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Thomas v. Duvall

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 10, 2017

ANGEL LUIS THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANGELA R. DUVALL, et al., Defendants.

          Schwab Schwab Chief Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         Before the Court for disposition is Chief Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab's Report and Recommendation, and Plaintiff Angel Luis Thomas' Objections to same. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Objections will be overruled and Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab's Report and Recommendation will be adopted in its entirety. Counts I, II, III, and IV within Plaintiff's Complaint will therefore be dismissed with leave to refile within twenty one (21) days of this Order, and Defendant Ray Dunkle will be dismissed from this action with prejudice.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On March 14, 2016, Plaintiff Angel Luis Duvall (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint against DOC Defendants alleging the following claims: (1) Denial of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Violation of the Right of Access to Court under the First Amendment and Section 1983; (3) Conspiracy to Violate the Right of Access to Court under the First Amendment and Section 1983; (4) Violation of Privacy, Free Speech, and Free Association Rights under the First and Fourth Amendments and Section 1983; (5) Conspiracy to Violate Privacy, Free Speech, and Free Association Rights under the First and Fourth Amendments and Section 1983; (6) Conspiracy to Deny Equal Protection under Section 1985; (7) Conspiracy to Deter from Testifying in Federal Court under Section 1985 (raised only against defendants Duvall, Wendle, Green, and Superintendent Eckard); and (8) Neglect to Prevent Deterrence from Testifying in Federal Court under Section 1986 (raised only against defendants Wendle, Green, and Superintendent Eckard).[1] These claims are premised on various DOC Defendants' alleged impermissible interference with Plaintiff's right to confidential communications with his counsel in violation of rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

         On May 10, 2016, Defendants Angela Duvall, William Ritchey, Ron Smith, Matthew Ritchey, Michael Gill, Darren Dickson, Daniel Wendle, Ray Dunkle, Constance Green, and James Eckard filed a Motion to Dismiss.[2] Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab subsequently prepared a Report and Recommendation on this issue.[3] In this Report, Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab ultimately recommended that (1) DOC Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 5) be granted in part and denied in part; (2) Defendant Dunkle be dismissed from the action with prejudice; (3) counts I, II, III, and VI be dismissed without prejudice to Plaintiff filing an Amended Complaint within twenty one days of this Order; and (3) the case be remanded to her for further proceedings.

         Plaintiff filed Objections to this Report and Recommendation on March 15, 2017, [4] and following briefing by both parties, the matter is ripe for disposition.[5]

         II. LAW

         Upon designation, a magistrate judge may “conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and ... submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations.”[6] Once filed, this Report and Recommendation is disseminated to the parties in the case who then have the opportunity to file written objections.[7] When objections are timely filed, the District Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the report to which objections are made.[8]Although the standard of review for objections is de novo, the extent of review lies within the discretion of the District Court, and the court may otherwise rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper.[9]

         For portions of the Report and Recommendation to which no objection is made, the court should, as a matter of good practice, “satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.”[10]Regardless of whether timely objections are made by a party, the District Court may accept, not accept, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.[11]

         III. ANALYSIS

         In the instant matter, Plaintiff lodges three (3)[12] objections requiring de novo review. Following such review, I am satisfied that Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab's Report is wholly correct in its suggested disposition, and thus will be adopted in its entirety.

         A. Defendant Dunkle Will Be Dismissed From This Action With Prejudice.

         Plaintiff first objects to Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab's recommendation that all claims against Defendant Ray Dunkle be dismissed with prejudice because (1) Plaintiff lacks standing to raise a claim against him, and (2) Plaintiff lacks third party standing to raise a claim based on injuries suffered by I.W.-another inmate at SCI-Huntingdon. I agree with these conclusions. “The Supreme Court has explained that ‘the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements': (1) the invasion of a concrete and particularized legally protected interest and resulting injury in fact that is actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, meaning that the injury must be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.”[13] Furthermore, beyond the constitutional standing requirements embodied in Article III, the Supreme Court has also set prudential limitations on standing which may prevent parties from bringing an action in federal court.[14] This prudential standing doctrine requires that:

(1) a litigant assert his [or her] own legal interests rather than those of third parties, (2) courts refrain from adjudicating abstract questions of wide public significance which amount to generalized grievances, and
(3) a litigant demonstrate that her interests are arguably within the zone of interests intended to be protected by the statute, rule, or constitutional provision on which the claim is based.[15]

         Plaintiff's attempts to bring claims against Defendant Dunkle fail under these justiciability doctrines. Specifically, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege actions taken by Defendant Dunkle against him, rather than I.W. Therefore, because the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that “a person does not have standing to vindicate the constitutional rights of a third party, ”[16] Plaintiff cannot recover against Defendant Dunkle based on the factual pattern alleged.[17] Plaintiff's attempts to draw an attenuated connection between the allegations of misconduct by Defendant Dunkle against I.W. and resulting injuries he may have suffered are unavailing.[18] Adoption of this argument would erode the first party standing doctrine.

         Furthermore, I find that, while this limitation can be overcome through the conference of third party standing, I am in agreement with the Report and Recommendation that Plaintiff has failed to meet that burden. Third- party standing requires the satisfaction of three preconditions: 1) the plaintiff must suffer injury; 2) the plaintiff and the third party must have a “close relationship”; and 3) the third party must face some obstacles that prevent it from pursuing its own claims.[19] Within his pleading, Plaintiff fails to allege facts satisfying any of these three elements. Therefore, based on this failure to allege either first or third party standing, I will adopt the recommendation of Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab and dismiss Defendant Dunkle from this action with prejudice.[20]

         B. Counts I and VI Are Dismissed Without Prejudice.

         Plaintiff next objects to Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab's recommendation that Counts I (Denial of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983) and VI (Conspiracy to Deny Equal Protection under Section 1985) be dismissed without prejudice for failure to allege similarly situated comparators for equal protection purposes. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that all similarly situated individuals be treated alike.[21] In his Complaint, Plaintiff advanced a class of DOC comparators housed at SCI Huntingdon, SCI Smithfield, and SCI Benner in support of Counts I and VI. Judicially noticing[22] information from the DOC website which identifies the above facilities as distinct institutions, [23] Chief Magistrate Judge Schwab reasoned that, because inmates confined in different institutions are not similarly situated for equal protection purposes, [24] Plaintiff's claims relying on these comparators must be dismissed without prejudice.

         Plaintiff objects to this recommendation. Specifically, in his Objections, Plaintiff again alleges that he has pled a plausible claim for relief in support of the Equal Protection violations in counts I and VI. In support of this argument, he again alleges the following class of comparators:

DOC prisoners in general population whose security classification is the same as Thomas's classification, but who are not classified or ...

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