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Cooper v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 19, 2014

JAMIL COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

YVETTE KANE, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jamil Cooper, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview ("SCI-Rockview") filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 20.) In his amended complaint, Plaintiff names the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), John Wetzel, Secretary of the DOC, Marirosa Lamas, Superintendant of SCI-Rockview, Unit Manager Kurt Granlund, "Sergeant Strohm, " and "Corrections Officer Sherman" as defendants. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he was verbally harassed by prison officers and that retaliatory grievances were filed against him. (Id.)

Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and motion to amend judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. Nos. 45, 48.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief

On May 9, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. (Doc. No. 44.) In his motion, Plaintiff requests an injunction requiring all employees to cease opening his mail outside of his presence. (Doc. No. 45 at 1.) In support of his motion, Plaintiff argues that a memorandum issued by the Court was sent as special mail to the Plaintiff, but was mixed in with his normal mail and consequently was opened by corrections officers. ( Id. at 3.) The last two pages of the memorandum were allegedly lost or destroyed by prison officials in violation of 37 Pa. Code § 93.2[1]

In determining whether to grant a motion seeking preliminary injunctive relief, the Court must evaluate four factors: (1) the likelihood of success on the merits; (2) irreparable harm resulting from a denial of the relief; (3) the harm to the non-moving party if relief is granted; and (4) the public interest. United States v. Bell, No. 01-2159 , 2003 WL 102610, at *2 (M.D. Pa. January 10, 2003) (J. Conner) (internal citations omitted). "[A] failure to show a likelihood of success or a failure to demonstrate irreparable injury must necessarily result in the denial of a preliminary injunction." In Re Arthur Treacher's Franchise Litigation , 689 F.2d 1137, 1143 (3d Cir. 1982). It is the moving party that bears the burden of satisfying these factors. Bell , 2003 WL 102610, at *2. The Court will address these factors in turn.

1. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

In order to prevail on a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) the conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra , 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); Schiazza v. Zoning Hearing Bd. , 168 F.Supp.2d 361, 372 (M.D. Pa. 2001).

The Court has already granted in part Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint and thus, only Plaintiff's claims concerning retaliation and due process remain. (Doc. Nos. 29, 30.) The Court finds that Plaintiff has not shown a likelihood of success on either claim. Defendants have demonstrated that the finding of guilt in the disciplinary hearing was based on "some evidence" and, therefore, Plaintiff would have been charged with misconduct regardless of any constitutionally protected activity. (Doc. No. 41 at 6-8.) Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to allege any specific facts to show that the grievance hearings were directly related to his exercise of a protected activity rather than a legitimate penological interest. Therefore, it is unlikely at this juncture that Plaintiff will prevail on his retaliation claim. Further, disciplinary sanctions of less than six months have only been recognized to "constitute a denial of due process in the context of a civil rights action under Section 1983 when they are instituted for the sole purpose of retaliating against an inmate for his/her exercise of a constitutional right." Smith v. Mensinger , 293 F.3d 641, 653 (3d Cir. 2002). Because Plaintiff was sanctioned to cell restriction for only 14 days and there has been no showing that such restriction was retaliatory in nature, it is unlikely that Plaintiff will prevail on the merits of his underlying claims.

2. Irreparable Harm

Even if Plaintiff had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, perhaps the most important prerequisite for issuance of a preliminary injunction is a demonstration that the applicant would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted. See Continental Group, Inc. V. Amoco Chems. Corp., 614 F.2d 351, 356 (3d Cir. 1980). Irreparable injury is "potential harm which cannot be redressed by a legal or equitable remedy following a trial." Instant Air Freight Co. v. C.F. Air Freight, Inc. , 882 F.2d 797, 801 (3d Cir. 1989). "The possibility that adequate compensatory or other corrective relief will be available at a later date, in the ordinary course of litigation, weighs heavily against a claim of irreparable harm." Id. at 801 (quoting Sampson v. Murray , 415 U.S. 61, 90 (1964)).

The Court finds that Plaintiff fails to demonstrate that he will suffer immediate irreparable harm if the relief sought is not granted. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated portions of the Pennsylvania Code by opening a letter addressed from the Court outside of his presence and subsequently losing portions thereof. (See Doc. No. 20.) Plaintiff further alleges that the mail was "privileged" as a communication from the Court and, therefore, was required to be opened only in his presence. (Id.) However, the document was a memorandum opinion of the court, publicly available through the PACER system. Further, the portion of the Pennsylvania Code cited by Plaintiff to require opening of the correspondence only in his presence specifically states that "[u]nder no circumstances will documents filed in a court of public record be delivered sealed to an inmate." See 37 Pa. Code § 93.2. The Court also observes that Plaintiff filed a request for a copy of the memorandum and order with the Court and subsequently received courtesy copies of both. (Doc. Nos. 51, 52.) Therefore, ...


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