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Jessica Elaine Wolfe v. Jeffrey A. Beard

December 9, 2010

JESSICA ELAINE WOLFE
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM

The plaintiff, Jessica Elaine Wolfe,*fn1 is a self-described male-to-female pre-operative transsexual who is an inmate at the all-male State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania ("SCI Graterford"). In her pro se complaint, the plaintiff asserts nine claims for relief against nine officials employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), including six claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of her constitutional rights. The plaintiff's claims arise out of events that have occurred during her incarceration at SCI Graterford.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The plaintiff opposed the motion.*fn2 For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the defendants' motion to dismiss in part and will deny it in part.

I. Facts as Alleged in the Complaint

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).*fn3

The plaintiff's complaint is laden with factual allegations surrounding events at SCI Graterford, but the plaintiff does not link the allegations to her substantive counts. In an effort to clarify the plaintiff's claims, the Court held an on-the-record telephone conference with the parties on October 28, 2010. Based on the complaint and the plaintiff's clarifications thereto, the Court will discuss the allegations that are relevant to the substantive claims. Because few of the plaintiff's allegations contain dates, the Court will present the allegations in the order in which they appear in the complaint.

The DOC has failed to provide the plaintiff, a professionally diagnosed pre-operative transsexual,*fn4 with gender and body-type appropriate clothing. As a consequence, the plaintiff has suffered "body disfigurements" and "physical, psychological injuries." Compl. ¶ 23. Moreover, notwithstanding the plaintiff's legal name change, the Superintendent at SCI Graterford, Michael Wenerowicz,*fn5 has maintained the plaintiff's former name on her prison records. Compl. ¶ 25.

In addition, the plaintiff has been subject to full-body strip searches by male guards. During these strip searches, male guards have elevated the plaintiff's breasts and touched her nipples. These searches have been condoned by Graterford supervisors. Compl. ¶ 31.

On August 4, 2005, the plaintiff was victimized and her property was seized when a "Sergeant and four guards" attacked the plaintiff while she slept. Several guards dragged the plaintiff out of bed, stripped her naked and held her against the wall while other guards seized her law books and Uniform Commercial Code forms. Compl. ¶ 33-34; Pl.'s Pet. de Droit ¶ 4.

The plaintiff was again victimized upon her return to SCI Graterford after a Court appearance on October 21, 2009. While she was awaiting intake, Sergeant Andre Zimmer left the plaintiff in a sealed van for over an hour, during which time she endured hot temperatures and was not provided with fresh air, food, water, or restroom access. When the plaintiff was unloaded from the van, still handcuffed, Mr. Zimmer grabbed the plaintiff by the neck and smashed her face into a metal window frame, while ordering her to spread her legs so that he could conduct a body search. Mr. Zimmer then seized the plaintiff's property, which consisted of a tupperware bowl containing the plaintiff's medications. The plaintiff was deprived of her medications for four days. Compl. ¶ 39-41; Tr. at 6, 29-30.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a grievance against Mr. Zimmer, for which she faced retaliation. The plaintiff was employed at a paint shop in the prison, and when her employer learned that she had filed a grievance, he petitioned to remove the plaintiff from employment or to have her wages reduced. However, the plaintiff was ultimately able to keep her job. Compl. ¶¶ 45-46. Subsequently, the plaintiff's Unit Manager assigned the plaintiff to a library job that she had previously requested, but which had been unavailable. The librarian at the plaintiff's new job petitioned to have the plaintiff removed because she was transsexual. However, the plaintiff ultimately "recovered the job and all lost wages." Compl. ¶¶ 46-47; Tr. at 9-10. The plaintiff subsequently filed additional grievances.

The plaintiff was later informed that her new Unit Manager, Sylvia Pallott, was assigned to investigate the grievances she had filed. The plaintiff was called into Ms. Pallott's office to discuss her grievances. Compl. ¶ 48; Tr. at 12-13. A few weeks later, the plaintiff was again called into Ms. Pallott's office where she was informed that she would be transferred to a new cell. Whereas the plaintiff had been in a cell within twenty feet of the officer's station and the showers for over fourteen years, her new cell was located at the back of the lower tier of cells. Although the stated reason for the transfer was that the plaintiff was occupying a double-inmate cell by herself, the plaintiff's new cell also contained two beds. Tr. at 12. From her new cell, the plaintiff faces a long walk to the showers, where she is on display and suffers yelling and slurs. Tr. at 11.

After informing the plaintiff of her cell transfer, Ms. Pallott directed the plaintiff to move all of her belongings. Although the plaintiff informed Ms. Pallott that her medical conditions precluded her from lifting more than five pounds, Ms. Pallott indicated that the plaintiff would have to move everything by the next morning. While the plaintiff was moving her belongings, her mattress fell upon her, causing injuries that required medical attention. Compl. ¶¶ 50-51.

