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Chris Washington-El v. Jeffrey Beard

March 11, 2011

CHRIS WASHINGTON-EL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conti

Magistrate Judge Bissoon

MEMORANDUM ORDER OPINION AND ORDER

Chris Washington-El ("plaintiff") is a state prisoner currently incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Frackville ("SCI-Frackville"), located in Frackville, Pennsylvania. This suit commenced with this court's receipt of plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") on December 10, 2008. (ECF No. 1). The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for pretrial proceedings in accordance with the Magistrate Judges Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Rules 72.C and 72.D of the Local Rules for Magistrate Judges.

The magistrate judge's report and recommendation, issued on December 16, 2010 (ECF No. 70), recommended that defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 60) be granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff timely filed objections thereto on January 26, 2011. (ECF No. 72). Defendants failed to file a response.

In his objections, plaintiff argued, inter alia, 1) that his placement in solitary confinement and on the Restricted Release List ("RRL") was based on charges so vague as to be constitutionally deficient under the Fourteenth Amendment; 2) that the periodic review of his placement on the RRL was constitutionally inadequate; 3) that additional, newly-alleged conditions at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette ("SCI-Fayette") created a cognizable conditions of confinement claim under the Eighth Amendment; and 4) that the magistrate judge erred in her conclusion that plaintiff had failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim regarding the treatment of his mental illness.*fn1 These arguments will be addressed seriatim.

First, with respect to plaintiff's initial placement in administrative segregation, his claim of a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Cause must fail because he had no liberty interest in his initial placement in administrative confinement. See Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703, 705 (3d. Cir. 1997). (holding that up to fifteen months of administrative confinement does not implicate a liberty interest). Additionally, even if he were to establish that he had a liberty interest in his initial placement in administrative segregation, or on the RRL, plaintiff's factual allegations indicate that he received all the process that he was due under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Once the deprivation of a liberty interest has been established, an inmate's claims of a due process violation with respect to his administrative confinement must be analyzed under the Supreme Court's holding in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460 (1983) (overruled in part on other grounds by Sandin v. Conner 515 U.S. 472 (1995)).*fn2 See Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 70 (3d Cir. 2007) (recognizing that the standard under Hewitt , and not that of Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974), which applies to prison disciplinary hearings, is the proper one to apply in addressing the sufficiency of procedural due process in cases of an inmate's confinement to administrative segregation).

In Hewitt, the United States Supreme Court held that an "informal, non-adversary evidentiary review" is sufficient to safeguard the liberty interest of an inmate being placed in administrative custody. 459 US. at 476. This review requires that [a]n inmate must merely receive some notice of the charges against him and an opportunity to present his views to the prison official charged with deciding whether to transfer him to administrative segregation. Ordinarily a written statement by the inmate will accomplish this purpose, although prison administrators may find it more useful to permit oral presentations in cases where they believe a written statement would be ineffective. So long as this occurs, and the decisionmaker reviews the charges and then-available evidence against the prisoner, the Due Process Clause is satisfied.

Id. Such a review need not take place prior to the inmate's transfer to administrative custody, but merely within a reasonable amount of time afterword. Griffin, 112 F.3d at 707. From the allegations in plaintiff's second amended complaint, it is clear that he possessed "some notice" of the charges against him no later than June 13, 2007, and had a multitude of opportunities to present his views on these charges. Consequently, it is clear that plaintiff's claims of a due process violation regarding his initial placement on the RRL -- to the extent that a liberty interest existed at the time of his placement -- must be dismissed.

Despite this very deferential standard, the Supreme Court has recognized that administrative segregation must not be used as a pretext to indefinite confinement. Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 477 n.9. To this end, periodic reviews of a prisoner's administrative confinement are required. Id. Due process does not require that these reviews allow for the submission of additional evidence or statements; instead,

[t]he decision whether a prisoner remains a security risk will be based on facts relating to a particular prisoner-which will have been ascertained when determining to confine the inmate to administrative segregation-and on the officials' general knowledge of prison conditions and tensions, which are singularly unsuited for "proof" in any highly structured manner. . . . [T]he ongoing task of operating the institution will require the prison officials to consider a wide range of administrative considerations. . . .

Id.

With respect to the issue at bar, it is undisputed by plaintiff that his administrative segregation and RRL status were the subject of multiple reviews by prison officials. Plaintiff's factual allegations also indicate that he was allowed to present his views on his confinement and actually did so on numerous occasions. Plaintiff, however, argues that these periodic reviews were merely perfunctory, and thus not constitutionally adequate. See Shoats v. Horn, 213 F.3d 140, 146 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Sourbeer v. Robinson, 791 F.2d 1094, 1101 (3d Cir. 1986) (holding that periodic reviews of administrative confinement are not meaningful, and thus constitutionally deficient, if they are merely "perfunctory"). In support of this assertion, plaintiff notes that despite being classified as an escape risk for an incident at SCI-Graterford, he has been transferred to several institutions since that time, and the incident in question took place, at the latest, in 2007. Plaintiff alleges that all "staffings" at SCI-Fayette were routinely denied and indicates that he was given year-long terms on the RRL, making 90-day reviews of his status meaningless.

While this court is mindful of the extremely deferential standard that exists under Hewitt, plaintiff's allegations of the lack of a constitutionally meaningful review process nudge, if just barely, over the line of stating a plausible claim upon which relief may be granted. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Consequently, plaintiff's claims of violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth ...


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