United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
May 26, 2004.
HOZAY ROYAL, a/k/a CARLOS JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
ROBERT DURISON and VIVIAN T. MILLER, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDUARDO ROBRENO, District Judge
This action is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Hozay Royal,
a/k/a Carlos Johnson ("plaintiff"), who alleges that his constitutional
rights were violated by Robert Durison and Vivian T. Miller (collectively
"defendants") during his imprisonment for three felony convictions.
Specifically, plaintiff claims that he was detained for approximately six
months in excess of the statutorily prescribed maximum for the crimes in
which he was convicted, thus violating his Eighth Amendment right against
excessive imprisonment; and that defendants failed to give meaningful and
expeditious consideration to plaintiff's request for adjustment of
pre-commitment time, thus violating his Fourteenth and Fifth Amendment
rights to procedural due process.
Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for
summary judgment is granted and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
On or about March 26, 1983, plaintiff was arrested and detained for
retail theft. By posting bail, plaintiff was released from detention on
April 14, 1983 and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for April 28,
1983. Because plaintiff failed to appear for the scheduled preliminary
hearing, a bench warrant was issued on April 28, 1983. On or about July
29, 1984, plaintiff was arrested for a separate retail theft charge, and
rearrested pursuant to the bench warrant. On November 15, 1983, plaintiff
entered a guilty plea to the two retail theft charges and a single charge
of failing to appear for a court appearance.
On or about January 25, 1984, plaintiff was sentenced to two to four
years of imprisonment for each offense, to run concurrently, followed by
three years of probation, to run consecutively, as a result of the three
felony convictions. Plaintiff served the maximum term of detention
according to the sentence, and was released on or about January 25, 1987
subject to certain terms of probation. During the probation period, plaintiff was arrested on new charges and detained on February 16,
1999. Although the charges which warranted the new arrest were eventually
dismissed, plaintiff was sentenced on October 12, 1999 to one and a half
to three years incarceration for violating the terms of his probation.
While serving his sentence for violating the terms of his probation,
plaintiff received a sentence status summary report. The report indicated
that plaintiff was being credited for time served between February 19,
1999 to October 12, 1999. In late October, plaintiff sent defendant
Durison, who was the Director of Classification for the Philadelphia
Prison System, a letter requesting that the pre-commitment time served
from March 26, 1983 to April 14, 1983 and July 29, 1983 to January 25,
1984 a period totally approximately 6 months be credited
towards his sentence.
In a letter dated November 15, 1999, Durison responded to plaintiff's
request indicating that plaintiff's request was being rejected. After
conducting a personal investigation into the matter, Durison concluded
(and notified plaintiff) that the microfilm for the period in question
was not available and that in any event, plaintiff's pre-commitment time
was properly credited if plaintiff was being incarcerated for violating
Convinced that all of his pre-commitment time was not properly being credited, plaintiff again wrote Durison on January
16, 2000. Durison wrote a letter to Inmate Records on March 14, 2000
acknowledging a minor error (February 16, 1999 to October 12, 1999
instead of February 19, 1999 to October 12, 1999) in pre-commitment
credit. Plaintiff was copied on this letter.
In August or September of 2000, plaintiff filed a Post Conviction
Relief Act (PCRA) petition in the Pennsylvania courts seeking to receive
what plaintiff still believed was the proper pre-commitment credit.
During the pendency of the petition, plaintiff alleges (and both
defendants deny) that he sent additional correspondences to Durison in
letters dated July 28, 2001 and August 27, 2001 and a letter to defendant
Miller, dated October 6, 2001. On October 30, 2003, plaintiff's PCRA
petition was denied as moot plaintiff having been released from prison
and no longer serving his sentence.
In the instant action, plaintiff claims that his Eighth Amendment right
against excessive punishment was violated because he was imprisoned for a
term longer than that prescribed by statute for the crimes in which
plaintiff was convicted.*fn2 Plaintiff also alleges that his Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedurally due process were violated
when Durison and Miller failed to take "meaningful and expeditious" action to ensure
that plaintiff was properly credited pre-commitment time.
A. The Standard for Summary Judgment.
A court may grant summary judgment only when "the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the 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). A fact is "material" only if its
existence or non-existence would affect the outcome of the suit under
governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
249 (1986). An issue of fact is "genuine" only when there is sufficient
evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in favor of the
non-moving party regarding the existence of that fact. Id. In
determining whether there exist genuine issues of material fact, all
inferences must be drawn, and all doubts must be resolved, in favor of
the non-moving party. Coregis Ins. Co. v. Baratta & Fenerty,
Ltd., 264 F.3d 302, 305-06 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
Although the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence
of a genuine issue of material fact, in a case such as this, where the
non-moving party is the plaintiff, and therefore, bears the burden of proof at trial, that party must
present affirmative evidence sufficient to establish the existence of
each element of his case. Id. at 306 (citing Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Accordingly, a plaintiff
cannot rely on unsupported assertions, speculation, or conclusory
allegations to avoid the entry of summary judgment, see
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, but rather, she "must go beyond the
pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a
genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Service.,
214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000).
B. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Claim.
To establish § 1983 liability in this context, a plaintiff must
first demonstrate that a prison official had knowledge of the contention
that the sentence the prisoner is serving has been incorrectly calculated
and thus of the risk that unwarranted punishment was being, or would be,
inflicted. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1110 (3d Cir.
