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Carter v. Morrison

February 24, 2010


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


Pro se Plaintiff Dana Carter filed this section 1983 action to assert alleged civil rights violations arising from his parole and assignment to the Joseph E. Coleman Center ("Coleman Center"), a community corrections center. At this stage of the case, two groups of Defendants remain, Parole Agent Jose Alvarado and Parole Supervisor Elda Casillas for the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole ("Commonwealth Defendants") as well as employees and the corporate entity of the Joseph E. Coleman Community Center (Defendants Ronald Morrison, Manny Arroyo, Bernon Lane, Lauren Troppauer, Lenora King, Junius Russell, Pamela Brown, Nicole Johnson, and Community Education Center, Inc., collectively referred to as "CEC Defendants"). Currently before the Court are CEC Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment; Commonwealth Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment; and Plaintiff Carter's respective Responses in Opposition.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment are granted.


On October 22, 2003, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole ("the Board") approved Plaintiff's release and assignment to Coleman Center. (CEC Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B at CEC 005.) Following his release from State Correctional Institution -- Greene ("SCI-Greene"), Plaintiff arrived at Coleman Center on March 1, 2004. (Commonwealth Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 4, Carter Dep. 40:23-41:10, June 9, 2009.) The Board issued Plaintiff certain Special Conditions to his parole on February 27, 2004. (CEC Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B at CEC 001.) Plaintiff acknowledged receipt and understanding of the Special Conditions via signature. Id. Among other provisions, the Special Conditions provided that removal or termination from Coleman Center for any reason other than successful completion of its program would constitute a violation of Plaintiff's parole. (Id. at CEC 002.) The Conditions further provided that any violation of the Coleman Center's rules may constitute a violation of parole and result in arrest. (Id. at CEC 005.)

A. Initial Grievances and CEC Response

While at Coleman Center in 2004, Plaintiff filed request forms and grievances relating to CEC Defendants on behalf of himself and other inmates.*fn2 Plaintiff used these request forms to claim benefits that he alleged the CEC Defendants had failed to provide for him or his fellow parolees, and grievances to complain of allegedly harmful practices at the Coleman Center. (Carter Dep. 53:15-62:06; Carter Aff. 1, June 28, 2006.) During his first month at the Coleman Center, Plaintiff avers that he "filed a total of fifteen request[s] to staff and seven grievances." (Carter Aff. 1.)

On July 1, 2004, Defendants King, Brown, and Arroyo called Plaintiff into an office and told him that "they were displeased with [his] activities," a reference -- Plaintiff believes -- to the grievances Plaintiff filed in regards to the Coleman Center. (Carter Dep. 66:06-67:07.) On behalf of those present, Defendant Arroyo further stated to Plaintiff during the meeting that "they were very concerned that [Plaintiff was] jeopardizing [his] stay there and that [Plaintiff] was just like the rest, to stop complaining. (Id.; Carter Aff. 2).

B. Shooting at CEC

On July 11, 2004, as he was preparing to leave Coleman Center on a social pass around 8:00 a.m., Plaintiff heard a gunshot down the hall from the room where he slept. Soon after hearing the gunshot, Plaintiff left the Coleman Center. On his way out, Plaintiff dialed 911 to report the shooting from a pay phone in the Center's lobby. (Carter Aff. 2.) Later that night, upon his return to the Coleman Center, Plaintiff discovered that a parolee had been shot and killed at the Center. (Id.) The next day Plaintiff informed Defendant Alvarado that Plaintiff feared for his safety at the Center. (Carter Aff. 2; (Commonwealth Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 1 ("Alvarado Decl.") ¶¶ 3-4.)) Plaintiff then requested that Defendant Alvarado transfer him to another community corrections center. (Carter Aff. 2.) Defendant Alvarado asked Plaintiff if the incident had anything to do with Plaintiff. Plaintiff responded in the negative. (Alavardo Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. A.) Alvarado then inquired if Plaintiff had been threatened or if there is an immediate threat to his life in the Center. Plaintiff also responded in the negative. (Alavardo Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. A.) Subsequently, Alvarado denied Plaintiff's transfer request and told Plaintiff to return to Coleman Center as usual. (Id.) Alvarado assured Plaintiff that the incident in question was being properly addressed, and if any legitimate threats to Plaintiff should arise, to inform Alvarado and the Coleman Center immediately. (Id.)

