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Mearin v. Dohman

September 29, 2009


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


Before the Court is Defendants Thomas Dohman and Mary Canino's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 33) and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. No. 41). For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Procedural History

On October 30, 2006, Plaintiff Thurman Mearin filed a pro se Complaint against three prison officials at S.C.I. Graterford: Thomas Dohman, Captain of Security; an Unknown Lieutenant; and Mary Canino, Hearing Examiner. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed two amended complaints. Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, filed on June 18, 2008. On July 9, 2008, Defendants Dohman and Canino ("the Moving Defendants") filed the instant Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On August 11, 2008, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike the two exhibits that were attached to the Moving Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.*fn1 On August 22, 2008, the Moving Defendants filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Strike. On September 3, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss and a Reply in support of his Motion to Strike. On October 2, 2008, the Honorable Mary McLaughlin denied as moot Plaintiff's Motion to Strike and stated that the Court would decide whether to consider the exhibits when it ruled on the Motion to Dismiss. This matter was reassigned to my docket on November 13, 2008.

On May 7, 2009, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file a Third Amended Complaint on or before June 8, 2009, and notified Plaintiff that his failure to file a timely Third Amended Complaint would be deemed as Plaintiff's intent to stand on the Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff did not amend.

II. Factual Allegations

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a number of constitutional violations. The Court recites the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

At the time of the events giving rise to this case, Plaintiff was an inmate at S.C.I. Graterford. On November 29, 2004, Plaintiff was called to the prison security office and told by Dohman, Graterford's security captain, that a book had been delivered to the prison, addressed to Plaintiff, and that the book contained 12 bags of heroin. (2d Am. Compl. 5.) Plaintiff did not admit to knowledge of the heroin, and he was sent to "the hole," the prison's restrictive housing unit ("RHU"). (2d Am. Compl. 5, 7.)*fn2 Later that day, he was given a Misconduct Report dated November 29, 2004, and a confiscated item receipt dated November 2, 2004. (2d Am. Compl. 5; 2d Am. Compl., Exs. A3-A4, Misconduct Report No. 424223, Nov. 29, 2004 ("Misconduct Report"); Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 1, Confiscated Items Receipt No. A559902, Nov. 2, 2004 ("Confiscated Items Receipt").) The Misconduct Report charged Plaintiff with (1) possession or use of a dangerous or controlled substance; (2) a criminal violation of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code -- namely, criminal conspiracy; (3) possession of contraband; and (4) lying to an employee.

No drug evidence existed and no package containing heroin was sent to him at the prison. (2d Am. Compl. 10.) The entire incident regarding the heroin was fabricated, and the charges on the Misconduct Report are false and were deliberately falsified by certain defendants. (2d Am. Compl. 10.) Dohman had ordered the Unknown Lieutenant to cite Plaintiff via the fabricated Misconduct Report in retaliation for Plaintiff's exercise of his right to silence and refusal to cooperate about the illegal activity in the prison. (2d Am. Compl. 6, 7.)

The prison held a disciplinary hearing regarding the charges in the misconduct report.*fn3

Canino, the hearing examiner, found Plaintiff guilty and sentenced him to 270 days in solitary confinement. (2d Am. Compl. 8.) No physical evidence was produced at Plaintiff's prison disciplinary hearing about the alleged incident, no drug evidence was turned over to the police, and no criminal charges were filed against Plaintiff following the alleged incident. (2d Am. Compl. 8, 10.) Canino relied upon the fabricated Misconduct Report to sanction Plaintiff without any supporting physical evidence. (2d Am. Compl. 7.) Canino also saw that the charges at the disciplinary hearing did not match those written on the Misconduct Report. (2d Am. Compl. 6.)

