United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
October 12, 2005.
TERRY BUTLER, Plaintiff,
ROBERT W. MEYERS, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. CAPUTO, District Judge
Terry Butler, an inmate confined at the Rockview State
Correctional Institution in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, commenced
this action with a pro se civil rights complaint filed pursuant
to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thereafter, Plaintiff
filed an amended complaint (Doc. 33). Named as Defendants are:
(1) Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Chief Grievance
Coordinators Thomas James and Sharon Burks; (2) SCI-Rockview
Superintendents Robert W. Meyers and Franklin J. Tennis; (3)
SCI-Rockview Medical Director Dr. John Symons; (4) SCI-Rockview
Assistant Librarian Donna L. Alters; and (5) Corrections Officers
Paul Kensinger and Shawn E. Myers. Plaintiff alleges that: (a)
Kensinger and Myers acted with deliberate indifference to
Plaintiff's physical safety during an altercation between
Plaintiff and another inmate on September 5, 2000; (b) Symons was
deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs; (c)
Meyers, James and Alters have denied Plaintiff meaningful access
to the courts; (d) Meyers has failed to properly train staff to
prevent denial of access to the courts; and (e) Tennis and Burks
have failed to properly supervise their staff to prevent denial
of access to the courts. By an Order dated March 28, 2005 (Doc.
47), Symons was dismissed from the action. Presently pending are the Defendants' motions (Docs. 38 and 48)
to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motions have been briefed, and
they are ripe for decision. For the reasons set forth below,
Defendants' motions will be granted.
Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 33) alleges that he was
assaulted by another inmate at SCI-Rockview on September 5, 2000,
and Myers and Kensington could have prevented the assault but
failed to do so. Plaintiff also claims that SCI-Rockview
officials have implemented and/or failed to amend policies that
limit Plaintiff's right of access to the courts.
On September 5, 2000, at approximately 8:40 p.m., Kensington
and Myers responded to a report of an inmate fight. (Doc. 33 at ¶
10.) When Myers arrived, he saw inmate James Brown ("Brown")
attempting to separate Plaintiff and inmate Edward Passamonte
("Passamonte"). Brown and Plaintiff told Myers that Plaintiff had
been attacked by multiple inmates. The two also informed Myers
and Kensington that one of the attackers had used a sock stuffed
with soap as a weapon, and that attacker had mingled with the
crowd when Myers and Kensington arrived.
A number of inmates then gathered in the television room and,
in the presence of Myers and Kensington, began threatening
Plaintiff. Passamonte was handcuffed and led from the area by
unidentified corrections officers, and Myers handcuffed
Plaintiff's hands behind his back. Myers and Kensinger then
positioned Plaintiff between them and led him toward the
television room. As they proceeded, inmates Keil and Harper
stepped out of the crowd, and Plaintiff identified Keil as the
inmate that attacked him with a soap filled sock. Myers and Kensinger led Plaintiff into the television room, where
they instructed him to stop and face the wall. Plaintiff
complied, and as he faced the wall he was attacked by Keil and
Harper. Myers and Kensinger ordered Keil and Harper to stop, but
they did not physically intervene until other corrections
officers arrived to assist them. As a result of the altercation,
Plaintiff was convicted of two misconducts for fighting, and he
was sentenced to 150 days disciplinary confinement.
As noted previously, Plaintiff also claims that implementation
of three SCI-Rockview policies have hindered his Constitutional
right to meaningful access to the courts. The first of these
challenged policies is the library sign-up procedure. To utilize
the prison library, inmates are required to sign up for
privileges between 7:20 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., between 1:30 p.m. and
2:00 p.m., or at 6:30 p.m. However, space is limited to five (5)
inmates at the first two periods and three (3) inmates in the
last period. Because the morning line is often very long, and
includes inmates seeking other services, Plaintiff claims that an
inmate seeking to sign up in the morning period must sometimes
choose between signing up for library privileges and having
breakfast. He claims that this system is inherently inadequate to
insure a prisoner's access to the courts.
Further, SCI-Rockview has a policy limiting inmate paper
purchases to twenty-five (25) sheets weekly. Plaintiff claims
that this limitation "has made it virtually impossible for the
Plaintiff to prepare his actual innocence petition for the court
in violation of his [right to access the courts]." (Doc. 33 at ¶
70.) Plaintiff's third challenge to SCI-Rockview policies relates
to the assistant librarian's no talking policy, which he also
claims infringes on his right of access to the courts.
In addition to the SCI-Rockview officials directly involved in
the aforementioned claims, Plaintiff alleges that the supervisory officials are
liable for failure to address and remedy the foregoing problems,
and the grievance review officers are liable for their failure to
grant Plaintiff's grievances regarding the alleged Constitutional
violations. Defendants claim that Plaintiff's complaint should be
A. Motion to Dismiss Standard
In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, the Court must
accept the Plaintiff's allegations as true. White v. Napoleon,
897 F.2d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 1990). In Nami v. Fauver,
82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996), the United States Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit added that when considering a motion to dismiss,
based on a Rule 12(b)(6) argument, a court should "not inquire
whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, only whether they
are entitled to offer evidence to support their claims."
Moreover, a motion to dismiss may only be granted if there is no
reasonable reading of the facts that would entitle Plaintiff to
relief. Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir.