The shooting incident spurred Plaintiff to contact his government representatives concerning the conditions at Coleman Center. Plaintiff wrote letters to, among others, Pennsylvania State and Congressional Representatives as well as the Governor concerning his complaints with Coleman Center. (Carter Aff. 1-2; Carter Dep. 72:05-72:19.) Defendants Arroyo, Morrison, Brown and Alvarado received copies of these letters.*fn3 (Carter Aff. 1; Carter Dep. 72:05-72:19.) As a result of Plaintiff's campaign to file request forms and grievances and encouragement of other parolees to do the same, "the [Coleman] Center started receiving telephone calls from state reps and others about resident complaints and conditions at the Center." (Carter Aff. 2.)

C. First Parole Violation: Possession of Sensitive Identification Information

Towards the end of August 2004, Defendant Alvarado received a telephone call from Plaintiff's then-employer, LP Group, about a potential violation of parole conditions. (Alvarado Decl. ¶¶ 6-9.) Plaintiff's personal address book had been found on August 24, 2004, after it had been left in the men's bathroom at the Connection Training Education Program ("CTEP"). (Alvarado Decl. ¶¶ 6-9, Ex. F.; Commonwealth Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2 ("Alvarado Resp."), Ex. A.) After recovering the address book, CTEP staff discovered that it contained sensitive identification information of one Coleman Center staff member and three Coleman Center parolees. (Alvarado Decl. ¶¶ 6-9, Ex. D; Alvarado Resp. Ex. A.) The identification information consisted of personal cellular phone numbers, names, dates of birth, social security numbers, drivers' license numbers, and credit card numbers. (Id.) In a meeting with CTEP administrative staff, LP Group employees, and Plaintiff, Plaintiff first admitted to obtaining the information from the individuals' W-2 forms for illegal purposes. Plaintiff then claimed that two men had given him permission to possess their sensitive information, but that he forget to inform the other two individuals that he had their personal information. Plaintiff finally claimed that he had only intended to help the individuals whose personal information he possessed to straighten out their credit. (Alvarado Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. B, C.)

As a result of the discovery of his address book containing sensitive identification and credit card numbers, Plaintiff was discharged "unsatisfactorily," on September 1, 2004, from the Coleman Center for "violating program rule under the title, Major Rules and Procedural Infractions, II., P," which prohibits "[p]ossession, use, removal of, or tampering with confidential or unauthorized material in Coleman Hall's possession . . . ." (CEC Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B at CEC 039 (Letter from CEC Defendant King to Commonwealth Defendant Alvarado.); Pl.'s Resp. CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. W at 20 (Community Education Center's "Coleman Hall" Resident Handbook.)) On September 1, 2004, Alvarado arrested Plaintiff at the Coleman Center for two parole violations: obtaining sensitive information in violation of Coleman Center rules and failing to be successfully discharged from the Coleman Center. (Alvarado Decl. ¶¶ 9, 11, Ex. D; Pl.'s Resp. CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 7-11.) The Parole Board then remanded Plaintiff to State Correctional Institution - Graterford ("SCI-Graterford") pending resolution of his parole violation.

On September 8, 2004, Alvarado served Plaintiff with a Notice of Charges and Hearings form, which Plaintiff signed and dated. (Alvarado Decl., ¶ 11, Ex. D; Pl.'s Resp. CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B ("Notice of Charges and Hearing").) That same day a preliminary hearing was conducted at SCI-Graterford and, during the hearing, Plaintiff requested a "full panel hearing" on his violation. (Alvarado Decl. ¶¶ 12, 14.) Plaintiff began his wait for this full hearing, and, on November 15, 2004, Alvarado sent an e-mail to inquire if any date had been scheduled. (Id. ¶ 13, Ex. E.) On January 7, 2005, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the parole violation charges due to the Probation Board's failure to comply with its own regulation requiring a full hearing on parole violations within 120 days of a request for such a hearing. (Pl.'s Resp. CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 3, Ex. F.) Subsequently, on January 27, 2005, Plaintiff was released from incarceration to the Coleman Center, because the Probation Board failed to hold a full panel hearing within 120 days of Plaintiff's parole violations. (Alvarado Decl. ¶ 14, Ex. F.)

D. Return to Coleman Center and New Grievances

Upon his return to Coleman Center, Plaintiff acknowledges that he became subject to the same special conditions of parole, which provided that a violation of Coleman Center program rules as well a discharge from the Coleman Center for any other reason than successful completion of the program would constitute a violation of Plaintiff's parole. (Carter Dep. 75:3-76:20.)

