United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
William W. Caldwell United States District Judge
before the court is the report (Doc. 13) entered by
Magistrate Judge Joseph F. Saporito, Jr., recommending that
certain claims contained in Plaintiff Ivan White's
eleven-count complaint (Doc. 1) be dismissed with leave to
amend. The report follows Defendants' motion to dismiss,
(Doc. 5), which sought dismissal of six of the eleven counts
in the complaint. Plaintiff has raised multiple objections to
Judge Saporito's report. (See Doc. 14). For the
following reasons, the court will sustain in part and
overrule in part Plaintiff's objections.
is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in
Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1 ¶ 3). He filed this
civil rights lawsuit claiming that multiple Department of
Corrections employees violated his constitutional rights and
several provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1981-2000h-6. A thorough summary of
Plaintiff's allegations is provided in the report from
Judge Saporito, (see Doc. 13 at 2-7), and will not
be repeated here.
following claims are currently at issue: (Count 1) alleging
that defendants Duvall, Smith, and Eckard violated
Plaintiff's right to testify and give evidence under 42
U.S.C. § 1981 as well as his rights under the First
Amendment's Free Speech Clause, both made actionable by
42 U.S.C. § 1983; (Count 2) alleging that defendants
Duvall, Dunkle, Smith, and Eckard conspired to deter
Plaintiff from testifying freely in federal court in
violation of the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause
(made actionable by § 1983), and in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1985; (Count 3) alleging that defendants
Duvall, Dunkle, Smith, and Eckard violated Plaintiff's
First Amendment Petition Clause right to petition the
government for redress of grievances, made actionable by
§ 1983; (Count 4) alleging that defendants Duvall,
Dunkle, Smith, and Eckard conspired to violate
Plaintiff's First Amendment Petition Clause rights, made
actionable by § 1983; (Count 9) alleging that defendants
Wireman, Dunkle, and Eckard violated Plaintiff's
Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process Clause rights,
made actionable by § 1983; (Count 10) alleging that
defendants Eckard and Smith knowingly refused or neglected to
prevent others from violating § 1985, in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1986. (Doc. 13 at 11-12).
Saporito recommended dismissing Counts 2, 3, 4, 9, and 10, as
well as portions of Count 1, for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted. (Id. at 32-33). He
also recommended that the court grant leave to amend the
claims that were found to be insufficiently pleaded.
(Id. at 33).
specifically requests de novo review of the
recommendation to dismiss Counts 1, 3, and 9. (Doc. 14 at 1).
He also objects to the finding that Counts 2 and 4 fail to
adequately plead civil conspiracy claims, and that Count 10
must be dismissed for failure to sufficiently plead the
underlying § 1985 claim. (Id. at 2, 15-16). The
matter is ripe for disposition.
Standard of Review
party objects to a magistrate judge's report and
recommendation, the district court must review de
novo the contested portions of the report. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(C); M.D. Pa. Local Rule 72.3. Uncontested
portions of the report are reviewed for “clear error on
the face of the record.” Clouser v. Johnson,
40 F.Supp.3d 425, 430 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (quoting Cruz v.
Chater, 990 F.Supp. 375, 375-78 (M.D. Pa. 1998) (quoting
1983 Advisory Committee Notes to Federal Rule of Civil
motion to dismiss stage, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. When
ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6),
the court must “accept all factual allegations as true,
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable
reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to
relief.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515
F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).
notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide
“the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is
and the grounds upon which it rests.” Id. at
232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint,
the court conducts a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v.
Warminster Township, 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. at 130 (alteration in
original) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim
must be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as
true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded.
Id. at 131-32. Once the court isolates the
well-pleaded factual allegations, it 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). A claim is facially
plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts “that allow[
] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. at 678.
should grant leave to amend before dismissing a curable
pleading in civil rights actions. See Fletcher-Harlee
Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247,
251 (3d Cir. 2007). Courts need not grant leave to amend
sua sponte when dismissing non-civil rights claims
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), id. at 252-53,
but leave is broadly encouraged “when justice so
requires, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).
