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Feliciano v. Dohman

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 18, 2014

JOSE FELICIANO, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS DOHMAN, et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

RONALD L. BUCKWALTER, Senior District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment by David DiGuglielmo, former Superintendent of State Correctional Institution at Graterford ("SCIG"); Michael Lorenzo, former Deputy Superintendent; Thomas Dohman, former Security Captain; William Radle, former Security Lieutenant; and Patrick Curran, Property Sergeant (collectively "Defendants"). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted in its entirety.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jose M. Feliciano has been an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford ("Graterford") since 1997.[1] In April 2005, Graterford's Internal Security Department received several anonymous tips claiming that Feliciano was selling drugs in the prison. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C, Decl. of Thomas Dohman ("Dohman Decl."), ¶ 6, Feb. 4, 2014; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, Decl. Of William Radle ("Radle Decl.") ¶ 6, Feb. 12, 2014.) A search of his misconduct history showed that he possessed eighteen bags of marijuana in May 2002, and that he was caught trying to alter a urine sample in June 2002. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 6; Radle Decl. ¶ 6; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. J ("Plaintiff's Misconduct History"); Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. F, Dep. of Jose Feliciano ("Feliciano Dep."), 70:2-71:18, Oct. 23, 2013.) Plaintiff also received misconducts for possession of jewelry and a wristwatch in 2006 and 2007. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 6; Radle Decl. ¶ 6; Plaintiff's Misconduct History; Feliciano Dep. 101:15-103:4.)

Defendant Officers Dohman and Radle began an investigation into the anonymous tips by determining that Plaintiff worked as a janitor in the school building and that Officer Ballard was the full-time school officer. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 7; Radle Decl. ¶ 7.) In April 2005, Dohman and Radle installed surveillance cameras in the school area and obtained video of two individuals spending significant time together, touching and kissing. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Exs. K, L, M.) The officers believed that it was Plaintiff and Officer Ballard depicted in each instance. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 8; Radle Decl. ¶ 8.) Radle and Dohman then confirmed through the Daily Operations Report, (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. N), and the Inmate Work Assignment, (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. O), that Ballard was assigned and present in the school each day that the images were captured, and that Feliciano was assigned and working in the school for each day of the video recording. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 8; Radle Decl. ¶ 8.)

In August 2008, Plaintiff was given a misconduct for possession of a key to a padlocked cabinet in the school area and was removed from the school janitor job. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 9; Radle Decl. ¶ 9; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. U.) In addition, he was given ninety days in the Restricted Housing Unit. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. U.) Dohman and Radle, however, continued to receive reports that he was loitering in the school area and, whenever Plaintiff's presence there was challenged, Officer Ballard would allow him to stay. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 10; Radle Decl. ¶ 10.)

In November 2008, Plaintiff reported that he was being harassed by Education Guidance Counselor Theresa Snyder. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. Q, Fact Finding Results.) Upon interview, Plaintiff stated that, in January 2008, Ms. Snyder asked him to move some furniture in her office, in connection with his duties as a school janitor (Id.) When he bent down to pick up some heavy boxes of books, Miss Snyder bent down at the same time, facing away from Plaintiff, and their backsides touched. (Id.) He indicated that this was the extent of the physical contact, but he believed it to be intentional and slow. (Id.) When asked why he did not report it until almost a year later, he stated that he was afraid of reprisal and the stigma of reporting. (Id.) Notably, Plaintiff had previously filed a grievance against Miss Snyder on January 9, 2008, saying he was being harassed by her because (1) when he refused to clean her office on Friday afternoons because of limitations on his permission to enter rooms during the week, she became angry with him and (2) she requested that he clean up a dead roach on her office floor. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. R.)

Miss Snyder, on the other hand, explained that she became familiar with Plaintiff when she was re-assigned to the School Building as a Corrections Academic Guidance Counselor and she issued Plaintiff a misconduct, on January 11, 2008, for puposely sweeping dirt on her foot. (Fact Finding Results; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. S.) She indicated that Plaintiff volunteered to clean her office when she moved in and that, on another occasion, she asked him to pick up a dead roach on her floor. (Id.) She denied ever touching him or making any inappropriate comments. (Id.) On January 20, 2009, Radle submitted to Superintendent Lorenzo his sexual harassment investigation findings, wherein he determined that Plaintiff's sexual harassment claims against Snyder were unfounded. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. Q.)

