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Pew v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2015

ALFONSO PERCY PEW, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN E. WETZEL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

EDWIN M. KOSIK, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Alfonso Percy Pew, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while confined as an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill (SCI-Camp Hill), Pennsylvania. The issue before the court is whether Plaintiff should be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this matter despite having "Three Strikes" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), or permitted to proceed in forma pauperis under the "imminent danger of serious physical injury" exception to the Three Strikes rule.

I. Background

In his complaint, Plaintiff names the following Pennsylvania Department of Corrections officials as Defendants: John E. Wetzel, Secretary; Shirley Smeal Moore, Executive Deputy Secretary; and Mr. Klopotoski, Deputy Secretary Eastern Division. Plaintiff is a mental health inmate and claims that on or about July 16, 2014, he was placed in the Special Assessment Unit ("SAU") at SCI-Camp Hill. In the SAU, he is exposed to "constant light illumination" twenty-four (24) hours a day. Specifically, there are three (3) bright lights consisting of two (2) day lights and one (1) night light. (Doc. 1, Compl. at 3, 5.) Plaintiff states that he is not permitted to cover the lights to get sleep. He alleges that the constant lighting causes him headaches, nose bleeds, mental depression, agitation, fatigue, insomnia, panic attacks and mood swings. He further claims that the lighting affects his hypertension condition, disrupts his circadian rhythm bio, and causes him eye damage, which now requires his use of bifocals. (Id. at 5-6.) He seeks declaratory, injunctive, compensatory and punitive relief.[1]

Upon consideration of Plaintiff's complaint, affidavit in support of imminent danger, and motion to proceed in forma pauperis, the court directed Defendants to respond to Plaintiff's ifp request, specifically his claim of imminent danger of serious physical injury for purposes of avoiding the Three Strikes bar of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). (Doc. 5.) On November 3, 2014, the court construed additional documents submitted by Plaintiff as supplements to his request to proceed ifp. (Doc. 26.) Defendants thereafter submitted their response, and Plaintiff has filed a reply thereto. (Docs. 21, 29.) Also pending is Plaintiff's motion for clarification of the court's order of November 3, 2014. (Doc. 27.)

II. Discussion

A. Motion for Clarification

On November 3, 2014, the court issued an order that provided as follows: (1) a motion for show cause order and supporting affidavit filed by Plaintiff were construed to be documents in support of his motion to proceed in forma pauperis; (2) Plaintiff's motions to file a second amended complaint and for a protective order were denied without prejudice to refile following the court's determination as to the in forma pauperis issue; (3) Plaintiff's request for an extension of time to file his reply brief to Defendants' response to his request to proceed in forma pauperis was granted; and (4) the Clerk of Court was directed to docket "Affidavits" attached by Plaintiff to his motion for extension as "Affidavits in Support of Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis." (Doc. 26.)

Plaintiff seeks clarification of this order with respect to the first two parts of the order. He requests that the court interpret them liberally, and renews his request for a protective order preventing Defendants from "retaliatorily" moving him to moot the issues in this case. (Doc. 27.)

Plaintiff's motion for clarification is granted only to the extent that he will be provided with the following explanation as to the first two paragraphs of the court's November 3, 2014 order. First, Documents 7 and 9 labeled by Plaintiff as a motion for show cause order and supporting affidavit were construed to be documents submitted by Plaintiff in support of his request to proceed in forma pauperis, and will be considered below in addressing the Three Strikes issue. To the extent Plaintiff requests a protective order preventing Defendants from any retaliatory transfer to another prison during the pendency of this action, any such alleged conduct can be pursued in a new action. Moreover, any such transfer would not moot any determination by the court with respect to whether Plaintiff should be permitted to proceed in forma pauperis in that the imminent serious harm inquiry is determined with respect to facts existing at the time his complaint was filed.

B. Three Strikes Inquiry

1. Legal Standard

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), sought to "reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits, " Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002), in three main ways. First, it introduced an exhaustion requirement, which bars an action by a prisoner complaining of prison conditions "until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Second, it established "prescreening" provisions that require a court to dismiss an action or appeal sua sponte, if the action is "frivolous" or "malicious", "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, " or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(I), (e)(2)(B)(ii), 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). Third, it created a "Three Strikes" rule to limit the number of lawsuits brought by prisoners with a history of meritless litigation. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

Section 1915(g) prohibits a prisoner from proceeding in forma pauperis in a civil action, or in appealing a judgment in a civil action, if "the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). With respect to the Three Strikes rule, it is important to note that § 1915(g) does not block a prisoner's access to the federal courts. Rather, ...


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