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Sharpe v. Costello

April 11, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Plaintiff Michael Sharpe, currently an inmate at the United States Penitentiary Lee, Jonesville, Virginia, and formerly an inmate at the United States Penitentiary at Canaan, Waymart, Pennsylvania ("USP-Canaan"), filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 on August 1, 2006, naming three Defendants employed by the United States Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). (Doc. No. 1.) Magistrate Judge Blewitt screened Plaintiff's original complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and recommended that the Court grant Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss all claims. (Doc. No. 9.) After a de novo review, the Court adopted Magistrate Judge Blewitt's report and recommendation, with the exception that the Court allowed Plaintiff an opportunity to amend his complaint. (Doc. No. 17)

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. No. 15) against Defendants Costello, Lindsay, Karam, Lappin, and Dodrill (collectively "Defendants").*fn1 In this Bivens action, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the named Defendants, who are all BOP officers and employees, for alleged violations of his First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights. Because Plaintiff is a prisoner who is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must screen his amended complaint pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, specifically 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).


Plaintiff alleges that on the evening of September 19, 2005, Defendant Costello, the supervising chaplain of USP-Canaan, attempted to sexually assault him after the evening Islamic prayer service. Before the prayer service, Plaintiff had asked Defendant Costello if he had a Holy Quran Plaintiff might use, and Defendant Costello asked him to "hold on a moment." After the prayer service and once the chapel area was empty, Defendant Costello invited Plaintiff to follow him to his office where he retrieved a Holy Quran from above a file cabinet. As Defendant Costello handed Plaintiff the Holy Quran with one hand, he "attempted to grab plaintiff's penis through plaintiff's clothing, which plaintiff deflected by turning aside and jumping back." Because of Plaintiff's quick reaction, Defendant Costello ended up grabbing Plaintiff's shirt above his crotch, which he used to forcibly pull Plaintiff towards him. At some point during the encounter, Defendant Costello stated that he was in charge and Plaintiff should do what he says. Plaintiff fought off Defendant Costello's advances, broke free, and ran out of the office with Defendant Costello "[giving] chase shouting obscenities and threatening remarks."

The following day, Plaintiff approached a prison officer to request a form to file a grievance against Defendant Costello. After describing the previous evening's incident three times to the officer, Plaintiff was given the grievance form. The same day he filed the grievance, Plaintiff was ordered to report to the Lieutenant's office, where non-party Lieutenant Kizzayyah questioned Plaintiff about the incident, had Plaintiff sign an affidavit, and informed Plaintiff that he would be placed in the special housing unit pending the investigation of his grievance. Lieutenant Kizzayyah informed Plaintiff that the temporary relocation was "standard procedure" and stated that "the only way for plaintiff not to go to the hole was for Plaintiff to withdraw the complaint." Plaintiff refused to withdraw the complaint and was taken to the special housing unit after a brief examination by the nurse. While in the special housing unit, from November 2005 to March 2006, Plaintiff alleges he was denied access to the law library by order of Defendants Lindsay and Karam.

On September 24, 2005, four days after he filed the grievance, Plaintiff was awakened by Defendant Costello, who was taunting Plaintiff through his cell door. Defendant Costello made obscene remarks and suggested "that plaintiff should have cooperated with [his] advances toward Plaintiff." On November 12, 2005, Defendant Costello again appeared at Plaintiff's cell door in the special housing unit and made taunting and rude remarks. Plaintiff's complaint indicates that at some point prior to this second taunting incident, he informed the special unit housing staff and Defendant Lindsay of Defendant Costello's verbal harassment.

On December 12, 2005, Plaintiff spoke with Defendants Lindsay and Karam about Defendant Costello's conduct and the special housing unit's "failure to deal with the situation." They indicated "that there was nothing that could be done about the situation" because Defendant Costello's job as chaplain required him to be in the special housing unit.

On January 3, 2006, members of the prison's executive staff were making their weekly "rounds" of the special housing unit. Plaintiff stopped Ms. Nicklin, a coordinator of the prison's administrative remedy program, to inquire as to the status of his administrative complaints. Non-party Captain Lara interrupted the conversation and informed Plaintiff "that his staff did not have to answer to an inmate." Lara then spoke with non-party Officer Barrette and gestured to Plaintiff during the conversation.

Later that day, Officer Barrette ordered Plaintiff to turn around to be handcuffed, which Plaintiff did. Plaintiff complained that the handcuffs were too tight and that the metal was cutting into his skin. Officer Barrette ignored Plaintiff's request to loosen the cuffs and escorted him to a holding cell in the special housing unit. Lara arrived at the holding cell and "threatened to hold off Plaintiff's transfer up until all grievances were answered unless Plaintiff agreed to withdraw his allegations." Plaintiff refused to respond to Lara, and Officer Barrette escorted Plaintiff back to his cell. Plaintiff estimates he spent about one and a half hours cuffed.

Shortly after returning to his regular cell, Plaintiff was ordered to pack up his property because he was being moved to a disciplinary segregation unit. Plaintiff informed non-party Officer Kelly that he was bleeding and needed medical attention, which he received.*fn3

In January 2006, Plaintiff spoke with his case manager Mrs. Smith about his transfer status. She informed plaintiff that he was about to be transferred, had a ten point custody level, and would be eligible for medium custody prison. Mrs. Smith later advised Plaintiff that the regional director*fn4 wanted Plaintiff moved to a higher custody institution for disciplinary purposes. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Lindsay, Dodrill, Karam, and non-party Lara "unlawfully increased Plaintiff's custody score from a level ('10') to a level ('17')" and gave Plaintiff a "vegue [sic] management variable" to place him over 500 miles from his release designation. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants took these actions in retaliation for his grievances.

In paragraphs 34 and 35 of his amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts that since 1985, Defendants Lappin, Dodrill, Karam, Lindsay, non-party Lara, their predecessors, and other unknown prison officials entered into unlawful collective bargaining agreements with national and local unions that were designed to "repeal prisoners['] Constitutional and statutory rights." He further alleges that under these unlawful agreements, employees were not fired when they received inmate complaints or were videotaped engaging in "prohibited criminal (or) administrative misconduct of harassment, assault, murder, and medical negligence. . ." Plaintiff alleges that these unlawful collective bargaining agreements compromised inmate safety and led to the events addressed in his amended complaint.


A court is required to review a pro se plaintiff's complaint prior to service of process under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e). This ...

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