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Heller v. Keenhold

March 24, 2006

JAMES EDWARD HELLER, PLAINTIFF
v.
DAVID KEENHOLD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Pending before the Court is Defendants' collective motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. In response to an order to show cause why Defendants' motion should not be deemed unopposed, Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, filed a brief in opposition. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted. Additionally, Plaintiff's pending motions for continued discovery and for permission to obtain affidavits from other prison inmates in support of his claims will be denied.

I. Introduction

This action, commenced on August 24, 2004, represents the latest in a series of civil rights actions Plaintiff has brought against the Monroe County Correctional Facility ("MCCF") and its personnel relating to several periods during which Plaintiff has been incarcerated at the jail.*fn1 On October 20, 2004, Plaintiff amended the complaint. Defendants filed a timely answer.

Plaintiff brings two distinct claims in this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, Plaintiff claims that following his intake at MCCF in April 2004, he was deprived of a copy of a criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause relating to Plaintiff's prosecution for bank robbery and related offenses. Plaintiff contends that he surrendered copies of the documents when he was booked as a pre-trial detainee, and that the documents were not returned to him. Plaintiff claims the failure to return the documents violated his procedural and substantive due process right of access to the courts in order to defend against the charges against him. Secondly, Plaintiff claims that he was housed in administrative custody at MCCF in retaliation for his filing numerous prior grievances and actions against MCCF personnel, in violation of the First Amendment. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, monetary and punitive damages, and other equitable relief.

II. Background

On April 8, 2004, Plaintiff was incarcerated in the MCCF as a pretrial detainee. Upon intake, Plaintiff provided the MCCF booking officer with a copy of his criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause relating to the criminal charges brought against him in Monroe County. Plaintiff was incarcerated at the MCCF as a pretrial detainee awaiting trial on a number of criminal charges relating to bank robbery. On September 1, 2004, Plaintiff pled guilty in Monroe County to two counts of robbery and one count of attempting to elude a police officer. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts, Ex. A.)

On April 12, 2004, Plaintiff requested representation by a public defender in connection with the criminal charges against him. Defendants represent that Plaintiff's criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause were thereafter provided to Plaintiff's public defender, and Plaintiff does not dispute this fact. Additionally, Defendants note that these documents were on public file with the Monroe County Clerk of Court and have at all times been a matter of public record. Defendants claim that they did not retain copies of Plaintiff's criminal complaint or affidavit of probable cause.*fn2

At some point shortly after he was incarcerated with MCCF, Plaintiff requested a copy of his criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause. On April 14, 2004, Defendant Karl Abel responded in writing that he no longer had possession of either document and that Plaintiff should obtain copies of the documents from his public defender. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts, Ex. A at 17.) Additionally, Defendant Abel advised Plaintiff that he would endeavor to provide copies of other court documents in the possession of MCCF, but that he could not provide the requested criminal paperwork because he did not have it in his possession. (Id. 16.) At no point during Plaintiff's criminal proceedings, which were ongoing from April 2004 until his guilty plea on September 1, 2004, did Plaintiff request that the court provide him with the requested documents, or otherwise advise the court that he did not have access to such documents. (Id. 143-165.) Similarly, the record taken from Plaintiff's criminal proceedings does not indicate that Plaintiff or his counsel ever sought a continuance or any other relief on the basis that Plaintiff had been deprived of his criminal complaint or affidavit of probable cause or any other document. (Id.)

On April 8, 2004, Plaintiff was assigned to be housed in the B-Unit at MCCF, which is the administrative housing unit at the jail. MCCF officials have represented that they elected to house Plaintiff in administrative segregation based upon his having had 20 misconduct charges filed against him during prior periods of incarceration at MCCF, and because Plaintiff had been charged with committing several violent crimes. Plaintiff's prior misconduct charges included charges for fighting, assault, using abusive language, insolence, and destruction of County property. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts, Ex. A at 2.) During his prior incarceration with MCCF, Plaintiff had been placed in the administrative housing unit on eight separate occasions due to misbehavior. On May 3, 2004, Defendant Warden Keenhold explained in writing to Plaintiff the reasons for his housing classification, noting his history of misconduct and the fact that Plaintiff had one of the most "abysmal disciplinary records that [he had] seen in a long time." (Id. 2-3.) Nevertheless, Warden Keenhold also advised Plaintiff that the MCCF classification committee would continue to monitor Plaintiff's behavior and would consider the possibility of lowering Plaintiff's classification status in the event Plaintiff demonstrated the ability to be housed in the general population. (Id.)

On May 17, 2004, Plaintiff was moved to A-Unit, which is a maximum security unit at MCCF where he was housed with inmates charged with serious crimes. On July 7, 2004, Plaintiff was moved back to B-Unit into administrative segregation after he reportedly participated in sabotaging A-Unit's television set to prevent black inmates from watching Black Entertainment Television, a cable television channel that provides programming aimed at African Americans.*fn3 (Id. 7.) Defendants have represented that Plaintiff's participation in this act aggravated tensions within A-Unit.

On October 1, 2004, Plaintiff was transferred from MCCF to the Pike County Correctional Facility. Defendant is currently incarcerated at SCI-Camp Hill where he is serving time for his convictions relating to bank robbery.

III. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is proper 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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis which would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 249. The nonmoving party receives the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Sempier v. Johnson & Higgins, 45 F.3d 724, 727 (3d Cir. 1995).

Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in the complaint. Instead, it must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing ...


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