Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Nathan Riley v. Jeffrey A. Beard

March 29, 2011

NATHAN RILEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Fischer

Magistrate Judge Bissoon

MEMORANDUM OPINION

For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss filed Defendants Beard, Capozza, Coleman, Cristini, Davis, Folino, Geehring, Harry, Jackson, Mark, Brenda Martin, Jeffrey Martin, McCombie, Muhammad, Nickolas, Reisinger, Scott, Smith, Swartz, Tanner, Watson, and Winfield ("Moving Defendants") (ECF No. 50) will be granted with prejudice in part, granted without prejudice in part, and denied in part. Additionally, Defendants Cowan, Workman, LeMasters, Price, Gent, John/Jane Does mail inspectors #1-5, Menchyk, Rogers, Pollock, Walker, Lindley, Grainey, Macknair, Perez, Valdo, Dietz, and the Bureau of Treatment Services ("New Defendants") will be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Finally, to the extent that she is a party to this lawsuit, claims against "Defendant" Varner will be dismissed.

I.Relevant Factual and Procedural History

Plaintiff Nathan Riley ("Plaintiff") is a State prisoner currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene") in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff brings this suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment, as well as the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. See generally Am. Compl. (ECF No. 40). Plaintiff also raises claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., as well as various State law claims. This suit commenced on December 8, 2008, when this Court received Plaintiff‟s motion to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"). (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff was granted leave to proceed IFP on December 10, 2008. (ECF No. 2). Various Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss on November 2, 2009. (ECF No.22). In response to this, Plaintiff moved to file an amended complaint on May 10, 2010 (ECF No. 37), which was granted by United States Magistrate Judge Cathy Bissoon the following day (ECF No. 39).

In his amended complaint (ECF No. 40), Plaintiff raised, for the first time, claims against New Defendants, as well as "Defendant" Varner. As of the date of this writing, neither New Defendants or Defendant Varner have been served the amended complaint.*fn1 Moving Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss the amended complaint on July 23, 2010. (ECF No. 50). Plaintiff has responded thereto. (ECF Nos. 57-58). This motion is ripe for disposition.

A.Administrative Confinement

Plaintiff alleges that, on May 15, 2007, he was transferred to SCI-Greene and placed in administrative confinement ("AC"). Am. Compl. (ECF No. 40) at 3. Plaintiff avers to receiving a so-called "other report" on this date, which indicated that Plaintiff was "in danger by/from some person(s) in the facility and [could not] be protected by alternate measures. . . ." Id. Plaintiff alleges that this report was issued by Defendant Tanner, and signed by Defendant Winfield. Id. Plaintiff claims that the other report was so vague that it was impossible for him to prepare an adequate response to the assertions within it because it did not indicate what information, if any, was relied upon to form the conclusion that Plaintiff was in danger. Id.

The allegations in the amended complaint indicate that Plaintiff appeared before the Program Review Committee ("PRC") at SCI-Greene, on or before June 8, 2007.*fn2 Id. at 4. The PRC panel, comprised of Defendants Jackson, Brenda Martin, and Smith, reviewed the other report and determined that Plaintiff‟s continued administrative confinement was appropriate. Id. Plaintiff asserts that there was insufficient evidence to support this decision. Id. at 5. Plaintiff avers that he appealed the determination of the PRC panel to Defendant Folino on June 8, 2007, who affirmed the PRC‟s decision on June 12, 2007. Id. at 4. Plaintiff filed a second-level appeal, which was denied by Defendant Mark on June 26, 2007. Id.; see also (ECF No. 4-1) at 5- 8. Plaintiff claims that the alleged actions of these Defendants violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also alleges that the actions of Defendants Jackson, Brenda Martin, and Smith constituted "reckless misrepresentation." (ECF No. 40) at 5.

