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Lawson v. Barger

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 11, 2019

TYREE LAWSON, Plaintiff
v.
CO BARGER, et al., Defendants

          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NO 43]; PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NO. 48]

          RICHARD A. LANZILLO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         I. Recommendation

         It is respectfully recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 43] be granted and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 48] be denied.

         II. Report

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Tyree Lawson (“Plaintiff”), an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”), initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on December 7, 2017. ECF No. 1. In his Complaint, Lawson asserts a single count of unlawful retaliation against three defendants - Corrections Officer J.W. Barger, Corrections Officer Kimmel, and Superintendent Michael Overmyer - based on conduct which occurred while Lawson was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Forest (SCI-Forest).[1]

         On October 15, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment accompanied by a brief in support and concise statement of material facts. ECF Nos. 43-45. After requesting and receiving an extension of time to oppose Defendants' motion [ECF Nos. 52, 54], Lawson filed a response in opposition on December 14, 2018. ECF Nos. 55-58.[2]

         In the meantime, Lawson filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on October 18, 2018, accompanied by a brief in support. ECF Nos. 48-49. Defendants filed an opposition to Lawson's motion on November 13, 2018. ECF No. 51. Each of these motions is ripe for review.

         B. Factual Background

         The allegations in Lawson's Complaint stem entirely from a single cell search performed by Barger on February 6, 2017. ECF No. 5 ¶¶ 5-10. At approximately 11:30 a.m. on that date, Lawson observed Barger performing security inspections on his unit. Id. ¶¶ 7, 9. After searching several other cells, Barger entered Lawson's cell and stayed inside for four or five minutes. Id. ¶ 10. Lawson, who was speaking to his wife on a nearby telephone at the time, terminated his call because he felt that Barger “[had] been in [his] cell for way too long.” Id. As Lawson approached his cell, Barger emerged with a cardboard legal box. Id. ¶ 11. In response to Lawson's query as to why Barger was removing property from his cell, Barger indicated that the box was contraband. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Lawson then entered his cell and observed that his bunk had been flipped, his toiletries scattered all over the floor, and his religious materials removed from their shelf. Id. ¶ 14.

         Based on this incident, Lawson filed grievance number 664100 on February 7, 2017, accusing Barger of conducting an unreasonable and improper security inspection. ECF No. 46-1 at 1.[3] Citing prison policy DOC ADM-203, Lawson maintained that a corrections officer is not permitted to move or disturb personal property during a security inspection unless necessary for the inspection. Id. Lawson attributed Barger's violation of this policy to retaliatory animus, noting that he had filed a grievance against Barger just a few weeks earlier. Id. Lawson also accused Kimmel of covering up for Barger by offering the “illogical excuse” that Barger was “allowed to move certain things to check certain areas” during a security inspection. Id. By way of remedy, Lawson sought punitive and monetary damages. Id.

         Unit Manager List Best denied grievance number 664100 as frivolous on March 10, 2017. Id. at 6. Lawson appealed that denial to Superintendent Overmyer, repeating his prior allegations and adding that Barger and Kimmel had issued him a misconduct based on the results of the cell search. Id. at 7. Although Lawson's appeal was dated March 28, 2017, Overmyer did not receive it until April 3, 2017, three days beyond the deadline for appeal.[4]Id. Consequently, Overmyer rejected the appeal as untimely. Id. at 8. Rather than appeal that decision to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals (“the Secretary's Office”), Lawson wrote a letter to Overmyer asking him to reconsider. ECF No. 5 ¶ 29. On April 7, 2017, Best approached Lawson in person and informed him that Overmyer ...


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