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Kantamanto v. King

July 2, 2009

ABDUR-RAHMAN KANTAMANTO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEON KING, COMMISSIONER OF PRISONS; OSIE M. BUTLER, DEPUTY WARDEN; AND, LORENZO NORTH, UNION LEADER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Abdur-Rahman Kantamanto, a former prisoner in the Philadelphia Prison System ("PPS"), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants were at all times material to this action PPS employees. The gravamen of plaintiff's Complaint is that defendants terminated plaintiff from his job at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF") law library in violation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(3) and (4).

Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that defendants terminated him in retaliation for his publication of an article entitled "A Big Hell Hole (Gulag)," which was critical of the conditions at PPS prisons and the conduct of PPS correctional officers. In particular, the Complaint alleges that Union Leader Lorenzo North, then the correctional officer in charge of the law library, fired plaintiff from his job because Correctional Officer ("C.O.") North was angered by the article. Plaintiff avers that Commissioner Leon King and Deputy Warden Osie Butler failed to reinstate plaintiff or otherwise redress his grievance against C.O. North.

Defendants argue that the motivation for plaintiff's termination was not retaliatory. Instead, defendants aver that plaintiff's "close custody" status rendered him ineligible for employment in the law library and that, as a result, a newly instituted computer system removed him from his job. Defendants also argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

Presently before the Court is defendants' Second Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. The Court denies defendants' motion with respect to plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim against C.O. North. The Court also denies defendants' motion on the grounds of failure to exhaust and qualified immunity with respect to C.O. North. The Court grants defendants' motion as to all other claims against C.O. North. The Court grants defendants' motion as to all claims against Commissioner King and Deputy Warden Butler.

II. BACKGROUND

At all times relevant to this action, plaintiff was incarcerated at CFCF, a PPS facility. (Abdur-Rahman Kantamanto Dep. 6:17--22, Nov. 21, 2008; Willette Furtick Dep. 5:20--7:6, Nov. 25, 2008.) Plaintiff wrote an account of his confinement at CFCF, which was published as "A Big Hellhole (Gulag)" in the April 2006 edition of the Black Star newspaper. (Abdur-Rahman Kantamanto, A Big Hellhole (Gulag), Black Star, Apr. 2006, at 6, Ex. A to Defs.' Mot.) The byline for the article read "Bro. A-R K," and the contact information following the article included plaintiff's Philadelphia Police identification number, "578168-CFCF." (Id.) Plaintiff testified that he had intended the article to be published anonymously but that the Black Star had printed his identification number without his knowledge. (Kantamanto Dep. 41:3--42:16.)

At the time of the publication of the article, plaintiff worked the 3:00 p.m.--11:00 p.m. shift in the CFCF law library, where he was supervised by C.O. North. (Kantamanto Dep. 13:22--17:7; Lorenzo North Dep. 47:25--48:24, Nov. 21, 2008.) According to plaintiff, when he reported for work on April 19, 2006, C.O. North was very angry about the Black Star article. (Kantamanto Dep. 23:9--24:3.) Plaintiff testified further that C.O. North said "[i]f you're going to write, you know, stories like that about us, you know, in the newspaper then you're fired" and terminated plaintiff from his law library position. (Id. at 24:6--23.) C.O. North disputed this account, testifying that he had never heard of plaintiff's article and that he did not fire plaintiff. (North Dep. 51:23--53:8, 82:16--83:20.) C.O. North explained that he did not have the authority to hire or fire employees, which was instead the responsibility of the social worker. (Id. at 60:11--24.) Deputy Warden Butler testified that a new computer system was instituted in CFCF in 2006 that removed prisoners from jobs if they did not have the correct custody status for such employment. (Osie Butler Dep. 66:10--71:2, Nov. 25, 2008.) Plaintiff's status was close custody, which did not technically permit him to work in the law library. (Id. at 65:22--66:1; Christopher Thomas Decl. ¶¶ 7--8, July 28, 2008, Ex. V to Defs.' Mot.)

