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Picarella v. Brouse

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 2, 2017

KRISTA BROUSE, et al., Defendants


          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Charles Picarella (“Picarella”), an inmate formerly housed at the Northumberland County Prison, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). The matter is proceeding via an amended complaint (Doc. 23), wherein Picarella names the following defendants: Krista Brouse, James Smink, Brian Wheary, and the County of Northumberland. Before the court is defendants' motion (Doc. 24) to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and Picarella will be afforded the opportunity to file a second amended complaint.

         I. Allegations of the Amended Complaint

         Picarella was housed at the Northumberland County Prison from approximately June 23, 2014 through December 10, 2014. (Doc. 23, ¶ 14). From November 3, 2014 through December 10, 2014, he was assigned to cell thirty-nine in the left wing of the prison. (Id. at ¶ 15).

         During his incarceration, Picarella alleges that he “create[d] pen and ink drawings as a creative outlet, form of expression, and form of speech.” (Id. at ¶ 16). Picarella displayed the drawings in his cell, on his cell door, and on the walls adjacent to his cell. (Id. at ¶ 17). He asserts that the drawings did not obstruct the view into his cell. (Id. at ¶ 18). Picarella further alleges that he gave drawings to fellow inmates and prison staff, and “trade[d]” the drawings with fellow inmates and prison staff for various commodities. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20).

         On November 16, 2014, while Picarella was sleeping, defendant Brouse allegedly confiscated ten of his drawings. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). Later that afternoon, Picarella asserts that fellow inmates informed him that defendant Brouse removed the drawings. (Id. at ¶ 24). Picarella claims that he was not provided any official notice of the intended seizure of his drawings. (Id. at ¶ 23). Picarella further alleges that he did not receive any compensation for the taking of his property. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         Picarella alleges that defendants' actions violated his rights under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30, 32-37).

         II. Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept as true all [factual] allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it “may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide “the defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the face of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, “the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id.; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the well-pleaded factual allegations have been isolated, the court must determine whether they are sufficient to show a “plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level”). A claim “has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. Discussion

         Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a cause of action for violations of federal law by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .

Id.; see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege “the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         A. First Amendment

         Picarella asserts that the confiscation of artwork violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression. (Doc. 23, ¶ 32). The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213 (1940), offers protection for a wide variety of expressive activities. See U.S. Const. amend I. These rights are lessened, but not extinguished in the prison context, where legitimate penological interests must be considered in assessing the constitutionality of official conduct. See Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).

         For purposes of this memorandum, the court will assume that Picarella's right to possess artwork is entitled to Constitutional protection. Once a protectable First Amendment interest has been demonstrated, an inmate may show that a prison regulation or practice violates his Constitutional rights by demonstrating that it violated the “reasonableness test” set forth in Turner, 482 U.S. at 89, and O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987). This test examines the following four factors: (1) whether the regulation or practice in question furthers a legitimate governmental interest unrelated to the suppression of expression; (2) whether there are alternative means of exercising First Amendment rights that remain open to prison inmates; (3) whether the right can be exercised only at the cost of less liberty and safety for guards and other prisoners, and the effect on prison resources in general; and (4) whether an alternative exists which would fully accommodate the prisoners' rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests. Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 415-18; Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-91. “The objective is to determine whether the regulation is reasonable given the prison administrators' penological concerns and the inmate's interest in engaging in the constitutionally protected activity.” DeHart v. Horn, 227 F.3d 47, 59 (3d Cir. 2000). However, prison administrators need not choose the least restrictive means possible in trying to further penological interests, Thornburgh, 490 U.S. at 411, and it is the burden of the plaintiff to disprove the validity of a prison regulation or practice. Williams v. Morton, 343 F.3d 212, 217 (2003) (citing Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126 (2003)).

         With respect to the first Turner factor defendants assert the confiscation of Picarella's artwork was rationally related to legitimate security interests at the Northumberland County Prison (Doc 25 at 3-4) Picarella acknowledges that he placed the drawings on his cell door and on the walls adjacent to his cell though he claims the drawings did not obstruct the view into his cell (Doc 23 ¶¶ 17-18) He further alleges that he traded his drawings with other prisoners and staff members for various commodities (Id. at ΒΆ 20) Defendants contend that Picarella's actions raise serious security concerns because prison officials must be able to see through cell doors and the obstruction of that view could jeopardize the safety of inmates and staff (Doc 25 at 4) Defendants further ...

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