The plaintiff filed a complaint on June 28, 2010 against nine defendants.*fn6 In her complaint, the plaintiff asserts nine substantive counts.*fn7 In Count I, the plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. In Counts II through VII, the plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her constitutional rights. In Count VIII, the plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1987. Finally, in Count IX, the plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 13981, formerly a part of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the defendants' motion to dismiss in part and deny it in part.

II. Analysis

A. Count I: 42 U.S.C. § 1981

In Count I of the complaint, the plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against all defendants for violation of the "Writers and Authors Exclusive Rights Clause" located in Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution.*fn8 The defendants argue that this claim must be dismissed because § 1981 claims cannot be brought against state actors.

The Court will grant the motion to dismiss as to Count I, because it agrees that no private cause of action lies against a state actor under § 1981. Instead, "the express cause of action for damages created by § 1983 constitutes the exclusive federal remedy for violation of the rights guaranteed in § 1981 by state governmental units." McGovern v. City of Phila., 554 F.3d 114, 120-21 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 733 (1989)). There is no dispute that the defendants, all employed by the Commonwealth, are state actors. See Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 935 n.18 (1982). Accordingly, the plaintiff's § 1981 claim must be dismissed.

B. The § 1983 Claims

The plaintiff asserts six separate claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in Counts II through VII of the complaint. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss as to Counts II, III, V, and VII. However, the Court will deny the motion in part as to Counts IV and VI.

1. Contracts Clause Violation

In Count II of the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated the Contracts Clause of Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution by "impairing the Obligation of Contracts." The defendants argue that the plaintiff has failed to allege a violation of the Contracts Clause. Moreover, the defendants argue that the plaintiff cannot establish a Contracts Clause claim, as the defendants are executive actors whose actions do not fall within the Clause's purview.

The Court will dismiss Count II because it concludes that the plaintiff has failed to establish a Contracts Clause claim. A Contract Clause analysis requires three threshold inquiries: (1) whether there is a contractual relationship; (2) whether a change in a law has impaired that contractual relationship; and (3) whether the impairment is substantial. Transp. Workers Union of Am., Local 290 v. SEPTA, 145 F.3d 619, 621 (3d Cir. 1998). The complaint contains no factual allegations that reference a contractual relationship or the manner in which such relationship was impaired, and therefore the claim fails the pleading standard.

Moreover, to the extent that the plaintiff intends to direct her Contracts Clause claim against the DOC's policies and regulations,*fn9 such a claim fails because the defendants have not exercised the legislative power of the state. See New Orleans Waterworks Co. v. La. Sugar Refining Co., 125 U.S. 18, 30 (1888) (holding that prohibition in Contracts Clause "is aimed at the legislative power of the State, and not at the decisions of its courts, or the acts of administrative or executive boards or officers, or the doings of corporations or individuals"); see also Cross Lake Shooting and Fishing Club v. State of La., 224 U.S. 632, 638 (1912) (same); Speck v. City of Phila., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2203, at *14 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 11, 2008) (finding no claim under Contracts Clause because actions of executive agency are not legislative or quasi-legislative).

Because the plaintiff cannot establish a Contracts Clause violation, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss as to Count II of the complaint.

2. Freedom of Expression and Access to the Courts In Count III, the plaintiff asserts a claim titled "Freedom of Expression/To Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances." Given the manner in which the plaintiff has labeled Count III, the Court assumes that the plaintiff intends to allege violations of both the First Amendment right to freedom of expression and access to the courts.

Based on the plaintiff's complaint and the on-the-record telephone conference described above, the Court understands the plaintiff's freedom of expression claim to be based on the defendants' failure to use her legal name in prison records. Tr. at 17. The defendants argue that there is no First Amendment right to have prison records reflect a legally changed name.

The Court will grant the motion to dismiss as to the plaintiff's freedom of expression claim, because the Court agrees that the defendants' actions do not implicate a First Amendment right. Where a prisoner changes her name for personal rather than religious reasons, the First Amendment does not require that her prison records be changed to reflect the same. See Spies v. Voinovich, 173 F.3d 398, 406 (6th Cir. 1999) (finding no First Amendment right to have prison records reflect legally changed name) (citing Imam Ali Abdullah Akbar v. Canney, 634 F.2d 339, 340 (6th Cir. 1980)); Kirwan v. Larned Mental Health, 816 F. Supp. 672, 674 (D. Kan. 1993) (holding First Amendment not implicated where prison officials refused to recognize prisoner's new name, which was changed for personal reasons).*fn10

In addition, the Court will grant the motion as to the plaintiff's access to the courts claim.*fn11 A First Amendment access to the courts claim may be brought either to challenge official action that is presently blocking a plaintiff from filing suit, or official action that has made it so that a claim can no longer be brought. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 413-14 (2002); Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). To establish an access to the courts claim, the plaintiff must identify a "non-frivolous," "arguable" underlying claim for which she was denied access. Harbury, 536 U.S. at 424. This entails a pleading requirement, whereby the complaint "must describe ...


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