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Montanez v. Beard

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 21, 2015

DOMINGO COLON MONTAÑEZ and TIMOTHY A. HALE, Plaintiffs,
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before me are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Suggestion of Mootness (Doc. 315) and the Motion to Intervene (Doc. 320) filed by Plaintiff Timothy Hale and Applicants Nakia Yancy and Marc Anthony Arnold. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be granted and the motion to intervene will be denied.

I. Background

Plaintiff Timothy Hale ("Hale") commenced this action in December 2004.[1] In his subsequently filed amended complaint, Hale alleged that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when they withdrew money from his prison account. Specifically, Hale contended that inmates "must be provided with notice of the DOC Policy and an opportunity to be heard regarding application of the Policy prior to the first deduction" of funds from their prison accounts. See Montanez v. Sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corrs., 773 F.3d 472, 482-83 (3d Cir. 2014).

After two appeals to the Third Circuit, the action proceeded to discovery. Following the close of discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On January 22, 2013, Defendants' motion for summary judgment was granted and Plaintiffs' cross-motions for summary judgment were denied. (Docs. 293; 294.) As to Plaintiff Hale, I reasoned that his constitutional rights were not violated because the DOC's post-deprivation grievance procedures were sufficient to meet his due process rights, and that no pre-deprivation hearing was required. (Doc. 293, 15-16.) Additionally, I noted that individual Defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity because the right to pre-deprivation notice and a hearing before monies were deducted from inmate prison accounts was not clearly established in 2004. (Id. at 18.)

Hale timely appealed, and the Third Circuit held that inmates are entitled to pre-deprivation notice and an opportunity to be heard before being deprived of funds from their inmate accounts. See Montanez, 773 F.3d at 485-86. Accordingly, the Third Circuit concluded that the Corrections Official Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment because "disputes of fact exist[ed] regarding notice and because Hale never had any opportunity to be heard prior to being deprived of funds in his inmate account...." Id. at 486-87. The Third Circuit additionally held that it was not clearly established in 2004 that the failure to provide prison inmates with a pre-deprivation opportunity to object to automatic deductions from their prison accounts violated the Due Process Clause. Id. at 487. Thus, the Third Circuit held that "the DOC was entitled to qualified immunity with regard to Hale's claims for monetary relief." Id. But, although the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Hale's damages claim, the Third Circuit emphasized that this did not prevent the case from proceeding to trial on Hale's claim for injunctive relief. See id. at 488 ("The fact that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Hale's damages claim does not prevent this case from moving forward on Hale's claim for injunctive relief.... As a result, Hale may still proceed to trial on his claim for injunctive relief."). As such, the Third Circuit remanded for further proceedings on that claim. See id. [2]

Following remand, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss on October 21, 2014. Defendants note that during the pendency of the appeal to the Third Circuit, Hale was released from prison by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. (Doc. 315, Ex. A.) Defendants contend that Hale's release from prison renders his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief moot. Hale filed a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss on November 17, 2014, and Defendants filed a reply brief in further support of their motion on December 3, 2014.

Subsequently, Yancy and Arnold filed the motion to intervene on February 25, 2015. Yancy and Arnold assert that their motion to intervene should be granted because they satisfy the requirements to intervene as of right or permissively pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. Defendants filed a brief in opposition to the motion to intervene on March 16, 2015, and Yancy and Arnold filed a reply brief in further support of their motion on March 30, 2015.

Accordingly, the motion to dismiss and the motion to intervene are now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. The Motion to Dismiss

As stated, Defendants seek to dismiss Plaintiff Hale's claims as moot because he was released from prison in March 2014. The motion to dismiss will be granted.

"Under Article III, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, federal judicial power extends only to cases and controversies. If a claim no longer presents a live case or controversy, the claim is moot, and a federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear it." Nextel Partners Inc. v. Kingston Twp., 286 F.3d 687, 693 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750, 104 S.Ct. 3315, 82 L.Ed.2d 556 (1984)). In other words, "[f]ederal courts are not empowered to decide moot questions." Doe v. Delie, 257 F.3d 309, 313 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246, 92 S.Ct. 402, 30 L.Ed.2d 413 (1971) (per curiam)). "In general, an inmate'sclaim for injunctive and declaratory relief becomes moot on his release from prison." Cobb v. Yost, 342 F.Appx. 858, 859 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 248 (3d Cir. 2003); Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 206 (3d Cir. 1993)).

As to Hale's claim for injunctive relief regarding the collection of funds from his inmate account without notice, he no longer has a continuing interest in that prison policy because he has been released from prison. See, e.g., Cobb, 342 F.Appx. at 859; Abdul-Akbar, 4 F.3d at 206; see also Weaver v. Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 27 (3d Cir. 1981) ("[A] prisoner lacks standing to seek injunctive relief if he is no longer subject ...


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