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Coffee v. Burkhart

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

February 13, 2014

JEROME COFFEE, Plaintiff,
v.
RAYMOND BURKHART, et al, Defendants.

Cohill District Judge

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER United States Magistrate Judge

I. RECOMMENDATION

It is respectfully recommended that the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants [ECF No. 15] be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

- Summary judgment should be granted in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s retaliation claims based upon illegal cell searches due to Plaintiff’s failure to exhaust his administrative remedies;
- Summary judgment should be denied on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim based upon the false misconduct; and
- Summary judgment should be denied on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim based upon the denial or non-reinstatement of privileges.

II. REPORT

A. Relevant Background

Plaintiff Jerome Coffee, an inmate incarcerated within the State Correctional System of Pennsylvania, presented this civil rights complaint in July of 2012. Named as Defendants to this action are: Raymond Burkhart, Andre Repko, Thomas Riskus, Eric Tice, Paul Ennis, W.D. Cole, and Anne Plaska.

Plaintiff asserts the following retaliation claims arising during his incarceration at SCI Forest:

1) Lt. Burkhart performed illegal cell searches on December 26, 2011, and January 30, 2012, and removed or damaged property in retaliation for Plaintiff’s prior grievances;
2) In February and March of 2012, Captain Riskus, Major Repko and Hearing Examiner Plaska issued (and/or found Plaintiff guilty of) a false misconduct for lying, in retaliation for filing grievances; and
3) Defendant PRC members (Tice, Ennis and Cole) retaliated against Plaintiff for filing grievances by denying him privileges once he was moved to AC status in April of 2012.

Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 15] and Plaintiff has filed an opposition brief [ECF No. 33]. The issues are fully briefed and are ripe for disposition by this Court.

B. Standards of Review

1) Pro Se Litigants

Pro se pleadings, “however inartfully pleaded, ” must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant’s unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969)(petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read “with a measure of tolerance”); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956 F.2d 295 (D.C.Cir. 1992); Freeman v. Dep’t of Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)(discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990)(same). Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, this Court may consider facts and make inferences where it is appropriate.

2) Motion for summary judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” When applying this standard, the court must examine the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party’s claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007); UPMC Health System v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004). The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3d Cir. 1989)(the non-movant must present affirmative evidence - more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance -which supports each element of his claim to defeat a properly presented motion for summary judgment). The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show specific facts by affidavit or by information contained in the filed documents (i.e., depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions) to meet his burden of proving elements essential to his claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). The non-moving party “must present more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue.” Garcia v. Kimmell, 2010 WL 2089639, at * 1 (3d Cir. 2010) quoting Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both genuine and ...


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