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Smith v. Lucas

May 31, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Jones



Plaintiff William T. Smith ("Plaintiff" or "Smith") initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 following events that purportedly transpired during his confinement in the Dauphin County Prison ("DCP"), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff is represented by counsel, and he filed an Amended Complaint (doc. 20) on July 13, 2006. Named as Defendants therein are four (4) DCP employees: Warden Dominick DeRose, and Correctional Officers Roger Lucas, Tim Manwiller, and Chad Stake. Plaintiff is also proceeding against two (2) John Doe and one (1) Jane Doe Defendants.

Smith describes himself as being a member of the Islamic faith who was transferred to DCP from the Smithfield State Correctional Institution, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Smithfield"), on May 20, 2005. His Amended Complaint initially seeks relief based upon the conditions of his confinement. Smith describes DCP as being "extremely overcrowded," "filthy dirty," and "infested with insects and mice." (Rec. Doc. 20, ¶ 7). He adds that due to the overcrowding "inmates are required to sleep on the floor and in crowded day rooms." Id.

The second portion of Plaintiff's action regards purported misconduct that transpired on the day of his arrival at DCP. Specifically, Plaintiff states that he was assigned to a day room due to overcrowding. After a correctional officer smelled smoke in that area,*fn1 the personal areas and belongings of Plaintiff and other prisoners were subjected to a series of searches. Smith was also purportedly forced to undergo strip searches for no apparent reason.

During a third search of Plaintiff's personal property, Defendant Lucas allegedly picked up Plaintiff's copy of the Koran, and proceeded to crumple up pages "in an obviously intentional effort to display contempt and disrespect for the Islamic faith." (Id. at ¶ 12). Lucas then threw the Koran over his shoulder. Meanwhile, when Smith protested, Defendant Manwiller purportedly stroked Plaintiff's chin and sarcastically asked,"where's your Muslim beard?"

Approximately fifteen (15) minutes later, Smith was ordered into a hallway by Defendant Correctional Officers who purportedly "began screaming and spitting in his face." (Id. at ¶ 16). Correctional Officer Lucas then handcuffed Plaintiff's hands behind his back and forcibly threw him to the floor face down. It is next alleged that Smith was then beaten and kicked by Defendants, causing injury to his ribs, face, eye, and shoulder. According to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff was also forced into a wall and beaten while being escorted to DCP's segregated housing unit. Upon placement in segregation, Plaintiff was required to remove his clothes for the sole purpose of subjecting him to humiliation and embarrassment. A female nurse, Jane Doe, was then summoned to Smith's cell as he was standing naked against a wall. The nurse was ordered by two John Doe officials wearing white shirts (presumably lieutenants) to clean blood off of Plaintiff's shoulder. The Amended Complaint maintains that Defendants conspired to subject him to mistreatment in retaliation for Smith's religious beliefs.

Plaintiff also alleges that although he was sentenced in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas to a term of work release and probation, Warden DeRose defied the imposed sentence by conspiring with other local and state officials to have Plaintiff improperly placed in a state prison and later in DCP for a period of 75 days. Plaintiff alleges that Warden DeRose did so to retaliate for Plaintiff's filing of the original Complaint in this matter. Warden DeRose also purportedly tried to collect money from Smith for room and board, and caused Plaintiff to suffer income losses.

In conclusion, the Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement. He was also purportedly singled out for mistreatment because of his Islamic religious beliefs. Furthermore, when he objected to the desecration of his Koran, Defendants conspired to retaliate against him by subjecting him to unwarranted and excessive physical abuse and humiliation. Finally, after the filing of his original Complaint and being sentenced to a term of work release, Smith claims that Warden DeRose defied the state court sentence by having him transferred to a state prison and later DCP and also caused him to suffer income losses through an improper attempt to collect money for room and board.

Presently pending is Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("the Motion"). (Rec. Doc. 36). The Motion has been briefed and is ripe for consideration. STANDARD OF REVIEW:

Summary judgment is appropriate if the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is "entitled to a judgment as a matter of law" because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof. "[T]he standard [for granting summary judgment] mirrors the standard for a directed verdict under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) . . . ."

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The moving party can discharge that burden by "'showing' . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325. Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, the nonmoving party must present "affirmative evidence" to defeat the motion, consisting of verified or documented materials. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986). Issues of fact are "genuine only if a reasonable jury, considering the evidence presented could find for the nonmoving party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Id. In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.


Defendants claim entitlement to partial summary judgment on the grounds that:

(1) Defendant Warden DeRose did not retaliate against Plaintiff by causing him to be unlawfully incarcerated; (2) Defendants Manwiller, Lucas and Stake had a legitimate purpose when searching Plaintiff and, thus, did not act in retaliation; (3) Smith was not denied needed medical care; (4) the John/Jane Doe Defendants should be dismissed because they have not been identified; (5) the Amended Complaint fails to assert personal involvement by Defendants with respect to the allegations that Plaintiff was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement; and (6) Warden DeRose is entitled to qualified immunity.

We will address each of these arguments in turn.

I. Improper Confinement

Plaintiff appears to claim two instances of at least attempted improper incarceration. First, Plaintiff alleges that during 2005 Warden DeRose conspired with others to subject Smith to a retaliatory seventy-five (75) day placement in SCI-Smithfield and DCP. Second, Plaintiff asserts that during the summer of 2006, Warden DeRose again attempted to have him transferred to the state correctional system.

Defendants argue that both claims are constitutionally insufficient because Smith "cannot establish that Warden DeRose caused him to be unlawfully incarcerated or that the Plaintiff's constitutionally protected activities were in any way related to his incarceration." (Rec. Doc. 37 at 5). Plaintiff counters that genuine issues of material fact are in dispute regarding whether his initiation of this lawsuit was a substantial factor in the alleged subsequent retaliatory illegal holding of Plaintiff in DCP.

A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights claim, must plead two essential elements: (1) the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2) said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).

"Retaliation for the exercise of a constitutional right is itself a violation of rights secured by the Constitution." White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 111-12 (3d Cir. 1990); Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 224-25 (3d Cir. 2000) (a prisoner litigating a retaliation claim need not prove that he had an independent liberty interest in the privileges that he was denied, only that the challenged actions were motivated in substantial part by a desire to punish him for the exercise of a constitutional right).

In Rauser v. Horn, 241 F.3d 330, 333 (2001), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a prisoner must prove that the conduct that led to the alleged retaliation was constitutionally protected. If the prisoner satisfies that requirement, he must then show he suffered some "adverse action" at the hands of prison officials. Id. Allah defined adverse action as being "sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his [constitutional] rights." 229 F.3d at 225.

Next, the prisoner must prove a causal link between the exercise of the constitutional right and the adverse action against him. However, under Rauser, once a prisoner demonstrates that his exercise of a constitutional right was a substantial or motivating factor in the challenged decision, prison officials may still prevail by proving that they would have made the same decision absent the ...

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