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Russell v. City of Philadelphia

May 19, 2010


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


This case is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 39). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED.

Factual Background

Plaintiff is an inmate at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center ("PICC"), an institution run by the Philadelphia Prison System, which is an agency of the City of Philadelphia. Defendants are the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Prison System, the PICC, Commissioner of Prisons Louis Giorla, the former Warden of the PICC Joyce Adams, and then-Major Karen Bryant, who is now the Deputy Warden of the PICC. Although Plaintiff initially named Mayor Michael Nutter as a defendant, these allegations were dismissed by this Court's Order of January 13, 2009.

Plaintiff's Complaint, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, does not proceed in a narrative form, but rather lists a series of events that allegedly violated his rights. First, Plaintiff was removed from his employment in the law library on May 30, 2008. Second, on the same day, Plaintiff was removed from the "maximum" side of the facility and placed on the "medium" side.*fn1 Third, on June 12, 2008, Plaintiff was subjected to a strip and cavity search by female guards during a single-cell "shakedown." The corrections officers also removed all of Plaintiff's legal and personal paperwork during this shakedown and then placed Plaintiff in administrative segregation. Plaintiff states that he was not given any explanation for his placement in administrative segregation until his third appearance before a Special Management Status Review Committee. At that point, he was informed that he had been placed in administrative segregation because of his violation of the prison policy relating to inmate media access. Fourth, Plaintiff states that he was denied access to the courts to submit his Allowance of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Although his Complaint does not frequently specify which Defendants committed the allegedly unconstitutional acts, Plaintiff does name several wrongs committed by specific Defendants. First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Giorla has violated his rights by denying his request to be reinstated to his former employment in the law library and to pay him lost wages. Second, Plaintiff states that the City of Philadelphia, through its administration, violated the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, Sections 3, 13, and 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. These, however, are not the only claims that Plaintiff brings, and more detail will be provided in the discussion section below.

Plaintiff pursued these claims through the appropriate administrative channels before filing his Complaint in this Court on December 3, 2008. Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on February 26, 2010, claiming various immunities from suit on behalf of all Defendants as well as contesting the merits of Plaintiff's allegations. Plaintiff responded to this Motion on March 25, 2010, and in doing so greatly expanded on what was in his initial Complaint. Defendants did not object to Plaintiff's late filing of his response or to his addition of seemingly new claims at this late stage of the litigation, but did file a reply brief with this Court on April 23, 2010.


When a party files for summary judgment, "[t]he judgment sought should be rendered 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). In making a summary judgment determination, all inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). When the non-moving party is the plaintiff, he must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to [his] case," as he will bear the burden of proof on each element of his claims at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In order to survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party cannot rely solely on the unsupported allegations found in the pleadings. Id. at 324. Instead, the non-moving party must raise more than "some metaphysical doubt" as to a material fact. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. In making a decision as to whether there is a "genuine" issue of fact, the court must determine "whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).


While the pleadings of pro se litigants are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), a pro se Plaintiff still must meet the above standard to survive a motion for summary judgment.

Liberally construing Plaintiff's Complaint and Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, we will treat Plaintiff's Complaint as raising a First Amendment retaliation claim, free exercise of religion claims, Fourth Amendment claims for improper searches, an Eighth Amendment claim for cruel and unusual punishment, Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims, a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim under a "class of one" theory, claims under Article I, §§ 13 and 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and a claim for negligence. Philadelphia Prison System and the PICC

As an initial matter, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted in favor of the Philadelphia Prison System and the PICC. Individual departments of the City of Philadelphia cannot be sued separately; instead the suit must be brought against the City of Philadelphia itself. 53 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 16257 (West 1998). Any claims brought against a department of the City of Philadelphia, therefore, must be dismissed as a matter of law. Regalbuto v. City of Phila., 937 F. Supp. 374, 377 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The Philadelphia Prison System is a department of the City of Philadelphia, and operates the PICC. Given that no suits can be maintained against these two Defendants, Summary Judgment must be granted in their favor. City of Philadelphia Summary judgment must also be granted in favor of the City of Philadelphia on all of Plaintiff's federal constitutional claims. First, Plaintiff cannot maintain a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 solely on a respondeat superior theory of liability. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). In order to sue the city, Plaintiff needs to establish that his injury was the result of some official policy or custom of the city. Id. at 690-91. In this case, because Pennsylvania law requires all suits against individual departments of the city to be brought against the city, it would be sufficient for Plaintiff to demonstrate that a policy or custom of the Philadelphia Prison System or the PICC had violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff, however, has made no such allegation. Although Plaintiff does appear to point toward prison policies in a few areas, he never alleges that the policy resulted in a violation of his constitutional rights, but rather alleges that his rights were violated when individual employees ...

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