Plaintiff again appeared before a PRC panel -- this time consisting of Defendants Harry, McCombie, and Swartz -- on August 7, 2007. Id. at 7. Plaintiff avers to having the opportunity to question his placement in administrative segregation, and sought more information regarding the underlying reasons for his AC status. Id. Plaintiff claims that the review conducted by the PRC on this date was "nothing but a "hollow formality.‟" Id. The PRC continued Plaintiff‟s administrative confinement, and Plaintiff remained in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU"). Id.

Plaintiff appeared before a PRC panel to review his administrative confinement once again on November 15, 2007. Id. at 8. Plaintiff avers to seeking information regarding the underlying reason for his AC status at this hearing, and to requesting release to the prison‟s general population. Id. The panel, this time consisting of Defendants Harry, Smith, and Jeffrey Martin, refused to answer his questions and denied his request, once again continuing Plaintiff‟s administrative confinement. Id. *fn3

According to the amended complaint, this scenario played out several more times before various PRC panels reviewing Plaintiff‟s AC status. Panel reviews took place on:

February 5, 2008 -- consisting of Defendants McCombie, Winfield, and Coleman, id. at 9-10; April 29, 2008 -- consisting of Defendants McCombie, Winfield, and Jeffrey Martin, id. at 11; and July 22, 2008 -- consisting of Defendants McCombie, Winfield, and Jeffrey Martin, id. at 12.

Plaintiff characterizes these reviews as perfunctory, hollow, meaningless, and being unsupported by "some evidence." See, e.g., id. at 12. Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that the PRC hearings were not recorded, in violation of 2 Pa.C.S.A. § 504,*fn4 and that the hearings themselves violated 37 Pa. Code § 93.11(b)*fn5 as well. Additionally Plaintiff asserts that the PRC panel hearings violated his rights under Article 1, § 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution,*fn6 as well as Department of Corrections ("DOC") regulation DC-ADM 802. (ECF No. 40) at 18.

Plaintiff also generally asserts that the periodic reviews of his placement in the RHU by Moving Defendants Capozza and Smith, as well as New Defendant Workman, were deficient due to their hollow and perfunctory nature, and because these Defendants did not state their reasons for continuing his administrative segregation. Id. at 50. Plaintiff argues that this violated the mandatory language of 37 Pa. Code § 93.11(b) as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 50-51.

Plaintiff makes similar allegations against Moving Defendant McCombie, and New Defendants Lindley and Grainey, with respect to an April 2, 2009, PRC review of his AC status. Id. at 50-51. He asserts that the review conducted by Moving Defendant Winfield and New Defendants Macknair and Walker on June 23, 2009, was deficient in the same manner. Id. at 52-53.

Plaintiff filed first and second level appeals to his continuing administrative segregation with Moving Defendant Folino on July 7, 2009, and New Defendant Perez on July 22, 2009, respectively. Both of these Defendants affirmed the decision to continue Plaintiff‟s administrative confinement. Id. at 53-54. Plaintiff asserts that this violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plaintiff makes similar allegations of violations of due process and Pennsylvania State law with respect to the continuation of his administrative confinement during his PRC review before Moving Defendants McCombie and Smith, as well as New Defendant Grainey. Id. at 54-55. Plaintiff admits to having the opportunity to contest his confinement in writing at that hearing, but alleges that these Defendants "failed to rebut" this statement. Id. at 54-55.

At the conclusion of his amended complaint, Plaintiff indicates that he was reclassified by the PRC to long term administrative confinement without a hearing or notice. Id. at 75. Plaintiff asserts that this violates the "mandatory language" of various State laws and DOC regulations, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and Article I, § 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Id. at 76. He alleges that Moving Defendants Jackson, Brenda Martin, Smith, Harry, McCombie, Swartz, Jeffrey Martin, Winfield, Coleman, and Capozza, as well as various New Defendants, are liable for this act. Id. at 76.

