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Curtis v. Wetzel

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2017

WILLIAM CURTIS, Plaintiff
v.
JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, J.

         William Curtis, a state prisoner housed at the State Correctional Institution --Graterford, is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after being convicted of murder in 1982. Mr. Curtis brought this action against fourteen defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights by retaliating against him for refusing to sign a Sex Offender Treatment Plan form. Five of the defendants were dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Curtis vs. Wetzel, et al., 14-cv-0786, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115149 (E.D. Pa. August 28, 2015). Two of the defendants were never served with the complaint, and thus are also dismissed. The remaining seven defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Mr. Curtis has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, I will grant the motion of the defendants, and deny the motion of the plaintiff.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The record reflects that on October 7, 1977, Mr. Curtis was found guilty of aggravated indecent assault.[1] See Document #99-2 at 11. In 1982, he was convicted of first degree murder and is currently serving a life sentence at Graterford. In April 2007, after being found guilty of a misconduct for engaging in sexual acts with others or sodomy, Mr. Curtis was placed in disciplinary custody in the restricted housing unit at Graterford. After completing his stay in disciplinary custody, he remained in the restricted housing unit in administrative custody until February 2012.

         On February 1, 2012, Mr. Curtis met with Defendants Jay Lane, [2] Francis Feilds, [3]Gary Olinger, [4] T. Bolton, [5] and Gerard Kelly[6] when he was informed that if he signed a tracking agreement he would be released from the restricted housing unit and placed in the general prison population. Mr. Curtis signed the agreement and on February 2, 2012, was released to the general prison population.

         A few days later, Mr. Curtis received a pass to report to an area known as J-Treatment Area, where he was questioned by Defendant Brannen[7] about the reason Mr. Curtis was incarcerated. During the review of Mr. Curtis' file, Ms. Brannen saw that Mr. Curtis had been charged with aggravated indecent assault and the disposition of the charge was guilty. Ms. Brannen also learned that Mr. Curtis was found guilty of violating the prison rules by engaging in sexual acts with others or sodomy. Based upon this information, Ms. Brannen made the assessment that Mr. Curtis was in need of the high intensity sex offender program.

         During the meeting, Ms. Brannen informed Mr. Curtis that he was a convicted sex offender and was being evaluated for placement in the sex offender program. Mr. Curtis immediately responded that he had never pleaded guilty or been convicted of a sexual offense. Ms. Brannen informed Mr. Curtis that she recommended him for the high intensity sex offender program and that if he did not participate he would be returned to the restricted housing unit.

         On March 20, 2012, Mr. Curtis was given a pass to report to the treatment area to meet with Defendant Birmingham.[8] Ms. Birmingham directed Mr. Curtis to go to a room that resembled a classroom, which contained about twenty-five other inmates. Ms. Birmingham wrote “SOP” [Sex Offender Program] on the board and handed a confidentiality form to each one in the class to sign including Mr. Curtis. By signing the form, an inmate pledges that he would not do any further criminal acts. Mr. Curtis signed the form but also wrote on the form, “This is coercion. I was told that I'd be locked down if I did not agree to participate.” He was instructed that if he did not properly sign the form he would be sent back to the restricted housing unit. Mr. Curtis refused to sign the form and returned to the block.

         On March 23, 2012, Mr. Curtis met with Defendants Kelly, Bolton, and Stewart. During the meeting, Mr. Kelly informed Mr. Curtis that he needed to comply with the sex offender program including completing the paper work properly or he would be returned to the restricted housing unit.

         On March 29, 2012, Mr. Curtis was given another pass to the J-Treatment area to meet with Ms. Birmingham. Mr. Curtis went as directed and met with Ms. Birmingham who provided him with a form that he believes acknowledges that he had committed a criminal sexual act. Ms. Birmingham wanted Mr. Curtis to sign the form, but he refused and returned to his cell. He was then summoned to the unit manager's office where he met Mr. Kelly, Mr. Regan, a Sergeant, and Mr. Whitfield. Ms. Birmingham joined the meeting and asked Mr. Curtis several questions. She asked Mr. Curtis again to sign the form which indicated he was convicted of a sexual offense. He refused to sign, left the meeting, and returned to his cell.

         Later that day, Mr. Kelly issued a misconduct report to Mr. Curtis for refusing to sign a document stating he had committed criminal sexual acts. On March 30, 2012, Mr. Regan issued Mr. Curtis an “Other's Report” stating “Inmate is a danger to some other person in the institution who cannot be protected by alternate means.” Mr. Curtis was removed from the general prison population and placed in the restricted housing unit in administrative custody, where he remains today.

         After Mr. Curtis filed this action, Ms. Brannen learned that the information the prison had received was incorrect, and that Mr. Curtis did not have a conviction for aggravated indecent assault. Thereafter, Mr. Curtis received notice that there would be a hearing to determine if he needed the sex offender program. The hearing took place on August 6, 2015, but Mr. Curtis refused to attend. See Document #99-3 at 4-5, 8. On January 25, 2016, the hearing examiner issued her decision and made several findings of fact and conclusions of law. For example, the examiner found:

5. On March 29, 2007, following an investigation at SCI-Graterford, [Mr. Curtis] received Misconduct Report No. A514342, alleging that on March 3, 2007, [Mr. Curtis] assaulted another inmate by pulling the other inmate off of the top bunk, throwing the other inmate onto the bottom bunk and holding the other inmate down, pulling down the other inmate's pants and underwear, and inserting his penis into the other inmate's rectum.
6. Based on the allegations in Misconduct Report No. A514342, [Mr. Curtis] was charged within the Department with assault, threatening another person, engaging in sexual acts or ...

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