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Donna Pfender v. Jeffrey Beard

February 16, 2011


Hon. John E. Jones III

Hon. J. Andrew Smyser



This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of Magistrate Judge J. Andrew Smyser (Doc. 61), filed on January 27, 2011, which recommends that we grant the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 42). Pro se Plaintiff Dona Pfender ("Plaintiff" or "Pfender") filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R on February 14, 2011. (Docs. 67 and 68). On February 15, 2011, the Defendants filed a brief in opposition to the Plaintiff's objections. (Doc. 69). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will adopt the R&R, grant the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and close this case.


A. Review of Magistrate Judge's R&R

When objections are filed to the report of a magistrate judge, the district court makes a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. Id. Although the standard of review is de novo, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 674-75; see also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984).

B. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "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). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations of denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must ... set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non- moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.


The complaint alleges that Plaintiff is the president of a prisoner civil rights advocacy group and was prohibited by defendant Lawler, the Warden of the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, from visiting any Pennsylvania State correctional institution. This prohibition followed a January 2008 incident at SCIHuntingdon where a contraband item, established to be an implement of escape, was found in the possession of inmate Dwayne Hill and was determined to have come from the Plaintiff's address. The item, an aerial view of SCI-Huntingdon, showing the complete layout of the institution, was found inside an envelope that had been mailed to inmate Hill with the return address naming "Donna Hill" and bearing the Plaintiff's address. Plaintiff claims that she did not send inmate Hill the aerial view of the institution, although she concedes that the envelope from "Donna Hill" was sent by her. Plaintiff explains that she used the name "Donna Hill"on mailings to inmate Hill "out of respect for the personal relationship that I have with inmate Dwayne Hill, whom I plan to marry legally on February 14, 2011." (Pfender Declaration, ¶ 4).

Defendant Lawler communicated his decision to suspend Pfender's visitation privileges by letter to her dated June 19, 2008. Thereafter, Pfender wrote a letter to Lawler dated June 25, 2008 requesting reconsideration of the ...

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