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Murphy v. Berdanier

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 19, 2014

DAVID N. MURPHY, Plaintiffs,
v.
GENE BERDANIER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

THOMAS M. BLEWITT, Magistrate Judge.

I. BACKGROUND.

On May 20, 2014, forty five (45) inmates at Schuylkill County Prison ("SCP") in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, jointly filed a putative class action civil rights Complaint, under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, styled as a "Class Action Civil Suit." Plaintiffs allege various constitutional violations due to poor prison conditions at SCP. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief and monetary damages.

In particular, Plaintiffs allege that prison officials at SCP are not properly feeding the inmates at the prison from January 1, 2014, to the present. Plaintiffs allege that they are not receiving proper portions, that they are not receiving proper nutrition, and that they are served spoiled food. Further, Plaintiffs allege that the commissary items are marked up at two to three times the price indicated on the package and that the excessive prices are unconstitutional. Plaintiff also allege that the ceiling in the room where their food is served is collapsing and leaks when it rains, and that human feces also leaks from the ceiling and contaminates their food. As a result, Plaintiffs allege that they are experiencing excessive weight loss, illness and hunger pains. Plaintiffs contend that this conduct violates the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiffs further claim that the inmates at SCP are forced to sleep on the floors without cots and that the toilets overflow and, that this violates the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiffs aver that if they complain about the deplorable conditions at SCP, prison staff retaliate against them by locking them up "in the hole." Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief as well as compensatory damages. Plaintiffs further request the Court to send undercover agents and inspectors to witness the alleged inhumane conditions at SCP.

The proposed class in this action appear to be all persons who were confined as inmates at SCP from January 1, 2014, through the present, who have been or will in the future be subjected to the conditions of confinement as alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs also request the Court appoint counsel to represent them in this putative class action.

Some of the Plaintiffs listed on this "Class Action" Complaint are: David N. Murphy; Fred Williams; Charles A. Sincavage; Mark P. Georgeff; Christopher M. Brennan; Allen Thompson; Angel Junior Del Rio; Eric Garrity; Brandon L. Erb; George J. Halley; Brian Erdman; Kevin Evans Max Walls; David Miller; Vincent Meyer; Christopher Books; Dustin Ballard; Anthony Ballard; Randal L. Fisk; Michael Hannock; John T. Stiles III; James J. Englert; Adam Gomrak, Jr.; Steve Lucas; Joseph E. Boris; Kyle Long; Jason Kerstetter; Juan G. Bermudez; Michael Rissinger; Steven Rhoads; Clark Belado; Wayne Govenas; David Haller; Martin Lopez; Donnie Carl; Brandon Finecs; Michael Killian; Brian McDonald; Robert Valentine; Jose Arroyo; David Rich; Douglas Whitecsh; Eric Shappell; Matthew Sleva; Billy Murphy; Raymond B. Miller; and Karl Kimmel.

Named as Defendants are: SCP Warden Gene Berdanier; Alisha Watson (Head of Kitchen at Schuylkill County Prison); Gregory Beniston of Trinity Food Services; Schuylkill County; President Judge William Baldwin (President Judge/Prison Board - Schuylkill County Courthouse); William Flannery (Captain of Guard at Schuylkill County Prison); Deputy Warden David Wapinsky; and All Guards Employed by Schuylkill County Prison.

Attached to the Complaint were signatures of approximately forty five (45) inmates. (Doc. 1, pp. 2-3). Plaintiffs indicate that there is a prisoner grievance procedure available at SCP and that they have fully exhausted the available administrative remedies regarding each of their present claims. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiffs allege they wrote out grievances to the warden and kitchen staff, all of which were to no avail. ( Id. ).

Several of the Plaintiffs who seek to be included in the putative class action suit filed Motions to proceed in forma pauperis and Authorization forms. The proposed Plaintiff class representative Murphy also filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction and a Motion to Appoint counsel for the putative class. (Docs. 92 & 174). Also, several proposed Plaintiff class members have been released from SCP since the Complaint in this case was filed and their current addresses are not known.

To date, the proposed Plaintiff class members have not filed a Motion For Class Certification of their case under Rule 23 as required. Thus, we shall direct them to do so.

II. ALLEGATIONS OF COMPLAINT.

As part of the Complaint, Plaintiffs included a Statement of Claim with several additional pages. Specifically, Plaintiffs state, "One inmate for example (Fred Williams) came in on August 6th, 2013 and was 280 lbs. and now 9 months later he has no money coming in to buy commissary (sic) he is 202 lbs, losing 78 lbs." (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiffs allege that commissary items are sold for two to three times the amount on the package, making these items priced higher than any other prison in Pennsylvania and this equates to being illegal, cruel and unusual punishment, and violates their 1st, 4th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiffs state that due to the exorbitant prices on commissary items many inmates cannot afford to supplement their meals which do not contain sufficient food.

Plaintiffs claim they have been served insufficient food dating from January 1, 2014, to the present, numerous times. ( Id. ) Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that at times their meals have consisted of only ten kernels of corn, watered down food and condiments, and that the portions are not proper and "not even enough to fill a five year old child." ( Id. ) Plaintiffs aver that this amounts to cruel and unusual punishment from January 1, 2014 until the present and violates their Eighth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs state, "Every inmate has excessive weight loss and hunger pains while incarcerated in Schuylkill County Prison. This is cruel punishment and the mental anguish of starving is really bad." ( Id. ).

Plaintiffs also allege that inmates have been forced to sleep on the floors and have not been given cots. In addition, Plaintiffs claim that if an inmate does not have commissary funds, they will starve, and that commissary prices are excessive. Plaintiffs state, "We are malnourished. This is cruel and unusual ...


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