On December 31, 2008, Officers Dohman and Radle confronted Plaintiff about his relationship with Officer Ballard and its connection to drug distribution in Graterford. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B, Decl. of Michael Lorenzo ("Lorenzo Dep."), ¶ 7, Feb. 4, 2014.) In the course of doing so, they used a tactic called "cultivating informants" in which they asked him if he would like to cooperate with them for more lenient treatment. (Id. ¶ 8.) According to Plaintiff, on December 31, 2008, Plaintiff attended his afternoon call out for the law library. (Compl. ¶ 1.) While awaiting the opening of the law library, Plaintiff was approached by two security officers, patted down, handcuffed, and escorted to the Security Department. (Id. ¶ 2.) Once at the Security Department, he was taken into the Security Captain's office, where Officers Dohman and Radle were waiting for him. (Id. ¶ 3.) Captain Dohman asked Plaintiff to "tell him about the stuff, " to which Plaintiff responded that he did not know what he was talking about. (Id. ¶ 4.) Captain Dohman then began screaming at Plaintiff stating, "I know she's bringing you that sh[**]! Just tell me she's bringing it in!" (Id.) When Plaintiff again asked Dohman what he was talking about, Dohman said, "look, just tell me she is bringing you drugs and we will let you stay in this institution (Graterford) and you could go back to your housing unit.... If you don't cooperate, then I'm sending you far away.... Tell me Officer Ballard is bringing you drugs, that is all I want you to say." (Id. ¶ 5.) At that point, Lieutenant Radle joined in and stated, "You will be far away from you family, Jose. We know they come to visit you, and if you don't tell us what we want you to say, you will never hug your kids again or see your family in a very long time." (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff then told both officers that, "I can't tell you about something that isn't true.... What you want me to say is a lie and I will not lie about or on Mrs. Ballard." (Id. ¶ 7.) Dohman, however, remarked that he knew Plaintiff was having a relationship with Ballard and commented, "What, you think I just fell off a turnip truck." (Id. ¶ 8.) When Plaintiff again refused to cooperate, Dohman indicated that he had Plaintiff on tape and began to remove video cassette tapes from a shelf above his desk. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff stated his belief that this was being done because he filed a complaint against Mrs. Snyder, and Lieutenant Radle responded, "[t]hen just do what we are asking of you and you could stay here at Graterford. You could work for us and not have to worry about getting transferred." (Id. ¶ 10.) Upon his further refusal to cooperate, Plaintiff was handcuffed again and escorted to the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") where he received a DC-141, Part 1 "Other Report, " placing him on Administrative Custody ("AC") status. (Id. ¶ 11.)

In January 2009, Officers Radle and Dohman submitted an investigation report regarding Plaintiff's and Officer Ballard's suspected fraternization. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. P.) Dohman and Radle also requested that Ballard be brought up on administrative charges for fraternization with an inmate, but their request was denied because the decision-makers felt that the officers lacked sufficient evidence. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 12; Radle Decl. ¶ 12.)

Plaintiff received his first Program Review Committee ("PRC") hearing on February 6, 2009, at which time he was continued on AC status, under investigation, and pending transfer. (Compl. ¶ 12.) While being housed in AC, Plaintiff requested some of his legal property and, on February 19, 2009, was permitted to select a box of property to take back to his cell. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. W.) Plaintiff appealed the decision rendered by the PRC, which was referred back to the Committee for another hearing. (Compl. ¶ 13.). The second PRC hearing was held on March 4, 2009, at which time Deputy Murray, Defendant Deputy Lorenzo, and Mr. Alinski were present. (Id. ¶ 14.) During that hearing, Plaintiff claimed that the actions were being taken against him because he refused to lie about Officer Ballard, and he denied all allegations that he ever had a relationship with Officer Ballard or that she brought him drugs/contraband. (Id. ¶15.) Nonetheless, Plaintiff was continued on AC status and informed that he would be transferred per the request of Captain Dohman. (Id. ¶ 16.)

Again in March 2009, Plaintiff was escorted to the Security Department from the RHA, where Lieutenant Radle asked Plaintiff to "cooperate" with him and commented that, "If you just say that Officer Ballard brought you in some drugs, I could make this all go away and I will help stop your transfer." (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff repeated, however, that he had no knowledge of any drugs or contraband being brought into the institution by Ballard or anyone else and would not cooperate in lying. (Id.)

On March 5, 2009, Plaintiff's Unit Manager filed a transfer petition and Plaintiff was sent to SCI Greene on April 28, 2009. (Dohman Decl. ¶ 11; Radle Decl. ¶ 11; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. Y; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. Z.) On March 9, 2009, Plaintiff wrote to Superintendent David DiGuglielmo, appealing the decision of the PRC Committee, denying the allegations made by Captain Dohman, and expressing that the actions taken by Dohman were a result of Plaintiff's refusal to cooperate with fabricating a story against Officer Ballard. (Compl. ¶ 18.) This appeal was answered by Deputy Lorenzo, who stated that it "was within Dohman's parameters of his position to try and cultivate' informants." (Id. ¶ 19.) As such, on April 3, 2009, Plaintiff submitted a grievance to the section officer, to be placed in the out-going mail bag. (Id. ¶ 20.) This grievance challenged the reasons for Plaintiff's placement on AC status and the retaliatory actions taken by Captain Dohman and Lieutenant Radle. (Id.) During his placement in the RHU, however, Plaintiff received a notice from the State Superior Court in which his appeal was denied and which informed him of his time for seeking allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Id. ¶ 21.)

