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Johnakin v. Berks County Jail System

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 25, 2018

WILLIAM JOHNAKIN, Plaintiff,
v.
BERKS COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          PETRESE B. TUCKER, J.

         Plaintiff William Johnakin, a pretrial detainee incarcerated at the Berks County Jail who is proceeding in forma pauperis, brings this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Johnakin challenges the constitutionality of the conditions at the Berks County Jail and a sentence imposed upon him in state criminal proceedings. Currently before the Court is Johnakin's Second Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, the Court will dismiss several of Johnakin's claims, but allow him to proceed on his claims against Officer Drodsak.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A review of public dockets reflects that in 2017, Johnakin pled guilty in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas to three charges of retail theft and was sentenced to six to twenty-three months of incarceration. See Commonwealth v. Johnakin, Docket Nos. CP-06-CR-0001332- 2017, CP-06-CR-0001331-2017, & CP-06-CR-0000109-2017. Public dockets also reflect that Johnakin is awaiting trial in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas on yet another charge of retail theft. See Commonwealth v. Johnakin, Docket No. CP-06-CR-0000322-2018. Johnakin was represented by counsel from the Berks County Public Defender's Office, but in May of 2018, conflict counsel was appointed to represent him in his cases. He has filed for post- conviction relief in his 2017 cases, and has been charged in those cases with violating probation or parole. In the instant civil action, Johnakin sets forth a host of grievances related to his sentence and the conditions in which he is confined.

         In a Memorandum and Order docketed on May 22, 2018, the Court dismissed Johnakin's Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim. The Amended Complaint named the following Defendants: (1) Berks County Jail System; (2) Warden of BCJS Janine Quigley (misspelled Janice Quigley); (3) Chief Deputy Warden of BCJS Smith; (4) Prime Care Medical; (5) the Berks County District Attorney's Office; (6) Berks County; and (7) City of Reading, P.A. Johnakin in part challenged the manner in which he was charged in his criminal case. He indicated that prosecutors have used his misdemeanors in another state as a basis for charging him with a felony, which he believes constitutes a double jeopardy violation. He also suggested that the District Attorney's Office "use[d] the jail and its officers to steal key information from [his] cell pertaining to said/such case to learn [his] defense strategies and in turn make said trial unfair for [him] ...." (Am. Compl. ECF No. 11 at 7-8.)[1] The Amended Complaint also alluded to Johnakin's "right to examine/receive a copy of [his] criminal history." (Id. at 6.)

         The remainder of Johnakin's Amended Complaint challenged the conditions at the Berks County Jail. His pleading reflected his belief that the facility is not well run and that inmates receive no communication. He also raised more specific complaints about certain conditions at the jail.

         First, Johnakin alleged that he has the "right to be told why [he] can't work inside the jail when at the same time in 2017 [he] was allowed [to] work within the jail." (Id. at 6.) He appeared to be disappointed that he would require medical clearance to work, and it would take some time for that to happen. Second, Johnakin alleged that he has the "right to receive [his] mail in a timely fashion not when the jail deems it good for them to give it out." (Id. at 7.) In that regard, Johnakin alleged that his family informed him that they sent mail but that he only received two letters. He also received notices that certain letters were returned, one "because the envelope had a stain on it" and one because "the sender didn't put [his] BCJS inmate numbers on it." (Id. at 12.)

         Third, Johnakin alleged that he has "the right to ask for soap to clean [his] body without being charged a fee" if he is indigent. (Id. at 7.) He did not allege that he was denied soap, or further elaborate on that allegation. Fourth, Johnakin alleged that he has "the right to eat [his] food in the day room provided and not [be] locked up in a cell if [he is] not in the box like [an] animal." (Id.) Along those lines, Johnakin contended that "they lock us up 21 hrs a day" and that he "would like to eat [his] food without having to look at a toilet that is sometimes filled with feces and urine cause some of the officers don't want to unlock it." (Id. at 16.) He added that the jail can be locked down "for days at a time" without anyone telling the inmates. (Id. at 13.)

         Fifth, Johnakin contended that he has a "right to feel safe in [the Berks County Jail] or any institution without having to see officers carrying around shotguns and tazers [sic] in and out of inmate housing units." (Id. at 7.) That allegation appeared to relate to his concern that some jail employees are permitted to carry Tasers at the jail. The Amended Complaint also implied that one of the officers stationed on the way to the medical unit has a shotgun. (Id. at 16.)

