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Lane v. Tavares

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 3, 2015

CARLTON LANE, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH F. TAVARES, M.D., et al., Defendants.


A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before me is Plaintiff Cartlon Lane's ("Lane") Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (Doc. 55.) Lane, an inmate currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Huntingdon"), commenced this action in May 2014 alleging a number of claims involving religious and disability discrimination. In litigating these claims, Lane contends that his constitutional right to access to the courts has been infringed because he has been denied confidential contact visits with his counsel, meaning he is not permitted to meet with his counsel in a private room without being separated by a barrier. Lane thus seeks a preliminary injunction to enjoin SCI-Huntingdon from denying him confidential contact visits with his attorney and to prepare space suitable to accommodate such visits. Because Lane fails to demonstrate a reasonable probability that he will succeed on the merits of his access to the courts claim or that he will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary injunctive relief, a preliminary injunction will not issue and Lane's motion will be denied.

I. Background

A. Relevant Procedural Background

Lane commenced this action against five individuals and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") on May 23, 2014. Lane, represented by counsel, alleges that he was deprived of his constitutional rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. ( Compl., Counts I-IV.) Lane also alleges violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. ( Id . at Counts V-VII.) The action was referred to Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab for pretrial management.

On August 15, 2014, Defendant Dr. Joseph Tavares moved to dismiss Lane's Complaint. (Doc. 23.) And, on August 20, 2014, Defendants Paula Price, Tabb Bickell, Mr. Cook, Christopher Oppman, and the DOC (collectively, "Commonwealth Defendants") filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 25.) Thereafter, Commonwealth Defendants filed a "Motion to Correct the Record and Refile Briefs" associated with their motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 58.) Commonwealth Defendants subsequently filed a praecipe to withdraw their motion for judgment on the pleadings, (Doc. 94), which was granted on January 27, 2015, (Doc. 101), and a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 95.) The outstanding motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment are referred to Magistrate Judge Schwab.

On November 13, 2014, Lane filed the instant Motion for Preliminary Injunction and supporting brief. (Docs. 55; 56.) Because a magistrate judge may not issue a dispositive order on a motion for preliminary injunction absent consent of the parties, see 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 636(b)(1)(A), (c)(1), I retained jurisdiction over Lane's request for preliminary injunctive relief.

In his motion for a preliminary injunction, Lane seeks "to enjoin SCI Huntingdon from denying him confidential contact visits with his attorney." (Doc. 56, 1.) Specifically, Lane asserts that his constitutional right to access to the courts includes the right to "contact visits" with his attorney, meaning that he is entitled to meet with his counsel in private without being separated by barriers. According to Lane, "SCI Huntingdon allows only two kinds of attorney visits: (1) a contact visit while seated in the midst of other visitors and prisoners in the common visiting room, or (2) a non-contact visit in one of three booths that open off of the common visiting room." (Doc. 56, 3.) Under either option, Lane contends that his ability to communicate privately with his attorney is compromised. ( Id .)

B. Preliminary Injunction Hearing

A hearing was held on Lane's motion for a preliminary injunction on November 25, 2014. At the outset of the hearing and prior to the presentation of any evidence, Commonwealth Defendants made several challenges to Lane's motion on subject-matter jurisdiction grounds. In particular, Commonwealth Defendants argue that the underlying lawsuit in this case relates to allegations of disability and religious discrimination, ( Tr. Prelim. Inj. Hr'g (" Tr. "), 3:25-4:1), but the motion for a preliminary injunction implicates a right of access to the courts claim, a cause of action for which he had yet to fully exhaust under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. ( Id . at 4:15-22.) I took Commonwealth Defendants' jurisdictional arguments under advisement and allowed the parties to present evidence on Lane's motion.

Three witnesses testified at the November 25, 2014 hearing. Lane was the first witness to testify. Lane indicated that he is currently a security Level 4 inmate housed in general population. ( Tr., 18:6-9.)