Plaintiff also claims that Moving Defendants Cristini and Nickolas, as well as New Defendants Cowan and Workman, violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by recommending that he remain in administrative confinement without a hearing. Id. at 13-14. See also (ECF No. 4-1) at 18.*fn7 Plaintiff‟s allegations with respect to this occurrence are vague, and it is unclear whether they did this as part of a PRC panel, or made their recommendations to the panel as witnesses or through a report as part of the PRC review process.*fn8 Plaintiff asserts that this violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF No. 40) at 14.

Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Winfield ""participated directly in the decision-making role‟" to place Plaintiff in administrative status and, consequently, his participation on the PRC panels of February 5, 2008, April 29, 2008, July 22, 2008, and June 23, 2009, deprived Plaintiff of an "impartial tribunal." Id. at 14, 56. Plaintiff asserts that this violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Id. at 14, 56.

Plaintiff additionally alleges that he has been placed and retained in administrative segregation due to his race and religion, and that African-Americans and Muslims like himself are subject to discrimination by the PRC. Id. at 15. Plaintiff provides some statistics in his complaint that the corrections staff at SCI-Greene is overwhelmingly Caucasian, and that the inmates in the RHU are predominately African-American. Id. at 15. The data provided by Plaintiff indicate that the total population of SCI-Greene is 1,923 inmates, 1,235 of whom are African-American. The RHU at SCI-Greene houses at least 266 individuals, 184 of whom are African-American, and 96 are Muslim. Id. at 15-16.

Put another way, according to Plaintiff‟s statistics, about 15% of the African-American population of SCI-Greene is housed in the RHU, which is slightly higher than the roughly 14% of the total inmate population that is housed there. About 36% of the population of the RHU is Muslim. Plaintiff provides no data regarding the proportion of total inmates at SCI-Greene who are Muslim.

Plaintiff also raises claims against Moving Defendants who reviewed his appeals to the decision of the PRC panels to continue his administrative confinement. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Folino and Mark‟s respective affirmances of PRC decisions on February 20, 2008 and April 7, 2008, violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Id. at 16-17. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that these Defendants were placed "on notice" of alleged racial discrimination involving the placement and retention of inmates in the RHU, and their affirming the PRC decisions violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 16-17. Plaintiff further alleges that their refusal to order the PRC to record its hearings stenographically or electronically violated his rights under Article 1 § 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as well as State law requiring the recording of "adjudications" made by the Commonwealth. Id. at 19-20; see also 2 Pa.C.S.A § 504.

Plaintiff also asserts that he was placed on administrative confinement for filing grievances and instituting three lawsuits against DOC staff. (ECF No. 40) at 21-22. He specifically names Defendants Folino, Jackson, Brenda Martin, Smith, McCombie, Harry, Swartz, Jeffrey Martin, Coleman, and Winfield as being liable for this claim under the First Amendment. Id. at 22.

B. Access to Courts Claims

Plaintiff alleges that, while in administrative segregation, he was denied access to "trained legal aides or other prisoner‟s [sic]" Plaintiff avers that as a result of this he was unable to file a timely "docketing statement sheet" in his then-pending appeal to his denial of a habeas petition in State court, which was resulted in its dismissal.*fn9 Id. at 22. Plaintiff asserts generally that, because his AC status and educational level prohibited him from being provided legal assistance from other inmates, Moving Defendants Jackson, Smith, Brenda Martin, McCombie, Harry, Swartz, Jeffrey Martin, Coleman, Winfield and Folino are liable, as members of the PRC or as reviewers of PRC decisions, for violations of Plaintiff‟s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. at 22-23; see also (ECF Nos. 37-2 -- 37-7). Plaintiff also asserts that New Defendant LeMasters denied Plaintiff‟s access to inmates knowledgeable in the law, and New Defendant Price denied his grievance of the issue. Id. at 23-24. Moving Defendants Folino and Watson denied Plaintiff‟s grievance appeals, which Plaintiff asserts further violated his rights under the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment‟s Due Process Clause. Id. at 25-26.