2004). A complaint that does not establish entitlement to relief
under any reasonable interpretation is properly dismissed without
leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital,
293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002). Nevertheless, the Court is mindful that
pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
B. Section 1983 Standard
To state a viable § 1983 claim, Plaintiff must establish (1)
that the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person
acting under color of state law, and (2) that the conduct
deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured
by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806
(3d Cir. 2000). Both elements must be present to sustain a § 1983
action, and Plaintiff fails to satisfy the second. It is
undisputed that Defendants are state actors, but Defendants
contend that Plaintiff fails to allege deprivation of a
Constitutional or statutory right, privilege, or immunity. The
C. Deliberate Indifference
Plaintiff claims that Myers and Kensinger were deliberately
indifferent to his safety on September 5, 2000, when they failed
to protect him from assault by another prisoner. Specifically, he
claims that Kensinger and Myers "acted with deliberate
indifference to the Plaintiff's safety, by their failure to
exercise reasonable safety" to prevent assault on Plaintiff by
another prisoner. (Doc. 33 at 5.) The Constitutional issue
central to this claim is the Eighth Amendment requirement that
prison officials provide medical care, and make reasonable
efforts to assure prisoner safety. Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). That duty is violated when prison officials know
of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.
Id. at 837. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's deliberate
indifference claim is barred by the applicable statute of
D. Statute of Limitations
In reviewing the applicability of the statute of limitations to
an action filed pursuant to § 1983, a federal court must apply
the appropriate state statute of limitations which governs
personal injury actions. North Star Steel Co. v. Thomas,
515 U.S. 29, 34 (1995); Kingvision Pay-Per-View, Corp., Ltd. v. 898
Belmont, Inc., 366 F.3d 217, 220 (3d Cir. 2004). Pennsylvania's
applicable personal injury statute of limitations is two years.
See 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524(7); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176,
190 (3d Cir. 1993). The statute of limitations "begins to run from the time when the plaintiff knows
or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the
Section 1983 action." Gentry v. Resolution Trust Corp.,
937 F.2d 899, 919 (3d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff knew of the alleged failure to protect him from
assault on September 5, 2000. Plaintiff did not file his
complaint until February 23, 2004, over three years later.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's deliberate indifference claim is barred
by Pennsylvania's controlling statute of limitations, and
Defendants' motion to dismiss this claim will be granted.
E. Access to the Courts
Plaintiff alleges that institutional policies have denied him
meaningful access to the courts. Specifically, he claims that
restrictive library sign-up procedures, the library no-talking
policy, and prisoner paper purchase limitations of twenty-five
(25) sheets weekly have operated to deny him his right of
meaningful access to the courts. It is well-settled that prison
inmates have a Constitutional right of meaningful access to law
libraries, legal materials or legal services. Bounds v. Smith,
430 U.S. 817, 821-25 (1977). Failure to provide inmates with
legal research material or trained legal assistance can establish
a Constitutional violation. Gluth v. Kangas, 951 F.2d 1504,
1507 (9th Cir. 1991). The Supreme Court has recognized that:
"[t]he right that Bounds acknowledged was the
(already well-established) right of access to the
courts . . . Although [Bounds] affirmed a court
order requiring North Carolina to make law library
facilities available to inmates, it stressed that
this solution was merely `one constitutionally
acceptable method to assure meaningful access to the
courts. . . ."
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350-51 (1996).
However, "Bounds does not guarantee inmates to transform
themselves into litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder
derivative actions to slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires
to be provided are those that the inmates need in order to attack
their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to
challenge the conditions of their confinement. Lewis,
518 U.S. at 351-54.
Moreover, "Bounds did not create an abstract, freestanding
right to a law library or legal assistance. . . ." Lewis,
518 U.S. at 351-54. In order to set forth a viable claim under
Bounds, a plaintiff must allege an actual injury to his
litigation efforts; to establish actual injury, an inmate
plaintiff must demonstrate that a non-frivolous legal claim had
been frustrated or was being impeded. Id. at 349. This pleading
requirement of actual injury stems "from the doctrine of
standing, a constitutional principle that prevents courts of law
from undertaking tasks assigned to the political branches . . .
It is the role of courts to provide relief to claimants . . . who
have suffered, or will imminently suffer, actual harm. . . ."
Although Plaintiff alleges that an effort to challenge his
conviction was impeded, the allegation does not satisfy the
requirements of Bounds. Plaintiff claims that he suffered a
"default of his appeal to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal[s]
from the decision of the District Court . . . where he was
appealing from his conviction and sentence claiming actual
innocence." (Doc. 33 at ¶ 49.) However, he fails to attribute
this default to any of the challenged policies.*fn1 Instead,
Plaintiff alleges that the "default of his appeal" was caused by
"his arbitrary placement in the [Restricted Housing Unit]. . . ."
(Id.) Consequently, since Plaintiff fails to allege an actual
injury occasioned by the objectionable policies, he fails to identify any deprivation of access to the courts which has been
caused by Defendants' conduct. Thus, Plaintiff has failed to
satisfy the second prerequisite for a § 1983 action on this
claim, and even the most liberal and accommodating interpretation
of the Plaintiff's complaint will not redeem the pleading.
Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss this claim will be
granted. An appropriate Order follows. ORDER
AND NOW, THIS 12th DAY OF OCTOBER, 2005, in accordance
with the foregoing memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. Defendants' motions to dismiss (Docs. 38 and 48)
Plaintiff's amended complaint are GRANTED.
2. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment
in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff, and the
Clerk of Court shall mark this case closed.
3. Any appeal from this Order shall be deemed
frivolous, without probable cause, and not taken in
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