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Proctor v. Graffus

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 27, 2017

C.O. GRAFFUS, et al. ., Defendants.


          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         March 27, 2017 Plaintiff Anthony E. Proctor, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Benner Township (SCI-Benner) in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are twenty-two (22) individuals who appear to be employees at SCI-Benner. Plaintiff sets forth five (5) separate counts in his complaint against different defendants, but contends they together are all a “continuing violation” of his civil rights. Along with his complaint, Plaintiff submitted a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2) and an authorization to have funds deducted from his inmate account (Doc. 3). The complaint is presently before the Court for obligatory preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons that follow, the motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted, but the first two causes of action will be dismissed as barred by the statute of limitations. The remainder of the complaint is a violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20. As such, these claims will be dismissed, but without prejudice to Plaintiff to submit an amended complaint in this action to cure the deficiencies stated herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff first alleges that he was issued Misconduct Report #572357 on May 3, 2013 by Defendant Graffus for the purpose of discriminating against him. In the report, Plaintiff was charged with fighting and refusing to obey an order ECF No. 1, Ex. A-1.) Plaintiff claims that he was actually ambushed, and that the surveillance video supports his position. He contends that Graffus “covered up” what really happened by only charging his assailant with fighting, and not also with refusing to obey an order. The Hearing Examiner dismissed the charges without prejudice against Plaintiff after viewing the video, but Plaintiff claims Graffus neither rewrote the misconduct nor recharged him.

         Plaintiff next alleges that he was issued Misconduct #414382 by Defendant Grassmyer on June 5, 2014, with respect to a physical altercation that took place outside of the dining hall between Plaintiff and Inmate Evans. (Id. at 16, Ex. B-1.) Plaintiff claims that the surveillance video shows that Defendants Lusk, James, Whipple, Packard and other unidentified officers arrived, and then cuffed him and Inmate Evans, but that Defendants then assaulted him. He specifically raises excessive force claims against Defendant James, Packard and Whipple. It is further alleged that Defendants appeared to let Inmate Evans “loose” on him prior to quicky escorting Evans to the medical department. Plaintiff states that he was taken to the Restricted Housing Unit, and was not taken for medical care. Plaintiff was charged by Grassmyer with fighting and assault, but Evans was only charged with fighting. Defendant Hearing Examiner Ellenberger sanctioned Plaintiff to thirty (30) days in the RHU for fighting and ninety (90) days in the RHU for the assault, to run consecutively. Plaintiff challenges this finding of guilt because the video clearly depicts Evans as the aggressor.

         Both the Program Review Committee (“PRC”), comprised of Defendants Glass, Salamon and Link, and Defendant Superintendent Ferguson upheld the Hearing Examiner's finding of guilt. On appeal to the Chief Hearing Examiner, the lesser charge of fighting was dismissed, but the more serious assault charge and the resulting sanction of 90 days was upheld. (Id. at 17, Ex. B-2.)

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff contends that the Defendants violated his constitutional rights and that the actions taken by Defendants were in retaliation against Plaintiff for successfully defending against the misconduct he was issued on May 3, 2013.

         Plaintiff next alleges that he was issued Misconduct #414662 on January 15, 2015 by Defendant McCullough for fighting with Inmate Sherman in the FA Unit Dayroom and refusing to obey an order. (Id. at 18, Ex. C-1.) Plaintiff contends that he was only engaging in self-defense after he was attacked by Sherman. Sherman was not charged with fighting, and as such it is Plaintiff's contention that McCullough was attempting to cover up the assault. Plaintiff contends that McCullough discriminated against him because both McCullough and the assailant are Caucasian. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff also claims that McCullough was deliberately indifferent to his health and safety in violation of the Eighth Amendment. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Hearing Examiner Ellenberger had no evidence before him that Plaintiff had committed an assault. When Plaintiff refused to allow him to view the surveillance video, Plaintiff contends Ellenberger retaliated by finding him guilty of the misconducts. Plaintiff further contends that Ellenberger racially discriminated against him because he was African American by giving him the same penalty that Sherman received when Sherman, who is Caucasian, was issued three (3) misconducts as opposed to the (2) misconducts Plaintiff received.

         The PRC, consisting of Defendants Salamon, Graham, Link, Rossman and Wiggins, as well as Defendant Superintendent Ferguson, all Caucasian, upheld the guilty findings on the misconduct charges. However, after viewing the video, Ferguson reduced the sanction by 50% indicating that Plaintiff was acting defensively. Chief Hearing Examiner Defendant Lewis upheld the Hearing Examiner's findings of guilt on both misconduct charges, despite Plaintiff's protests of self-defense and reference to the video, and despite the Superintendent's report. Plaintiff also seeks to hold Defendants Luciano, James and Hammer responsible because they were the first officers to respond to the incident, and believes that they were aware of the attack and even directed it before it happened.

         In his fourth cause of action, Plaintiff alleges that on May 14 and 15, 2015, Superintendent Ferguson and Mr. Mathews, the Unit Manager of F Unit, orchestrated the interception from the prison mail system of a civil action he filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 10-11.) Plaintiff alleges that even though Officer Fisher on F Unit processed his cash slip and placed his envelope in the mailing bag, he never received a receipt for the postage cash slip and saw later in the month on his inmate account statement that the money to mail his complaint had never been deducted. As further evidence of the mail tampering, Plaintiff claims that approximately one (1) month later he received his self-addressed envelope back with the cover page of his § 1983 action only bearing a “penciled in” date under a stamp that read “Received”, and that there was no time entry indicated. Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff claims he withdrew the action because he believed it had been “adulterated”. (Id. at 12.)

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that on July 15, 2016, Defendant Danison, Unit Manager of E Unit, and Defendant Sergeant, Unit Counselor of E and A Units, retaliated against him because he was an African American by denying unit team support for his release on parole. (Id.) He claims that Defendants based their denial of support on the misconduct he received in January of 2015, Misconduct #414662, which Defendants claimed was a violation of Plaintiff's last Parole Board Action. (Id. at 19, Ex. D-1.) Plaintiff challenged this basis for denying him unit team support, and claims that Defendants were retaliating against him by punishing him for acting in self-defense with respect to the ambush by a Caucasian inmate in January 2015.

         Plaintiff seeks to tie the above allegations together in one complaint by alleging that Defendants all engaged in a continuing violation of his civil rights. As relief, he seeks damages in excess of $50, 000.00.


         This Court has an on-going statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se complaints brought by plaintiffs given leave to proceed in forma pauperis in cases which seek redress against government officials. Specifically, the Court is obliged to review the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides, in pertinent part:

(a) Screening. - The court shall review, before docketing if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for dismissal. - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief ...

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