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Robins v. C.O. True

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 13, 2015

C.O. TRUE, et al., Defendants.


EDWIN M. KOSIK, District Judge.

This civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was initiated by Plaintiff, Johnathan Robins, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Pennsylvania. The only remaining defendant is Brian Burke. Presently pending is Burke's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 30). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.


On May 25, 2011, Plaintiff and approximately fifteen (15) other inmates were waiting at SCI-Camp Hill for transport to SCI-Smithfield. Employees from SCI-Pittsburgh, including Defendant Correctional Officer Burke, were preparing the inmates for the transport. (Doc. 1, Compl. at 1-2.) Burke assisted with the strip searches that were conducted before the inmates were permitted to exit SCI-Camp Hill, and travel by bus to other Pennsylvania Department of Corrections institutions. Plaintiff claims that Burke moved eight inmates, including Plaintiff, into one cell and instructed them to strip naked. None of the inmates were directed to turn around or to face the wall when Burke conducted the visual strip search of Plaintiff and another inmate at the same time. Both inmates were directed to show their genitals and spread their buttocks in unison. After the search was concluded, Plaintiff complained to Burke that it was improper. An unknown staff member asked Plaintiff if he was planning to file a grievance. When Plaintiff responded in the affirmative, the staff member remarked that Plaintiff "must not want his property." ( Id. at 2.)

Plaintiff alleges that while there were plenty of empty seats on the transport bus, staff pulled he and another inmate out of line, and made them sit in the caged section of the bus where the Restricted Housing Unit inmates usually sit. He believes this was for the purpose of intimidation. He further alleges that when he was dropped off at SCI-Smithfield, his property was left on the bus by staff so it would go to SCI-Pittsburgh. The property was returned to him the following day. ( Id . at 3.)

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff claims that Burke violated his Eighth Amendment rights with respect to the manner in which he conducted the strip search. ( Id . at 4.) He also claims that his First Amendment right was violated when an attempt was made to intimidate him from seeking redress through the grievance system by seating him in the caged section of the bus and leaving his property on the bus. ( Id .) As relief, he seeks monetary damages.

On July 3, 2014, Defendant filed the pending motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 30.) A supporting statement of material facts, brief and exhibits were also filed. (Docs. 31, 32.)

By Order dated October 22, 2014, Plaintiff was directed to file a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion. (Doc. 33.) On November 10, 2014, he filed a brief in opposition to the motion. (Doc. 34.) Because the court was advised by correspondence from defense counsel that Plaintiff may not have received the motion for summary judgment, and that it had been remailed to him, Plaintiff was afforded additional time to submit opposition to the motion. (Docs. 35-38.) On December 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed his response to Defendant's statement of material facts and brief in opposition to the summary judgment motion. (Doc. 39.) No supporting evidentiary documents in support of his filings were submitted.


Summary judgment should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp ., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)(emphasis in original). A disputed fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Id .; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).

The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings with affidavits or declarations, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)(stating that the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts"). The party opposing the motion must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of proving at trial, because "a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see also Harter v. G.A.F. Corp ., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992). The nonmoving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Service, 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). "Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America, Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912 (1993).


Except where expressly noted as disputed, the following facts of record are undisputed.

On May 25, 2011, Officer Burke was one of three SCI-Pittsburgh employees who were transporting inmates, including Plaintiff, from SCI-Camp Hill to SCI-Smithfield. (Doc. 3, Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SMF"), ¶ 1; Doc. 39, Pl.'s SMF, ¶ 1.)

The DOC has a written policy, DC-ADM 203, regarding searches of inmates and their property. (Docs. 3, 39, ¶ 2; Doc. 31-1, Ex. C, Declaration of Major Lee Estock; Att. 1, DC-ADM 203.) DC-ADM 203 requires strip searches in the following circumstances: upon reception, returning after leaving the facility, periodically for inmates permitted to move in and out of gate areas, upon entering or leaving any restricted area, and prior to being transported outside the secure perimeter. ( Id ., Estock Decl. ¶ 3, Att. 1 § VI.G.2.a.) The DOC policy further states that a "strip search should be conducted in an area separate from other inmates and to assure privacy and minimum embarrassment." (Estock Decl. ¶ 4, Att. 1 § VI.G.2.b.)

On May 25, 2011, Plaintiff was being transported outside the secure perimeter of SCI-Camp Hill to another institution, SCI-Smithfield. (Docs. 3, 39, ¶ 5; Doc. 31-1, Ex. B, Pl.'s Dep. at 17.) Pursuant to DOC policy, prior to leaving SCI-Camp Hill, Plaintiff was taken with seven other inmates being transferred as a group to a holding cell to be searched. ( Id ., Pl.'s Dep. at 21; Doc. 31-1, Ex. A, Compl. at 2.)

Plaintiff cannot remember details about what was occurring around him prior to this search because he was not paying attention to anything until his person was being searched. (Doc. 31-1, Robins Decl. at 19, 22, 26, 32.) Plaintiff disputes this statement to the extent that, while he may have said he really wasn't paying attention and does not remember certain things, it did not mean that he did not pay attention to everything.

In the holding cell, Burke gave verbal commands to Plaintiff and the inmate next to him to disrobe, then show their hands, turn around, squat, cough, and allow a visual inspection of all body parts. ( Id . at 14-15, 30.) Plaintiff and the other inmate lifted and separated their genitals and spread their buttocks at the same time. ( Id . at 15.) Plaintiff admits that no one touched him during the search, a cavity search was not performed, and the search was visual only. ( Id . at 30.) Plaintiff was embarrassed by the search due to the group setting because other inmates were allowed to view Plaintiff as he was being strip searched. ( Id . at 26-30.)

After the search was complete and Plaintiff was dressing, he asserted that the search was improper. ( Id . at 27.) Plaintiff admitted that he was strip searched in a group setting many other times without complaint. ( Id . at 34.) However, he claims that this search was different because the other inmates were allowed to view his ...

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