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James Freeman v. Department of Corrections

March 31, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley



James Freeman ("Plaintiff"), an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Cresson, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Cresson"), filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On June 4, 2010, Plaintiff's action was reassigned to the undersigned.

By Memorandum and Order dated February 22, 2011, this Court granted Defendant Ann Batdorf, R.N.'s motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 226. Remaining Defendants are the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), and the following employees at Freeman's former place of confinement, the State Correctional Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Coal Twp."): Superintendent Joseph J. Piazza; Lieutenants Timothy Jordan and Stanley Moyer; Correctional Officers Ralph Studlack, Ronald Bowers, Lonni Fornwald and Matthew Lahr; Hearing Examiner Lisa Shay Kerns-Barr; Nurse Kyle Confer; and Medical Administrator Kathryn McCarty (hereinafter "Corrections Defendants"). Freeman's Complaint includes claims of retaliation, denial of access to the courts, excessive force, denial of procedural due process, false misconduct reports, and denial of medical care.

Plaintiff has filed a motion which generally argues that he is entitled to entry of summary judgment "if not in hole, [sic] at least in part to some of the matters where facts, and material evidence is clear [sic] against the Defendants in this matter." (Doc. 151, p. 5.) Freeman's motion and supporting brief simply reassert his version of the facts and his claims of constitutional misconduct.

Corrections Defendants have submitted a cross motion seeking entry of summary judgment (Doc. 181) arguing that entry of summary judgment in their favor is appropriate because: (1) the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against them acting in their official capacities; (2) denial of Plaintiff's misconduct and grievance appeals is not a basis for relief; (3) the DOC's UCC policy is constitutionally acceptable; (4) Defendant Jordan did not retaliate against Freeman; (5) Officer Bowers properly disposed of Freeman's property without issuing a confiscation slip; (6) there are no allegations asserted against some of the Corrections Defendants and Plaintiff cannot obtain relief from non-parties; (7) excessive force was not exercised against Plaintiff; (7) there was no deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs; (8) Hearing Examiner Kerns-Barr did not violate due process. The cross summary judgment motions are ripe for consideration.

Discussion Standard of Review

Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c);SeealsoSaldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; seealsoReeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992). Unsubstantiated arguments made in briefs are not considered evidence of asserted facts. Versarge v. Township of Clinton, 984 F.2d 1359, 1370 (3d Cir. 1993).

Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint. SeeCelotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (internal quotations omitted);seealsoSaldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial."Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. "'Such affirmative evidence -- regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial -- must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.'" Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).

Plaintiff's Summary Judgment Motion

Freeman asserts that he is entitled to entry of summary judgment. His motion and supporting brief reassert the facts and claims set forth in his Complaint and generally argue that those facts entitle him to entry of summary judgment. However, Plaintiff does not set forth any specific legal arguments as to why he is entitled to summary judgment. Since Corrections Defendants have offered conflicting facts and Plaintiff has failed to establish that he is entitled to entry of summary judgment as a matter of law, his motion will be denied.

Corrections Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment Official Capacities

Corrections Defendants initially contend that any claims for monetary damages against them in their official capacities are precluded from consideration by the Eleventh Amendment. See Doc. 182, p. 18.

The Eleventh Amendment bars all suits against a state and its agencies in federal court that seek monetary damages. Walker v. Beard, 244 Fed. Appx. 439, 440 (3d Cir. 2007); see also A.W. v. Jersey City Public Schools, 341 F.3d 234, 238 (3d Cir. 2003). Likewise, suits brought against state officials acting in their official capacities are to be treated as suits against the employing government agency. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989); Garden State Elec. Inspection Serv. v. Levin, 144 Fed. Appx. 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2005). As such, Freeman's damage claims brought against Corrections Defendants in their official capacities are considered to be against the state itself and are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.*fn1

Denial of Misconduct and Grievance Appeals

Plaintiff contends that Superintendent Piazza violated his constitutional rights when he denied Plaintiff's administrative appeals from adverse misconduct and grievance determinations. Corrections defendants argue that Piazza's responses to Freeman's administrative appeals is not a sufficient basis for a denial of due process claim. (Doc. 182, p. 34.)

Inmates do not have a constitutional right to a prison grievance system. See Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners Labor Union, 433 U.S. 119, 137-138 (1977); Speight v. Sims, No. 08-2038, 2008 WL 2600723 at *1 (3d. Cir. Jun 30, 2008)(citing Massey v. Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001)("[T]he existence of a prison grievance procedure confers no liberty interest on a prisoner.") Pursuant to those decisions, Plaintiff's dissatisfaction with responses to his grievances by the Corrections Defendants does not support a constitutional claim. See also Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 Fed. Appx. 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005)(involvement in post-incident grievance process not a basis for § 1983 liability); Pryor-El v. Kelly, 892 F. Supp. 261, 275 (D. D.C. 1995) (because prison grievance procedure does not confer any substantive constitutional rights upon prison inmates, the prison officials' failure to comply with grievance procedure is not actionable).

