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Earl Harris v. Jeffery A. Beard

August 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

ECF No. 11


This case is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Jeffery A. Beard, Louis Folino, and Corrections Officer L.P. Ford. (ECF No. 11.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted with prejudice in part and without prejudice in part.

I.Background and Procedural History

Plaintiff, Earl Harris ("Harris"), filed a Complaint on November 16, 2011, against Defendants Jeffery A. Beard ("Beard"), former Secretary of Corrections; Louis Folino ("Folino"), Superintendent for the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene"); and L.P. Ford ("Ford"), a Corrections Officer at SCI-Greene at the time of the alleged violations. (ECF No. 6.) The Complaint alleges violations of Harris's right to access the courts and may imply a due process claim. (ECF No. 6 at 1.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss and supporting Brief on February 15, 2012. (ECF Nos. 11, 12.) Harris filed a Motion to Amend on March 12, 2012, however the Court found that Harris attempted to amend his Complaint incorrectly and extended Harris's time to amend until June 1, 2012. (ECF No. 17.) Harris did not file an amended Complaint by June 1, 2012. As such, Harris's Motion to Amend will be construed as a response in opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Even so, claims raised for the first time in a response will not be addressed. See, Hang On, Inc. v. City of Arlington, 65 F.3d 1248 (5th Cir. 1995); Gueson v. Feldman, No. 00-cv-1117, 2002 WL 32308678, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 22, 2002) ("A plaintiff may not raise new claims in response to a motion to dismiss.").

According to the Complaint, Harris is currently incarcerated at SCI-Greene and is serving a life sentence. (ECF No. 6 at 1.) On March 21, 2010, Harris gave Ford an envelope addressed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that contained a petition for writ of habeas corpus with attached exhibits. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Harris contends that he cannot reproduce the attached exhibits. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Further, Harris gave Ford a cash slip for payment of the postage fee from his inmate account. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Harris watched Ford sign, stamp, and staple the cash slip to the envelope, but did not observe what Ford did with the mail afterwards. (ECF No. 6 at 2.)

On March 26, 2010, Harris received a record of his inmate account and noticed that postage payment was not withdrawn for the envelope. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Harris contacted inmate accounting and, on March 29, 2010, was notified that inmate accounting did not receive the cash slip. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Harris then filed a grievance against Ford, accusing her of throwing his mail in the trash and denying him access to the courts. (ECF No. 6 at 2; No. 6-1.) Harris's grievance was denied on March 30, 2010, by Dan Davis ("Davis"). (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Harris claims that Davis rejected Harris's grievance by stating that Ford did not work at SCI-Greene, however the attached exhibit of Harris's response has been partially redacted and does not indicate that Harris's response was based on an understanding that Ford did not work at SCI-Greene. (ECF No. 6 at 2; No. 6-2).

On April 8, 2010, Harris filed a grievance against Davis alleging that Davis lied about whether Ford worked at SCI-Greene and sought relief of $350,000. (ECF No. 6-3.) Harris's grievance was denied and Folino denied the grievance appeal. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Harris alleges that responses to his grievances were purposefully misleading and incorrect as a result of a conspiracy to deny him access to the courts. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) Harris wrote to Folino on April 11, 2010, concerning the grievance process, and, on April 19, 2010, Folino sent Harris a grievance rejection letter. (ECF No. 6 at 2.) This letter informed Harris that his grievance was denied because "calling someone a liar is not courteous" and that Harris's initial grievance involving Ford throwing away his mail was being processed. (ECF No. 6-8 at 1.)

Davis assigned Captain A.E. Gumbarevic ("Gumbarevic") to investigate the grievance against Ford. On May 7, 2010, Gumbarevic sent Harris a summary of his findings. (ECF No. 6-9 at 1.) Gumbarevic's report informed Harris that Ford confirmed that she took custody of Harris's mail and, after signing, stamping, and stapling the accompanying cash slips, placed the mail in a blue outgoing mail bag. (ECF No. 6-9.) Gumbarevic's report also indicated that Davis was not aware that Ford was employed at SCI-Greene and did not intend to mislead Harris. (ECF No. 6-9.) Although Gumbarevic wrote that Harris's issue in regard to the missing documents needed further review, he denied Harris's claim for restitution. (ECF No. 6-9.)

