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Harris v. Himes

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 18, 2017

HEARING EXAMINER A. HIMES, et al., Defendants


          KANE, JUDGE

         The instant civil rights action was filed by pro se Plaintiff, Arnold J. Harris, confined at the State Correctional Institution, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (“SCI-Huntingdon”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Correctional Officer Frye retaliated against him by filing a false misconduct report for a conversation Plaintiff had with Ms. Snyder, the law librarian, that was protected under Plaintiff's First Amendment right to free speech. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff also alleges that Hearing Examiner Himes violated his procedural due process rights by failing to call Plaintiff's witness, Ms. Snyder, during his disciplinary hearing. (Id.) Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 28). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Allegations of the Complaint

         Plaintiff claims that on August 19, 2015, while he was working at a computer in the law library, Ms. Snyder approached him asking if his work was legal in nature. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 6, 7.) Plaintiff explained to her that it was and showed her his work, after which she allowed him to continue. (Id. ¶ 8.) When Plaintiff completed his work for that morning, he started back to his block when Defendant Frye stopped him, showing him a hangman's noose and stating that he could make Plaintiff “disappear.” (Id. ¶¶9-11.) The following day, Plaintiff returned to the law library to complete his work from the previous day. (Id. ¶ 13.) There were no computers immediately available but at about 9:00 am, Ms. Snyder called Plaintiff to her desk to inform him that a computer was available and that she “hope[d] his work was legal.” (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff brought his work to Ms. Snyder to prove that his work was of legal nature at which time she assigned him to computer number four. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         While Plaintiff was approaching computer number four, Defendant Frye ordered him back to his block for an alleged argument he had with Ms. Snyder. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff stated to Defendant Frye that he had not been arguing with her and that he did nothing wrong, to which Defendant Frye said, among other things, “keep talking black boy” and “I'm going to make you disappear.” (Id. ¶¶ 17-21.) Plaintiff retrieved his pass and returned to his block where he then asked a staff officer for a grievance form. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         While he was filling out his grievance form, several officers came to Plaintiff's block to escort him to a restricted housing unit (“RHU”). (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) Within four hours of arriving at the RHU, Plaintiff received a misconduct filed by Defendant Frye asserting four class one charges. (Id. ¶ 24.) On August 25, 2015, Plaintiff had his hearing before Hearing Examiner Himes. (Id. ¶ 26.) Despite Plaintiff's request to call Ms. Snyder as a witness, Defendant Himes denied this request, stating that Ms. Snyder “is not necessary.” (Id. ¶ 27.) Two of the four charges were dismissed and Plaintiff was given thirty (30) days in the RHU. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         Plaintiff appealed Defendant Himes' decision which was ultimately remanded back to Defendant Himes for a rehearing. (Id. at Ex. K.) On October 27, 2015, Defendant Himes dismissed the entire misconduct without prejudice. (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff also alleges that on September 16, 2015, he called the inmate abuse hotline to report the threats of Defendant Frye to the office of special investigations and intelligence and also mailed a complaint to that office. (Id. ¶¶ 32, 35.)

         Plaintiff avers that he was discharged from a treatment program on September 3, 2015 for absenteeism as a result of being placed in RHU. (Id. ¶ 42.) Because he failed to complete the treatment program, his parole was denied until he satisfactorily completes the 78 week treatment program. (Id. ¶¶ 42, 43.)

         B. Statement of Undisputed Facts[1]

         Plaintiff, an inmate currently incarcerated at SCI-Huntingdon, signed into the library on August 19, 2015 at approximately 8:40 a.m. and went to the back of the library. (Doc. No. 30 ¶¶ 4, 5, Ex. 3, Attach. B.)[2] Around 9:51 a.m., the law librarian, Ms. Snyder, walked toward the back of the library and returned to her desk at about 9:53 a.m. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff then sat at a table in the library and around 10:17 a.m., he approached Ms. Snyder and then signed out. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) As Plaintiff was leaving, Defendant Frye said to him, “I'm going to make you disappear, black boy.” (Id. ¶ 32.) This was the first time that Plaintiff had contact with Defendant Frye. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff “ignored the insults … took [his] pass and [he] left.” (Id. ¶ 33.)

