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Hughes v. Kostingo

February 15, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Arthur J. Schwab

Magistrate Judge Caiazza


Thomas A. Hughes, a state Department of Corrections ("DOC") prisoner is serving a life sentence. He has paid the $250.00 filing fee and filed this federal civil rights suit. He has sued three defendants. All three of them are DOC employees. The sum total of the allegations in his complaint are as follows:

C[orrections] O[ffiicer] I. P. Kostingo, between the yard and R.H.U. somehow lost my radio. [I was] told by property officer it was at security. But they told my counselor they didn't have it. Sgt. Hogan sent me a notice that my sneakers had come on 7-3-04. Upon being moved to AC/Status, I had my counselor check with him and he didn't have them. [He] said he sent them to me. Lt. Salvay was suppose[d] to investigate my complaint but he never spoke to me or others in this claim. Because of this I was told [that the] items never exist[ed] and my grievance was denied.

Doc. 1 at ¶ IV. C. By way of relief, Plaintiff seeks the court to have the Defendants "produce [the] missing items or reimburse" Plaintiff. Id. At ¶ VI.

A. Applicable Legal Principles

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), Congress adopted major changes affecting civil rights actions brought by prisoners in an effort to curb the increasing number of frivolous and harassing law suits brought by persons in custody. Santana v. United States, 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir. 1996). Because Plaintiff is a "prisoner" who has filed a civil action against "officer[s] or employee[s] of a governmental entity" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the screening provision of Section 1915A(b) apply herein. Similarly, because Plaintiff is a "prisoner" challenging "prison conditions",*fn1 the screening provision of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1) applies. These screening provisions permit a court to dismiss such complaints if the court determines them to be frivolous, malicious, or if they fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

In performing a court's mandated function of sua sponte reviewing a complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to determine if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a federal district court applies the same standard applied to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Tucker v. Angelone, 954 F. Supp. 134, 135 (E.D. Va. 1977) ("Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(e) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c) the courts are directed to dismiss any claims made by inmates that 'fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted'. This is the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)."), aff'd, 116 F.3d 473 (4th Cir. 1997) (Table).

The standard of review applicable to motions to dismiss filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and, therefore, the standard also under the PLRA, requires courts to determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief, and we must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. Holder v. City of Allentown, 987 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1993). The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient facts if it adequately put the defendants on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Since this is a civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff is entitled to relief if the complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution or federal law. Id.

In addition to the complaint, courts may consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case in disposing of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); Chester County Intermediate Unit v. Pennsylvania Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3d Cir. 1990).

B. Discussion

Plaintiff's allegations concerning the loss of his property, even construed broadly, implicate only three possible constitutional provisions: the Fourth Amendment; the Fourteenth Amendment's Procedural Due Process protections and; the Fourteenth Amendment's Substantive Due Process protections.

1) Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment secures the right of citizens to be free of an unreasonable seizure of their property. However, the protections of the Fourth Amendment with respect to seizures of a prisoner's "property" simply do not apply in the prison context. Doe v. Delie, 257 F.3d 309, 316 (3d Cir. 2001) ("The Hudson court confirmed that a Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is inconsistent with incarceration."); Jones v. Arpaio, 194 F.3d 1317 (Table) (unpublished) (9th Cir. 1999) ("Finally, there is no merit to Valandingham's contention that jail officials violated his constitutional rights when they failed to return documents, correspondence, and postage seized following a search of his cell. Valandingham presented no evidence that the challenged conduct was unconstitutional per se, see Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 527-28 (1984) (holding that Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures does not apply in prison) . . . ."). Indeed, what the Court held in Taylor v. Knapp, 871 F.2d 803 (9th Cir.1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 868 (1989) is equally applicable here. In Taylor, the prison authorities were accused of seizing the property of a prisoner and the property of a non profit corporation of which the prisoner plaintiff was an officer. The plaintiff even alleged that the prison authorities had converted the property to their own use. The plaintiff alleged that the deprivation of his ...

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