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Lyons v. Beard

March 9, 2009

ERIC LYONS, PLAINTIFF
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

Background

This pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was filed by Eric Lyons, an inmate presently confined at the Fayette State Correctional Institution, LaBelle, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Fayette"). Named as Defendants are Secretary Jeffrey Beard and Chief Grievance Officer Sharon Burks of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"). Lyons is also proceeding against three (3) officials at his prior place of confinement, the State Correctional Institution, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Camp Hill"): Superintendent Donald Kelchner; Unit Manager Richard Southers; and Property Officer Andy Huber. See Dkt. Entry # 1, ¶ III.

Lyons states that he was transferred from SCI-Fayette to the Special Management Unit ("SMU") at SCI-Camp Hill on April 5, 2006. One week after his arrival, Lyons was escorted to the SCI-Camp Hill Property Room. Plaintiff was then allegedly instructed by Property Officer Huber as to "which items I may select to take in my cell in one record center box." Id. at ¶ IV (4).

While packing his box, Plaintiff observed that multiple items of his personal property were missing. Upon asking Property Officer Huber about this missing property, Lyons was given two (2) confiscation receipt slips which detailed that certain legal, business, and other personal property items had been confiscated and were either being destroyed or shipped to an outside address. According to the Complaint, this missing property included legal items such as books, transcripts, memoranda, and videotapes. See id. at (6). Plaintiff alleges that the confiscation and institutional limitations placed on his access to personal legal materials while at SCI-Camp Hill violated his constitutional right of access to the courts in that his inability to employ those materials caused him to lose a pro se criminal appeal before the Pennsylvania Superior Court on February 12, 2007. The purported confiscation and one (1) box limitation on his personal legal material also allegedly hindered Lyons' ability to prosecute a pro se habeas corpus action in federal court.

After his meeting with Huber, Lyons initiated an administrative grievance regarding the taking of his personal property. His grievance was assigned to Unit Manager Souther, who subsequently concluded that Plaintiff's personal property was properly confiscated because it consisted of either contraband or excess materials. In denying relief, Souther noted that, in addition to the one box of materials in his cell, Plaintiff had "6 boxes in storage: 4 regularly stored boxes, 2 exempted extra legal boxes." Id. at 10.*fn1

Subsequent administrative appeals by Plaintiff to Superintendent Kelchner and Chief Grievance Officer Burks were also unsuccessful. Lyons contends that Kelchner and Burks violated due process in their handling of his grievance. Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief as well as compensatory, punitive and nominal damages.

Presently pending is Defendants' motion to dismiss. The motion (Dkt. Entry # 20) has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.

Discussion

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 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)). 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, 550 U.S. 544, , 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)(requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level").

This requirement "calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" the necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. The reviewing court must determine whether the complaint "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Id. at 1969. As such, 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." Id.; see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)(in order to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege in his complaint "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a particular cause of action).

Additionally, pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint "even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend," unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004). However, a complaint which sets forth facts affirmatively demonstrating that the plaintiff has no right to ...


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