Harris appealed Gumbarevic's decision on May 18, 2010. (ECF No. 6-10.) Harris contended in this appeal that Davis intentionally lied regarding Ford's employment because "Officer Ford is the step-daughter of Deputy Martin" and other inmates had filed grievances against Ford in the past that were addressed by Davis. (ECF No. 6-10.) Folino denied Harris's appeal on May 24, 2010, and Harris appealed Folino's decision to the Chief Grievance Officer Dorina Varner ("Varner"). (ECF No. 6 at 3.) On July 2, 2010, Davis notified Harris via memorandum that "Secretary Beard" remanded Harris's grievance for further review. (ECF No. 6 at 3; No. 6-13.) On July 3, 2010, Harris received a letter from Varner telling him that he would receive a revised response to his grievance. (ECF No. 6 at 3.) Gumbarevic was reassigned to investigate the grievance involving Ford a second time. (ECF No. 6 at 3.) Gumbarevic again found no violation because Ford acted "within the scope of her prescribed duties." (ECF No. 6-15.) Davis appealed Gumbarevic's findings on August 8, 2010, and Varner denied his appeal on September 3, 2010. (ECF No. 6 at 3.)

Harris's Complaint includes claims against Ford, Folino, and Beard. (ECF No. 6 at 4-5.) Harris claims that Ford violated his First Amendment right to access the courts when she lost or threw his legal mail in the trash. (ECF No. 6 at 4.) Further, Harris claims that Ford violated the mailbox rule when she failed to place his mail in the mail bag and contends that Ford should be liable for violating his First Amendment rights to access the court and engage in free speech. (ECF No. 6 at 4.) Harris claims that Folino was grossly negligent in the management of subordinates who committed unconstitutional acts when he denied Harris's appeal concerning the whereabouts of his mail. (ECF No. 6 at 5.) Harris contends that Folino had "full knowledge" of violations of his First Amendment rights and attempted to cover-up these violations, therefore Folino is liable in his official and individual capacity for violating Harris's First Amendment rights. (ECF No. 6 at 5.) Finally, Harris argues that Beard should be "held liable for the unconstitutional acts committed by his subordinates." (ECF No. 6 at 5.) Harris claims that Beard is responsible for policy decisions and that Beard's responsibilities include ensuring proper training for subordinates. (ECF No. 6 at 5.) Harris claims that Beard remanded his initial grievance because staff at SCI-Greene did not conduct a full and effective investigation. (ECF No. 6 at 5.) Harris contends that "Beard should be held liable for under the First Amendment for violating [Harris's] constitutional right of access to the courts when he failed to grant [Harris] the relief requested.." (ECF No. 6 at 5.) Harris argues that Beard had "full knowledge" of violations to Harris's constitutional rights and is guilty of "gross negligence in managing subordinates," thus Beard should be "held liable in his official and individual capacity under the First Amendment." (ECF No. 6 at 5.) Harris seeks $350,000 and a trial by jury. (ECF No. 6 at 6.)

II.Standard of Review

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), courts must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and read them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Id. at 555. The court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Additionally, a civil rights claim "must contain specific allegations of fact which indicate a deprivation of constitutional rights; allegations which are nothing more than broad, simple and conclusory statements are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983." Alfaro Motors, Inc. v. Ward, 814 F.2d 883, 887 (2d Cir. 1987).

Courts generally consider the allegations of the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record in deciding motions to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual allegations within documents described or identified in the complaint also may be considered if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. Id. (citations omitted). Moreover, a district court may consider indisputably authentic documents without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary ...

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