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Stankowski v. Farley

May 17, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court are plaintiff's objections (Doc. 8) to the report and recommendation of Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt (Doc. 5) in this case. The matter has been briefed and is ripe for disposition.


This case arises out of plaintiff's guilty plea and incarceration in Pike County, Pennsylvania.*fn1 On August 15, 2006, plaintiff filed a pro se suit in this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the attorney who represented him in that case (Defendant Farley), the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted him (Defendant Tonkin), the judge who sentenced him (Defendant Kameen), the probation and parole officers assigned to him (Defendants Davis and Thiel), various county prison officials and employees who he claimed violated his constitutional rights during his incarceration (Defendants Lowe, Cronin and Williams) and the company hired to supervise medicine in the prison (Defendant Prime Care Medical). (See Complaint (Doc. 1)). Plaintiff had been paroled on July 24, 2005. (Id. at 3-4). Plaintiff sought a jury trial to address his claims of unwarranted seizure of personal property, "pain and suffering, mental anguish and depression, extended incarceration and sanctions exemplified by the defendant's [sic]." (Id. at 4). He asked for monetary damages of $73,000 ($100 a day for two years of incarceration), punitive damages, "and related sanctions." (Id.).

In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that Defendant Farley, his public defender, engaged in a conspiracy with other defendants to deny plaintiff his constitutional rights. (Id. at ¶ 1B).*fn2 Plaintiff also claimed that Farley refused to investigate the charges against the plaintiff, but instead insisted on plaintiff's guilt. (Id. at ¶ 1C). Plaintiff alleged malpractice by Farley in explaining the consequences of pleading guilty in the case. (Id. at ¶ 1D). He also claimed that Farley refused to file any appeals in the case, insisting that plaintiff lacked standing to do so. (Id. at ¶ 1E). At the plaintiff's sentencing, Defendant Farley attempted to prevent plaintiff from addressing the court in the manner that he wished to and instead insisted that plaintiff simply ask for a fair sentence. (Id. at ¶ 1F). Defendant Farley also failed to appear at the court's first attempt to sentence plaintiff, adding increased time and expense to both the plaintiff and the court. (Id. at ¶ 1F).*fn3 Plaintiff also alleges that Farley misled him about the length of his sentence; Farley told him that his sentence would not be more than ninety days, but plaintiff served thirteen and one-half months in prison, as well as additional sanctions. (Id. at ¶ 1G). Plaintiff had agreed to a guilty plea, believing he would be sentenced to only ninety days. (Id. at ¶ 1H). He alleges that he signed this plea due to the "lies, manipulation and trickery" of Defendant Farley. (Id. at ¶ 1I). After this plea, Defendant Farley refused to represent defendant in any appeals, and he was forced to proceed pro se. (Id. at ¶ 1K). Plaintiff alleged as well that Defendant Farley violated lawyer-client confidentiality by revealing information to a probation officer in preparation for sentencing. (Id. at ¶ 1M).

Plaintiff also alleges that he was denied access to and review of court documents vital to his case, such as reports of discovery, his criminal history report, the probation office's pre-sentence report, certain (unnamed) documents forwarded to the jail from the sentencing court and a transcript of a court hearing. (Id. at ¶ 1N).

Plaintiff blames defendant Judge Kameen for his lack of access to the transcript. (Id.). He contends that Defendants Farley, Tonkin and Davis also prevented his access to these documents, and that Lt. Williams did not allow him to review the documents sent to the Pike County Jail. (Id.).

Other defendants besides Attorney Farley, plaintiff claims, participated in a conspiracy to convince him to accept an unjust sentence in violation of his rights. Assistant District Attorney Tonkin, for instance, allegedly conspired with his co-defendants and "incorporated malfeasance against the plaintiff by denying him access and review of pertinent documents" essential to plaintiff's defense. (Id. at ¶ 2A). Tonkin also assured that the plea agreement to which plaintiff agreed "was not honored, not stated in open court, nor submitted to plaintiff's counsel" or plaintiff himself. (Id. at ¶ 2B). Defendant Brian Davis, a Pike County probation officer, attempted to convince plaintiff to admit to a crime he had not committed and which was irrelevant to the charges plaintiff faced. (Id. at ¶ 3A). Davis also improperly used previous "bad acts" by the plaintiff in determining plaintiff's sentence. (Id. at ¶ 3B). He failed to provide plaintiff an opportunity to review the pre-sentence report. (Id. at ¶ 3C). Defendant Davis also allegedly "incorporated biased, prejudicial and malicious judgment of character of the plaintiff's demeanor" into his report, demonstrating a "vindictive" and "negligent" attitude toward plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 3D).