Lane first testified as to the process and procedure he goes through before and after receiving a visitor. After receiving a pass, Lane testified that he goes to central control before going to the dressing room area. ( Id . at 21:21-25.) There, he changes from his institutional browns into visiting clothing, which is a brown jumpsuit. ( Id .) He is strip-searched at that time. ( Id . at 22:8-17.) After changing, he then enters the visiting area and reports to the officer's desk. ( Id . at 22:17-19.) At the conclusion of a visit, he goes back to the dressing area, where he is again strip-searched before getting dressed in his institutional clothing. ( Id . at 23:8-12.) Only one inmate is allowed at a time in this search area, and if an inmate wants to return when the room is occupied, he has to wait in a seating area in the visiting room. ( Id . at 23:21-24:6.)

Lane also testified about the accommodations available to meet with his attorney at SCI-Huntingdon. According to Lane, one location in which he is permitted to visit with his attorney is at a round game table[1] in the visiting area. ( Id . at 22:22-23:1.) Lane testified that the seating area where inmates can wait to get back to the dressing area is approximately four or five feet from the game table. ( Id . at 24:7-9.) The game table is also approximately four or five feet from the restrooms that visitors use, the doors that visitors enter by, and the water fountain that visitors use. ( Id . at 24:10-18.) Further, the game table is only about five to six feet from the officer's desk, and the officer's desk has recently been expanded to take up more of the visiting area. ( Id . at 25:18-26:11.) Lane finds meeting with his counsel at the game table unsatisfactory because of the lack of privacy. ( Id . at 24:19-22.) Lane also testified to concern that security cameras can focus on any materials that are placed on the game table. ( Id . at 25:2-5.) Moreover, the visiting room is very loud, requiring Lane and his attorney to yell to each other. ( Id . at 25:6-17.)

In addition to the game table, Lane testified that there are some small "non-contact booths" off the visiting room. ( Id . at 26:12-23.) The booths have doors on them, and there is glass in the doors. ( Id . at 27:1-6.) These doors are about three feet away from the officer's desk. ( Id . at 27:7-9.)

Lane also testified that he had a visit with counsel among the regular visitors in the visiting area. ( Id . at 27:19-22.) This was in a small area in the back of the visiting room that is for children. ( Id . at 27:24-28:5.) Lane did not find the meeting with counsel in the children's area satisfactory because of his concerns about confidentially. ( Id . at 28:6-13.) In sum, Lane testified that the lawsuit in this action involves sensitive medical issues which he is uncomfortable talking about under the accommodations presently available at SCI-Huntingdon. ( Id . at 28:14-20.)

The second witness to testify at the November 25, 2014 hearing was Brian Harris ("Harris"). Harris is employed by the DOC as a captain, Corrections Officer IV, and is currently assigned to oversee the security office at SCI-Huntingdon. ( Id . at 47:18-23.) In that position, Harris oversees the general security and operation of the facility, including the introduction of contraband, escapes, and security over the perimeter and the institution. ( Id . at 47:24-48:3.) As part of his job, Harris testified that he has to analyze all areas of the institution for weaknesses, and his analysis of SCI-Huntingdon includes the visitation area. ( Id . at 48:7-11.) Harris indicated that the visitation area poses concerns relating to inmate escapes, safety of the public, security of the inmates, and introduction of contraband. ( Id . at 48:12-18.) Harris noted that in the visitation area at SCI-Huntingdon there have been inmate assaults on visitors, as well as visitor assaults on inmates. ( Id . at 49:3-5.)

Harris further testified that the visitation room is one of the thoroughfares for the introduction of contraband to the facility. ( Id . at 49:6-50:3.) Harris estimated that contraband is introduced into the visiting room on a weekly basis, and sometimes as many as multiple times in one day. ( Id . at 50:4-9.) According to Harris, contraband can be passed from a visitor to an inmate in the visiting room by various means, ...

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