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Renchenski v. Williams

October 4, 2010


On Appeal from the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, (No. 06-cv-278), District Judge: Honorable Richard P. Conaboy.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge


Argued July 12, 2010

Before: FUENTES, ALDISERT, and ROTH, Circuit Judges


Plaintiff Charles Renchenski is serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole for murder in the first degree. Although he was never charged with, nor convicted of, a sexual offense, in 2005 Defendants classified Renchenski as a sex offender and recommended his enrollment in Pennsylvania's Sex Offender Treatment Program ("SOTP"). Renchenski filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging that his forced participation in sex offender treatment therapy violates several constitutional rights, including his: Fourteenth Amendment right to due process before being labeled a sex offender; Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination; and Sixth Amendment right to have a jury adjudicate his guilt. He also challenges the District Court's conversion of Defendants' motion to dismiss into a summary judgment motion without granting him leave to take discovery. Because we hold that an inmate who has never been charged with, nor convicted of, a sex offense is entitled to due process before Pennsylvania classifies him as a sex offender, we reverse the District Court's Order entering summary judgment as to his procedural due process claim. We affirm the District Court in all other respects.


Renchenski is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township, Pennsylvania ("SCI-CT"), serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his 1985 conviction of the murder-by-strangulation of Rose Marie Foley. Renchenski's Pre-Sentence Report ("PSR") indicated that Ms. Foley was found in an isolated rural area, and that "the body... was clad only in a bra (which was unsnapped and pulled over the breasts), a blouse which was also above the breasts, and socks." (App. at 317.) An autopsy revealed multiple blunt force trauma to the face and trunk, and abrasions and contusions on Foley's genitals. Additionally, her right breast was mutilated. Under interrogation, Renchenski admitted that he had cut away the skin around the victim's nipple in an attempt to prevent law enforcement from identifying his bite-marks. Finally, the autopsy noted hemorrhages in the area of her clitoris and vulva.

While Renchenski was never charged with, or convicted of, sexually assaulting Foley, his PSR did indicate "sexual" as a "past or present problem area." (App. at 321.) Nevertheless, his original correctional plan did not designate sexual as an area of concern.*fn2 From 1990 through 1999, however, Renchenski's prescriptive correctional program plan was altered to indicate that sexual was an area of concern. When Pennsylvania adopted its state-wide sex offender treatment program in 1999, prison officials granted Renchenski's request that this determination be removed from his correctional plan.*fn3 This status quo remained in place until 2003, when Renchenski was transferred to SCI-CT.

Renchenski contends that after being transferred to SCICT, he complained to Defendant Williams, a prison counselor, about his loss of single-cell status. When his complaints went unanswered, Renchenski called Williams "slothful." Renchenski alleges that, in retaliation for this insult, Williams classified him as a sex offender and enrolled him in a slew of prison programs, including sex offender orientation, sex offender core, and sex offender maintenance.

Pennsylvania's SOTP is entitled "Responsible Living: A Sex Offender Treatment Program" and consists of a seven-phase behavioral modification course. Section 11(B) of the DOC's Policy Statement on Access to Mental Health Care ("Policy 13.8.1") governs "risk/need assessment" and outlines how the DOC evaluates sex offenders. It does not delineate how the DOC determines whether or not an inmate is a sex offender. Id.

After the initial assessment, the treatment provider recommends a final risk level based on, among other things, the risk of recidivism, the attitude the inmate displays regarding sexual crimes, and any indication that the offender has a primary sexual attraction to children. Id. For prisoners assessed as moderateto-high-risk offenders, the seven-step SOTP consists of one weekly two-hour group therapy session comprised of no more that fifteen participants that continues for approximately two years. See Policy 13.8.1 § 11(C)(2)(f). Throughout an inmate's involvement in the program, he or she can accumulate points for attendance, participation, and for completing homework assignments and major projects. An inmate "must accrue 85% of the total possible points in order to 'graduate' from the program." Id. While an inmate who denies a past history of sexual violence may initially participate in treatment, if he or she persists in maintaining his or her innocence, the inmate will be dismissed from the program.

