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Payne v. Duncan

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 9, 2017

DUNCAN, et al., Defendants


          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Joshua Payne ("Plaintiff), a Pennsylvania state inmate who, at all times relevant, was housed at the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution ("SCI-Camp Hill"), [1]commenced this action on May 19, 2015 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Doc, 1). The matter is proceeding via an amended complaint wherein Plaintiff names the following Defendants: Duncan, Ziegler, Settle, McElwain, Whalen, and Bell. (Doc. 20-1). Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. 26). Despite being granted additional time to file a brief in opposition to Defendants' dispositive motion, Plaintiff failed to oppose the motion. (Doc. 32). Accordingly, the motion will be deemed ripe for disposition and, for the reasons set forth below, will be granted.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

         When a party moves to dismiss, but where "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed, R. Civ. P. 12(d). Typically, when a court converts a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, notice must be given to all parties of the court's intent to do so. Id.; Garcia v. Newtown Twp,, 2010 WL 785808, at *3 (E.D. Pa. 2010). However, if a motion to dismiss has been filed with an alternative request for summary judgment, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has found that the alternative filing is sufficient to "place the parties on notice that summary judgment might be entered." Latham v. United States, 306 F.App'x 716, 718 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 578-79 (3d Cir. 1996)). Accordingly, the Court will treat the Defendants' motion as one for summary judgment.

         Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "As to materiality, ... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Natl Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). Therefore, the non-moving party may not oppose summary judgment simply on the basis of the pleadings, or on conclusory statements that a factual issue exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record ... or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). In evaluating whether summary judgment should be granted, "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). "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 N. Am., Inc. 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir.1992), cert. Denied 507 U.S. 912 (1993).

         However, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). If a party has carried its burden under the summary judgment rule,

its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. 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. When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.

Id. (internal quotations, citations, and alterations omitted).

         III. Allegations of the Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that on March 7, 2013, his cell was searched by Duncan and Ziegler. (Doc. 20-1, ¶ 12). Prior to the cell search, Plaintiff alleges that Duncan told Ziegler that Plaintiff essentially got Duncan kicked out of the special management unit ("SMU"). (Id. at ¶ 13). Duncan also allegedly told Ziegler that Plaintiff was a prolific filer of grievances and lawsuits, and he should throw away Plaintiffs property to deter him from filing more grievances and lawsuits. (Id. at ¶ 14). When the officers were preparing to search the cell, Plaintiff alleges that he was strip searched and verbally harassed by Duncan, (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 18, 19).

         During the cell search, the officers allegedly removed Plaintiffs legal materials, religious material, and personal photographs. (Id. at¶¶ 19, 25-28, 30). Plaintiff claims that Duncan and Ziegler discarded his property in retaliation for filing previous grievances and lawsuits. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14, 18, 23, 25-26, 28, 30, 55). Plaintiff requested a confiscation slip to document the missing items, which was denied by the officers. (Id. at ¶ 22). Plaintiff claims that his property was never returned, even though he reported the missing property to McElwain and Settle. (Id., at ¶ 24). Plaintiff alleges that the confiscation of his legal documents hindered his ability to present evidence in pending civil and criminal matters. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). Plaintiff asserts that Duncan, Ziegler, Settle, McElwain, Whalen, and Bell violated his equal protection rights by obstructing his ability to present his evidence in the other cases. (Id. at ¶¶ 61-62).

         Plaintiff alleges that Settle, McElwain, and Whalen conspired to violate Plaintiffs First Amendment, due process, and equal protection rights by assisting Duncan and Ziegler in the destruction of his legal materials. (Id. at ¶¶ 63-65). Plaintiff further alleges that Bell conspired to violate Plaintiffs First Amendment and due process rights by assigning Whalen as the grievance officer, which he claims was in violation of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") policy. (Id. at ¶¶ 67, 71). He claims that Bell assigned Whalen as the grievance officer in retaliation for Plaintiff filing previous grievances and lawsuits. (Id. at ¶¶ 40, 72).

         On March 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed a grievance against Duncan, Ziegler and Whalen "describing the retaliatory acts of intentionally taking and destro[y]ing Plaintiffs personal property and claims of conspiracy of these staff to cover up their actions." (Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff asserts that he also filed a grievance against McElwain and Settle for failing to stop the actions of Duncan and Ziegler and conspiring with them to retaliate against Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 37).

         IV. Discussion

         Defendants seek dismissal of the amended complaint, or an entry of summary judgment, on the following grounds: (1) the damages claims against the Defendants in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedies prior to filing suit; (3) the amended complaint is barred by the applicable statute of limitations; and, (4) assuming arguendo that Plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies and that the amended complaint is timely, he nonetheless fails to state a plausible claim for relief. (Doc. 27). The Court will address these claims seriatim.

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         The Eleventh Amendment provides that each state is a sovereign entity and a sovereign is not amenable to suit unless it consents. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996); see also Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978). Thus, "the Constitution does not provide for federal jurisdiction over suits against nonconsenting States." Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 73, 120 S.Ct. 631, 145 L.Ed.2d 522 (2000). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has expressly withheld its consent to be sued. See Lavia v. Pa., Dept of Corr., 224 F.3d 190, 195 (3d Cir. 2000); Williard v. Pennsylvania, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8407, 8420 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (stating it is a "well-established proposition that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not consented to actions against it in federal court, and thus has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity from lawsuits by its citizens"). Further, claims against state officials in their official capacities are suits against the state and thereby barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Hafer v. Meio, 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991).

         Plaintiff is suing six employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. To the extent that Plaintiff is suing the Defendants in their official capacities, Defendants enjoy Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit for acts taken in their official capacities, and any official capacity claims will be dismissed. See (Doc. 20-1, p. 2, ¶ 11) (stating that each Defendant is sued in their individual and official capacities).

         B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (the "PLRA"), a prisoner is required to pursue all avenues of relief available within the prison's grievance system before bringing a federal civil rights action. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001). The exhaustion requirement is mandatory, see Williams v. Beard,482 F.3d 637, 639 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Booth, 532 U.S. at 741 (holding that the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA applies to grievance procedures "regardless of the relief offered through administrative procedures"); Nyhuis v. Reno,204 F.3d 65, 67 (3d Cir, 2000) (same), and "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve ...

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