United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
se Plaintiff Gary Williams, a prisoner formerly confined
at the Lackawanna County Prison (“LCP”), filed a
civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on
April 4, 2013. (Doc. No. 1.) Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a
supplement to the complaint. (Doc. No. 34.) Currently pending
before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary
judgment (Doc. No. 50), to which Plaintiff has filed a brief
in opposition (Doc. No. 55). The motion, having been fully
briefed by the parties, is now ripe for disposition.
complaint names as defendants the LCP, Warden Robert
McMillan, Corrections Officer Laboronti, and Sergeant Hebron.
(Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff claims that prison officials at LCP
opened his legal mail outside of his presence on several
occasions. (Doc. No. 1 at 1.) He alleges that on December 5,
2012, he received a piece of opened legal mail from Defendant
Laboronti for the fourth time in three weeks. (Id.)
All letters were sent from the United States District Court
and two of the envelopes were marked “Special Mail, Not
to Be Opened Outside the Presence of the Inmate.”
(Id.) Plaintiff claims he spoke about this with
Defendant Hebron, who said that Defendant Laboronti should
not have opened the legal mail outside of Plaintiff's
presence. (Id.) Plaintiff also claims that he filed
three grievances about this issue and that he received no
response to any of them. (Id. at 2.)
on August 10, 2015, the Court issued a Memorandum and
separate Order granting in part Defendants' motion to
dismiss and permitting Plaintiff to file a supplemental
complaint with respect to additional defendants Corrections
Officers Jervis and Cole. With respect to the original
complaint, the Court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss
the portion of the complaint which set forth a First
Amendment claim. The Court indicated that at that current
stage of the proceedings, there were sufficient allegations
of a pattern or practice of opening Plaintiff's legal
mail to allow the claims against the four (4) defendants
named in the original complaint to go forward. With regard to
the supplemental complaint, the Court concluded similarly
with respect to the additional defendant Corrections Officers
Jervis and Cole. (Doc. Nos. 36 and 37.) However, all of the
new claims set forth in the supplemental complaint against
Warden McMillan, Assistant Warden Langan, Captain Yavorski,
Lieutenant Murray, Disciplinary Hearing Officer Fanning and
Sergeant Kennedy were dismissed. By Order of September 28,
2015, this Court dismissed the claims against LCP. (Doc. No.
39.) Therefore, the remaining defendants in this action are
Warden McMillan, Sergeant Hebron, and Corrections Officers
Laboranti, Jervis, and Cole.
supplemental complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on August 5,
2013, Defendant Cole verbally harassed him, removed him to
the restricted housing unit (“RHU”), and issued
him a misconduct, all in retaliation for Plaintiff filing
grievances. (Doc. No. 34.) Plaintiff further alleges that
Defendant Jervis opened his legal mail outside of his
presence on August 13, 2014, and when confronted by Plaintiff
as to why he opened the legal mail, Defendant Jervis sent him
to the “hole.” (Id.)
Jervis and Cole filed an answer and affirmative defenses to
the supplemental complaint on August 25, 2015. (Doc. No. 38.)
After being directed to do so, on October 9, 2015, an answer
was filed to the original complaint by Warden McMillan,
Corrections Officer Laboronti, and Sergeant Hebron relating
to the First Amendment claim which survived the motion to
dismiss. (Doc. No. 40.) After discovery was conducted,
Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment.
Accompanying their motion for summary judgment, Defendants
filed a statement of undisputed material facts
(“SUMF”) (Doc. No. 51), and a brief in support
(Doc. No. 52). Plaintiff filed an answer to Defendants'
SUMF (Doc. No. 54),  and a brief in opposition to
Defendants' instant motion (Doc. No. 55).
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the court to render
summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). “[T]his standard provides that the mere
existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties
will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for
summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine
issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).
disputed fact is “material” if proof of its
existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the
case under applicable substantive law. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc.,
957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An issue of material fact
is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v.
Local 514, United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of
Am., 927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).
determining whether there is a genuine issue of material
fact, the court must view the facts and all reasonable
inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Moore v.
Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v.
Consolidated Rail Corp., 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir.
1992); White v. Westinghouse Electric Co., 862 F.2d
56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In order to avoid summary judgment,
however, the nonmoving party may not rest on the
unsubstantiated allegations of his or her pleadings. When the
party seeking summary judgment satisfies its burden under
Rule 56 of identifying evidence which demonstrates the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving
party is required by Rule 56 to go beyond his pleadings with
affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the
like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which
give rise to a genuine issue. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The party opposing
the motion “must do more than simply show that there is
some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.”
Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475
U.S. 574, 586 (1986). When Rule 56 shifts the burden of
production to the nonmoving party, that party must produce
evidence to show the existence of every element essential to
its case which it bears the burden of proving at trial, for
“a complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders
all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S.
at 323; see Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846,
851 (3d Cir. 1992).
First Amendment Claim - Interference with Legal Mail
Supreme Court has made clear that prisoners do not surrender
all constitutional rights during their confinement, and the
Supreme Court has instructed that “federal courts must
take cognizance of the valid constitutional claims of prison
inmates.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84
(1987). The Third Circuit has explained that prisoners
“do not forfeit their First Amendment right to use of
the mails, ” particularly with respect to privileged
“legal mail” exchanged with counsel, and that a
“pattern and practice of opening properly marked
incoming [legal] mail outside an inmate's presence
infringes communication protected by the right to free
speech.” Bieregu v. Reno, 59 F.3d 1445, 1452
(3d Cir. 1995), abrogated in part by Oliver v.
Fauver, 118 F.3d 175 (3d Cir. 1997); Taylor v.
Oney, 196 F. App'x 126, ...