         The following day, Plaintiff signed into the library around 8:25 a.m. (Id. ¶ 10.) At 9:07 a.m., Ms. Snyder waved her finger toward Plaintiff motioning him to come to her desk. (Id. ¶ 11.) After a brief conversation, Plaintiff returned to his table and picked up a couple of papers and returned to Ms. Snyder's desk and showed her the papers. (Id. ¶¶ 12-14.) Plaintiff again returned to his table and picked up more papers and returned to Ms. Snyder's desk and began showing her the additional papers. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.) At about 9:09 a.m., Plaintiff is seen making hand gestures and becoming more animated towards Ms. Snyder. (Id. ¶ 17.) Inmates in the area can be seen looking at Plaintiff and Ms. Snyder. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff provided that Ms. Snyder paged through his documents to confirm they were legal in nature and told him he could go to word processor four. (Id. ¶ 36.) Ms. Snyder also told Plaintiff that she was going to come over to the computer and check on Plaintiff and as Plaintiff was walking away from her, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, he turned around and said, “that is your prerogative” and kept walking. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 38.)

         At 9:10 a.m., Defendant Frye walked into the library and appeared to speak to Ms. Snyder. (Id. ¶ 21.) At about the same time, Plaintiff began walking toward the right side of the library towards word processor number four when Defendant Frye motioned with his hand and told Plaintiff to return to his block. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 39.) Plaintiff questioned Defendant Frye as to what he did, to which Defendant Frye responded “I'm ordering you to go back to your block.” (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) While Plaintiff was looking for his pass, he said to Defendant Frye, “I have a right to the library. Why are you forcing me to go back to my block?” (Id. ¶ 43.) Plaintiff provides that Defendant Frye then responded, “keep talking, nigger.” (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff then returned to his cell block. (Id. ¶ 46.)

         On that same day, August 20, 2015, Plaintiff was issued Misconduct #B589252 for: (1) threatening an employee; (2) sexual harassment; (3) using abusive, obscene language to an employee; and (4) refusing to obey an order. (Id. ¶¶ 47, 48.) Defendant Frye's misconduct report provides that Plaintiff threatened him and alleged that he was “fucking Ms. Snyder.” (Id. ¶ 49.) On August 25, 2015, Plaintiff had his hearing before Defendant Himes wherein Plaintiff requested that Ms. Snyder be a witness. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 53.) In Plaintiff's written version of events, there was no mention of any racial allegations against Defendant Frye. (Id. ¶ 54.) At the hearing, Defendant Himes threw out the charges of threatening an employee and sexual harassment but kept the charges of obscene abusive language and refusing to obey an order. (Id. ¶ 55.) Plaintiff asked Defendant Himes where his witness was, to which Defendant Himes stated that Ms. Snyder was not necessary to determine Plaintiff's guilt or innocence. (Id. ¶¶ 56, 57.) Plaintiff was given thirty days in the Diversionary Treatment Unit (“DTU”), for which he only served twenty. (Id. ¶¶ 58, 65.)

         Plaintiff appealed this decision all the way to final review. (Id. ¶¶ 59-63.) Plaintiff raised, for the first time, racial allegations against Defendant Frye on his appeal to the facility manager. (Id. ¶¶ 59, 61.) On final review, the misconduct was remanded for a rehearing before Defendant Himes so that Ms. Snyder's testimony could be obtained and considered. (Id. ¶¶ 63, 64.) On October 22, 2015, a rehearing was conducted but it was continued because Defendant Himes felt that Plaintiff was “highly argumentative during this hearing and makes some very serious racial allegations in his written ...

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