After submitting several request slips to prison officials pleading to have access to his legal property, Plaintiff filed a grievance, dated April 2, 2009, by handing said grievance to another inmate so that the inmate could send Plaintiff's grievance to the grievance coordinator. (Id. ¶ 22.) On April 8, 2009, Plaintiff was finally escorted to the property room, where he was only allowed to go through several personal property boxes, but was not allowed to organize his legal materials to locate the documents necessary to perfect his allowance. (Id. ¶ 23; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. X.) In addition, it was obvious that his property had been searched. (Compl. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff's April grievance then received an answer dated April 2, 2009, suggesting it had never been reviewed by the assigned grievance coordinator, Wendy Shaylor, since Plaintiff had submitted it on that same date. (Id. ¶ 24.) Accordingly, Plaintiff immediately appealed. (Id.) On April 13, 2009, Plaintiff sent a letter to Ms. Shaylor inquiring about his grievance challenging his AC placement. (Id. ¶ 25.) When Plaintiff received no confirmation from Ms. Shaylor, he submitted a second letter to her on April 27, 2009, again challenging his AC confinement, inquiring about the status of his grievance, and asking if his two previous letters were received. (Id. ¶ 26.)

During the pendency of his appeal challenging his denial of access to the courts, Plaintiff was transferred to S.C.I. Greene. (Id. ¶ 27.) He was continued on AC status because of his falsified records and was denied access to his legal and personal property. (Id. ¶ 28.) On June 12, 2009, after not receiving an answer from Superintendent DiGuglielmo, Plaintiff submitted his second letter inquiring into the status of his appeal challenging the denial of access to the courts. (Id. ¶ 29.) Subsequently, on July 15, 2009, Plaintiff sent another letter, but this time submitted it to Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance Coordinator, requesting confirmation as to whether his grievance challenging his AC confinement and retaliation claim was received by said office. (Id. ¶ 30.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff received a response from Defendant DiGuglielmo, pertaining to his first grievance challenging his denial of access to his legal property and access to the courts. (Id. ¶ 31.) On July 22, 2009, Plaintiff then filed his appeal for Final Review, challenging denial of access to his legal property and denial of access to the courts. (Id. ¶ 32.)

Plaintiff was released to the general population at S.C.I. Greene on August 6, 2009, yet his legal and personal property continued to be withheld. (Id. ¶ 33.) On August 12, 2009, Plaintiff received a response from Dorina Varner in a Notice of "Action Required, " stating that Plaintiff's appeal had exceeded the two-page limit. (Id. ¶ 34.) Therefore, Plaintiff submitted his revised version of the appeal on August 20, 2009 to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievance and Appeals. (Id. ¶ 35.) He then sent a letter to the same office, on October 5, 2009, inquiring as to the status of that revised version. (Id. ¶ 36.) Having received no response as of November 11, 2010, Plaintiff submitted another letter to Ms. Varner regarding the status of his grievance. (Id. ¶ 37.) He followed up with letters to Ms. Varner on March 10, 2011; Jeffrey Beards, the Secretary of Corrections on June 20, 2011; and to Ms. Varner again on October 5, 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 38-40.) Finally, on November 1, 2011, Plaintiff received a response from Ms. Varner's office in which Plaintiff was informed that her office never received Plaintiff's grievance or prior correspondence. (Id. ¶ 41.)

On August 29, 2012, Plaintiff initiated the instant action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also claimed that all Defendants are personally involved and are liable in both their individual and official capacities. (Id. ¶¶ 50-57.) By way of a Memorandum Opinion issued March 25, 2013, the Court dismissed all § 1983 claims against the Commonwealth Defendants in their official capacities and found that Plaintiff's access to courts claim failed due to Plaintiff's inability to plead actual injury. Nonetheless, the Court retained Plaintiff's claim under the First and Fourteenth Amendments alleging retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint against Ms. Snyder, his claim under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments alleging retaliation for his refusal to cooperate in an internal security investigation, and his claim under the Eighth Amendment. Feliciano v. Dohman, No. Civ.A.12-4713, 2013 WL 1234225 (E.D. Pa. March 25, 2013).

On February 19, 2014, Defendants filed the current Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's remaining claims. Following an extension of time from the Court, Plaintiff filed his Response on August 11, 2014, and supplemented that Response on August 15, 2014. The Motion is now ripe for judicial consideration.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For an issue to be "genuine, " a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

On summary judgment, the moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). It is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi's IGA Supermkts., Inc. v. Darling-Del. Co. Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993)). Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987).

Although the moving party must establish an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not "support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can meet its burden by "pointing out... that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims." Id. at 325. If the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, " summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, the mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant will not be ...


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