Plaintiff actually served 302 days in solitary confinement. (2d Am. Compl. 8, 10.) During that time, he was deprived of vocational, academic, and rehabilitation programs; he had no access to religious services or prison employment; he was deprived of visits and library privileges; he had restricted access to the law library; he was subject to visual body cavity searches each time he exited or entered his cell; he was permitted three showers a week; he had to endure 24 hours of light in his cell; he received cold food; his personal and legal mail was censored; and he was unable to satisfy his prescriptive program plan. (2d Am. Compl. 8-9.) This discipline increased Plaintiff's security classification level, which led prison officials to transfer him to a distant supermax prison, S.C.I. Greene. (2d Am. Compl. 9.)

III. Standard of Review

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation and citation omitted). After the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, - U.S. -, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). This standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court clarified that this standard applies to all civil cases. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

Pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). When examining a pro se complaint, a court must apply the applicable law, regardless of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

IV. Discussion

The Court reads Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint liberally and observes that Plaintiff appears to allege three main constitutional violations. First, he claims that prison officials unlawfully retaliated against him for exercising his First and Fifth Amendment rights by denying participation in, or refusing to answer questions about, an attempt to smuggle drugs into the prison. He claims that Defendants' retaliatory acts were fabricating a misconduct charge against him, placing him into the RHU and depriving him of various privileges, and transferring him to S.C.I. Green. (2d Am. Compl. 8-9.) Second, Plaintiff claims that Defendants deprived him of substantive and procedural due process by failing to adduce sufficient evidence to support their fabricated charge and Plaintiff's placement into the RHU. Third, he claims that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment by placing him into solitary confinement for 302 days without sufficient evidence of misconduct.

A. The Court Will Not Consider the Confiscated Item Receipt or the Disciplinary Hearing Report, which the Moving Defendants Attached to their Motion to Dismiss

"It is well-settled that in deciding a motion to dismiss, courts generally may consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached thereto, and matters of public record." Beverly Enters., Inc. v. Trump, 182 F.3d 183, 190 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). "Public records," for the purposes of a motion to dismiss, include criminal case dispositions, including convictions or mistrials, letter decisions of government agencies, published reports of administrative bodies, and judicial proceedings. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. , 998 F.2d at 1197; Southern Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Wah Kwong, 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999). A court may also take judicial notice of a judicial opinion as a public record, but it may do so only to establish the existence of the opinion; if a court considers a judicial opinion to find facts, that factfinding converts the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Lum v. Bank of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 222 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Wah Kwong, 181 F.3d at 427 n.7).

The Third Circuit has determined that "a court may consider an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document. Otherwise, a plaintiff with a legally deficient claim could survive a motion to dismiss simply by failing to attach a dispositive document on which it relied." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Inds., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (internal citations omitted). See also Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Documents that the defendant attaches to the motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to the claim; as such, they may be considered by the court." (quoting 62 Fed. Proc., L.Ed. § 62:508)); id. (holding that the court may consider documents "whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions"). It is proper for a court to consider such documents if they are "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint." Lum, 361 F.3d at 222 n.3 (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)). "[C]onsidering such a document is not unfair to a plaintiff because, by relying on the document, the plaintiff is on notice that the document will be considered." Lum, 361 F.3d at 222.

In this case, Plaintiff moved to strike two of the exhibits that were attached to the Moving Defendants' Motion to Dismiss: Exhibit No. 1 -- Confiscated Items Receipt No. A559902, dated November 2, 2004 ("Confiscated Items Receipt"), and Exhibit No. 2 -- a Disciplinary Hearing Report, signed by Canino, regarding a December 2, 2004, hearing ("Disciplinary Hearing Report").*fn4 Plaintiff disputes the authenticity of the Confiscated Items Receipt, which he also argues is illegible. (Pl.'s Mot. to Strike ¶¶ 2, 4.) He also argues that when he attempted to obtain a copy of the Confiscated Items Receipt, the prison informed him that the document did not exist. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff claims the Disciplinary Hearing Report that the Moving Defendants attached to their Motion is illegible, contains false statements, and contains credibility determinations that are inappropriate for the ...

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