C. Mail Claims

Plaintiff alleges that, on June 1, 2007, he received mail from an attorney representing the Commonwealth, which was opened outside of his presence. Id. at 28. Plaintiff admits that this piece of mail, although from an attorney, lacked an attorney control number. Id. Plaintiff filed a grievance with respect to this incident, which was denied by Defendant Scott. Id. at 29; see also (ECF No. 4-1) at 20. Defendants Folino and Reisinger affirmed Defendant Scott‟s denial of Plaintiff‟s grievance on first and second level appeal, respectively. (ECF No. 40) at 29-31. Plaintiff asserts that they violated his rights under the First Amendment, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A similar incident occurred on December 17, 2007, when mail from the Prothonotary of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania which lacked an attorney control number was opened outside of his presence. Id. at 31-32. Once again, Plaintiff filed a grievance, which Defendant Scott denied. Id. at 32; (ECF No. 4-1) at 29. Defendants Folino and Watson affirmed on first and second level appeals, respectively. (ECF No. 40) at 33-35. Plaintiff asserts that this violated his rights under the First Amendment, as well as the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plaintiff asserts that, Defendant Geehring, the SCI-Greene mailroom inspector supervisor, committed ""gross negligence in managing subordinates who [allegedly] committed the unconstitutional acts‟" with respect to these alleged issues with his mail. Id. at 35. Plaintiff also asserts that the acts of Defendant Geehring‟s subordinates expose him to liability under the First Amendment. Id. at 35-36.

On January 7, 2008, Plaintiff received mail from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, as well as from the Philadelphia District Attorney‟s Office. Id. at 36. Neither of these pieces of correspondence bore attorney control numbers, and both had been opened outside of Plaintiff‟s presence. Id. Plaintiff filed a grievance, which was denied by Defendant Scott, who also recommended that Plaintiff be placed on grievance restriction. Id. at 37. Plaintiff asserts that this recommendation was in retaliation for Plaintiff engaging in the grievance procedure, and violated Pennsylvania law. See Id. at 37-38; see also (ECF No. 4-1) at 34-35. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Scott‟s allegedly retaliatory actions violated his rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and to petition the government for redress under the First Amendment, as well as Pennsylvania State law. (ECF No. 40) at 37-38.

Similarly, Plaintiff alleges that, on September 3, 2008, he received a letter from an attorney representing the Pennsylvania Governor‟s Office that had been opened outside of his presence. This letter did not bear an attorney control number. Plaintiff asserts that this violated his First Amendment rights. Id. at 61. He filed a grievance with Defendant Scott, which was denied. Id. at 61-62. Plaintiff asserts that this denial further constituted a violation of his rights under the First Amendment. Plaintiff appealed the denial of this grievance to Defendant Folino, who affirmed the initial determination. Plaintiff asserts that this also was a violation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.*fn10 Id. at 62.

Plaintiff claims that New Defendants John and Jane Does are responsible for opening the multiple pieces of mail described above. Id. at 63. Plaintiff concludes that Defendant Geehring, as their supervisor, has "fail[ed] to properly manage subordinates" and is thus liable for their alleged violations of Plaintiff‟s rights under the First Amendment, as well as Pennsylvania tort law. Id. at 64.

D. Religious Exercise Claims

Plaintiff indicates that he is an Orthodox Sunni Muslim. Id. He asserts that during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are obliged to observe a fast between dawn and sunset for 30 consecutive days. Id. at 39. He further asserts that "it is a central practice [of Islam] to break the fast with dates at sunset . . . . Breaking the fast with dates has religious significance under the tenets of Islam. . . ." Id.

At SCI-Greene observant Muslims are permitted to purchase dates during Ramadan with which to break their daily fasts. On September 21, 2007, Plaintiff sent a request to Defendant Muhammed asking to be provided dates free of charge during Ramadan, due to his indigence.

