiff's motion to compel discovery and motion to
postpone consideration of defendants' motion for summary judgment is
2. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
____ To the extent that plaintiff's action sounds in negligence or
tort, plaintiff may have remedies against the defendants under
42 Pa. C.S. § 8522(b)(3), which provides that the state has waived
sovereign immunity and may have liability imposed for the care, custody
or control of personal property in the control of possession of
commonwealth parties and property of persons held by a commonwealth
agency. However, negligence is not a cognizable claim in a section 1983
action. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 335 (1981).
As applicable to both incidents, the Supreme Court has held that due
process is satisfied when the state provides adequate postdeprivation
remedies following the destruction of an inmate's personal property.
Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 536 (1984). It is not disputed
by the parties that a postdeprivation process in the form of a prison
grievance system was in place and made available to plaintiff.
In Hudson, an inmate at a Virginia penal institution brought
suit against a prison officer of the institution alleging that the prison
officer had conducted an unreasonable "shakedown" search of the inmate's locker and cell and had brought false
charges against the inmate and that, in violation of the inmate's due
process rights, the officer had intentionally destroyed certain of the
inmate's non-contraband personal property during the search.
Id. 519-20. Regarding the inmate's due process claim, the Court
[W]hen deprivations of property are effected
through random and unauthorized conduct of a state
employee, predeprivation procedures are simply
"impracticable" since the state cannot known when
such deprivations will occur. We can discern no
logical distinction between negligent and
intentional deprivation's of property insofar as
the "practicability" of affording predeprivation
process is concerned. The state can no more
anticipate and control in advance the random and
unauthorized intentional conduct of its employees
than it can anticipate similar negligent conduct.
* * *
If negligent deprivations of property do not
violate the Due Process Clause because
predeprivation process is impractiable, it follows
that intentional deprivations do not violate that
Clause provided, of course, that adequate state
postdeprivation remedies are available.
Accordingly, we hold that an unauthorized
intentional deprivation of property does not
constitute a violation of the procedural
requirements of the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful
postdeprivation remedy for the loss is available.
Id. at 533.
To the extent that plaintiff's claim rests on the contention that
defendants confiscated his property without a prior hearing, his claims are without merit. Whether the confiscation was the result
of negligent or intentional acts, Hudson holds that plaintiff's
due process rights are not violated provided that adequate and meaningful
postdeprivation process is available.
Thus, the Court finds that, absent any evidence to the contrary,
adequate and meaningful postdeprivation processes were available to the
plaintiff through the prison grievance procedure. The DOC prison
grievance system has been recognized by courts in this Circuit as
providing adequate postdeprivation remedies to inmates in satisfaction of
the Due Process Clause. See, e.g., Tillman v. Lebanon County
Correctional Facility, 221 F.3d 410, 422 (3d Cir. 2000)("The
grievance program allowed prisoners to complain about `any' matter that
is `unjust' . . . [, therefore,] the plaintiff had an adequate
postdeprivation remedy.); Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 208 F. Supp.2d 520,
537 (E.D. Pa. 2002) ("Because there was due process in the grievance
procedures, defendant . . . is entitled to summary judgment on this
claim."). The mere fact that plaintiff has faced some difficulty in
having his grievance heard, based on his own failure to follow proper
administrative procedure, does not demonstrate that the process was
inadequate, meaningless, or otherwise constitutionally infirm. Nor is
there any evidence that plaintiff was in any manner denied access to the
At most, the evidence demonstrates that post deprivation procedures were available to the plaintiff that
plaintiff either failed to take advantage of, or utilized, but received
an adverse response. However, "[t]he failure of a prison official to
provide a favorable response to an inmate grievance is not a federal
constitutional violation." Gordon v. Vaughn, 1999 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 7060, at *4 (E.D. Pa. May 12, 1999)(citing Adams v. Rice,
40 F.3d 72, 74 (4th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1022
(1995)). For these reasons, the Court concludes that plaintiff has failed
to establish the existence of a constitutional injury actionable under
In view of the forgoing, plaintiff's motion under Fed.R.Civ.P.
Rule 56(f) is denied. In addition, summary judgment is granted in favor of the
defendants and against plaintiff.*fn9 ORDER
AND NOW, this day of May 2004, it is hereby
ORDERED that plaintiff's Rule 56(f) motion (doc. no. 30) is
It is FURTHER ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary
judgment (doc. no. 26) is GRANTED.
It is FURTHER ORDERED that JUDGMENT is
ENTERED in favor of defendants as to all claims.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.