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Jamal Barr v. Francis Feild

February 7, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.


This is a suit under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 by Jamal Barr, an inmate at State Correctional Institution-Graterford, asserting violations of the Equal Protection Clause and his First Amendment right to be free from retaliation. On October 26, 2011, this Court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's equal protection claim and denied it on the plaintiff's retaliation claim. The defendants have moved for reconsideration of the Court's decision on the retaliation claim. The Court grants the motion to the extent it amplifies its earlier decision and considers the defendants' argument, but again denies summary judgment on the retaliation claim.

I. Facts

On November 26, 2006, after a stint in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") following misconduct involving indecent exposure and masturbation in his cell, Barr was initially returned to the Old Side of the prison, where he had been housed prior to his stay at the RHU. There, he was informed that the Old Side was too crowded. Barr was then temporarily taken to the more restrictive New Side of the prison. Barr Dep. 39-40.

After unsuccessful requests to be moved back to the Old Side, Barr filed two grievances on December 26th and 27th, 2006 (hereinafter the "December grievances"). One challenged his continued housing on the New Side, naming defendants Francis Feild and Blanca Rodriguez, among others. The other challenged his inability to participate in sporting activities in the main yard and named defendant Feild, among others.*fn1 See Opp. to MSJ, Exs. F, G.

Although the exact timing is not clear, the record reflects that in the spring of 2007, shortly after Barr filed his December grievances, defendant Rodriguez removed Barr from a trade course and musical activities. Barr was denied access to various facilities. Defendant Rodriguez then told Barr in a meeting that she would continue to restrict Barr's activities and keep him on the New Side, regardless of the outcome of Barr's grievance.*fn2 Barr Decl. ¶¶ 10, 12. Two officers also refused to issue a pass to Barr to attend religious services on orders from Rodriguez. Barr Decl. ¶¶ 13-14; Barr Dep. 26-27.

In May of 2007, Rodriguez voted to assign an "H" code for high-risk inmates to Barr, which subjected Barr to further restrictions. Opp. to MSJ, Ex. D (hereinafter "Rodriguez Dep.") 137, 144-45. H-code staffings are also reviewed and approved by Major Field. Id. at 52. In June of 2007, Feild recommended Barr for placement in an inmate tracking program, partly based on Rodriguez's recommendation. According to Barr, defendant Feild threatened to put him in the RHU unless Barr agreed to placement in the inmate tracking program. Barr Decl. ¶ 15; Opp. to MSJ, Ex. B (hereinafter "Feild Dep.") 165, 167.

II. Analysis

Defendants Feild and Rodriguez argue that the Court erred in denying summary judgment on Barr's retaliation claim because the Court relied on inadmissible hearsay and did not comply with Third Circuit requirements for decisions on qualified immunity. The Court addresses each of these concerns below.

A. Qualified Immunity:

Forbes and Griffin Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Thus, qualified immunity analysis requires two inquiries: (1) whether the facts established a violation of a constitutional right and (2) whether at the time of the alleged violation, a reasonable officer would have known that his specific conduct violated clearly established constitutional rights. Grant v. City of Pittsburgh, 98 F.3d 116, 121 (3d Cir. 1996).

The defendants argue that the Court's October 26, 2011 decision failed to comply with the Third Circuit's requirements in two cases: Forbes and Griffin. In Forbes v. Township of Lower Merion, the Third Circuit set forth a rule that all dispositions of a motion in which a party pleads qualified immunity must include, at minimum, "an identification of relevant factual issues and an analysis of the law that justifies the ruling with respect to those issues." 313 F.3d 144, 149 (3d Cir. 2002). In Griffin-El v. Beard, the Third Circuit held that where a claim is asserted against numerous officials who interacted with the plaintiff in different ways and at different times, district courts must analyze separately the conduct of each defendant. 411 F. App'x 517, 519 (3d Cir. 2011) (vacating and remanding for district court's failure to engage in requisite defendant-specific analysis). The Griffin court found insufficient the lower court's general statement that it would be clear to a reasonable prison official that the plaintiff had a right to be free from retaliation for exercising his right to file grievances. Id. at 520.

The Court now expands on its previous ...

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