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Martz v. SCI-Coal Twp. Therapeutic Community

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 18, 2014

SHAWN MARTZ, Plaintiff.


JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.


Shawn Martz ("Plaintiff") initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 regarding his prior confinement at the State Correctional Institution, Coal Township, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Coal Twp."). The Court was recently notified that Plaintiff has been retaken into custody and is presently confined at the Cambria County Prison, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.

Remaining Defendants are Grievance Officer Linda Chismar and Drug and Alcohol Treatment Supervisor Mike Vivian of SCI-Coal Twp. Plaintiff's Complaint, which is postmarked April 29, 2011, alleges that in order to obtain favorable parole consideration Martz was told by prison officials that he would have to complete a substance abuse program known as Therapeutic Community (TC). TC is described as being an intensive inpatient alcohol and drug abuse treatment program which is offered at Pennsylvania state correctional facilities. Defendant Vivian supervises the SCI-Coal Twp. TC program.

Martz claims that he was warned that if he refused to complete TC, he would be required to serve his maximum sentence by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (Parole Board). See Doc. 1, p. 3. Upon being declared eligible for enrollment in the TC program, Martz declined participation because he felt that it conflicted with his religious beliefs and needed to spend more time in the prison law library for pursuit of his court actions than that which was allotted to inmates enrolled in TC. Plaintiff alleges that his request for an alternate secular program to meet his prescriptive needs was denied in violation of his rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The Complaint concedes that Martz was informed by Defendant Chismar that "a secular program would be made available to him within the TC itself; whereby he would be permitted to remove himself at the mention of God, taking his books to study secularly on the other side of the room." Id., p. 5. However, the Complaint alleges that "[t]he book or books Miss Chismar intends he study secularly on the other side of the room" are "permeated with references to God and spirituality" which would preclude Martz from being able to adequately participate in the TC program. Id. at p. 5-6. Grievance Officer Chismar purportedly refused to take appropriate action following Martz's submission of an institutional grievance. The Complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages or any other relief. See id. at p. 6.

By Memorandum and Order dated February 8, 2012, Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint was partially granted. Specifically, dismissal was granted in favor of Defendants SCI-Coal Twp.; the SCI-Coal Twp. TC program; the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; and the Pennsylvania Department of Probation and Parole. See Doc. 17. Dismissal was also granted in favor of Remaining Defendants Chismar and Vivian with respect to the claims against them in their official capacities. The claims against Vivian and Chismar in their individual capacities that those two officials violated Plaintiff's rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, his right of access to the courts, and the terms of his criminal sentence were allowed to proceed.

Remaining Defendants subsequently filed a summary judgment motion which raised the following arguments: (1) Plaintiff's claims under the Establishment Clause must fail because the TC program is not based on any religion or faith based system and does not require any type of spiritual belief; and (2) Martz has not shown that he suffered any actual injury with regards to the purported denial of his right of access to the courts. See Doc. 37, p. 2. A September 4, 2013, Memorandum and Order issued by this Court partially granted that motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 40.

Summary judgment was granted in favor of Chismar and Vivian with regards to the claims that: (1) they violated the terms of Plaintiff's criminal sentence;[1] (2) Plaintiff would have to serve his maximum sentence because his refusal to attend TC programming would preclude a favorable DOC parole recommendation;[2] and (3) violation of his right of access to the court.

However, the request for summary judgment was denied with respect to the sole limited claim that Remaining Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because Martz was allegedly denied parole on his minimum release date for failure to complete TC. The parties were also granted a further opportunity to submit dispositive motions regarding this sole remaining allegation.

Presently pending is Remaining Defendants' second motion seeking entry of summary judgment. See Doc. 43. The opposed motion is ripe for consideration.


The following facts are undisputed. Plaintiff entered the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) for the purpose of serving a five (5) to ten (10) year state sentence on August 12, 2008. Martz's minimum release date was January 18, 2013 and his maximum release date was January 18, 2018.

Second, the DOC has established a method of providing alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse treatment programs to state inmates. In accordance with DOC guidelines, SCI-Coal Twp. offers a variety of substance abuse programs on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. TC is a highly-intensive inpatient AOD abuse treatment program which is offered at SCI-Coal Twp.. Participation in the TC program is voluntary. After undergoing a standardized drug screen, Plaintiff was recommended for participation in the TC program. Martz was advised that he had the option of whether to enroll in TC or not. However, the prisoner was advised that failure to participate could negatively impact the DOC's determination as to whether he should be recommended for parole.

On June 27, 2010, Plaintiff refused the option to participate in TC. This refusal was noted in his institutional file. Martz never entered the SCI-Coal Twp. TC program but he did participate in other institutional programming. This civil rights action was subsequently initiated during late April, 2011.

Third, neither of the two Remaining Defendants are employees of the Parole Board. Rather, Vivian and Chismar are DOC employees assigned to SCI-Coal Twp. Prior to his initial review by the Parole Board, Martz received an institutional recommendation for parole by DOC staff including Chismar on August 16, 2012. On October 12, 2012, the Parole Board denied parole to Martz on his minimum parole eligibility date. Neither of the Remaining Defendants participated in that determination. Moreover, that decision was contrary to Chismar's recommendation.

Plaintiff was subsequently transferred to a Community Corrections Center (CCC) on November 13, 2012. While at that facility, Martz completed an inpatient "Renewal Treatment Inc" program as of January 4, 2013. See Doc. 48, p. 3. Plaintiff describes said program as being a TC type program. The DOC again recommended Plaintiff for parole on December 21, 2012 and he was grated parole by the Parole Board via decision ...

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