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Doty v. Jarvis

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 25, 2017

CHRISTOPHER DOTY, Plaintiff
v.
L. JARVIS, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          RICHARD P. CONABOY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Background

         Christopher Doty, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Frackville, Pennsylvania (SCI-Frackville) initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as sole Defendant is SCI-Frackville Hearing Examiner L. Jarvis. Accompanying the Complaint is a request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. See Doc. 7. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's action will be dismissed without prejudice.

         Plaintiff admits that on July 20, 2015 he participated in the assault of another SCI-Frackville inmate. As a result of his involvement, he received an institutional misconduct charging him with assault. Doty was found guilty of that charge by Hearing Examiner Lequis, a non-defendant, and was sanctioned to a ninety (90) day term of disciplinary custody.

         After Plaintiff completed service of his disciplinary custody term, he was allegedly placed in administrative segregation on or about October 18, 2015 by a prison Program Review Committee (PRC). According to the Complaint, a PRC subsequently recommended that Plaintiff be returned to general population on June 22, 2016. Doty contends that the PRC's decision disregarded his expressed fears for his safety if returned to general population. Plaintiff indicates that he thereafter refused an order to return to general population and was issued a misconduct as a consequence of that refusal.

         A hearing on the misconduct charge was conducted by Hearing Examiner Jarvis on June 28, 2016. Jarvis allegedly dismissed the misconduct informing the Plaintiff that the inmate needed to deal with any ramifications from other prisoners stemming from his involvement the July 2015 incident. See Doc. 1, ¶ 12. Plaintiff asserts that he filed a grievance against Jarvis regarding the actions and remarks attributed to that Defendant during the disciplinary hearing.

         On July 5, 2016, Doty asserts that he elected to forego attendance at a disciplinary hearing stemming from a June 29, 2016 misconduct charge because multiple prisoners were being permitted to walk around freely. Plaintiff was found guilty of the charge (presumably failure to obey an order) by the Defendant and was sanctioned to a thirty (30) day term of disciplinary custody. See id. at ¶ 15.

         On August 4, 2016, Plaintiff was again issued a misconduct for refusing to obey an order to return to general poulation. A disciplinary hearing on the charge was conducted on August 9, 2016. Plaintiff was found guilty by the Defendant and received a thirty (30) day term of disciplinary custody as a sanction. See id. at ¶ 19.

         On August 19, 2016, Doty was issued another misconduct for refusing to obey an order. Following a disciplinary hearing before Defendant Jarvis, the Plaintiff was sanctioned to another thirty (30) day term of disciplinary custody. See id. at ¶ 16.

         Plaintiff next contends that he was issued another misconduct for refusing to return to general population on October 6, 2016. A disciplinary hearing on the charge was conducted by the Defendant on October 11, 2016. The Plaintiff was again found guilty and sanction to another thirty (30) day term of disciplinary custody. See id. at ¶ 23.

         On November 4, 2016, Doty received yet another misconduct for refusing to go to general population. Once again Defendant Jarvis presided at the ensuing misconduct hearing, found Plaintiff guilty, and sanctioned him a thirty (30) day disciplinary custody term. See id. at ¶ 25. The Complaint contends that Defendant Jarvis acted in retaliation over Plaintiff's filing of a grievance against him by finding the inmate guilty with respect to each of the above described disciplinary proceedings. Doty also indicates that he was not given proper credit for time spent in disciplinary custody at least with respect to some of the sanctions imposed by Hearing Examiner Jarvis and that he should not have been found guilty for simply expressing fears for his safety. The Complaint also raises a state law tort claim of negligence against Hearing Examiner Jarvis.

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages for emotional and mental injuries as well as declaratory and injunctive relief including expungement of the underlying disciplinary charges.

         Discussion

         When considering a complaint accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, a district court may rule that process should not issue if the complaint is malicious, presents an indisputably meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly baseless factual contentions. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989), Douris v. Middleton Township, 293 Fed.Appx. 130, 132 (3d Cir. 2008). Indisputably meritless legal theories are those "in which either it is readily apparent that the plaintiff's complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or that the defendants are clearly entitled to immunity from suit ... ." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v. Snow, 894 F.2d 1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has added that "the plain meaning of 'frivolous' authorizes the dismissal of in forma pauperis claims that . . . are of little or no weight, value, or importance, not worthy of serious consideration, or trivial." Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995). It also has been determined that "the frivolousness determination is a discretionary one, " and trial courts "are in the best position" to determine when an ...


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