Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Diaz v. Palakovich

March 26, 2009

JOHN DIAZ, PLAINTIFF
v.
JOHN PALAKOVICH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caldwell

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, John Diaz, an inmate at the Smithfield State Correctional Institution (SCI-Smithfield), Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, claims the defendants improperly handled his incoming and outgoing legal mail. Named as defendants are the following SCI-Smithfield employees: John Palakovich, Superintendent; Lisa Hollibaugh, Assistant to the Superintendent and Grievance Coordinator; Peggy Everhart, Mailroom Supervisor; and Jane Doe I and Jane Doe II, unidentified mailroom inspectors.*fn1 Diaz seeks injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages against each of the defendants in their personal capacities. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment on behalf of Palakovich, Hollibaugh and Everhart. Upon review of the motion and the record, we will grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and all pending motions, including Diaz's Motion to Amend, will be denied.*fn2

II. Background

A. Diaz's Allegations against Palakovich, Everhart, Hollibaugh and Does

In his Complaint, Diaz claims that defendants "have been tampering with both his incoming and outgoing legal mail since 4-28-06." (Doc. 1, Complaint). Diaz claims Everhart, Jane Doe I and Jane Doe II, have been "opening and reading [his] legal mail outside his presence." (Doc. 1 at R. 2).*fn3 Plaintiff avers that Defendant Everhart "admitted" that Jane Doe I and Jane Doe II "tampered" with his legal mail and said it would not happen again. Yet, "the mailroom continued to open [his] legal mail outside of his presence." (Id.) Hollibaugh had the power to stop the tampering with his legal mail but "refused to do so." (Id. at R. 3). Superintendent Palakovich attempted to "cover up" the tampering and "even authorized the mailroom to open the plaintiff's legal mail outside of his presence." (Id.) "The tampering with [Diaz's] legal mail has caused a chilling effect in plaintiff's legal affairs because he fears retaliation if he does speak to attorneys about his conditions of confinement." (Id.)

B. Statement of Material Facts*fn4

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has a three-level administrative remedy review process designed to address inmate problems that may arise during the course of confinement. (Doc. 25, Defendants' Statement of Material Facts (DSMF) at ¶ 8). 37 Pa. Code § 93.9(a); see also http://www.cor.state.pa.us, DOC Policies, DC-AM 804, Inmate Grievance System Policy. After an attempt to resolve any problems informally, an inmate may submit a written grievance to the prison Grievance Coordinator for initial review. (Id. at ¶ 9). An inmate may then appeal an adverse decision of the Grievance Coordinator to the Superintendent of the institution. The third and final level of appeal is to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-13).

Although Diaz submitted several grievances while housed at SCI-Smithfield, most were not appealed to Final Review. (Doc. 26-2, Exhibits in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. A, Sears Decl. at ¶¶ 12 - 13). Plaintiff filed only two grievances regarding his legal mail that were properly appealed to Final Review as required by DC-ADM 804 prior to initiating his Complaint. (DSMF ¶ 14). On July 23, 2007, Diaz filed grievance No. SMI-194670-07, claiming that the attorneys to whom he sent legal mail never received that mailing. (DSMF ¶ 15; Doc. 26-4, Sears Decl., Ex. C, SMI-194670-07 Grievance Packet). Lt. Ferguson (non-defendant) initially investigated the grievance, and subsequently denied it on July 25, 2007. (DSMF ¶ 17; Doc. 26-4, Ex. C at RR. 4-5). Diaz filed an appeal to the Grievance Coordinator Hollibaugh. Superintendent Palakovich denied the appeal on July 30, 2007. (DSMF ¶ 17; Doc. 26-4, Ex. C at RR. 7-8). Diaz appealed the decision to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals. Chief Grievance Officer, Kristen Reisinger (non-defendant), upheld Superintendent Palakovich's decision. (DSMF ¶ 17; Doc. 26-4, Ex. C at RR. 2-3 and 6). Diaz's grievance does not identify any particular individual as being at fault for the suspected mishandling of his outgoing legal mail. (DSMF ¶ 16).

On August 14, 2007, Diaz filed grievance No. SMI-197078-07, alleging legal mail sent to him from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Office of the Clerk, was opened outside of his presence. (DSMF ¶ 18; Doc. 26-5, Sears Decl., Ex. D, SMI-197078-07 Grievance Packet at R. 7). Diaz claims he "filed several grievances about [his] legal mail being opened and read outside of his presence, and [his] mail being tampered with and destroyed." (Doc. 26-5 at R. 7). Diaz does not identify whom he thinks is responsible for opening his court mail. (Id.) SCI-Smithfield's Business Manager, Richard Moyer (non-defendant), conducted the initial investigation into Diaz's grievance. (DSMF ¶ 20). After discussing the matter with the mailroom staff, Moyer admitted the opening of Diaz's court mail "was a mistake on their part and they have been informed this is an unacceptable practice," and that "they will be more careful and avoid opening your legal mail outside your presence." (Doc. 26-5 at R. 8). Monetary compensation was denied. (Id.) Diaz appealed the decision to Superintendent Palakovich (doc. 26-5 at R. 6), who denied the appeal on August 27, 2007 (doc. 26-5 at R. 5). Diaz then appealed to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals (doc. 26-5 at R. 3). The Chief Grievance Officer Kristen Reisinger found in favor of Diaz but denied any monetary compensation as "there was no evidence that [the opening of Diaz's legal mail outside of his presence] was done intentionally or with malice." (DSMF ¶ 20; Doc. 26-5 at R. 2).

Mailroom Supervisor Everhart is responsible for processing incoming and outgoing mail at SCI-Smithfield, and for supervising mail inspectors to ensure that they perform their duties in accordance with the Pennsylvania DOC's policy governing mail, DC-ADM 803, Inmate Mail and Incoming Publications. (Doc. 26-6, Ex. E, Everhart Decl. at ¶¶ 2-3). Mail inspectors working under Everhart's supervision typically open all mail that is not marked as legal mail to inspect for contraband. (DSMF ¶ 21). Legal mail is opened in the presence of the inmate, and the mail is checked at the time for contraband. (Id.)

Everhart denies ever opening Diaz's legal mail outside of his presence. (DSMF ¶ 22; Doc. 26-6, Ex. E, Everhart Decl. at ¶ 5). Everhart, however, is aware of two occasions when Diaz's legal mail was opened outside of his presence. (DSMF ¶ 23). On those occasions, the legal mail was opened by a mail inspector who was new to the mailroom staff. (Id.) The mail inspector did not read Diaz's legal mail or open the contents of the mail. (Id.) The opening of Diaz's mail on both occasions was unintentional. (Id.) Everhart is unaware of any occasion when mail inspectors tampered with or destroyed Diaz's outgoing mail. (DSMF ¶ 24). Palakovich and Hollibaugh played no part in the processing of mail, and only reviewed the grievances filed and appealed by Diaz. (DSMF ¶ 25).

Plaintiff does not identify any legal matter that was obstructed or negatively impacted by the alleged conduct ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.