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Betha v. Sgt. Pierce Co 11

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 5, 2019

DARRELL R. BETHA Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. PIERCE CO 11 Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION ECF NO. 36

          LISA PUPO LENIHAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Sgt. (ECF No. 36). For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.

         I. RELEVANT FACTS

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated and are taken from the parties' submissions at ECF Nos. 36, 37, 41, 42, 43, 44, and 45 and all attachments.

         In response to a motion filed by Defendant, this Court held an Evidentiary hearing on December 17, 2018 on the issue of exhaustion. (Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, ECF No. 32.) Defendant states that “[t]he undisputed facts are set forth in the transcript . . . .” (Defendant's Brief in Support of Summary Judgment, ECF No. 37 at 2.)

         Darrell Betha, the pro se Plaintiff, is currently housed at SCI-Phoenix. (ECF No. 37 at 1.) He was formerly housed at SCI-Fayette but was granted Authorized Temporary Absence (“ATA”) to SCI-Greene for a pre-trial conference in a civil case. (ECF No. 42 at 1.) Concurrently, he was in the process of appealing his own criminal conviction. (Id.)

         On January 25, 2016, the Superior Court issued a deadline of March 7, 2016 for Plaintiff to file his brief in his criminal case. (ECF No. 32 at 23.) Instead, Plaintiff filed a petition for remand on February 17, 2016 in order to file a 1925(b) statement of matters complained of on appeal. (ECF No. 32 at 23-24.) The Superior Court denied the petition for remand on March 8, 2016. (ECF No. 32 at 24-25.) Plaintiff was given a new deadline, April 7, 2016, to file his brief relative to his appeal to the Superior Court. (ECF No. 32 at 25.)

         Plaintiff was transferred from SCI-Fayette to SCI-Greene on March 31, 2016 by Court order dated March 1, 2016 so that he could attend a pretrial conference in a civil case on April 7, 2016. (ECF No. 32 at 17.) Plaintiff alleges that on March 31, 2016, Sgt. Pierce prohibited him from taking with him his core legal documents relating to his criminal case. (Complaint, ECF No. 7 at 2.) He further alleges that he was allowed to take only legal documents relating to the civil case. (ECF No. 7 at 2.) The record reflects that Plaintiff knew he would be unable to take documents relating to his criminal matter at least by March 29, 2016. See Petition for Extension of Time, ECF No. 16-4.

         Plaintiff then filed a petition for an extension of time on April 14, 2016[1] and was granted until June 6, 2016 to file his brief to the Superior Court. (ECF No. 32 at 26.) Plaintiff filed another petition for an extension of time on June 1, 2016[2] and was granted a new deadline to file by July 6, 2016. (ECF No. 32 at 27-28.) The June 1, 2016 Order setting the new deadline of July 6, 2016 indicated “no further extensions absent extraordinary circumstances.” (ECF No. 16-5 at 6.)

         Plaintiff did not file a brief before the July 6, 2016 deadline, nor before August 17, 2016, when the Superior Court subsequently dismissed his appeal. (ECF No. 32 at 29.) In the Complaint relating to this civil action, Plaintiff claims that he was unable to file his brief because Sgt. Pierce prohibited him from bringing his core legal documents with him when he was transferred to SCI-Greene. (ECF No. 7 at 2.) He argues that Sgt. Pierce's actions constituted a denial of access to the courts, causing a lost opportunity to pursue attacks on his conviction.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, the pleadings, documents, electronically stored information, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with any affidavits or declarations, show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a) & (c). Summary judgment may be granted against a party who fails to adduce facts sufficient to establish the existence of any element essential to that party's case, and for which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying evidence which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact; that is, the movant must show that the evidence of record is insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof. Id. Once that burden has been met, the non-moving party must set forth “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial” or the factual record will be taken as presented by the moving party and judgment will be entered as a matter of law. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Corp. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (emphasis added by Matsushita Court). An issue is genuine only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty-Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In Anderson, the United States Supreme Court noted the following:

[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. . . . [T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.

Id. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted). ...


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