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Rauso v. Zimmerman

December 14, 2006

GENNARO RAUSO, PLAINTIFF
v.
CHARLES ZIMMERMAN, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Gennaro Rauso ("Rauso") is a former inmate of the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute at Waymart ("SCI-Waymart"). (Doc. 31 ¶ 3.) Rauso brings multiple claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several SCI-Waymart employees, namely former Superintendent Charles Zimmerman ("Zimmerman"), Property Room Sergeant Vincent McCloskey ("McCloskey"), Security Lieutenant Peter Cwalina ("Cwalina"), and former Mailroom Supervisor Lillian Rollison ("Rollison"). (Doc. 31 ¶¶ 1, 4; Doc. 307 at 4-5.)

Presently before the court are the parties' briefs (Docs. 307, 309) regarding the dispositive issues raised in defendants' pretrial memorandum (Doc. 296). For the reasons that follow, summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

The dispute in this case centers around Rauso's direct appeal of his criminal conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.*fn2 Through counsel, Rauso filed a brief in direct appeal of his conviction on July 31, 1995. (Doc. 307 at 6.) Three months later, Rauso dismissed his counsel and petitioned the court for leave to proceed pro se, which was granted. (Doc. 307 at 1, 7.) Rauso was also granted leave to file a supplemental brief in support of his direct appeal, which was to be considered in conjunction with the brief previously filed by counsel. (Doc. 296 at 9-10.)

One month prior to dismissing his counsel, Rauso was transferred from SCIWaymart to a prison in Camden County, New Jersey. (Doc. 31 ¶ 7; Doc. 307 at 1, 6.) Rauso contends that because of his transfer to New Jersey, he was denied access to legal materials that were necessary to the preparation of his supplemental brief.*fn3

(Doc. 31 ¶ 10; Doc. 307 at 2.) Specifically, Rauso contends that he was denied access to: (1) notes of testimony and other documents from his criminal trial, and

(2) Pennsylvania legal research materials. (Doc. 31 ¶¶ 9, 20.) Rauso further contends that he contacted each of the defendants at SCI-Waymart*fn4 and requested that they forward the necessary materials to him, but they refused to do so. (Doc. 31 ¶¶ 10-12; Doc. 307 at 2.)

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Superior Court denied Rauso's direct appeal. (Doc. 280 at 402-09; Doc. 307 at 8.) Thereafter, Rauso commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that defendants violated his constitutional rights by refusing to forward his legal materials from SCI-Waymart to the New Jersey facility. Specifically, Rauso contends that defendants violated: (1) his First and Fourteenth Amendment right of access to the courts,*fn5 (2) his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to proceed pro se,*fn6 (3) his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, (4) his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process,*fn7 and (5) his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws.*fn8 (Doc. 31 ¶¶ 28-30, 32, 36; Doc. 307 at 3; Doc. 303.)

In 2001, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 199), which was fully briefed and ripe for disposition. Thereafter, Rauso filed a Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") petition in the Pennsylvania Superior Court, collaterally attacking his criminal conviction. (Doc. 242 at 4.) The instant matter was stayed pending disposition of Rauso's PCRA petition.*fn9 At the same time, defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 199) was denied as moot without prejudice to defendants' right to re-file the motion at the conclusion of the stay. (Doc. 249.) Rauso's PCRA petition was ultimately denied (see Doc. 257 at 3), and the stay was lifted (see Doc. 262). However, defendants did not re-file their motion for summary judgment.

The case proceeded to pretrial conference, wherein the defendants raised several jurisdictional and substantive arguments. (Doc. 303.) Specifically, defendants argued that: (1) this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine,*fn10 (2) Rauso's state law claim is barred by sovereign immunity, (3) Rauso's First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were not violated, and (4) Rauso's claims are barred by qualified immunity. (Doc. 296 at 5.) Finding that these issues were best suited for summary disposition,*fn11 the court ordered the parties to submit briefs addressing these dispositive issues. (Doc. 305.) All briefs have been submitted, and the issues are ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief.*fn12 Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law committed by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

Id. Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but merely a method for vindicating violations of other federal laws. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To establish a claim under this section, the plaintiff must show a deprivation of a "right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States . . . by a person acting under color of state law."*fn13 Id. (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Satisfaction of these elements, however, does not guarantee recovery. Certain officials, including state actors who perform "discretionary functions," are shielded from suit if their conduct did not violate a "clearly established statutory or constitutional right[] of which a reasonable person would have known." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01 (2001); Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999). This doctrine, known as "qualified immunity," provides not only a defense to liability, but "immunity from suit." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 ...


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