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Meekins v. Beard

March 1, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Edwin M. Kosik United States District Judge


William Meekins is currently an inmate confined in the Special Management Unit ("SMU") at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Camp Hill"). He filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 8, 2006. The matter proceeds on an amended complaint filed on March 23, 2006 (Doc. 7). Named as defendants are Jeffery Beard, Secretary of the Department of Corrections, and seven (7) employees of the DOC, some employed at SCI-Camp Hill.*fn1 In the complaint Plaintiff alleges that he was arbitrarily transferred to the SMU without due process of law and that his transfer was in retaliation for separate litigation he previously filed in this court. He also contends that he was denied adequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. As relief, he seeks declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief. Presently pending is Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 19) and motion to stay discovery (Doc. 22), as well as Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery (Doc. 24), motion for decisions with regard to outstanding motions (Docs. 36, 39, 43) and motions for enlargement of time to respond to any filings due on his part (Docs. 37, 41).

I. Allegations in the Complaint

Plaintiff alleges that on November 16, 2005, he was transferred from the State Correctional Institution at Waymart to the SMU at SCI-Camp Hill. He claims that this transfer was in retaliation for his filing of a previous lawsuit in this court and, as such, in violation of his First Amendment rights.*fn2 He further contends that the transfer occurred without first affording him due process of law as required by the Fourteenth Amendment and DC-ADM 802-2. According to Plaintiff, prior to placement in the SMU he is entitled to notice and a hearing which he claims were never provided to him. Plaintiff does state that he was seen on four (4) occasions by the Program Review Committee (Defendants Nish, Delrosso and Klopotoski), but was never provided with notice and reasons for the placement in the SMU or an opportunity to respond to the transfer.

Plaintiff contends that he was seen by Defendants Southers and Chambers on November 22, 2005, and that although he informed them of his arbitrary placement in the SMU, they ignored him. Thereafter, on November 26, 2005, Plaintiff pursued the matter through the prison's inmate grievance system - grievance #137071. He was unsuccessful and thereafter appealed to Superintendent Kelchner, who found the grievance to be without merit. A final level appeal to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals was ultimately dismissed on April 6, 2006.

Plaintiff argues that being housed in the SMU deprives him of being considered for parole, release into mainstream prison population and educational programs. He also challenges the conditions to which he is subjected while confined in the SMU and claims staff retaliate against him and deprive him of medical care for a severe condition he became infected with while at SCI-Waymart, as well as dental care for seven (7) "carious lesions". (Doc. 1, Compl. at 9.)

II. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint advancing three (3) arguments. The first argument is that Defendants Delrosso, Nish and Klopotoski should be dismissed because Plaintiff did not name them in his inmate grievance as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). They next argue that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed to the extent he seeks money damages against Defendants in their official capacities. Finally, Defendants maintain that Plaintiff's due process claim is subject to dismissal because the SMU at SCI-Camp Hill does notconstitute an atypical and significant hardship.*fn3 Defendants do not appear to address Plaintiff's medical and retaliation claim in their motion.

A motion to dismiss should not be granted if "under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff [ ] may be entitled to relief. . . ." Langford v. City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000). In making that decision, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 481-82 (3d Cir. 2000), and construe any reasonable inferences to be drawn from them in the plaintiff's favor. See United States v. Occidental Chemical Corp., 200 F.3d 143, 147 (3d Cir. 1999). Consequently, the Court need not accept "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Likewise, the Court need not "conjure up unpled allegations or contrive elaborately arcane scripts" in order to breathe life into an otherwise defective complaint. Gooley v. Mobil Oil Corp., 851 F.2d 513, 514 (1st Cir. 1988). A district court should provide leave to amend "when amendment could cure the deficiency and would not be inequitable." Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover, however, is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Id.

The court will first address the exhaustion issue and deny the motion with regard to this ground for the following reasons. Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to Defendants Nish, Delrosso and Klopotoski because these defendants were not named in the inmate grievance filed by Plaintiff as required by the PLRA. In support of their argument, Defendants attach the supporting declaration of Tracy Pollock, Administrative Office in the DOC, employed in the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals. In her position, Pollock assists the Chief Grievance Coordinator. (Doc. 21, Pollock Declar.) Attached as exhibits are copies of the grievance and appeals filed by Plaintiff with regard to his transfer from SCI-Waymart to the SMU at SCI-Camp Hill.*fn4

To the extent Defendants maintain that the PLRA requires that all defendants sued in this action be named in the grievance, the motion to dismiss is denied. It has recently been held by the United States Supreme Court that exhaustion under the PLRA is not per se inadequate simply because an individual named in the complaint was not named in previous administrative grievances. See Jones v. Bock, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 910, 923 (2007).*fn5 The determination as to the sufficiency of the exhaustion in such cases is left to the District Court. Id. It is this court's finding that after reviewing the exhibits submitted by Defendants, exhaustion was sufficient with regard to Defendants Nish, Delrosso and Klopotoski. Plaintiff's official inmate grievance #137071 specifically states that he is filing the grievance regarding the SMU transfer/due process issue against Beard, Shaffer, Kelchner, Southers, Chambers ". . . and John Doe 1, 2, 3 . . . ." (Doc. 21, Ex. A.) When Plaintiff filed this civil rights action he listed the Defendants in the action in the same manner. When he filed his amended complaint he identified the Doe defendants as Nish, Delrosso and Klopotoski. In reviewing the content of the grievance, it is logical that the Does referred to therein were Nish, Delrosso and Klopotoski as they were the members of the PRC and an integral part of the events concerning the SMU transfer. Accordingly, the court finds that the SMU transfer issue was exhausted with regard to these three defendants and the motion to dismiss said defendants on this basis will be denied.

Defendants next seek dismissal of all claims contained in the complaint for money damages set forth against Defendants in their official capacities. The court agrees that any such claims are subject to dismissal. Unless consented to by the state, the Eleventh Amendment prevents suits from being brought in federal court against a state or one of its agencies or departments for money damages. Pennhurst v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-100 (1984). A suit brought against an individual acting in his or her official capacity is similarly deemed to be a suit against the state, and as such, barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

The final ground advanced by Defendants in their motion is that Plaintiff's due process claim should be dismissed because the conditions in SCI-Camp Hill's SMU do not constitute an atypical and significant hardship. This court has repeatedly found no liberty interest with respect to claims that due process rights have been violated by not giving an inmate a hearing prior to placement in the SMU upon transfer to SCI-Camp Hill. See Spencer v. Kelchner, Civ. No. 3:06-1099, 2007 WL 88084 slip op. at *10-*12 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 9, 2007)(Kosik, J.); Francis v. Dodrill, 2005 WL 2216582 (M.D. Pa., Sept. 12, 2005); Stotts v. Dodrill, Civil No. 04-0043 (M.D. Pa., Feb. 7, 2005). In these cases, the court has found that an inmate's placement in the SMU does not implicate his due process rights. In their motion to dismiss, Defendants also argue that Plaintiff's due process rights were not implicated as his confinement in the SMU does not constitute an atypical and significant hardship.

A due process liberty interest "in avoiding particular conditions of confinement may arise from state policies or regulations." Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 222 (2005). The Due Process Clause protects a prisoner's right to "freedom from restraint, which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship ...

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