Id. at 39. This was denied. Plaintiff filed a grievance with respect to this denial, which was itself denied by Defendant Muhammed on the grounds that "no inmate received free dates." Id. at 40. Plaintiff alleges that this "diminished the overall spiritual experience of Ramadan by denying Plaintiff the ability to break fast with dates." Id. He asserts that Defendant Muhammed‟s actions violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and RLUIPA. Id.

Plaintiff filed first and second level appeals to the denial of this grievance with Defendants Folino and Watson, respectively. Id. at 41-42. Both affirmed the denial of the initial grievance. Id. at 41-42. Plaintiff asserts that these affirmances of the initial denial violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and RLUIPA. Id. at 41-42.

Plaintiff made a similar request to be provided with free dates during Ramadan of 2008. Id. at 64. Defendant Muhammed denied this request, and Plaintiff received no free dates with which to break his fast during Ramadan. Id. at 64-65. Plaintiff claims that this violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and RLUIPA. Id. at 65.

Plaintiff alleges that he filed a grievance with respect to this incident. Id. at 65. Moving Defendant Smith, along with New Defendant Menchyk, denied the grievance, responding that dates were not required to break the fast, and that no one was given free dates. Id. Plaintiff argues that this response violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and RLUIPA. Id.

Plaintiff filled an appeal of the denial with Defendant Folino, which was also denied. Plaintiff asserts that denial of the appeal violated his rights under RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Plaintiff next alleges that the Eid al-Fitr meal and prayer service "is an important observance in Islam that commemorates the 30-day fast of Ramadan." Id. at 42. Policy at SCI-Greene allows a feast celebrating this religious holiday, but requires those involved to pay a fee to partake of foodstuffs that are not normally provided by the prison‟s kitchens. Plaintiff sent a request to Defendant Muhammed on September 21, 2007, informing him of Plaintiff‟s indigence and asking for a free meal from the Eid al-Fitr feast. Id. Defendant Muhammed did not respond. Id. at 42-43. Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant Capozza requesting a free meal, but he also did not respond. Id. at 43. Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive a free meal from the Eid al-Fitr feast.*fn11

Plaintiff submitted a grievance to Defendant Muhammed on November 6, 2007. Id. at 43-44. This was denied on the grounds that "[the] Eid al-Fitr feast is not an obligation on those who cannot afford the expense." Id. at 44. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Muhammed‟s actions "diminished the overall spiritual experience of Ramadan by denying Plaintiff of a meal from the Feast of Eid al-Fitr." Id. This, he asserts, was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and RLUIPA.

Plaintiff filed first and second level appeals to Defendants Folino and Watson, respectively, who both affirmed the denial of the initial grievance. Id. at 44-45. Plaintiff asserts that these actions constituted denials of his rights under the Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA. Plaintiff also avers that Defendant Capozza is liable for these violations as well by "denying" him a special meal for Eid al-Fitr in 2007. Id. at 46.

A similar occurrence took place with respect to the Eid al-Fitr feast at SCI-Greene in 2008. On September 30, 2008, Plaintiff requested to be provided with a free special meal from the feast. Defendant Muhammed denied this request and, as Plaintiff did not have sufficient funds to pay the fee for the special meal, he was not allowed to partake of the special foods served as part of the feast. Id. at 67. Plaintiff asserts that this violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA. Id. at 67-68. Plaintiff filed a grievance with respect to this issue, which was denied by Defendant Smith. Id. at 68. Plaintiff asserts that this denial has made Defendant Smith liable for violations of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and RLUIPA. Id.

Plaintiff appealed the denial of this grievance to Defendant Folino. Defendant Capozza responded, and affirmed the initial determination. Id. at 69. Plaintiff asserts that this violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Folino, by virtue of his position as Defendant Capozza‟s supervisor, is liable for this alleged violation of his rights as well. Id. at 69-70. Plaintiff filed second-level appeal with unserved Defendant Varner, who affirmed the initial denial. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.