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Lynell Davon Pigford v. Cumberland County Prison

April 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)



Lynell Davon Pigford ("Plaintiff") initiated this pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Pigford's action regards his confinement at the Cumberland County Prison, Carlisle,*fn1 Pennsylvania. By Order dated March 18, 2011, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Plaintiff's application seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis as well as his request for a change of venue to this district court. For the reasons outlined herein, Pigford's action will be dismissed without prejudice.

Named as Defendants are the Cumberland County Prison and the following prison employees: Warden Earl F. Reitz, Jr.; Deputy Warden Jeff Ilgenfritz; Lieutenant Shannon Dunlap; Sergeant Mark Meluskey; and Corporal Ronald E. Wilson. Plaintiff states that he entered the Cumberland County Prison on April 8, 2010. On or about June 15, 2010, Pigford asserts that he was reassigned to a different cell. Thereafter, Plaintiff allegedly became the target of harassment by correctional staff. Specifically, on July 20, 2010, Pigford was purportedly issued a falsified misconduct charge by a non-Defendant, Correctional Officer Keller. Approximately one (1) week later, Plaintiff claims that he was issued a second false misconduct by Corporal Wilson. A third falsified institutional disciplinary charge was filed against Plaintiff on July 29, 2010 by Nurse Tori Robertson (a non-Defendant). All three misconducts were approved by Lieutenant Dunlap.*fn2 According to the Complaint, Pigford was found not guilty of all three charges. During October 22, 2010, Plaintiff was issued a fourth alleged fabricated misconduct by Correctional Officer Uniatowski (a non-Defendant). Following an institutional disciplinary hearing, the Complaint indicates that the inmate was again found not guilty.

Plaintiff next contends that on January 1, 2011, he was directed by Sergeant Meluskey to clean two cells in connection with his institutional work assignment as the unit janitor. Pigford maintains that he cleaned the cells as directed. However, on January 2, 2011 while awaiting a visit from his girlfriend, Defendant Wilson (after taking photographs of the two cells) handcuffed Plaintiff and improperly placed him in disciplinary confinement on administrative custody status. The Complaint indicates that Wilson was acting pursuant to a directive of Sergeant Meluskey. It is also alleged that Wilson lied to Plaintiff, by telling the inmate that his visitor had never come to the prison.*fn3

The next day Plaintiff spoke to his attorney regarding his disciplinary placement. The following day, January 4, 2011, Plaintiff was released from disciplinary confinement by Lieutenant Shenk. When Sergeant Meluskey learned of Pigford's release, said Defendant allegedly became upset, issued Plaintiff a misconduct, and instructed other correctional officers to write false misconduct charges against the prisoner. Plaintiff notes that he was also found not guilty of Meluskey's misconduct.

Next, Plaintiff states that he filed an administrative grievance regarding his unlawful placement in disciplinary confinement. However, Warden Reitz and Deputy Warden Ilgenfritz refused to take any remedial action. Pigford's remaining contention is that Defendants Wilson and Dunlap "unlawfully read my legal documents" and "started harassing me" on January 26, 2011. Id. at p. 14. Plaintiff does not specify what relief he is seeking from the Court, rather his Complaint indicates only that he suffered mental and emotional distress due to Defendants' actions. See id. at p. 9.


Based upon a review of the docket, service of the Complaint was not previously ordered by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. When considering a complaint accompanied by a motion to proceed informapauperis, a district court may rule that process should not issue if the complaint is malicious, presents an indisputably meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly baseless factual contentions. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989), Douris v. Middleton Township, 293 Fed. Appx. 130, 132 (3d Cir. 2008). Indisputably meritless legal theories are those "in which either it is readily apparent that the plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or that the defendants are clearly entitled to immunity from suit ... ." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v. Snow, 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990)).

It is additionally noted that the Complaint describes Plaintiff as awaiting trial, he may have been a pre-trial detainee, if so, his claims must be considered under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as opposed to the Eighth Amendment, which is the applicable standard for incarcerated persons. Hubbard v. Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 158 (3d Cir. 2005). As noted in Hubbard, the appropriate inquiry to use in a condition of confinement claim by a pre-trial detainee is "whether those conditions amount to punishment prior to an adjudication of guilt in accordance with law." Id.

Emotional Injury

Plaintiff generally contends that the alleged unconstitutional actions of Defendants caused him mental and emotional injury. See Doc. 1, p. 9. It is initially noted that 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) provides that "[n]o federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." In Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 250 (3d Cir. 2000), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recognized that where a plaintiff fails to allege actual injury, Section 1997e(e) bars recovery of compensatory damages. However, the Court of Appeals added that an inmate alleging a violation of his or her constitutional rights may still pursue the action to recover nominal and/or punitive damages even in the absence of compensable harm.

Under the standards announced in Allah and Section 1997e(e), since there has been no showing that Plaintiff suffered any physical injury, Pigford's civil rights claims which assert violation of his constitutional rights can proceed only to the extent that they seek non-compensatory damages. SeeOstrander v. Horn, 145 F. Supp. 2d 614, 618 (M.D. Pa. 2001). Prison as Defendant

One Defendant named in the Complaint is the Cumberland County Prison. It is well settled that a plaintiff, in order to state a viable civil rights claim, must plead two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).

Courts have repeatedly recognized that a prison or correctional facility is not a person for purposes of civil rights liability. See Fischer v. Cahill, 474 F.2d 991, 992 (3d Cir. 1973); Philogene v. Adams County Prison, Civ. No. 97-0043, slip op. at p. 4 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 1997) (Rambo, C.J.); Sponsler v. Berks County Prison, Civ. A. 95-1136, 1995 WL 92370, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 1995). Pursuant to the above standards, the Cumberland County Prison is clearly not a person and therefore not subject to civil rights liability. See Thompkins v. Doe, No. 99-3941, slip op. at 3 (3d Cir. March 16, 2000). Dismissal will be entered in favor of said Defendant.

Grievance Procedure

Also named as Defendants are Warden Reitz and Deputy Warden Ilgenfritz. Civil rights claims brought cannot be premised on a theory of respondeatsuperior. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. ...

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