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Wheeler v. Corrections Emergency Response Team

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 27, 2019

AARON CHRISTOPHER WHEELER, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONS EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM (CERT), et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GOLDBERG, J.

         Plaintiff Aaron Christopher Wheeler brings this claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against multiple Defendants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including the Corrections Emergency Response Team (“CERT”), Secretary John Wetzel, Superintendent Tammy Ferguson, and multiple John/Jane Doe Defendants (collectively, “Defendants”). For the following reasons, I will grant Defendants' Motion and dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Complaint sets forth the following facts:[1]

         The State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania (“Graterford”) went into a state of emergency from July 10, 2018 to August 14, 2018, during which the prison was locked down and all services/programs were suspended. From July 2 to July 15, 2018, correction officers, directed by Defendants Ferguson and Wetzel, moved Plaintiff and other Graterford prisoners, together with their legal and personal property, from Graterford to the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix, Pennsylvania (“Phoenix”). During that move, the Corrections Emergency Response Team (“CERT”)-made up of prison staff from other prisons-wrote Nazi signs, the word “nigger, ” and penises on Plaintiff's and other prisoners' photos, legal materials, and other personal property. In addition, CERT threw legal/personal property and documents away in huge trash bins, stole wedding rings, necklaces/chains, watches, sneakers, and other property from prisoners, placed remotes in vaseline, and “did all other type of illegal, unlawful, hateful, improper and criminal acts” to Plaintiff's legal and personal property. Some of the acts were committed by CERT in front of Graterford officers, which resulted in complaints being made and filed by Graterford staff. In the course of performing these various acts, CERT did not inventory any of the property or issue any confiscation slip for the property. (Compl. ¶¶1-2, 4-5.)

         The members of CERT did not wear name tags and came from various upstate prisoners. Moreover, the searches were not performed in Plaintiff's presence and, as such, Plaintiff is unable to identify the various individual officers. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 6.)

         When CERT threw away Plaintiff's legal documents, Plaintiff had six legal matters pending. On August 22, 2018, a Pennsylvania trial court judge dismissed Plaintiff's PCRA petition for failing to a respond to a notice that Plaintiff did not receive during the transfer and state of emergency. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that his “property was brought to his Phoenix cell in a blue bin with his two boxes and footlocker materials dumped out and in the blue bin.” (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9.)

         Prior to the July 2018 transfer of Graterford prisoners, Grateford staff performed cell searches and cell content compliances, ensuring Plaintiff and all prisoners had two legal boxes and one footlocker, or four legal boxes with no contraband. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff filed grievance #747981 on July 18, 2018, when he noticed some of his materials missing and/or destroyed.[2] Plaintiff also filed several supplements and proposals with Defendant Ferguson and Major Clark to resolve this matter. Those requests went unanswered and Defendant Ferguson suspended the grievance process as small settlements were reached with several prisoners in order to prevent lawsuits. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.)

         Plaintiff was placed on the callout to see Major Clark on August 24, 2018, at which time he was offered $200 for his legal materials and $278 for his other property. When Plaintiff explained that he had six active cases, he was told that he had to go through the grievance and court process. Plaintiff demanded a settlement of $6, 447 ($1, 000 per court case plus $447 for his broken/missing property). In addition, he wanted (a) copies of all of his records pertaining to Civil Action No. 18-278, pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; (b) copies of his two commutation applications with all of their attached documents; and (c) the honoring of cell agreements. Defendants ignored Plaintiff's proposals and had officers trash Plaintiff's cell during an alleged investigative cell search on August 28, 2018. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.)

         Plaintiff asserts that retrieving all of his lost pleadings, opinions, rulings, legal transcripts, and other documents will cost thousands of dollars. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         Plaintiff filed this case on September 6, 2018, alleging violations of his First, Fourth, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants Wetzel and Ferguson moved to dismiss on November 16, 2018, and Plaintiff filed a response on December 26, 2018.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. R ...


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