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Hines v. Ferguson

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 30, 2019

ROBERT L. HINES, III, Plaintiff,
TAMMY FERGUSON, et al, Defendants.


          PETRESE B. TUCKER, J.

         Plaintiff Robert L. Hines, III, a prisoner currently incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on allegations related to the destruction of inmate property during the transfer of prisoners from SCI Graterford to SCI Phoenix. He names as Defendants: (1) Tammy Ferguson, Superintendent of SCI Graterford and SCI Phoenix; (2) Mandy Sipple, Deputy Superintendent of SCI Graterford and SCI Phoenix; (3) "C.E.R.T. John Does," the employees responsible for the move; and (4) Secretary of Correction John Wetzel. Hines seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Hines leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         I. FACTS [1]

         Hines was previously incarcerated at SCI Graterford. As that prison was closing, inmates and their property were relocated to SCI Phoenix. Hines alleges members of a Corrections Emergency Response Team ("CERT") took custody of prisoners' property in connection with the move. Hines alleges generally that prisoners' property was destroyed, lost, or left in disarray. He also makes allegations that there were personal disputes among permanent staff at SCI Graterford/Phoenix and members of CERT. He claims that certain CERT members engaged in a systematic conspiracy designed to harm and frustrate the prisoners by damaging and destroying their personal property during the move to SCI Phoenix. This included religious items, legal material, family photos and personal care products. Hines claims that the "root cause of their actions [was] inherently racism and religious discrimination" because the John Does are "white males, ex military personnel, and live in the middle district, thus their motive was no other than hatred." (Compl. at 11 .)[2]

         Hines's allegations are at times stated generally, discussing the experiences of "prisoners" in conclusory and collective terms, rather than alleging how he himself was injured by the actions he describes. He also describes the actions of the named supervisory Defendants in general terms. For example, he asserts that Defendants Wetzel, Ferguson and Sipple, each of whom are supervisory officials at SCI Graterford/Phoenix, "are indirectly responsible [for the actions of the John Doe CERT Defendants] as they hired, and was overseer of these Defendants, and thus, they knew, or should have known about the crimes this group of officers were engaging in, since hundreds of prisoners were complaining and hundreds of staff members witnessed and had to address this matter to the Defendants." (Id. at 8.)

         Hines asserts claims under the First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He appears to be seeking relief on behalf of prisoners other than himself, as the Complaint seeks a global settlement for prisoners who lost property in connection with the transfer. (Id. at 17-18.) Hines also attached to his Complaint an affidavit he signed, as well as identical affidavits from several prisoners who are not parties to this case, explaining that he filed grievances to remedy the loss of property but that the grievance process at SCI Phoenix was suspended and frustrated. (Id. at 31-43.)

         Although Hines does not describe the property he lost in the body of the Complaint, grievances that he attached as exhibits reflect that Hines lost the following property in the course of the transfer: (1) two thermal tops; (2) two thermal bottoms; (3) one wash tub; (4) one bathrobe; (5) one skull candy headphones; (6) one JVC headphones; (7) a TV remote; (8) shower shoes; (9) a prayer rug; (10) three towels (11) art supplies; (12) assorted religious materials; (13) eye drops; and (14) a pair of Nike sneakers. (Id. at 48; see also Id. at 56.) It appears that Hines was compensated $221.59 for his missing property. He also claimed to have lost assorted legal material, family photographs, obituaries, and artwork. (Id. at 51.) In one of his grievances, Hines claimed that he lost a "prepared appeal brief in the transfer that he was required to file to meet a deadline in state court "or be time barred" in his criminal case, see Commonwealth v. Hines, CP-51-CR-0606671-1997. (Id. at 61-63.) A prison employee responded to the grievance by indicting that Hines could forward his information "to DOC legal for a requested extension" along with the docket number for his case. (Id. at 61.)


         The Court grants Hines leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[3] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if it fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains "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). Conclusory allegations do not suffice. Id. As Hines is proceeding prose, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         "To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). For the following reasons, Hines has failed to state a claim.

         A. Lack of Standing

         Many of Hines's allegations pertain to general conduct that occurred during the transition, but which did not affect him. "[A] plaintiff must assert his or her own legal interests rather than those of a third party" to have standing to bring a claim. See Twp. of Lyndhurst, N.J. v., Inc., 657 F.3d 148, 154 (3d Cir. 2011) (quotations omitted)). Specifically, "[t]o have standing to bring a claim in federal court, a plaintiff must show, inter alia, that he has 'suffered an injury in fact-an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized; and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.'" Mar in v. Leslie, 337 Fed.Appx. 217, 219 (3d Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)). To the extent Hines is raising claims based on conduct that did not directly affect his property or cause him harm, and to the extent Hines is raising claims on behalf of other inmates, he lacks standing to pursue those claims.

         B. Shutting Down the ...

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