The SOTP is run by qualified professionals. In order to serve as a credentialed treatment provider, a staff member must have a graduate degree in behavioral health or social sciences and at least two years of experience with sex offender treatment. Alternatively, a staff member may be credentialed if he or she has an undergraduate degree in behavioral health and at least 2,000 hours of clinical sex offender treatment. The SOTP is supervised by a Licensed Psychologist Manager.

Renchenski contested his sex offender designation, and his complaint was referred to John Sidler, SCI-CT's Chief Psychologist. Sidler dismissed his complaint, because "based on the official version of the offense, there [was] a high level of sexual content involved. [Therefore, t]he Psychology Department supports... [the] decision to add sexual offender status." (App. at 84.) Sidler noted that a correctional plan, which is developed for each inmate, is designed to address an inmate's individual needs to prevent recidivism and to ensure a smooth transition back into society. Sidler indicated that he approved of Renchenski's designation as a sex offender because "[t]he official version of the crime indicate[d] that there was a sexual component to the crime, as Renchenski was engaged in a sexual act with the victim when the homicide occurred." (Id. at 286.) Sidler also stated that the "decision to recommend Renchenski for sex offender programs was based upon the [t]reatment team's evaluation of him coupled with the sexual component of Renchenski's offense." (Id. at 287.)

While Defendants claim that Renchenski's name currently appears on the institutional sex offender roster as a "possible sex offender," they maintain that he has not been classified as a sex offender because he has refused to submit to an assessment. (Id. at 289.) This assertion contradicts DOC's own policy, which provides that "[e]very inmate who refuses assessment and/or treatment shall be identified as falling in the Moderate/High risk category [of sex offender]." Policy 13.8.1 § 11(B)(4)(g). Moreover, Defendants' argument that Williams merely recommended to the Psychology Department that Renchenski be assessed to determine whether or not he needed sex offender treatment is unsupported by the record, which reveals that Williams recommended Renchenski participate in three specific sex offender programs: orientation, core and maintenance. Id. at 15; (App. at 265, 475.) Defendants also admit that, under the current SOTP, at the time the DOC commences a new treatment group, Renchenski would be assessed for risk level and not for whether or not he needs treatment. See Appellee's Br. at 15.*fn4

Defendants also contend that while "the recommended programming may be a requirement of an inmate's correctional plan, an inmate's participation in the specific program is voluntary." Id. at 10. This claim is also belied by the record. For example, Policy 13.8.1 § 119(C)(1)(h) and (i) mandates that sex offenders participate in treatment by using the phrase "shall receive all seven phases" of therapy. Furthermore, in response to Renchenski's grievance, Larry Kaskie, the Unit Manager, noted that if the Psychology Department determines he needs counseling, he will be required to submit to the program. (App. at 475.) In a subsequent correspondence, John Castrignano, a Psychological Services Specialist, informed Renchenski that "Participation in Sex Offender Programming is required as part of your Correctional Plan[.]" (Id. at 458.) (emphasis in original); see also (Id. at 454 [August 19, 2003 Letter from Superintendent Gillis to Renchenski indicating that it was in his "best interest to comply" with treatment.]). And while Renchenski concedes that his refusal to participate has no effect on his parole status, he notes that his protests nonetheless subject him to substantial penalties, including the loss of his prison job, assignment to disciplinary custody for ninety days, cell restriction for thirty days, suspension of the right to receive visitors, and loss of privileges such as access to television, radio and the commissary. Appellant's Reply Br. at 2; see DC-ADM, 801, Inmate Discipline Procedures Manual § 4.

