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Miller v. Wenerowicz

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 6, 2014



MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs are Kenneth Miller, an incarcerated husband, and Tina Miller, his civilian wife, who bring claims against Defendant, the warden of the Grateford State Correctional Institution, for denying Kenneth Miller permission to marry Tina for one year. Plaintiffs bring claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of their right to marry without due process, under the Fourteenth Amendment, and for retaliation against their attempts to exercise that right. Plaintiffs also claim tortious interference of a settlement agreement of an unrelated lawsuit brought by Kenneth Miller.


Plaintiffs aver they initially sought marriage in January 2011, but Kenneth Miller was unable to obtain leave from prison to apply for a marriage license in the presence of a courthouse official. Kenneth had a pending court date before Judge Baylson for an unrelated matter on March 17, 2011, and asked Judge Baylson to facilitate the marriage license. Although Judge Baylson arranged for Plaintiffs to sign the marriage license at the courtroom, he could not officiate the marriage ceremony due to the three-day mandatory waiting period. The parties then settled the case. Kenneth Miller avers that he agreed to negotiate a settlement because Defendant promised he would permit Plaintiffs to marry. Under the terms of the settlement, Kenneth was transferred from Huntington to Graterford prison.

Kenneth submitted a request for marriage to Defendant in April 2011. On May 27, 2011 Defendant denied Plaintiffs' request and told them to wait six months, during which time Plaintiffs' $80 marriage license expired. In November 2011, Defendant again denied Plaintiffs' request for permission to marry, and said he would revisit the issue in a year if Kenneth continued to show "positive adjustment." (ECF No. 4B). On December 9, 2011, Kenneth submitted a grievance against Defendant. The grievance was initially denied on January 4, 2012, because the unit manager found it reasonable to require Plaintiffs to wait one year to reapply. Kenneth appealed the grievance decision on January 10, 2012 to the superintendent of the prison, who is also Defendant in this case. (ECF No. 4B). In the grievance appeal decision on January 31, 2012, Defendant wrote "I requested that this marriage be put on hold for one year until we can verify whether you require any mandatory sexual treatment program based on" a misconduct incident on February 23, 2010 where Plaintiff plead guilty to the charge of exposing himself to a female prison employee. (ECF No. 4B). The provision in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Administrative Directives, DC-ADM 821, providing for mandatory sexual treatment where appropriate was added on January 20, 2012. (ECF No. 4C). Defendant wrote that Kenneth's unit team found he did not require a sexual treatment program, and wrote Kenneth could reapply for permission to marry. Plaintiffs received approval to marry on March 20, 2012, and Plaintiffs eventually married on April 23, 2012.

Tina Miller avers that she purchased weddings rings that she had to return, lost wages, and suffered emotional injury, including depression, anxiety, and mental anguish.

Plaintiffs bring claims for violation of their constitutional right to marry under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, retaliation against them for their attempt to exercise their constitutional right to marry, and tortious interference with a contract. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint. At oral argument on the motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs' attorney declared Plaintiffs would not pursue their claims for retaliation or tortious interference. (ECF No. 34).


Defendant contends Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed for four reasons:

1. Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims are barred under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, because they do not allege any physical harm. Plaintiffs respond that Tina Miller's claims are not barred, but made no argument regarding the limitations on Kenneth Miller's claims.

2. The factual allegations do not support a Fourteenth Amendment claim for deprivation of the right to marry without due process, because the denial of permission to marry was based on valid penological reasons. Plaintiffs respond that prisoners have a constitutional right to marry.

3. Qualified immunity bars Plaintiffs' § 1983 retaliation claims. Plaintiffs' counsel represented to this Court Plaintiffs will not pursue this claim.

4. Sovereign immunity bars Plaintiffs' claims for tortious interference with a contract. Plaintiffs' counsel represented to this Court ...

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