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Perez v. Geza-Ganoe

January 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane, Chief Judge Middle District of Pennsylvania

(Chief Judge Kane)


Julio Perez ("Perez"), an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution at Schuylkill (FCI-Schuylkill), Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Named as defendants are employees and officials at the Federal Correctional Institution at McKeon and FCI-Schuylkill, as well as several Bureau of Prisons officials. On June 15, 2009, the Court conducted a preliminary screening of the complaint and dismissed it for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (B)(ii). The dismissal was without prejudice to any right Plaintiff may have to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. No. 15.) Presently pending is Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. (Doc. No. 17.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. Background

Perez alleges that the events giving rise to this action occurred at FCI-McKeon. He states that during his initial medical intake screening he informed the FCI-McKeon medical staff that he was HIV positive, and had been prescribed a medication called Sustiva (generic name Efavirenz) that causes a "false positive" test result for cannabis. He was subsequently treated by Defendant Beam, a physician at FCI-McKeon, with Efavirenz for his condition. On a later occasion, he provided a urine sample, and a lab report was thereafter issued which indicated the presence of cannabis in his urine. The following day, he received an incident report charging him with a Code 112 violation, Use of Narcotics. Following the referral of the charges by the Unit Disciplinary Committee ("UDC") to the Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO"), a hearing was conducted and Plaintiff was found guilty of the charge. He was sanctioned to the disallowance of 40 days of good credit time, 10 days of disciplinary custody and 180 day loss of social visiting privileges.

In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges impartiality during the DHO hearing, as well as administrative appeals. He contends that both during the hearing and the appeals, favorable evidence submitted on his behalf establishing that he was on medication which could explain the positive test result was ignored. He further maintains that following the finding of guilt with respect to this incident, his urine was tested several times and produced positive results yet he was never charged with a Code 112 violation. He also points to a Memorandum that was issued following the hearing and appeals that he claims supports his position that his medication causes a false positive for cannabis.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights during the course of the disciplinary proceeding and appeals by presenting evidence to negate the fact that Plaintiff's Efavirenz medication would cause a false positive test result. He further claims that Defendant Linden violated his Eighth and Fifth Amendment rights by failing to impartially conduct his disciplinary hearing. Plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief, including the restoration of the forfeited GCT, as well as monetary damages.

In dismissing Plaintiff's complaint the Court cited to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), wherein the Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional cause of action for damages does not accrue "for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid," until the plaintiff proves that the "conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus." Id. at 486-87.

The Court further cited to Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997), wherein the Supreme Court extended the rationale in Heck to disciplinary proceedings, holding that the expungement of the inmate disciplinary proceeding would imply the invalidity of the underlying disciplinary action: "[t]he principal procedural defect complained of by the respondent would, if established, necessarily imply the invalidity of the deprivation of his good-time credits." Edwards, 520 U.S. at 646. Accordingly, an inmate may not bring a civil rights action for declaratory and injunctive relief related to an inmate disciplinary proceeding without first challenging and overturning, via appropriate proceedings, the disciplinary hearing in question. Id. at 646-47.

In the instant action Plaintiff specifically sought damages, as well as the expungement of the disciplinary proceedings and the restoration of the lost good credit time. The Court found that an award of damages would clearly implicate the validity of the underlying disciplinary proceedings. Plaintiff could not assert such a claim unless he could demonstrate that the DHO's decision regarding the misconduct was invalidated on administrative appeal or through issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. Plaintiff was unable to do so as the documents attached to his complaint revealed that the DHO's decision was affirmed on appeal through the BOP's administrative remedy review system. Further, there was no indication that a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging the validity of the misconduct proceeding was ever pursued, let alone resolved in Plaintiff's favor. Thus, because the disciplinary proceeding had not been determined unlawful, the Court found it appropriate to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Heck and Edwards.

The Court further found that to the extent Plaintiff sought to challenge the loss of good time credit imposed by the DHO, such allegations were not properly asserted in this proceeding. It is well-settled that a civil rights action may not be employed to challenge the fact or duration of a prisoner's or to seek earlier or speedier release. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1975). The Court stated, however, that Plaintiff was free to file a habeas action if he wished to do so. Based on the foregoing, the complaint was dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

In the pending motion for reconsideration Plaintiff sets forth two arguments. He first contends that the Court erred in failing to allow him to amend his complaint prior to dismissing this action. He next argues that if permitted to file an amended complaint, he would be able to set forth claims that do not imply the invalidity of his disciplinary proceedings. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds Plaintiff's arguments to be without merit.

II. Motion for Reconsideration Standard

A motion for reconsideration is a device of limited utility. Its purpose is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to prevent newly discovered evidence. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). Accordingly, a party seeking reconsideration must demonstrate at least one of the following grounds prior to the court altering, or amending, a standing judgment: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court entered judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to present manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Café v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999)(citing North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)). A motion for reconsideration is appropriate in instances where the court has "patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension." Rohrbach v. AT&T Nassau Metals Corp., 902 F. Supp. 523, 527 (M.D. Pa. 1995), vacated in part on other grounds on reconsideration, 915 F. Supp. 712 (M.D. Pa. 1996)(quoting Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing, Inc., 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983). It may not be used as a means to reargue unsuccessful theories, or argue new facts or issues that were not ...

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