United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
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.
Allegations of the Amended Complaint
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).
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).
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).
alleges that defendants' actions violated his rights
under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.
(Id. at ¶¶ 29-30, 32-37).
Standard of Review
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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)).
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 ¶ 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