On May 5, 2006, plaintiff filed an Inmate Grievance Form ("Grievance 1") concerning his termination from his law library job. (PPS Lock & Track Records, Grievance 1, Ex. P to Defs.' Mot.) On May 18, 2006, Deputy Warden Butler recommended that, in response to plaintiff's grievance, C.O. North would be directed to follow PPS policies regarding prisoner employment. (Id.) Warden Gainey approved of this recommendation. (Id.) On June 1, 2006, plaintiff filed a second Inmate Grievance Form ("Grievance 2") relating to his termination. (PPS Lock & Track Records, Grievance 2, Ex. Q to Defs.' Mot.) According to plaintiff, C.O. Barry Painter told him that his law library job had been reinstated, but Deputy Warden Butler would not let plaintiff return to work in the library. (Id.) On June 29, 2006, Deputy Warden Butler found that plaintiff had been given "false information" by C.O. Painter and recommended job reclassification and back pay for June 2006. (Id.) Warden Gainey approved of the recommendation. (Id.) There is no record of appeal of either of these grievances to Commissioner King; plaintiff testified, however, that he sent a letter to Commissioner King appealing the resolution of his grievances. (Kantamanto Dep. 29:16--25.)

According to plaintiff, he was never reinstated to his law library job and, despite his efforts, he was not offered different employment at CFCF. (Kantamanto Dep. 44:1--45:15.)

III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 31, 2006, pro se plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 naming as defendants Commissioner Leon King, Deputy Warden Osie M. Butler, and Union Leader Lorenzo North. The Complaint alleged that plaintiff was "unfairly dismissed from [his] job in retaliation" for the exercise of his First Amendment rights. (Compl. 5.) Plaintiff requested two forms of relief: (1) compensatory damages of $50,000 to reimburse plaintiff for "undue anxieties" and "pain and suffering" due to his retaliatory termination and (2) punitive damages of $500,000 for violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights.*fn1 (Id.) Plaintiff declared the truth of the allegations in the Complaint under penalty of perjury. (Id.)

On January 25, 2008, defendants filed their first Motion for Summary Judgment. Prior to responding to defendants' motion, plaintiff requested permission to seek additional discovery, including depositions and interrogatories. On May 15, 2008, the Court ordered that on or before July 25, 2008, plaintiff had to file a response to defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, which could include specific requests for additional discovery. The Court also ordered plaintiff to provide a copy of the newspaper article on which the lawsuit was based by July 25, 2008. Plaintiff filed his response on July 9, 2008, but he did not timely provide a copy of the newspaper article. By Order dated July 31, 2008, the Court determined that "plaintiff's pro se Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was inadequate in that plaintiff did not present any evidence and instead requested additional time to present evidence . . . ." The Court ordered plaintiff to provide a copy of his article by August 21, 2008. The Court further instructed that if plaintiff did not meet this deadline, the Court would grant defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. If, however, plaintiff did provide a copy of the article by the deadline, he would be permitted to take certain depositions and arrange for obtaining other evidence. By letter dated August 7, 2008, plaintiff sent the Court a copy of the cover of the April 2006 edition of the Black Star and his article that was published therein.

Depositions were conducted at the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in November 2008. Plaintiff was deposed by counsel for defendants on November 21, 2008. Plaintiff deposed Union Leader Lorenzo North and C.O. Theodore Jackson on November 21, 2008; C.O. Barry Painter on November 24, 2008; and C.O. Willette Furtick and Deputy Warden Osie Butler on November 25, 2008.*fn2

By letter to the Court dated November 26, 2008, defendants reported their intention to file an amended Motion for Summary Judgment. On January 6, 2009, the Court gave defendants leave to file a second Motion for Summary Judgment including all of the issues raised in the first Motion for Summary Judgment and all other issues deemed appropriate by defendants. On January 30, 2009, defendants filed the instant Second Motion for Summary Judgment. In the motion, defendants seek entry of judgment in their favor and the dismissal with prejudice of plaintiff's lawsuit. On February 3, 2009, the Court denied defendants' first Motion for Summary Judgment as moot.

IV. LEGAL STANDARD

A court should grant summary judgment if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322--23 (1986). A factual dispute is material when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . ." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

In considering a motion for summary judgment, "the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted); accord Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The party opposing the motion, however, cannot "rely merely upon bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions" to support its claim. Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark, N.J. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, ...


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