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Harris v. Barone

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 3, 2014

DAVID HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL BARONE and DEBRA SAUERS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TERRENCE F. McVERR, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is the MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS CLAIM (ECF No. 50) filed by Defendants, Michael Barone ("Barone") and Debra Sauers ("Sauers"), the former and current superintendents of the State Correctional Institution ("SCI") at Forest, respectively. Defendants have filed a brief in support of their motion (ECF No. 51). David Harris ("Plaintiff") has filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 56). In addition, the factual record has been developed via the parties' concise statements of material facts ("CSMF") (ECF Nos. 51 and 55). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A. Facts

Plaintiff, an inmate presently incarcerated at SCI-Albion, brings this pro se lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, averring that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by prohibiting him from showering, shaving, and exercising outdoors for a period of 82 days. This case arose when Plaintiff, who is serving a life sentence, was incarcerated at SCI-Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania. On or about January 31, 2008, Plaintiff was transferred to SCI-Forest after he violently assaulted a female staff member at SCI-Greene in December 2007. Because of his history of assaultive behavior, Plaintiff was housed in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") on disciplinary custody status. He was also on the Restricted Release List, which meant that he could not be released back into the general population without prior approval from the DOC Secretary.

Plaintiff's assaultive behavior toward staff continued at SCI-Forest, with the incidents reportedly occurring while Plaintiff was in the exercise yard or showers or while being transported to such locations. After the last such incident, which occurred on March 5, 2010, Lieutenant Gill recommended to Defendant Barone, who was then the prison's superintendent, that several of Plaintiff's privileges be restricted.[1] In view of Plaintiff's history of assaultive behavior, Defendant Barone agreed with the recommendation and directed that Plaintiff be denied outdoor exercise, shaving, and shower privileges for 90 days, beginning immediately.[2]

At some time later on March 5, Plaintiff requested to use the shower and was denied. A few days later, on March 8, Plaintiff requested to be able to use the yard. This request was also denied. It is unclear from the record whether Plaintiff was informed on either of these occasions why he was being denied these privileges. On March 15, however, Plaintiff asked Lieutenant Dietrich why he was not being permitted to go to the yard and was informed about the restrictions.

The next day, Plaintiff sent a DC-135A form to Defendant Barone, complaining about the restrictions. Defendant Barone retired from his position as superintendent in late March and was replaced by Defendant Sauers on March 28. After Plaintiff learned of Barone's retirement, he sent a DC-135A form to Defendant Sauers asking him to put an end to the restrictions. Having failed to receive a prompt response from Sauers, Plaintiff sent a follow-up request on April 10. In addition, on April 22, he sent a letter to former DOC Secretary Jeffrey Beard ("Beard"), asking him to intervene to reinstate Plaintiff's exercise, shaving, and shower privileges.[3] Plaintiff's letter triggered a DOC investigation, after which the restrictions were nevertheless kept in place.

On May 13, 2010, Plaintiff filed a formal grievance, complaining that he had been denied shower and yard privileges for 69 days by that point. He also complained that during this period he made several requests to be moved into a cell equipped with a shower and yard pen and that he was rebuffed by Lieutenant Murin ("Murin") each time. Captain Ireland wrote an initial response to Plaintiff's grievance, indicating that Murin was merely following Defendant Barone's orders when he refused Plaintiff's cell change request. As a result, the grievance was considered resolved. Captain Ireland's response was subsequently upheld on appeal.

On May 27, 2010, the Program Review Committee ("PRC") met with Plaintiff to review his DC status.[4] Based on its review, the PRC, with Defendant Sauers' approval, decided to lift the outdoor exercise and shower restrictions but recommended that the other restrictions remain in place.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff initiated this action on October 26, 2011, naming Barone, Sauers, Murin, and Beard as Defendants. The case was initially assigned to former Chief United States District Judge Sean McLaughlin.

Upon the completion of discovery, Defendants filed a motion, seeking the entry of partial summary judgment in favor of Defendants Beard and Murin based upon their lack of personal involvement in either alleged constitutional violation (ECF No. 26). The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter, who recommended that it be granted (ECF No. 32). On January 15, 2013, former Chief Judge McLaughlin adopted Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report and Recommendation and thereby granted summary judgment for Beard and Murin (ECF No. 34). As a result, the case was slated for trial against only Defendants Barone and Sauers.

On August 28, 2013, the case was re-assigned to the undersigned Judge after former Chief Judge McLaughlin retired. The Court held a telephonic pretrial conference with Defense counsel and Plaintiff on September 9, 2013, and a supplemental telephonic pretrial conference on October 25, 2013. At the second conference, the Court noted that there was some uncertainty as to whether Plaintiff intended to continue to pursue his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim. Upon learning that Plaintiff did intend to pursue that claim, the Court advised the parties that certain issues related to that claim needed to be addressed as a matter of law prior to trial. Defendants then ...


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