         Finally, Johnakin alleged that Officer Drosdak, who was not named as a Defendant, grabbed food out of his hand and put her finger in it, thereby contaminating the food. She ultimately threw the food away. The Amended Complaint suggested that the officer also threw away the food of six other inmates, only one of whom was white while the others were "either Spanish or [Johnakin] the only Black [African American] person." (Am. Compl. ECF No. 11, at 14.)

         Johnakin indicated that he named the Berks County Jail System as a Defendant because "most events happen[ed] within [the] Berks County Jail System." (Id. at 10.) He named the Warden and Deputy Warden because they "run and therefore have to have knowledge of all and everything that happens within Berks County Jail." (Id.) Johnakin claimed that the Berks County District Attorney's Office's "actions cast unfavorable shadows on the City of Reading and Berks County," and that the City and County were "condoning such [unspecified] actions by letting these actions continue to happen." (Id.)

         A few weeks after having submitted his Amended Complaint, Johnakin submitted a second filing in which he indicated his desire to add more claims based on the conditions at the Berks County Jail. In that filing, Johnakin first appeared to be challenging a search that was conducted in a "rigorous way." (ECF No. 12 at 2.) Second, Johnakin claimed that he was missing one of three copies of his § 1983 complaint and questioned whether the "jail makes a habit of stealing inmates legal work now." (Id. at 3.) Third, he alleged that an officer strip-searched him in his cell while the door was open so that other inmates could see the search. Fourth, he complained that inmates are not permitted to "give anyone any food item" and that doing so is treated as a punishable offense. (Id. at 4.) He also complained that "they even tell [inmates] what [they] can or cannot do with [their] commissary" and that inmates cannot "mix any of our commissary together." (Id.)

         As noted above, the Court concluded that Johnakin's Amended Complaint and his subsequent statement did not state a claim for relief. The Court explained that the Berks County Jail System was not a proper Defendant because correctional facilities are not considered "persons" subject to liability under § 1983. Johnakin had also failed to state a claim against the Warden or Deputy Warden because he had not alleged any facts reflecting their personal involvement in the claimed constitutional violations. The Court also explained to Johnakin that it could not intervene in his state criminal proceeding, so it was not proper for him to raise alleged constitutional deficiencies regarding that proceeding in this case.

         Turning to Johnakin's challenges to the conditions at the Berks County Jail, the Court first explained that Johnakin could not state a claim based on his inability to work during his incarceration because inmates do not have a constitutional right to prison employment. Second, the Court rejected Johnakin's claims based on the mail because two instances of confiscated mail do not give rise to a constitutional violation and, if Johnakin was challenging a policy or custom related to the processing of mail, the basis for that claim was not clear from his pleading. Third, Johnakin's assertion that he has the right to ask for soap without being charged a fee did not state a claim because Johnakin's allegations did not establish that the conditions at the Berks County Jail amounted to punishment.

         Fourth, Johnakin could not state a constitutional claim based on having to eat in his cell near a toilet because numerous courts have rejected similar claims. Fifth, Johnakin's vague allegations about being locked down failed to provide sufficient factual allegations to state a claim as pled. Sixth, Johnakin failed to state a claim based on the presence of weapons in the jail because nothing suggested that those weapons were used in a manner that caused him harm or otherwise violated his rights. Seventh, Johnakin failed to state a claim based on the fact that Officer Drosdak stuck her fingers in his food because the deprivation of one meal does not amount to a constitutional violation and, to the extent Johnakin was raising an equal protection claim, nothing suggested that he was being treated differently due to his race in light of his allegations that Officer Drosdak treated inmates of other races similarly. In any event, Johnakin failed to name Officer Drosdak as a Defendant, and the Court explained to Johnakin that there was no basis for holding any other Defendant liable for her actions.

         Regarding the claims in the statement that Johnakin filed subsequent to his Amended Complaint, the Court explained that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply in prison cells. Johnakin also failed to state a claim for denial of access to the courts based on the fact that one copy of his complaint went missing, as he failed to allege any injury. Furthermore, if he was concerned that prison guards stole the complaint, he had other remedies that precluded a due process claim. Finally, Johnakin failed to state a claim based on his generalized allegations about prison commissary and food sharing. The Court gave Johnakin leave to file a second amended complaint in the event he could cure the deficiencies in his claims.

         Johnakin returned with a Second Amended Complaint, which is currently pending. The caption lists the Berks County Jail System as the Defendant, but in the body of the Second Amended Complaint, Johnakin identifies the Defendants as the Berks County Public Defender's Office, Judge Theresa Johnson (who presided over his 2017 guilty plea and remains assigned to Johnakin's 2017 cases for post-conviction proceedings), the Berks County ...


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