The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane
Plaintiff Charles Iseley is an inmate currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette, Pennsylvania. He filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on March 2, 2005. Named as Defendants are Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Department of Corrections, and John Talaber, assistant counsel for the Department. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by denying him access to certain publications and then retaliating against him by ordering the publications' destruction in return for his filing a petition for writ of mandamus in state court challenging the denial of access. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment and damages for the violation of the both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. No. 92.)
In March 2003, while confined at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Plaintiff was transferred to the Long Term Segregation Unit (LTSU) within the prison. The LTSU is the most restrictive maximum-security housing within the Department of Corrections, designed for high-risk inmates with extremely limited programming and privileges. The LTSU Program has four levels; Level 4 is the most restrictive level. At the time relevant to the incidents alleged in the complaint, Plaintiff was housed in Level 3. During his stay in the LTSU, certain publications were confiscated.
Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania challenging the confiscation of these publications. In that action, Plaintiff named Defendant Beard as the respondent, and Defendant Talaber served as counsel for Beard. (See Doc. No. 28-2.) The Commonwealth Court denied Plaintiff's petition on the grounds that "[b]ecause Iseley's inmate grievances were not or have not been pursued to finality, his constitutional claims have not ripened and, consequently, he has not set forth a non-discretionary act which the Department has failed to perform." Iseley v. Beard, 841 A.2d 168, 172 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2004). In addition, the Commonwealth Court held that the policy of confiscating publications was lawful because a valid, rational connection existed between the prison regulation and the legitimate and neutral governmental interests of rehabilitation and prison security. Id. at 174. As a result, Beard's cross motion for summary relief was granted.
In the case at bar, Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of his filing the mandamus action, Defendants Talaber and Beard "singled him out" and ordered that the confiscated publications be destroyed. Plaintiff claims that because of this action, he was prevented from using the destroyed publications as exhibits in the mandamus action. Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by singling him out, unlawfully confiscated his publications, and destroying the publications in retaliation for his filing of the state action.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), once the pleadings are closed, but within such time as to not delay trial, a party may move for judgment on the pleadings. The standard of review for a motion for judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Turbe v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). The only difference is that, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court reviews not only the complaint, but also the answer and written instruments attached to the pleadings. 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice -- Civil § 12.38. If matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.
Just as required by a motion to dismiss, the Court will accept the factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences presented in the pleadings in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face," a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007), or a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Turbe, 938 F.2d at 428. The court should consider the allegations in the pleadings, the exhibits attached thereto, matters of public record, and "undisputedly authentic" documents if Plaintiff's claims are based on such documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196-97 (3d Cir. 1993).
Plaintiff's complaint and Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings raise two distinct issues:
(1) Plaintiff's challenge to the Defendants' confiscation of his publications; and
(2) Defendants' allegedly retaliatory destruction of the confiscated publications. The Court ...