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Banks v. One or More Unknown Named Confidential Informants of Federal Prison Camp Canaan

June 24, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is the motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Doc. 51), with respect to the amended complaint filed by pro se plaintiff Frederick Banks ("Banks"), a former inmate of the Federal Prison Camp and United States Penitentiary at Canaan ("FPC/USP-Canaan"). Defendants include the United States, the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") and several of its officials, and a number of individuals associated with FPC/USP-Canaan.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn2

This action arises from events that occurred in April and May of 2006 while Banks was incarcerated at FPC/USP-Canaan. (See Doc. 38.) In Banks' amended complaint, he asserts Bivens,*fn3 Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1985 conspiracy claims against defendants.*fn4 (See id.) The factual allegations underlying Banks' claims follow.

On April 17, 2006, Banks was transferred to FPC/USP-Canaan and was placed in administrative detention in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). (Doc. 38 ¶ 26; Doc. 54-2 ¶ 3.) Banks alleges that he was forced to remain in the SHU during "a two month wait for bedspace." (Doc. 38 ¶ 26.) "Once Banks realized he would be spending a significant amount of time in [the SHU]," he began to request access to the law library, his legal papers, several individuals' mailing addresses, a telephone, and stamps. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 30.) He alleges that he needed each of these items because he was a litigant in at least four pending cases during the time he was incarcerated in the SHU. Banks claims that his requests were not answered for weeks, if at all, while other inmates confined in the SHU were granted similar requests. (Id. ¶ 27.) Banks also claims that on the morning of April 19, 2006, a corrections officer informed him that he would be permitted to visit the law library later that day. However, that promise did not come to fruition because no prison personnel ever arrived to escort him to the library.*fn5 (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) As a result of this pattern of denials, Banks purportedly missed multiple deadlines in his sundry court cases. (Id. ¶ 33.)*fn6

Banks also claims that he was subjected to unfavorable conditions while in the SHU. Specifically, he alleges that he was denied his one hour of daily recreation time and that his cell was filled with "mites and must" which caused him to "cough[] chronically choking on his own vomit and gagging." (Id. ¶ 27.) At some point, Banks allegedly became unable to breath, so he "slammed his stomach and back onto his bunkbed" to "force air into his poisoned lungs." (Id.) This caused injuries to his back and torso for which he allegedly requested but did not receive medical care. (Id.)

Banks further claims that defendant BOP Director Harley Lappin ("Lappin") established a "de facto policy" to punish inmates who file or attempt to file grievances. (Id. ¶ 9.) Pursuant to this policy, Lappin allegedly instructed defendants Case Manager Marc Renda ("Renda"), Counselor Art Roberts ("Roberts"), Camp Administrator Julie Nicklin ("Nicklin"), and FPC/USP-Canaan Warden Cameron Lindsey ("Lindsey") to "curtail Banks' access to the courts by obstructing the remedy process and stamps, telephone and mail." (Id.) Defendants also allegedly committed the following retaliatory acts: (1) "throwing [Banks] from the camp into the [SHU]," (2) "denying Banks religious materials,"*fn7 (3) subjecting Banks to "racial and religious discrimination," (4) "concocting lies" to transfer Banks "from a lower to a higher security status," (5) employing "an inmate police force to spy on inmates and violate their constitutional rights," (6) "obstruct[ing] the outgoing mail process," and (7) denying him access to a job with compensation.*fn8

(Id. ¶¶ 5, 8-9.)

Finally, Banks claims that, on May 29, 2006, he was "literally seized" into a meeting with Renda, Roberts, and Nicklin to discuss a grievance he had filed with respect to stamps for legal mail. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) At the meeting, Renda, Roberts, and Nicklin allegedly "pressured him under duress" to withdraw his grievance and offered to provide him stamps if he complied. (Id. ¶ 5.) Banks "reluctantly agreed" but was still denied stamps and placed in the SHU. (Id.) In addition, Banks was later reprimanded for using stamps he received from another inmate. (Id. ¶ 6.)*fn9

II. Standards of Review

A. Motion to Dismiss

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all [factual] allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice pleading rules require the complaint to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sershen v. Cholish, No. 3:07-CV-1011, 2007 WL 3146357, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Montville Twp. v. Woodmont Builders LLC, No. 05-4888, 2007 WL 2261567, at *2 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, ___ U.S. at ___, 127 S.Ct. at 1969). Under this liberal pleading standard, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane, 213 F.3d at 116-17.

B. Motion for Summary Judgment

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact" and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Banks asserts Bivens, FTCA, and § 1985 conspiracy claimsagainst all defendants.Defendants assert that Banks failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to all of his claims. In the alternative, defendants argue that, even if Banks had properly exhausted, his Bivens and § 1985 claims would still fail on the merits. The court will address defendants' exhaustion arguments before turning to the merits of Banks' Bivens and § 1985 claims.

A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Defendants seek entry of judgment in their favor because Banks failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.*fn10 The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), requires prisoners to present their claims through an administrative grievance process before seeking redress in federal court. The Act specifically provides as follows:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). A prisoner must comply with the PLRA exhaustion requirement as to any claim that arises in the prison setting, regardless of the nature of the claim or of the relief sought. See Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002) ("[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong."); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n.6 (2001) ("[A]n inmate must exhaust irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered through administrative avenues."). "[I]t is beyond the power of [any] court . . . to excuse compliance with the exhaustion requirement."

Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 73 (3d Cir. 2000). Accordingly, the PLRA exhaustion requirement applies to each of Banks' claims.

The FTCA adds an additional level of review that must be complied with before a claim is considered properly exhausted. Before a plaintiff may assert an FTCA claim in federal court, he or she must have "presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his [or her] claim shall have been finally denied by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail." 28 U.S.C. § 2675. Because PLRA exhaustion applies to each of Banks' claims, the court will discuss it before turning to the additional exhaustion requirements of the FTCA.

1. PLRA Exhaustion

The PLRA mandates that a prisoner "properly" exhaust his or her administrative remedies before commencing suit in federal court. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006). "Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings." Id. at 90. Such requirements "eliminate unwarranted federal-court interference with the administration of prisons, and thus seek[] to 'affor[d] corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.'" Id. at 93 (quoting Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). Failure to comply with procedural requirements of the applicable prison's grievance system will result in a procedural default of the claim. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 227-32 (3d Cir. 2004) ("[P]rison grievance procedures supply the yardstick for measuring procedural default."). Procedural default is a question of law. Id. at 232. A ...

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