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Lattanzio v. Holt

February 27, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure


I. Background

This pro se civil rights action was initiated by Vincent Lattanzio ("Plaintiff"), an inmate confined at the Canaan United States Penitentiary, Waymart, Pennsylvania ("USP-Canaan"). Plaintiff has also submitted an in forma pauperis application. For the reasons set forth below, Lattanzio's action will be dismissed, without prejudice, as legally frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

Named as Defendants are two (2) USP-Canaan prison officials, Warden Ronnie Holt and Unit Manager M. Sample. Lattanzio states that he arrived at USP-Canaan on June 30, 2005. Upon his arrival, Lattanzio acknowledges that he was provided with an Inmate Handbook which sets forth various prison rules and regulations. Plaintiff adds that he subsequently mailed "visiting applications" to his father and sister, both of whom reside in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Record document no. 1, Statement of Facts, ¶ 2. The Complaint describes Plaintiff's father as being elderly and confined to a wheelchair due to coronary disease. It adds that Lattanzio's father "cannot pass through the metal detector because he has a defibrillator implanted in his chest." Id. at ¶ 4.

It is asserted that following his arrival, Plaintiff's sister and father visited him on "four separate occasions and they were admitted without incident." Id. at ¶ 6. On those dates, prison staff used a hand held metal detector to search Plaintiff's father. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff's father was denied admission to USP-Cannan by Defendant Sample on May 26, 2007. Sample allegedly refused to admit the visitor on the basis that Federal Bureau of Prison ("BOP") policy "required plaintiff's father to carry documentation of his medical condition on his person and furnish it to staff each time he enters the institution." Id. at ¶ 7.

Warden Holt denied an administrative grievance filed by the Plaintiff regarding the May 26, 2007 incident on the basis that BOP Policy Statement 5267.08B mandates that visitors with surgically implanted pacemakers will need to supply medical documentation of such items prior to entry.

Lattanzio claims that Defendant Sample's denial of visitation rights was improper since his father had been previously authorized (after undergoing a wand search) to enter the prison and the requested medical documentation had already been provided to a USP-Canaan counselor. Plaintiff adds that he was not given prior notice as to the requirements of Program Statement 5267.08B since said policy was not included in the Inmate Handbook that he was given upon entering USP-Canaan. Furthermore, the Program Statement does not require visitors to furnish medical documentation each time they enter the prison. His Complaint seeks an award of compensatory damages.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

28 U.S.C. § 1915 imposes obligations on prisoners who file civil actions in federal court and wish to proceed in forma pauperis. § 1915(e)(2) provides:

(2) Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that (A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal (I) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

Consequently, federal courts reviewing civil rights complaints filed by persons wishing to proceed in forma pauperis may determine that process should not be issued if the complaint is malicious, presents an indisputably meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly baseless factual contentions. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989); Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989).*fn1 In Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995), the Third Circuit added that "the plain meaning of 'frivolous' authorizes the dismissal of in forma pauperis claims that . . . are of little or no weight, value, or importance, not worthy of serious consideration, or trivial." "The frivolousness determination is a discretionary one," and trial courts "are in the best position" to determine when an indigent litigant's complaint is appropriate for summary dismissal. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).

B. Emotional Injury

As noted earlier, Lattanzio is apparently seeking in part to recover compensatory damages for emotional injury which he suffered as a result of the Defendants' alleged constitutional misconduct. There are no ...

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