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Prater v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 1, 2015



John R. Padova, J.

Plaintiff Wayne Prater is a state prisoner, who has asserted constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Philadelphia and several prison officials, based on treatment he received while he was a pretrial detainee.[1] The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, we grant Defendants’ Motion in part and deny it in part, and we deny Plaintiff’s Motion in its entirety.

We previously granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on all claims in a November 8, 2012 Memorandum and Order. Plaintiff appealed that Order and, in an October 8, 2013 Opinion and Order, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. See Prater v. City of Philadelphia, 542 F. App’x 135, 139 (3d Cir. 2013). The Third Circuit directed us to address on remand two surviving claims: (1) Plaintiff’s claim for nominal and/or punitive damages under the Sixth Amendment, based on Defendants’ alleged interference with Plaintiff’s right to assistance by his criminal counsel, and (2) Plaintiff's claim under the First and Fourteenth Amendments that Defendants violated his right of access to the courts by restricting access to the prison library and impeding his ability to contact his civil attorney in connection with a partition action that he was pursuing. Id. at 138. We gave the parties the opportunity to file renewed summary judgment motions, taking into consideration the Third Circuit’s Opinion, and both Plaintiff and Defendants filed renewed Motions.[2] We address those renewed Motions here.


Plaintiff has been incarcerated in various Pennsylvania prisons since December 4, 2009, with the sole exception being a brief period from July 15, 2010 to August 22, 2010, when he was out on bail. (See Inmate Housing Summary ("Housing Summ.”) at 1-8, attached as Ex. A to Defs.’ Renewed Summ. J. Mot. (“Defs.’ SJ Mot.”).) In September 2009, prior to his incarceration, Plaintiff commenced a civil action in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, seeking a partition of property. (See Phila. CCP Civ. Div. Docket, Sept. Term 2009, No. 1104 (“Phila. Civ. Docket”), at 2, attached as Ex. D. to Defs.’ SJ Mot.) His attorney in that action, who was privately retained, was Tracy Brandeis-Roman, Esq. (See Pl.’s Dep. at 11-12, attached as Ex. B to Defs.’ SJ Mot.) According to the Complaint in the partition action, Plaintiff had an equity interest in a property owned by the defendant in that case, and requested that the court force the sale of the property, so that Plaintiff could monetize his equity interest. (Compl. for Partition ¶¶ 5-6, 8, attached as Ex. C to Defs.’ SJ Mot.; see also Pl.’s Dep. at 10-11.) Plaintiff admitted at his deposition, however, that his name is neither on the property’s deed nor on its mortgage. (Pl.’s Dep. at 9.)

Between December 2009 and his initial release on July 15, 2010, Plaintiff was incarcerated very briefly at Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility (“CFCF”) and then moved to the House of Corrections. (See Housing Summ. at 5-8.) On August 20, 2010, while out of state custody, Plaintiff was arrested for a variety of new criminal offenses, and he was re-incarcerated at CFCF. (See Phila. CCP Docket, Crim. A. No. CP-51-CR-0000375-2011 ("Phila. CCP Crim. Docket”); Housing Summ. at 2-5; see also Phila. Mun. Ct. Docket, Case No. MC-51-CR-0036492-2010.) The court appointed George Yacoubian, Esq. to represent Plaintiff in that criminal matter. (Phila. CCP Crim. Docket at 9.)

While at CFCF, Plaintiff and his fellow inmates were subjected to “continuous” lockdowns, during which they were not permitted to access the law library or to make legal calls from the library between 7:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (See Decls. of J. Swain and O. Sutton, Pl.’s Exs. J & K.[3]) At the same time, Plaintiff admits that, at least in late 2011, he was able to visit the CFCF law library four to six times per month. (Pl.’s Dep. at 16-17.)

On October 30, 2010, Plaintiff sent a memorandum to Defendant Lieutenant Knight. (Pl.’s Ex. F.) Plaintiff states in the memorandum that, during the week of October 11, 2010, he attempted to get the attention of a social worker, seeking access to her office in order to call one of his attorneys. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff asserts that the social worker responded that Plaintiff could not make calls from her office. (Id.)

In November 2010, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas dismissed Plaintiff's partition action. (See Phila. Civ. Docket at 9.) According to Plaintiff, the dismissal was due to his inability to contact his attorney. (Pl.’s Dep. at 8, 12, 15; Pl.’s Resp. to Defs.’ Interrogs. ¶ 2a, Pl.’s Ex. L.) The civil docket reflects that the court conducted a case management conference on December 15, 2009, and that a scheduling order was entered at that time. (See Phila. Civ. Docket at 4-5.) There was no further meaningful activity in the case until June 15, 2010, when the court issued an Order stating that Ms. Brandeis-Roman had failed to appear at a mandatory pretrial settlement conference on June 2, 2010, and that the court was imposing a sanction of $100.00, payable within thirty days. (Id at 7.) The Order warned that “continued failure to appear will result in the imposition of further sanctions including dismissal of this action ..... (Id.) The next substantive docket entry is on August 30, 2010, when the court entered an Order, which issued to Ms. Brandeis-Roman a rule returnable for failure to comply with the court’s June 14, 2010 Order. (Id at 8.) The Order further required Ms. Brandeis-Roman to appear at a hearing on November 8, 2010, and stated that failure to appear could result in the imposition of appropriate sanctions, including additional fines, dismissal of the action, or entry of a default judgment. (Id.) The docket reflects that, on November 8, 2010, the court ordered the case non-prossed due to Ms. Brandeis-Roman's failure to appear at the hearing to show cause why she had not complied with the court’s June 14, 2010 sanction order.[4] (Id at 9.)

Approximately six weeks later, on December 22, 2010, Defendant Commissioner Louis Giorla wrote a letter to Plaintiff, stating (apparently in response to a request from Plaintiff) that he would make both Mr. Yacoubian’s and Ms. Brandeis-Roman’s phone numbers available to Plaintiff to make legal phone calls. (Pl.’s Ex. G.) However, on January 31, 2011, Commissioner Giorla wrote Plaintiff a second letter, stating that Mr. Yacoubian's name could not be included in the legal database because Mr. Yacoubian, who had a phone number starting with a (610) prefix, was not a “locally based” attorney. (Pl.’s Ex. H.) Commissioner Giorla recommended that Plaintiff add Mr. Yacoubian’s number to his personal phone list, which would enable Plaintiff to call Mr. Yacoubian either collect or debit. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Mr. Yacoubian was aware that Plaintiff was unable to call him and said something to the prison, but the prison did nothing to remedy the problem. (Pl.’s Dep. at 19-20.)

In March of 2011, Plaintiff commenced the instant action. In the Amended Complaint, which is dated January 24, 2012, Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that he was systematically deprived of access to the law library and denied phone access to Mr. Yacoubian and Ms. Brandeis-Roman, in violation of his constitutional rights.

On April 3, 2012, Plaintiff was moved from CFCF to the Philadelphia Industrial Corrections Center. (Housing Summ. at 2.) Three weeks later, on April 24, 2012, Mr. Yacoubian withdrew as Plaintiff's counsel in his Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas criminal matter, and Gary Server was appointed to represent Plaintiff. (See CCP Crim. Docket at 12-13.) On June 28, 2012, a Philadelphia jury found Plaintiff guilty of all charges in his pending criminal matter. (See id. at 17.) Plaintiff was sentenced on November 2, 2012. (See id. at 18.)


Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows 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). An issue is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id In ruling on a summary judgment motion, we “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.” Abramson v. William Paterson Coll. of N.J., 260 F.3d 265, 276 (3d Cir. 2001) (internal ...

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