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Hill v. Bogan

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 31, 2018

VERNON HILL, Plaintiff,
CO BOGAN, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Vernon Hill, a prisoner at SCI-Graterford proceeding pro se, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging discipline he received for fighting. In a Memorandum and Order docketed April 27, 2018, the Court granted Hill leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed his Complaint for failure to state a claim. (ECF Nos. 5 & 6.) The dismissal of Hill's Complaint was without prejudice to him filing an amended complaint. Hill filed an Amended Complaint, which is currently pending before the Court. For the following reasons, the Court will dismiss Hill's Amended Complaint with prejudice.

         I. FACTS

         Hill's initial Complaint named the following employees of SCI-Graterford as Defendants in this case: (1) Correctional Officer Bogan; (2) Correctional Officer R. Getz; (3) J. Yodis, a hearing examiner; (4) O. Nunez, a unit manager; (5) J. Terra; (6) J.H. Dupont, Chief Hearing Officer; (7) Cynthia Link, the former Superintendent; (8) Mascilino, a “Captain/Lieutenant;” (9) J. Gery; and (10) John/Jane Does. Hill alleged that, on December 12, 2017, Officer Getz “alerted the Day Captain Office that Hill was fighting in the fieldhouse” with another inmate, identified as McClennan. (Compl. ECF No. 2, at 6, ¶ 12.)[1] Hill, who was employed as a basketball referee at the time, contended that he stopped a basketball game to prevent McClennan from fighting with another inmate, so McClennan swung at him instead. Hill claimed that he did not fight back because he did not want to adversely affect his upcoming parole hearing.

         Hill alleged that Getz is “known for issuing Black and Hispanic Prisoner misconduct reports based upon their skin color and in a discriminatory fashion.” (Id. at 6, ¶ 14.) Hill also alleged, however, that Getz did not issue misconducts to him or McClennan as a result of the incident, and noted that Getz also did not escort them to the medical department, which “is the normal procedure for when two or more Prisoners are captured fighting.” (Id.) Instead, Officer Bogan prepared a misconduct report, charging Hill with fighting. “Bogan alleged that at approximately 1850 hrs. Getz did in fact observe inmate V. Hill #DK9860 and inmate McClennan #LY5365 physically throwing closed fist punches as each other's faces, inside the fieldhouse.” (Id.)

         Hill appeared before Hearing Examiner Yodis, who found him guilty of fighting based on Officer Bogan's misconduct report, even though Officer Bogan did not personally observe the fight. Hill had requested review of a videotape but was informed that no videotape of the fight existed. Hill's Complaint reflected his belief that Yodis found him guilty on the basis that he had previously been found guilty of fighting on two prior occasions. As a result of the infraction, Hill lost his job as a basketball referee and received thirty (30) days in disciplinary custody.

         Hill appealed his disciplinary sentence to the Program Review Committee, which consisted of Defendants Nunez, Gery, and Terra. However, the Program Review Committee denied his appeal. Hill also appealed to the Facility Manager, the Chief Hearing Examiner, and Superintendent Link claiming that he was innocent of the disciplinary charge, but his appeals were unsuccessful.

         In his Complaint, Hill claimed that he was improperly found guilty of fighting and that “each Commonwealth Defendant imposed a punishment and sanctioned [him], which may very well effect [sic] his upcoming parole chances based upon an event that never occurred, [and] was racially and discriminatory motivated.” (Id. at 8, ¶ 22.) Hill sought damages, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, apparently for violation of his “First, Fifth, Eight[h], Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.” (Id. at 9.)

         After granting Hill leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court screened the Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), and determined that the Complaint failed to state a claim. In particular, the Court concluded that: (1) nothing in Hill's Complaint implicated the First Amendment; (2) Hill failed to state a claim under the Fifth Amendment because none of the Defendants are federal actors; (3) Hill failed to state an Eighth Amendment violation because the punishment in question did not deprive him of basic necessities or represent a dramatic departure from accepted conditions of confinement; (4) the Ninth Amendment did not support a claim based on the discipline imposed upon Hill; (5) Hill failed to state a due process claim or equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. With regard to Hill's due process claims, the Court observed that he had not identified a liberty interest based on the loss of his referee position, his thirty-day sentence in disciplinary custody, and his speculative suggestion that his chances for parole could be affected by the allegedly improper discipline. The dismissal of Hill's Complaint was without prejudice to amendment.

         Hill returned with an Amended Complaint naming the same Defendants with the exception of Officer Getz. The Amended Complaint is based on the same underlying facts as the initial Complaint. Hill alleges that Bogan, at the direction of Mascilino, prepared a misconduct report charging him with fighting even though neither of those individuals observed the fight. Hill again alleges that the accusation was false and notes that the underlying incident was not captured on video tape. Nevertheless, Yodis found him guilty based solely on the misconduct report and sentenced him to thirty (30) days in disciplinary custody and the loss of his job as a basketball referee. Hill's appeals of the disciplinary sanction were rejected by the other Defendants at every level. Hill attached to his Amended Complaint documentation confirming that he challenged the discipline he received to the final review under prison policies, but was unsuccessful in his appeals.

         The Amended Complaint alleges that in initiating disciplinary proceedings, imposing disciplinary sanctions, and upholding the results of the disciplinary proceedings, the Defendants “attempt[ed] to effect [sic] the outcome of [Hill's] upcoming parole hearing that will determine whether [he] is released from prison . . . .” (Am. Compl. ECF No. 7 at 1.) In that regard, Hill claims that as a “direct result” of the “bogus misconduct report, ” Superintendent Tammy Ferguson “denied [him] the prison's needed approval for his upcoming parole hearing even though [he] told her the incident never occurred.” (Id.) He also alleges that the report remains in his disciplinary file, and thus could affect administrative decisions related to his custody status, including eligibility for parole hearings and pre-release status or other “privileges.” (Id. at 2.) The Amended Complaint pursues claims under the Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, although it focuses heavily on allegations and arguments that Hill's due process rights were violated.


         As Hill is proceeding in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies. That provision requires the Court to screen the Amended Complaint and dismiss it if, among other things, it fails to state a claim. To survive dismissal, the complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). “[M]ere conclusory statements[] do not suffice.” Id. As Hill is proceeding pro se, the Court is obligated to construe his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         III. ...

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