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Blackstone v. Richter

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 28, 2015



CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.


Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 51) filed by Defendant CO Wildie Richter ("Defendant" or "Richter"). For the reasons that follow, it is respectfully recommended that the motion be granted.


A. Relevant Background

Except as otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed.

Plaintiff Stephen Bernard Blackstone ("Plaintiff") is an inmate who all relevant times to this action has been confined at the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene"). Plaintiff originally asserted several claims under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against multiple correctional officers of SCI-Greene.[1] As a result of the Court's ruling on Defendants' motion to dismiss, the only remaining defendant in this case is Defendant Richter and the only remaining section 1983 claims are First Amendment violations for (1) retaliation and (2) denial of access to the courts.

On December 9, 2010, while housed in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") of SCI-Greene, Plaintiff submitted a grievance complaining about the food being served on unsanitary trays. The grievance was not submitted against any particular officer in the RHU. Instead, it was generally lodged against all of the officers assigned to the RHU. Richter was a member of the group of officers stationed in the RHU at all relevant times to this action.

Richter contends that he always treated Plaintiff in a professional manner. Plaintiff disagrees and asserts that after he submitted the above grievance, Richter's demeanor changed. Prior to Plaintiff submitting this grievance, Plaintiff described his relationship with Richter as being "fair." (Pl.'s Dep. at 14, ECF No. 53). Specifically, Richter gave Plaintiff extra phone privileges, request slips, cash slips, and ink pens, and Richter would exchange unsanitary food trays for clean food trays when Plaintiff requested. ( Id. ).

Shortly after Plaintiff submitted this grievance, he witnessed Richter and the other officers having discussions in an office. Plaintiff asserts that the discussions pertained to Plaintiff and the other inmates filing grievances about unsanitary food trays, although Plaintiff could not actually hear the discussion. Plaintiff also asserts that on or around December 14, 2010, while Richter was passing out food trays to the inmates, Richter complained that he was tired of inmates filing grievances about unsanitary food trays. Plaintiff also heard Richter tell the other officers that Richter assumed that Plaintiff was the person persuading the other inmates to file grievances relating to the unsanitary food trays. In addition to Plaintiff, Christopher Pisechko, an inmate who was also housed in the RHU during this time, allegedly heard these comments. (Pisechko's Decl., ECF No. 58-5).

On December 17, 2010, Plaintiff received food trays that were contaminated with ink. Plaintiff requested that Richter replace the contaminated food trays with clean trays, but Richter refused. Plaintiff also requested that Richter allow Plaintiff to use the phone, which Richter had routinely allowed in the past before Plaintiff filed the grievance, but Richter denied this request as well. The following day, Richter gave Plaintiff food trays which contained leftover food on them, and again denied Plaintiff's request to exchange the trays. On December 22, 2010, Plaintiff received the initial response denying his December 9, 2010, grievance about unsanitary food trays.

According to Plaintiff, on December 27, 2010, during the morning shift, Plaintiff gave Richter a large manila envelope containing legal paperwork to be copied by the librarian. According to Plaintiff, this manila envelope contained a total of 104 pages, consisting of 102 pages of legal documents associated with a PCRA petition and 2 pages associated with the appeal of a grievance. This envelope had a cash slip attached/taped to the outside of it authorizing the librarian to deduct $10.40 from Plaintiff's inmate account so that Plaintiff could have the documents contained therein photocopied. See (ECF No. 58-7). At the jail, the copy fee rate is $0.10 per page. Inside the envelope Plaintiff had included a separate Inmate's Request to Staff Member slip ("request slip") requesting that the librarian make a copy of each document in the envelope, for a total cost of $10.40.[2] See (ECF No. 58-11). Although Plaintiff submitted this envelope to Richter on December 27, 2010, the attached cash slip and request slip were both dated December 24, 2010.

Plaintiff also gave Richter four additional envelopes. One of these envelopes was allowed to be mailed free of charge. The other three envelopes had cash slips attached to them. The large manila envelope which contained the legal documents is the subject of this suit

Under the prison's policies, mail that has an attached cash slip and request slip is taken to the RHU sergeant's office for processing. According to the summary judgment evidence, Richter took the envelopes from Plaintiff and then put them in the RHU sergeant's office. The cash slip was then stamped and signed, and the envelope was placed in a bag for mail collection.[3] When the law librarian received the manila envelope, the cash slip was no longer attached to it. The summary judgment is void of any evidence to suggest that Richter ...

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