1. Program Phase Grievance

Plaintiff was required to begin the program from the orientation phase, although he had been through the orientation before, had progressed to phase three (out of four) during his previous participation in the Coleman Center program, and had his parole violation dismissed for a procedural defect. (Pl.'s Resp. CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. at 5, Ex. G.; Carter Aff. 3.) Plaintiff complained about his placement in Phase One to CEC Defendants through formal grievances and to Defendant Alvarado, who told Plaintiff that he would look into the situation. (CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. H; Alvarado Decl. Ex. A.) Defendant Alvarado's records also demonstrate that he told Plaintiff he would talk to CEC Defendants to see if it would be possible for Plaintiff to start the Center's program where he last left off. (Alvarado Decl. Ex. A.)

2. Assorted Grievances and Requests

From January through June 2005, Plaintiff filed numerous request forms and grievances with the Coleman Center relating to services Plaintiff believed the Center wrongly denied or errors that the Center had committed in administering its program. (Pl.'s Resp. CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. H.) The request forms and grievances addressed a wide range of subjects: use of a fitness club three times a week as opposed to one, scheduling of a progress meeting, placement in phase three as opposed to phase one of the program, an explanation of the "phase procedure" upon a dismissal of parole violation charges and return to Coleman Center, improper restrictions on his ability to leave the Center on a day pass, transfer to a mental health room, failure to process Plaintiff's rent exemption request, credit for community service performed, and use of his typewriter. (Id.) Defendant Brown responded to a number of Plaintiff's request forms and grievances by validating the Center's actions with brief explanations of Coleman Center's policy or by advising Plaintiff that she had not received the paperwork Plaintiff referenced in his grievances. (Id.) At other times, from the record before the Court, it appears that certain requests and grievances went unanswered. It is not clear to what extent Plaintiff followed up his unanswered grievances by contacting Coleman Center staff. The Court notes, however, that in one instance Plaintiff filed a request form asking the Center if they had received other requests and, if so, to respond accordingly, to which Defendant Brown replied, "I already responded." (Id.) Moreover, according to Defendant Alvarado's records, Plaintiff's request was granted on at least one occasion, since by May 24, 2005 Plaintiff had been transferred to the Mental Health Unit. (Alvarado Decl. Ex. A.)

3. Arroyo Confrontation

At some point during 2005, after Plaintiff had returned to Coleman Center from his first parole violation, Defendant Arroyo confronted Plaintiff about his second stay at Coleman Center. (Carter Dep. 122:12-123:11.) Plaintiff testified in his deposition that Defendant Arroyo saw Plaintiff sitting outside the medical center and sat down beside Plaintiff. Defendant Arroyo told Plaintiff that "it's good to see you back." The two had a conversation, in which Defendant Arroyo proposed a hypothetical to Plaintiff. Defendant Arroyo asked, "what if someone had burglarized your home and he came back in the neighborhood, wouldn't you be upset towards him?" (Id.) Upon Defendant Arroyo's prodding, Plaintiff responded, "I would be a little upset about it and I wouldn't want that person around the neighborhood anymore." (Id.) Defendant Arroyo ended the conversation on that note. Plaintiff believes this hypothetical was a reference to his return to the center after his parole violation for possession of sensitive identification and credit information for a CTEP staff member and a few Coleman Center residents. (Id.)

4. Home Plan Rejection Grievance

On February 11, 2005, Plaintiff submitted a home plan, which is a proposal for a living arrangement outside Coleman Center. (Alvarado Decl. ¶ 15.) The home plan indicated that Plaintiff would reside with his uncle in a one-bedroom apartment located on West Walnut Lane in Philadelphia. (Commonwealth Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 1-G .) Defendant Alvarado investigated the home plan by speaking with Plaintiff's uncle and the landlord of the apartment. (Id.) In talking with the landlord, Defendant Alvarado discovered that Plaintiff's uncle was roughly eight months behind in rent and that the landlord would not allow Plaintiff to live in the apartment due to Plaintiff's criminal history. (Id.) Defendant Alvarado, thus, disapproved Plaintiff's home plan. (Id.)

5. Employment Grievance

Later that year, in May, 2005, "an environmental job service had placed [Plaintiff] at the Philadelphia Naval Base making $12.00 an hour for nine hours a day, seven days a week."

(Carter Aff. 4.)*fn4 On May 12, 2005, Defendant Alvarado spoke with an employee of Kvaerner Shipyard in regards to a potential job that Plaintiff was pursuing at that site. From this phone conversation, Alvarado learned that Plaintiff had only applied for a temporary position that could only last up to six months, that the job site could be in Philadelphia or another Kvaerner location, that Kvaerner had given Plaintiff only an opportunity to interview and not an offer of employment, and that "it would be highly unlikely Plaintiff would get a job with [Kvaerner] simply because [Plaintiff] is currently on parole." (Alvarado Decl. Ex. A.)

