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Askew v. Kelchner

March 7, 2007


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


This is a § 1983 action filed by William Askew, Sr. ("Askew"), a former prisoner in the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill"). Presently before the court is the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 28), filed by defendants Christopher Chambers ("Chambers") and Jennifer Hendricks ("Hendricks"),*fn1 both of whom are employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("Department"). (See Doc. 20 at 4.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn2

The gravamen of Askew's argument is that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by unlawfully detaining him beyond his maximum sentence.*fn3 (See Doc. 32 at 6.) Specifically, Askew alleges that: (1) Chambers improperly calculated his release date, and (2) Chambers' improper calculation resulted, at least in part, from his reliance on a Department policy that had been implemented by Hendricks.

A. The Defendants

From 1993 to 1996, Chambers was employed as a records specialist for the Department.*fn4 (Doc. 31-2 at 113.) As a records specialist, Chambers would receive a DC-300B form for each inmate who entered the Pennsylvania prison system. (Id. at 119-20.) A DC-300B form, which is forwarded to the prison from the sentencing court, is a court commitment document that includes the prisoner's sentence computation.*fn5 Upon receiving the form, it was Chambers' responsibility to calculate each inmate's minimum and maximum release dates in accordance with the sentencing instructions on the DC-300B. (Id. at 119-20.) If pre-commitment credit was granted by the sentencing court, Chambers would take that information into account when determining the prisoner's correct minimum and maximum terms of incarceration and would then transfer that information to a DC-16 sentence status summary form. (Id.)

Beginning in 1997, Hendricks was employed as the records coordinator for the Department's central office in Camp Hill. (Id. at 66-67, 89.) As records coordinator, Hendricks was responsible for developing and implementing administrative policies to ensure that the Department performed sentence computations appropriately. (Id. at 95-96; Doc. 41 ¶ 3.) One such policy directed records specialists to conclude that an inmate's pre-commitment credit was zero unless an amount for pre-commitment credit had been specified on a court commitment document, such as a sentencing order or DC-300B [hereinafter "zero credit policy"].*fn6 (Doc. 31-2 at 103-04.)

B. Askew's Sentence

On June 21, 1994, the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County sentenced Askew to a term of imprisonment of five to ten years with "credit for time served." (Doc. 34 at 1.) On July 13, 1994, Askew was received as a prisoner at SCI-Camp Hill. (Doc. 31 ¶ 7; Doc. 41 ¶ 7.) On the same day, the Luzerne County Clerk's office completed a DC-300B form to be sent to SCI-Camp Hill. The DC-300B did not specify an amount of pre-commitment credit to be awarded. (Doc. 31-2 at 29-30.) Instead, written in the section regarding pre-commitment credit was the phrase "credit for time served." (Id. at 29-30.) In addition to the DC-300B, Chambers requested and received a copy of Askew's pre-sentence investigation report, which indicated that Askew was entitled to 330 days of pre-commitment credit. (Doc. 33 at 7; Doc. 34-5 at 1.) Askew concedes that the pre-sentence investigation report was not a court commitment document. (See Doc. 41 at 3.)

Utilizing solely the DC-300B, Chambers computed Askew's sentence without including any pre-commitment credit and transferred that information to a DC-16 sentence status summary form. (Doc. 31-2 at 103-04.) Because the pre-sentence investigation report was not a court commitment document, Chambers' decision not to rely upon it was in compliance with the zero credit policy as implemented by Hendricks. (Doc. 34 ¶ 34; Doc. 37 ¶ 34.)

During 1996, Askew received a copy of his DC-16 sentence status summary form and voiced his concern to Chambers that he believed he was entitled to pre-commitment credit. (Doc. 33 at 3.) When Askew notified Chambers of his concern, Chambers was no longer a records specialist; he had accepted a position as a corrections counselor. (Doc. 31-2 at 116.) As a result, Chambers took no action to investigate Askew's concerns, and Askew served 151 days beyond his maximum term of imprisonment.*fn7 (Doc. 20 at 4.)

C. Procedural History

On March 24, 2004, Askew filed the instant action, alleging that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by improperly calculating his maximum sentence. (Doc. 1.) On July 18, 2005, Askew filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 20.) Thereafter, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment (Doc. 28), alleging, inter alia, that the doctrine of qualified immunity shields them from liability. (See Doc. 32 at 19-22.) The motion has been fully briefed and is 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 adduce "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. 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. ยง 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 ...

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