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ODENWALT v. GILLIS

July 27, 2004.

ADAM ODENWALT, KRISTOPHER ODENWALT and JENNIFER ODENWALT, Plaintiffs
v.
FRANK D. GILLIS, PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MALACHY MANNION, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

Pending before the court are the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint, (Doc. No. 18), and two (2) motions for injunctive relief filed by the plaintiff, (Doc. Nos. 2 & 14).

I. Background

  The plaintiff, Adam Odenwalt, filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of himself and his two (2) minor children. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants have violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in denying him contact visits with his minor children. The defendants have moved to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

  The complaint alleges that the plaintiff was committed to the State Correctional Institution, Camp Hill, ("SCI-Camp Hill"), Pennsylvania, on January 10, 2002, after having been convicted on charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse*fn1 and sentenced to five (5) to ten (10) years of incarceration. The plaintiff notes that he has not been classified as a sexually violent predator under "Megan's Law."*fn2

  The plaintiff alleges that from January 10, 2002, through March 24, 2002, he was allowed three (3) contact visits with his minor children at SCI-Camp Hill. Subsequently, however, on March 25, 2002, his contact visits were terminated due to Department of Corrections Policy DC-ADM 812-2, which states, in pertinent part, "Any inmate who, as an adult or as a young adult offender, was ever convicted or adjudicated for physical or sexual offense against a minor is prohibited from having a physical contact visit with any minor child . . ." As a result, from April 2, 2002, through May 2, 2002, the plaintiff alleges that he was forced to have non-contact visits with his children. On May 3, 2002, the plaintiff was transferred to SCI-Coal Township, where he remained until November 30, 2002. During that time, the plaintiff alleges that he was allowed to have four (4) contact visits with his children. After this time, the plaintiff alleges that his contact visits were terminated and he was again only permitted non-contact visits with his children.

  According to the plaintiff, he has enrolled in and completed Phase I of the Sex Offender Program, as well as the Parenting Skills Program. Subsequent to the completion of these programs, the plaintiff alleges that various individuals, including a family therapist and a Department of Corrections Psychiatrist, recommended that he be allowed contact visits with his children. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. A). Despite these recommendations, the plaintiff alleges that defendant Gillis continued to deny him contact visits.

  After unsuccessfully grieving the issue, the plaintiff alleges that he hired an attorney to assist him in securing contact visits with his children. On July 28, 2003, a hearing was held in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania, after which an order was entered granting him contact visits with his children "as they may be arranged."*fn3 (Doc. No. 1, Ex. B). Despite the court's order, as of September 5, 2003, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants continue to deny him contact visits with his children. As a result, on October 27, 2003, the plaintiff filed the instant action in which he alleges violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

  II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

  Defendants' motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the parties fail to state a claim upon which relief can granted. Dismissal should only occur where it appears that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Accordingly, dismissal is appropriate "only if, after accepting as true all of the facts alleged in the complaint, and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, no relief could be granted under any set of facts consistent with the allegations of the complaint." Trump Hotel and Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing ALA, Inc. v. CCair, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994)).

  In deciding a motion to dismiss, a court should generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, the exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and "undisputably authentic" documents which plaintiff has identified as the basis of his claim. See Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. v. White Consolidated Industries, Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). It must also be remembered that when considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the important inquiry is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits of his claim, but only whether he is entitled to offer evidence in support of them. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 233, 236 (1974).

  III. Discussion

  As a preliminary matter, the plaintiff has named as a defendant the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. To this extent, federal courts can not consider suits by private parties against states and their agencies unless the state has consented to the filing of such a suit. Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241 (1985); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662 (1974). This immunity extends to suits asserting civil rights violations where the state is named as a defendant. Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 26 (3d Cir. 1981). "Under the Eleventh Amendment, a plaintiff other than the United States or a state may not sue a state in federal court without the latter state's consent unless Congress abrogates the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity pursuant to a constitutional provision granting Congress that power." Chittister v. Dep't. of Community & Economic Dev., 226 F.3d 223, 226 (3d Cir. 2000). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not waived its rights under the Eleventh Amendment. "By statute Pennsylvania has specifically withheld consent [to be sued]." Laskaris, 661 F.2d at 25 (citing Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. §§ 8521(b)). Additionally, § 1983 does not abrogate the Eleventh Amendment. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979). Further, an essential element of any claim under § 1983 is that the alleged wrongdoing was committed by a "person." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are `persons' under § 1983." Will v. Michigan Dep't. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Therefore, the instant action will be dismissed with respect to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

  With respect to the merits of the claims against defendant Gillis, at the outset, the court notes that the interests asserted by the plaintiff in the instant action are important ones. The United States Supreme Court has held that "parents have a liberty interest, protected by the Constitution, in having a reasonable opportunity to develop close relations with their children." Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U.S. 417, 483 (1990). Nevertheless, it has long been held that while "[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution," prison restrictions that implicate prisoners' constitutional rights may be upheld if they are "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84, 89 (1987). Noting that `courts are ill equipped to ...


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