Accordingly, Superintendent Piazza's request for summary judgment with respect to any claim solely based upon said Defendant's responses or lack of response to Freeman's complaints, administrative grievances, and appeals will be granted.

UCC Policy

It is undisputed that on May 12, 2007 Plaintiff was notified that he was under investigation for suspected violation of prison rules. As part of the ensuing investigation, Freeman's cell was searched and a substantial amount of handwritten notes and typed material pertaining to the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") was confiscated from his cell by correctional staff. In conjunction with the confiscation of those UCC materials, Plaintiff was issued two (2) misconduct charges for possessing UCC related materials. Freeman contends that his UCC materials were personal property and that the DOC's UCC policy is not legitimate.

Corrections Defendants argue that the DOC's policy which deems UCC materials to be contraband is constitutionally acceptable. (Doc. 182, p. 18.) In support of their argument, they have submitted a declaration under penalty of perjury by Secretary Beard. (Doc 184, Exhibit 5.) According to Secretary Beard's declaration. "[b]y using UCC forms, redemptive filings, and other forms of paper terrorism, inmates have been successful in filing huge liens against public officials in Pennsylvania." Id. at ¶ 7. Beard adds that "voiding these bogus liens is "a time-consuming and resource-depleting process." Id. at ¶ 9. As a result of those actions whereby "inmates have perverted the UCC" (Id. at ¶ 11) and in an effort to prevent inmates from misusing UCC filings as a method of retaliation against public officials, Beard states that the DOC enacted a UCC policy which prohibits inmates from possessing UCC related materials unless the prisoner "can demonstrate a legitimate interest or legal basis." Id. at ¶ 13.

Prisoners do not entirely forfeit all constitutional guarantees by reason of their conviction and subsequent confinement. In Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547 (1979), the United States Supreme Court noted that "prison administrators should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security. The United States Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987), set forth four factors to consider when addressing a challenge to a prison policy or regulation: (1) is there a "'valid, rational connection' between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it" (citation omitted), 482 U.S. at 89; (2) does the prisoner have alternate means of "exercising the right that remains open to prison inmates," Id. at 90; (3) what "impact" would "accommodation of the asserted constitutional right have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally," Id.; and (4) what "ready alternatives" to the prison regulation exist. Id.

The Supreme Court has also held that a prison regulation which impinges on inmates' constitutional rights is valid only if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342 (1987)(reiterating recognition of the Turner standards as being the applicable test for determining the constitutionality of prison regulations). Legitimate interests include: "deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and institutional security." O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 348. This standard implies that a balancing test must be applied between the prisoner's claims of constitutional infringement and the prison's need of internal order and security.

In Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401 (1989), the Supreme Court required that prison regulations which restrict an inmate from receiving outside publications must be analyzed under the Turner reasonableness standard. The Court ruled that an incoming publication which is found to be potentially detrimental to order and security may be excluded Additionally, in Bell, 441 U.S. at 546, the Supreme Court noted that "maintaining institutional security and preserving internal order and discipline are essential goals that may require limitation or retraction of the retained constitutional rights" of inmates. Based upon a review of the challenged regulation and Secretary Beard's undisputed declaration, the DOC's UCC policy was reasonably related to a legitimate penological concern and the policy's provision only allowing prisoners having a legitimate need to possess UCC related material satisfies the Turner factors. Thus, the challenged UCC policy was constitutionally acceptable.

Freeman indicates that he employed his UCC materials for the purpose of placing a common law lien on his property in the amount of one hundred billion dollars in order to prevent his property from being taken. (Doc. 1, Facts, ΒΆ 13.) It is apparent to this Court that based the purpose expressed by Plaintiff, he has not established a legitimate need to possess any UCC related documents. He has equally failed to sufficiently demonstrate any plausible reason as to why he required any UCC documents. Moreover, Plaintiff has not shown that he suffered any actual injury as a result of the purported confiscation of his UCC materials as required under Lewis. Therefore, entry of summary judgment in favor of the Corrections Defendants with respect to Freeman's claim of being subjected to an unconstitutional DOC's UCC policy is appropriate. See Edminds v. Sobina, 296 Fed. Appx. 214, 217 (3d Cir. 2008); Monroe v. ...

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