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Hill v. Peggy Everhart

July 19, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conaboy


Background Tyrone Hill, an inmate presently confined at the Smithfield State Correctional Institution, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (SCI-Smithfield), initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Service of the complaint was previously ordered.

Named as Defendants are Secretary Jeffrey Beard and Chief Grievance Officer Sharon Burks of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and two (2) SCI-Smithfield officials: Superintendent John Palakovich and Mail Room Supervisor Peggy Everhart. Plaintiff states that during the week of March 7, 2005, he received correspondence which included "downloaded internet legal material." Doc. 1, ¶ IV(1). This material which consisted of forty-five (45) pages and titled "Fingerprint Evidence and Admissibility" was "intended to be appended to plaintiff's State Appellate Court brief as a reference."*fn1 Id.

According to the complaint, the correspondence was rejected by Defendant Everhart on the basis that publications must come from an original source. On March 12, 2005, Plaintiff instructed the sender, an individual who is not identified as being Plaintiff's legal counsel, to resend the material. Two days later, Hill filed an institutional grievance regarding the rejection of his mail. He adds that as a result of filing a grievance, the item of mail at issue should have been held by the Mail Room Officer, presumably Defendant Everhart, until the appeal process was completed.

Plaintiff asserts that Defendants failed to follow proper procedure and made an improper determination with respect to the review of his administrative grievance. Specifically, it is alleged that in addition to the improper denial of relief on his grievance, Defendant Everhart held the internet material for ten (10) days and then returned the material to the sender. Hill next states that Defendants Palakovich, Burks, and Everhart advised him to obtain the material via Inmate General Welfare Funds and Intra-Library Loan (ILL). Plaintiff states that he attempted, but was unable to obtain the internet material via an ILL.

Plaintiff concludes that by failing to grant him administrative relief, Defendants acknowledged that there is an unwritten arbitrary policy restricting inmate receipt of internet legal materials and thus, interfering with his right of access to the courts. Hill seeks injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The Defendants responded to the complaint by submitting a motion to dismiss. See Doc. 16. In reply, Plaintiff has filed an opposing brief as well as a motion for declaratory judgment.


Defendants argue that they are entitled to an entry of dismissal on the grounds that: (1) the complaint fails to allege any personal involvement by defendants Beard, Burks, and Palakovich in any constitutional misconduct; (2) a viable claim of denial of access to the courts has not been alleged; and (3) there is no constitutional right to a prison grievance procedure.

A court, in rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, must accept the veracity of the plaintiff's allegations. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 1990). In Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit added that when considering a motion to dismiss based on a failure to state a claim argument, a court should "not inquire whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, only whether they are entitled to offer evidence to support their claims." "[A] complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt 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).

"The test in reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Holder v. City of Allentown, 987 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Additionally, a court must "accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them." Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990); Independent Enters., Inc. v. Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Auth., 103 F.3d 1165, 1168 (3d Cir. 1997). Finally, it is additionally well-settled that pro se complaints should be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). This Court will now discuss the Defendants' motion in light of the standards set forth above and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Personal Invvolvement

The Defendants' initial argument maintains that there are no allegations that Secretary Beard, Chief Grievance Officer Burks and Superintendent Palakovich were personally involved in any constitutional misconduct. See Doc. 17, p. 4. A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights claim, must plead two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).

Claims brought under § 1983 cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); ...

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