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Peterson v. Bussard

October 23, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Michael U. Peterson, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pennsylvania, commenced this action pro se by filing a civil rights complaint pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants are the following Pennsylvania Department of Corrections officials: Lt. Bussard, Kerri Cross, J. Scekers, Ms. Chamberlain, D.J. Wakefield, T. Wingard, and Robert S. Bitner. Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights when he was placed in disciplinary custody without proper notice and without an opportunity to be heard.

II. Background

On April 11, 2005, Defendant Bussard ordered two corrections officers to search cell A-11, which was occupied by inmate Donald Bound. During the search, the officers found "approximately 2.7 grams of white and yellow tablets of suspected steroids." (Doc. 1, Ex. A.) Inmate Bound admitted that the tablets were steroids, and upon investigation four confidential informants testified that the steroids were purchased from Plaintiff. (Id.) On May 10, 2005, Plaintiff was issued a misconduct report for his involvement in distribution of the steroids. (Id.)

A prison disciplinary hearing was held on May 17, 2005, and Plaintiff was found guilty of possessing contraband. Plaintiff alleges that, as a result, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole sanctioned him with revocation of constructive parole and imposition of nine months back-time. Plaintiff claims that the hearing was improper because: (1) it was held prior to receipt of a laboratory report from the Pennsylvania State Police; (2) Plaintiff did not receive 24 hours advance notice; (3) Plaintiff was not provided an opportunity to be heard; and (4) Plaintiff was not permitted to call witnesses. (Doc. 1 at 5 ¶ 9(F)). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory and injunctive relief, fees and costs, and expungement of the misconduct.

Presently pending is Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 8) Plaintiff's complaint. The motion has been fully briefed and it is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.*fn1

III. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the Plaintiff's allegations in the complaint as true, as well as any reasonable inferences therefrom. Taliaferro v. Darby Twp. Zoning Bd., 458 F.3d 181, 188 (3d Cir. 2006). 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). Nevertheless, the Court is mindful that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, the exhibits attached thereto, matters of public record, and "undisputedly authentic" documents. See Angstadt v. Midd-West School Dist., 377 F.3d 338, 342 (3d Cir. 2004); Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

Generally, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir. 2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004). Since the court finds that Plaintiff's complaint does not establish entitlement to relief under any reasonable interpretation, and amendment would be futile, the complaint will be dismissed without leave to amend.

B. Fourteenth Amendment Protection

Plaintiff claims that he was denied due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment provides, in pertinent part: "No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . ." The Supreme Court has mandated a two-part analysis of a procedural due process claim: first, "whether the asserted individual interests are encompassed within the . . . protection of 'life, liberty or property' " and second, "if protected interests are implicated, we then must decide what procedures constitute 'due process of law.' " Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672 (1977). If there is no protected liberty or property interest, it is unnecessary to analyze what procedures were followed when an alleged deprivation of an ...

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