stated above, Judge Saporito found Counts 2, 3, 4, 9, and 10
of the complaint, as well as portions of Count 1, to be
insufficiently pleaded. For the sake of clarity, the court
will address each claim-and Plaintiff's corresponding
objections-in the order they are discussed in Judge
Count 9: Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process
Defendants and Judge Saporito narrowly construe
Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process
Clause claims as challenging the adequacy of the prison
administrative grievance system and the right to assistance
of counsel in connection with this system. Plaintiff objects
to this characterization, and argues that his procedural due
process claims encompass more than just the prison grievance
system. (Doc. 14 at 4). Plaintiff maintains that he has
adequately stated a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim by
alleging liberty and property interests of which he was
deprived by state actors without any process. (Id.
at 3-4). The portions of the complaint discussing the prison
grievance system's shortcomings, he argues, are merely
facts showing that no process whatsoever was afforded to him
before he was deprived of his constitutionally protected
interests. (Id. at 4).
are not completely stripped of the protections of the Due
Process Clause simply because they are incarcerated.
Evans v. Sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corr., 645 F.3d
650, 662-63 (3d Cir. 2011). The extent of those protections
for prisoners, however, is necessarily more limited than for
the average person. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S.
539, 556 (1974) (explaining that Due Process Clause rights
are subject to “restrictions imposed by the nature of
the regime to which [prisoners] have been lawfully
committed”). In analyzing a procedural due process
claim, “the first step is to determine whether the
nature of the interest is one within the contemplation of the
‘liberty or property' language of the Fourteenth
Amendment.” Shoats v. Horn, 213 F.3d 140, 143
(3d Cir. 2000) (citing Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S.
67 (1972)). If no constitutionally protected interest is
asserted, the court's inquiry is at an end.
Evans, 645 F.3d at 663.
liberty interests triggering due process protections come in
two forms: (1) the so-called “state-created liberty
interest, ” which occurs when “state statutes and
regulations create a liberty interest in freedom from
restraint that imposes atypical and significant hardship on
the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison
life”; and (2) the so-called “independent due
process liberty interest, ” which occurs when
“severe changes in conditions of confinement amount to
a grievous loss that should not be imposed without the
opportunity for notice and an adequate hearing.”
Id. (quoting Renchenski v. Williams, 662
F.3d 315, 325 (3d Cir. 2010)). Examples of prisoner property
interests that have been found to implicate Due Process
Clause protections include funds held in prison accounts,
Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 693 (3d Cir. 2002),
an inmate's noncontraband personal property, Hudson
v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 520, 533 (1984) (finding
intentional destruction of prisoner's noncontraband
personal property implicated Due Process Clause, but no
constitutional violation if meaningful post-deprivation
remedy is provided), and wages earned under state law while
working for a private party, Piatt v. MacDougall,
773 F.2d 1032, 1035-36 (9th Cir. 1985).
Plaintiff claims the liberty interests deprived without
process include consulting his attorney, testifying fully and
freely in court, and observing religious exercises. (Doc. 1
¶¶ 141-43; Doc. 14 at 3-4). He contends that the
property interest deprived was “food sufficient for
sustenance” that comported with his personal religious
beliefs. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 141, 143).
the court agrees with Plaintiff that, as stated, the claims
in Count 9 encompass more than a constitutional challenge to
the prison administrative grievance system. Nonetheless, none
of the allegedly deprived interests fall under the
“liberty or property” interests for prisoners as
recognized by Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause
jurisprudence. Because Count 9 of Plaintiff's complaint
does not implicate any protected liberty or property interest
within the meaning of the Due Process Clause, the court's
inquiry is over, Evans, 645 F.3d at 663, and Count 9
must be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff,
however, will be granted leave to amend his Fourteenth
Amendment Due Process Clause claim.
Count 1: § 1981 and First Amendment Free Speech
Count 1, Plaintiff claims that defendants Duvall, Smith, and
Eckard violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the Free Speech
Clause of the First Amendment when they interfered with an
attorney-client conference on May 24, 2015, “in
retaliation for Plaintiff's earlier testimony and
complaints about violations of his constitutional and
statutory rights, and with the intent and effect of
influencing Plaintiff's federal testimony.” (Doc. 1
¶¶ 115-16). Count 1 actually contains three claims:
an alleged violation of § 1981 and two different alleged
violations of the First Amendment Free Speech
Clause-retaliation and interference with confidential
attorney communication. Each claim will be addressed in turn.
Count 1: ...