1. Procedural History

Renchenski filed the instant action, pro se, alleging several constitutional violations.*fn5 Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Renchenski's amended complaint for failure to state a claim, which Renchenski opposed. The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation, urging that dismissal was appropriate. Following the receipt of Renchenski's objections to the Report and Recommendation, and Defendants' opposing brief, the District Court ordered Defendants to file a supplemental brief addressing: (1) whether Renchenski was currently under consideration for participation in the SOTP; (2) the process for making such a determination; and (3) what, if any, ramifications Renchenski faced for refusing to participate in therapy. (App. at 5-6.)

After reviewing Defendants' Supplemental Brief, the District Court issued an Order notifying the parties of its intent to convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. While the District Court's Order was electronically docketed, it is unclear if a hard copy was sent to Renchenski via the United States Postal Service or whether he actually received this notice. What is clear is that Renchenski did not file a Rule 56(f) affidavit seeking to delay disposition of the summary judgment motion while he gathered evidence in support of his opposition motion. Instead, he sought leave to file a third amended complaint. In its Order and accompanying opinion, the District Court denied Renchenski's motion to file a third amended complaint and granted summary judgment in Defendants' favor on all counts.

2. The District Court's Ruling

The District Court first rejected Renchenski's claim that because the SOTP required him to admit to past sexual crimes, including the sexual component of the 1982 murder, participation violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The District Court properly considered this claim in light of the Supreme Court's holding in McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24 (2002), which stressed that "compulsion" was the key inquiry in any Fifth Amendment claim.*fn6 The District Court reasoned that: (1) Pennsylvania's SOTP bore a rational relationship to the legitimate penological objective of assessing and rehabilitating inmates whose records indicate a potential problem of a sexual nature; (2) the only consequence flowing from non-participation in the program-being labeled a "possible sex offender" on an internal prison roster- does not rise to the level of compulsion; and (3) being labeled a possible sex offender does not constitute an atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.

Next, the District Court granted summary judgment in Defendants' favor on Renchenski's Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim. First, the District Court noted that Renchenski presented no evidence that he was forced to undergo involuntary treatment. Alternatively, the District Court held that Renchenski had neither an independent liberty interest, nor a state-created liberty interest, which triggered the need for due process protections. Because Renchenski is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the District Court reasoned that refusing to participate in the SOTP would have no tangible effect on his liberty. It also rejected his argument that the stigma attached to merely labeling a prisoner a sex offender gave rise to a liberty interest.

The District Court next disposed of Renchenski's Equal Protection Clause, Sixth Amendment, and Eighth Amendment claims. First, the District Court ruled that Renchenski's equal protection claim failed because his allegations were vague and conclusory. Similarly, the District Court held that Renchenski could not sustain his Sixth Amendment claim because the provisions of Pennsylvania's code he cited to- 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9791 et seq.- related to the sex offender registration laws and not to the issues raised in his complaint. Next, the District Court rejected Renchenski's Eighth Amendment claim, holding that while a cruel and unusual punishment claim may be predicated on emotional injury, Renchenski failed to establish that Defendants were aware that a substantial risk of serious harm existed and deliberately disregarded that risk. Accordingly, the District Court granted summary judgment in Defendants' favor on all counts and denied Renchenski's motion for leave to file a third amended complaint.*fn7 Renchenski filed a pro se appeal, and we appointed pro bono counsel.


The District Court exercised jurisdiction over Renchenski's claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We have appellate jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review a district court's disposition of a summary judgment motion de novo. See Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 316 F.3d 431, 443 (3d Cir. 2003). "We apply the same standard as the District Court: Summary judgment is appropriate only where, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Melrose Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, --- F.3d ----, 2010 WL 2814284, at *5 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation & internal quotation marks omitted). "The mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant is insufficient to deny a motion for summary judgment; enough evidence must exist to enable a jury to reasonably find for the non-movant on the issue." Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 322 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). We review a district court decision refusing leave to amend a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) for abuse of discretion. See Bjorgung v. Whitetail Resort, LP, 550 F.3d 263, 266 (3d Cir. 2008).


Renchenski raises several substantive challenges and one procedural challenge to the District Court's grant of summary judgment in ...

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