1989). Second, the plaintiff must show that the official either failed to
act or took only ineffectual action under the circumstances indicating
that his or her response to the problem was a product of deliberate
indifference to the prisoner's plight. Id. Lastly, a prisoner must show a
causal connection between the official's response to the problem and the
infliction of the unjustified detention. Id. Assuming at this stage that plaintiff's pre-commitment time was
improperly credited and that, therefore, plaintiff's sentence was in
excess of the maximum term mandated by statute in Pennsylvania,
plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim fails because he has failed to
establish that the excessive detention was the result of deliberate
indifference by prison officials.
Once Durison was notified by plaintiff of a possible miscalculation in
pre-commitment time, he conducted a personal investigation into the
matter. He found that the relevant records for the period in question
were missing and that in any event, plaintiff's pre-commitment time was
properly credited if plaintiff was being incarcerated for violating
probation. Within weeks of receiving plaintiff's first letter, Durison
responded to the plaintiff in a handwritten note and notified plaintiff
as to the circumstances which prevented him from granting plaintiff's
request. Two months after receiving plaintiff's second letter, Durison
copied plaintiff on a letter to the Inmate Records indicating that a
change in the pre-commitment credit was being made due to what appears to
have been a minor clerical error.
Deliberate indifference may be shown when a prison official "fail[s]
to address a sentence calculation problem brought to his
attention. . . ." Sample, 885 F.2d at 1110. It has been
demonstrated "in those cases where prison officials were put on notice
and then simply refused to investigate a prisoner's claim of sentence miscalculation." Moore v. Tartler,
986 F.2d 682, 686 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing Alexander v. Perrill,
916 F.2d 1392, 1398 (9th Cir. 1990)). Here, plaintiff has failed to offer
sufficient evidence that Durison failed to address or "simply refused to
investigate" plaintiff's situation. To the contrary, it is undisputed
that Durison investigated the circumstances surrounding plaintiff's
multiple arrests, multiple convictions, sentence and probation, and
notified plaintiff in two separate correspondences that Durison was
unable to change the period of the sentence by crediting pre-commitment
time served, as requested by plaintiff. Indeed, Durison found a minor
discrepancy in the pre-commitment credit dates and notified plaintiff of
a change to correct the error. Given these circumstances, the Court finds
that, once put on notice of plaintiff's concerns, Durison discharged his
duty to address the potential sentencing calculation problem by
investigating the matter and notifying plaintiff as to what the results
of the investigation were. The Court, therefore, concludes that plaintiff
has failed to proffer sufficient evidence from which a factfinder could
find the existence of deliberate indifference on the part of Durison.
Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against defendant Miller also fails.
Miller is the Clerk of Quarter Sessions in Philadelphia County. Her
office keeps the records and files used to determine whether or not pre-commitment time should be credited.
Although Miller performed what she calls "an extensive search" for
plaintiff's records, she has no personal involvement in calculating time
for inmate sentences. For this reason, the Court finds that plaintiff has
failed to establish the third prong of an excessive imprisonment claim,
i.e., a causal connection, between Miller's conduct and plaintiff's
alleged excessive imprisonment. With no authority to calculate
plaintiff's sentence, Miller cannot be held liable for any miscalculation
of the sentence. Moreover, the fact that Miller failed to respond to
plaintiff's letter in October of 2001 does not establish deliberate
indifference because others, Durison in this case, were available to
pursue and address the matter. Sample, 885 F.2d at 1110;
see also Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 67 (3d Cir.
1993)(finding that prison officials have no duty to respond to prisoner
complaints when other officials are already addressing the complaints).
For these reasons, the Court finds that there is no genuine issue of
material fact and that defendants are enttled to judgment as a matter of
law with regard to plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim. Thus, plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment is denied and defendants' motion for summary
judgment is granted as to this claim.
C. Plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments Claim. In support of his due process claim, plaintiff alleges that "[t]he
process that [he] received in connection with the rejection of his claims
was constitutionally inadequate" because his request for consideration of
the alleged sentencing calculation error was not given "meaningful" and
The Third Circuit has held that, because a prisoner's interest in
avoiding wrongful detention is a strong one, due process entitles a
prisoner with a meaningful and expeditious consideration of claims that
the term of prisoner's sentence has been miscalculated. Sample,
885 F.2d at 1115. Plaintiff in this case has failed to point to evidence
from which a factfinder would find that his claim was not meaningfully
and expeditiously considered by defendants.
As noted above, the evidence demonstrates that, once Durison was
notified of a potential problem, he investigated the matter and wrote
plaintiff a response within weeks. Two months after receiving a second
letter from plaintiff concerning the calculation of pre-commitment
credit, Durison copied plaintiff on a letter to Inmate Records indicating
that a small adjustment was being made. Although the adjustment was not
the relief that plaintiff sought, "[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)). That subsequent letters addressed to Durison regarding
the same issue may have been ignored does not implicate plaintiff's due
process rights because plaintiff's concerns had already been investigated
and addressed by this time.
As for Miller, she had no duty to respond to the letter alleged to have
been sent to her by plaintiff given that another prisoner official,
Durison, was already addressing plaintiff's issues. Durmer, 991
F.2d at 67. For these reasons, summary judgment is granted in favor of
defendants and against plaintiff as to the due process claim.
In view of the forgoing discussion, plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment is denied and defendant's motion for summary judgment is
An appropriate order follows. ORDER
AND NOW, this 26th day of May 2004, in
accordance with the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby
ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is
It is FURTHER ORDERED that JUDGMENT is entered
against plaintiff and in favor of defendants as to all of plaintiff's
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.