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Troy Cooper v. Steve Cristini

September 18, 2012

TROY COOPER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEVE CRISTINI, COUNSELOR;
MARK CAPOZZA, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT;
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly

Re: ECF No. 208

OPINION

KELLY, Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff, Troy Cooper ("Cooper"), a pro se litigant, is a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), and is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution ("SCI") at Camp Hill. Cooper was previously housed at SCI Greene where he was apparently confined to the Restrictive Housing Unit ("RHU") from April 16, 2004, until February 18, 2010. It is undisputed that inmates housed in the RHU are to be seen by the Program Review Committee ("PRC") every 90 days, but that Cooper was not seen by the PRC between June 15, 2006, and February 7, 2008. Cooper claims that Defendants Steve Cristini ("Cristini"), a Counselor at SCI Green, and Mark Capozza ("Capozza"), Deputy Superintendent, (collectively "Defendants") were responsible for, and deliberately denied him such reviews, thereby violating his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Cooper also claims that Cristini and Capozza violated his First Amendment rights by denying him the 90-day PRC reviews in retaliation for Cooper having filed grievances against Cristini.

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment submitted on behalf of the Defendants. ECF No. 208. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

It is undisputed that Cooper was housed in the RHU at SCI Greene from April 16, 2004, until February 18, 2010, and that inmates housed in the RHU on Administrative Custody ("AC") status are to be seen by the PRC every 90 days. It is also undisputed that a 90-day PRC review was held on June 15, 2006. Cooper, however, did not have another 90-day PRC review until February 7, 2008, at which time he was on Disciplinary Custody ("DC") status due to a misconduct for which he had received 60 days DC time.

Defendant Cristini was employed by the DOC as a Corrections Counselor I at SCI Greene up until June 19, 2005, at which time he became a Corrections Counselor II. During much of the time relevant to this litigation, it appears that Cristini was Cooper's counselor and responsible for conducting weekly rounds.

Defendant Capozza has been employed by the DOC as the Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services at SCI Greene since July 15, 2007, and was the Major of Unit Management immediately prior to that time. It also appears that Capozza frequently sits on the PRC and often did so while the Major of Unit Management.

Cooper commenced this action on November 15, 2007, alleging that Defendants did not provide him with adequate medical treatment relative to his asthma in violation of his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. See ECF Nos. 1, 3. Neither Cristini nor Capozza were named as Defendants. ECF No. 3. On July 22, 2008, Cooper amended his Complaint, naming Cristini and Capozza as Defendants and alleging for the first time that Defendants violated his due process rights as provided for by the Fourteenth Amendment and his First Amendment right to be free from retaliation. ECF No. 67. These claims were maintained by Copper in both the second Amended Complaint and the third Amended Complaint that he subsequently filed on August 13, 2008, and September 30, 2008, respectively. ECF Nos. 74, 96.

Motions to Dismiss were subsequently filed by the various defendants, ECF Nos. 97, 106, and on June 24, 2009, the Court filed a Memorandum Opinion in which it, inter alia, invoked its screening responsibilities under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and dismissed Cooper's due process claims against Cristini and Capozza. ECF No. 118. Although Cooper's retaliation claims against Cristini and Capozza were not addressed by the Court, and thus remained viable issues, the case proceeded only as to the claims brought against the other defendants that survived the Motions to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 118, 178-1, pp. 7-8.

Ultimately, on June 4, 2010, Motions for Summary Judgment submitted by the remaining defendants were granted and judgment was entered in favor of all the defendants and against Cooper. ECF Nos. 166, 169. Cooper appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and, on April 11, 2011, the Court of Appeals issued a Judgment affirming in part and vacating in part the District Court's Judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. ECF No. 177. Specifically, in its Opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's Judgment with respect to Cooper's claims brought against the other defendants, but vacated the Judgment with regard to Cooper's due process and retaliation claims against Cristini and Capozza. ECF No. 178-1. In so doing, the Court of Appeals not only found that the District Court overlooked the conditions of Cooper's confinement in the RHU, which was relevant to the due process analysis and whether Cooper had a state-protected liberty interest, but that the record was not sufficiently developed for the Court to make that determination. Id. The Court of Appeals also noted, correctly so, that Cooper's retaliation claims against Cristini and Capozza had simply gotten lost in the litigation. Id. As such, the Court remanded the case to the District Court on those two issues.

On remand, the District Court issued an Order in which it permitted Cooper to file an Amended Complaint to add any new factual allegations relative to his remaining due process and retaliation claims. ECF No. 181. The Court also cautioned Cooper that it would strike any new claims and any new defendants that Cooper attempted to add in the Amended Complaint. Id. Cooper nevertheless filed an Amended Complaint on June 1, 2011, which included an Eighth Amendment claim. ECF No. 182. Although that portion of the Amended Complaint was subsequently stricken by the Court, see ECF No. 183, Document No. 182 remains the operative complaint and, hereinafter, is referred to as the "Amended Complaint."*fn1

The case subsequently proceeded through discovery and on January 6, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment ("the Motion"). ECF No. 208. Cooper filed an Opposition Brief to Defendants' Motion March 8, 2012. ECF No. 221. Accordingly, Defendants' Motion is now ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is warranted only where Athe 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). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party=s case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). See Conoshenti v. Public Service Electric & Gas Company, 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). When the moving party has met this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to Aset forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.@ Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The mere existence of some evidence favoring the non-moving party, however, will not defeat the motion. There must be enough evidence with respect to a particular issue to enable a reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). See McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363-64 (3d Cir. 2005). In ...


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