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Joseph Heim v. Dauphin County Prison

August 31, 2011


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


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Joseph Heim, a prisoner formerly housed at the Dauphin County Prison (DCP), in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, seeks to hold the named defendants liable for violating his constitutional rights when they illegally charged him room and board fees pursuant to the DCP's Financial Responsibility program. (Doc. 1, Compl.) As relief, Mr. Heim seeks reimbursement of all unauthorized funds deducted from his inmate account as well as the expungement of the entire debt imposed by DCP. Id. Named as defendants are the following Dauphin County employees/entities: the DCP; Warden DeRose; Deputy Warden Nichols; Deputy Warden Carroll; the Prison Board of Inspectors; the DCP Business Office; and Freddie McNeal. Id.

Presently before the Court is the Dauphin County defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 28). For the reasons that follow, it shall be granted in part and denied in part.

II. Standard of Review for Motions to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss, "[w]e 'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoted case omitted). Nevertheless, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege sufficient facts "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).

Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint "even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend," unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004). However, a complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. Background

During April 2010, Mr. Heim was recommitted to the DCP by his parole officer.*fn1 (Doc. 1, Compl. at CM/ECF p. 8.)*fn2 During the intake process, his cellphone and a $30.00 check were confiscated. (Id. at p. 9.) The intake officer gave Plaintiff's cellphone to Mr. Heim's parole officer, but refused to turn over the$30.00 check to the parole officer as Plaintiff requested because Plaintiff "may owe [the prison] money". (Id.)

The following excerpt is found in the DCP inmate handbook.


The Dauphin County Prison Board of Inspectors has approved a policy for Financial Responsibility, under which fees are charged to inmates for Room & Board, certain Medical services and medications, and other services. The Financial Responsibility Policy also includes funds to be deducted from an inmate's account as restitution for damage, defacing, or destruction of Dauphin County Prison property. General information and current fees for various services are listed below. Fees for service are subject to change; any changes will be posted.


At the time of release, Room and Board will be assessed on all sentenced inmates incarcerated at Dauphin County Prison. For purposes of Room and Board charges, a County or State parole violation is considered a sentence. Also, sentenced inmates from other counties that have been transferred to DCP will be assessed Room and Board charges. The inmate will be billed $10.00 for each day spent in the institution, beginning with the date on which the inmate was sentenced. The per diem rate will be increased by $5.00 for each commitment period after the first commitment. Inmate workers who appear on the work detail list (i.e. work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day) will receive credit towards their room and board. Any inmate wishing to voluntarily begin paying room and board costs during incarceration will be offered the opportunity to establish a payment plan. Payment plans must equal at least 50% of incoming funds. No payment plan may be set up without the approval of the Business Office; such an agreement must stipulate the amount to be paid on a monthly basis. All payment plans are void upon recommitment.

Delinquent accounts will be turned over to a collection agency. Balances not satisfied through a collection agency will be recorded on an inmate's permanent record. An inmate who has previously been incarcerated in Dauphin County Prison, was released with an outstanding balance, and is committed again to DCP, will be required to pay any outstanding balance on record. Therefore, at the time of recommitment, inmates will be assessed 100% of any money in their possession. Thereafter, when money is received at the Prison for an inmate after recommitment, 50% is applied to the negative balance and 50% is placed into his/her Commissary account for use by the inmate. (Doc. 1-2, Inmate Handbook at pp. 38 - 39):

The DCP Inmate Handbook also contains a Grievance policy which allows any DCP inmate to file a administrative complaint "about the behavior or action toward an inmate by a staff member or another inmate, or any matter of concern, including conditions of confinement." (Id. at p. 47.)

Mr. Heim alleges that DCP's Financial Responsibility Policy violates his 1st, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights as he never agreed or consented to participate in the Financial Responsibility program. (Doc. 1 at pp. 6 -7.) Plaintiff claims DCP officials lack the authority to impose such fees and that he received no notice of the program or opportunity to challenge the indebtedness prior to his funds being confiscated. (Id.) Finally, he claims he is being treated unfairly as it costs no more to house him, a recommitted inmate, than to house an inmate committed for the first time to the DCP. Plaintiff argues that the increased Room and Board per diem fee based on the number of one's commitments to the DCP is discriminatory, punitive and illegal. (Id. at p. 10.)

IV. Discussion

A. First Amendment ...

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