According to the plaintiff, Judge Kameen, who sentenced him, did not announce this sentence in open court on January 22, 2004. (Id. at ¶ 4A). Judge Kameen also allegedly failed to discuss with plaintiff or his counsel the proposed sentence, and did not allow plaintiff to address the nature of the sentence in court. (Id. at ¶ 4B). The sentence Judge Kameen handed down, plaintiff asserts, was "illegal and excessive," and the judge failed to issue a written memorandum explaining his deviations from the sentencing guidelines. (Id. at ¶¶ 4C-D). Judge Kameen also apparently failed to address any of the plaintiff's pro-se post-trial motions. (Id. at ¶ 4E).

Mistreatment of the plaintiff allegedly continued when he entered prison at the Pike County Correctional Facility in Lords Valley, Pennsylvania. Warden Craig Lowe, plaintiff claims, permitted discrimination to occur at the facility by allowing his subordinates "to deny plaintiff proper medical treatment," to charge "exhorbitant fee's [sic] for the mailing" of legal materials, to prevent plaintiff from entering a drug and alcohol treatment, and to give him a narcotic that prevented his entry into such a program. (Id. at ¶ 5A).*fn4 Warden Lowe also failed to "honor indigent status." (Id. at ¶ 5B). Defendant Thiel, in his role as parole officer, also allegedly participated in this scheme to prevent plaintiff from gaining access to a substance abuse treatment program. (Id. at ¶ 8A). Plaintiff claims that Defendant Thiel prevented him from learning the real reason for this denial. (Id.). Thiel allegedly conspired with Defendant Williams to achieve this end. (Id.).

Prime Care Medical was also involved in this alleged mistreatment. The company, apparently charged with maintaining medical services in the Pike County Correctional Facility, allegedly "allowed unprofessional and inadequate treatment" to be provided the plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 6A). The company also supposedly charged plaintiff fees for a nurse's referral to see a doctor. (Id.). The doctor who provided plaintiff with medical care, plaintiff claims, would not permit him to seek treatment at a hospital for back and leg pain due to sciatic spasms. (Id. at ¶ 6B). When plaintiff complained of pain, three officers or officials at the prison who are not named here as defendants had plaintiff confined to the segregation unit. (Id. at ¶ 6C). Two cold air ducts blew "constantly" in this segregation cell, and the sink "leaked water onto the sheets and blanket and a bed" that was on the floor. (Id.). Nurses who worked weekday shifts for Prime Care also refused plaintiff access to bandages*fn5 for cuts to his fingers, demanding that he see a doctor in order to obtain them. (Id. ¶ 6D).

Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Kathleen Cronin, an employee of the Pike County Correctional Facility Administration Office instituted "excessive and unreasonable fees" for mailing plaintiff's appeal of his sentence. (Id. at ¶ 7A). These fees, plaintiff claims, were designed to prevent him from appealing "by gouging and enhancing the actual cost of legal mailings for the plaintiff." (Id.). As a result, "plaintiff's brief was left stagnant." (Id.). Nevertheless, plaintiff filed an appeal of his sentence in February 2004. (Id.). The court has not yet ruled on the matter when plaintiff filed his claim. (Id.).

Plaintiff also contends that his access to court documents was limited by Defendant Williams, who denied him an opportunity to review documents he had requested under the Freedom of Information Act. (Id. at ¶ 8A). Defendant Williams also refused to explain why plaintiff did not gain access to a drug and alcohol treatment program which would have limited the amount of time he had to remain in prison. (Id. at ¶ 8B). As a result, plaintiff claims, he had to remain incarcerated for nine months longer than he should have been. (Id.).

Plaintiff gathered these charges together into a complaint (Doc. 1) which he filed on August 15, 2006. Plaintiff also filed a motion (Doc. 2) for leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this court. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt then gave plaintiff's complaint a preliminary screening to determine whether process should be issued in the case. In a report and recommendation (Doc. 5) issued on September 13, 2006, Magistrate Judge Blewitt concluded that plaintiff's complaint rested on a baseless legal theory and recommended that we dismiss the action. Plaintiff objected to these findings (Doc. 8), bringing the case to its present posture. Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional violations we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.").

Legal Standard

In disposing of objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(C); see also Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 877 (3d Cir. 1987). This court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The district court judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Id.

When no objections are offered, in order to decide whether to adopt the report and recommendation, we must determine whether a review of the record evidences plain error or manifest injustice. See, e.g., Sullivan v. Cuyler, 723 F.2d 1077, 1085 (3d Cir. 1983); FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b) 1983 Advisory Committee Notes ("When no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is ...

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