E. Second Parole Violation: Multiple Rules and Procedures Infractions

During July 2005, Plaintiff committed a series of infractions that culminated in his unsatisfactory discharge for violation of parole conditions on July 14, 2005. On July 6, 2005, Defendant Brown sent an e-mail to Defendant Alvarado and cc'ed Defendants Arroyo, Morrison, and Casillas. (Alvarado Decl. Ex. H.) In that e-mail, Defendant Brown reported that Plaintiff violated Coleman Center's fiscal policy relating to the retention of four paychecks and that Plaintiff was caught with a cell phone the previous week. (Id.) Additionally, Brown reported that she had been away for the last few days, and is still gathering information on these two offenses. (Id.) Lastly, Brown concluded, "[i]t looks like [Plaintiff] is back to his old tricks and we need to put a handle on him!" (Id.) One week later, on July 13, 2005, Defendant Brown followed up her first e-mail with a second e-mail to the same recipients. (Alvarado Decl. Ex. I; Pl.'s Resp. CEC Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. I.)) The second e-mail addressed the following litany of program violations Plaintiff committed:

[Plaintiff] states that he cashed his paychecks because he had a rent waiver, he does not have a rent waiver, nor does he have a current home plan submitted. His prior home plan was denied back in March and he has been informed of that several times as well as his agent informing him of such. [Plaintiff] was informed in June that he needs to submit a new home plan by July 1, 2005, he provided [Defendant Brown] with an address, phone number and no name. [Defendant Brown] told [Plaintiff] that if [Plaintiff has] an address and a phone number, [Plaintiff has] to have a name! [Plaintiff was placed on restriction for not turning in his four paychecks and cashing them as well as for having possession of a cell phone on 7/6. [Plaintiff] was made aware of his restriction and went on a social pass on 7/8 ([Defendant Brown] is investigating how [Plaintiff] got out).

On 7/11 [Plaintiff] signed out for work/treatment from 5:40am to 7:30pm, (A) he returned at 9pm, (B) he never reported to treatment on Monday (New Journey's provided [Defendant Brown] with [Plaintiff's] attendance information).

Today [Plaintiff] signed out for work/treatment and he is not scheduled for treatment at all today. He signed out from 5:30am to 9pm, since he is not suppose[d] to go to treatment he is suppose[d] to return at 5pm, if he returns at 9 he will be 4 hours late and will have deviated again. [Defendant Brown] also contact[ed] New Journey's and found out that [Plaintiff] no longer is suppose[d] to attend three time a week and is only suppose[d] to be there twice a week. They gave him a letter to that effect. So, [Plaintiff] has been signing out for three times a week and not twice a week. He also never provided a copy of his change in schedule for treatment. (Id.) These infractions led Coleman Center to discharge Plaintiff for a second time and remand him to parole on July 14, 2005. (Alvarado Decl. Ex. J.)

The July 14, 2005 "Termination Letter" cited Plaintiff as having violated "program rule under the title, Major Prohibited Acts, page 20 # G, failure to maintain accountability when outside the facility"; "Major Rules and Procedural Infractions, page 20 # J, deviation or unauthorized absence from work assignment, treatment or the facility, page 21 # Q, failure to comply with fiscal procedures identified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections including weekly payment of rent";*fn5 "[p]rogram rule, page 18, no cell phones"; "Minor Rules Infractions, page 21 #[#] 2, 6, and 15." (Id.) At that point, Plaintiff was "sanctioned" to the 90-day PennCAPP program, in the Tranquility Unit at the Coleman Center. (Carter Aff. 5; Carter Dep. 89:21-91:02; Alvarado Decl. ¶ 20.) In PennCAPP, residents are under restrictions that forbid them from leaving the Center and are required to participate in counseling programs. (Carter Dep. 89:21-90:21.)

On either July 20 or 21, 2005, Defendant Alvarado served Plaintiff with a "Notice of Charges and Hearing" in relation to Plaintiff's most recent parole violation. (Carter Aff. 5; Alvarado Decl. ΒΆ 21, Ex. A.) Defendant Alvarado informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff could request a parole violation hearing, in which case Plaintiff would be transferred to SCI-Graterford for the hearing, or that Plaintiff could plead guilty to the parole violation charges and remain in PennCAPP. (Carter Aff. 5.) Defendant Alvarado reminded Plaintiff that -- like the last time Plaintiff violated parole -- he could spend the maximum amount of time (120 days) waiting for a hearing if he chose to contest the violation. (Id.) ...

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