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Bowman v. Wahl

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 6, 2019

MELVIN BOWMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK WAHL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          JOSHUA D. WOLSON JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Melvin Bowman, a prisoner at the State Correctional Institute in Chester (“SCI Chester” or the “Prison”), filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his Complaint, Bowman appears to assert claims based on violations of the Eighth Amendment, as incorporated against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, and under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Bowman also seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis and asks the Court to appoint counsel. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Bowman leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint for failure to state a claim, rendering his motion to appoint counsel moot.

         I. FACTS

         A. Plaintiff's Grievance

         The Court accepts the facts in Bowman's Complaint as true and construes them liberally in recognition of his status as a pro se plaintiff. Bowman alleges that, in September 2018, prison officials questioned him about contraband cellphones and sandwiches at the Prison, operating a Facebook account, and operating a Cash App account. (ECF No. 2 ¶¶ 6-8.) Bowman told the prions officials that he did not have any information to provide. (Id. ¶ 7.) As a result, the prison officials threatened to take away certain jobs that Bowman had at the Prison, transfer him to a less-desirable cell block in the Prison, take away his ability to use the gym, and perhaps transfer him to another prison facility. (Id. ¶ 8.) According to Bowman, the prison officials carried out those threats a few days later, as he was removed from his jobs and from other positions in the Prison and was transferred from the Honor Block to the Mental Health Unit. (Id. ¶¶ 9-11.)

         On October 13, 2018, Bowman filed a grievance claiming a violation of the “Equal Protection Act” and “Due Process Violations.” (Id. ¶ 12 & Ex. A.) On October 26, 2018, Bowman received a response to his grievance that stated that the “security of the facility” outweighed any concerns raised in the grievance. (Id. ¶ 13 & Ex. B.) Bowman appealed the decision on his grievance. In his appeal, Bowman claimed that the prison officials' actions against him were not made for security reasons; they were punitive. (Id. ¶ 14 & Ex. C.) The appeal did not succeed, and the denial stated that the “safety and security of [the] facility takes precedence over everything.” (Id. ¶ 15 & Ex. D.) Bowman contends that Defendant Mark Wahl was conflicted, as Defendant Wahl was the same person who responded to both Bowman's initial grievance and appeal. (Id. ¶ 24.)

         On November 24, 2018, Defendant Lorie Eason told Bowman that he would “never be on the honor block again, ” even though she could not prove that he did anything wrong. (Id. ¶ 16.) On December 3, 2018, Bowman again appealed the denial of his grievance and also argued that Defendant Wahl had a conflict of interest. (Id. ¶ 17 & Ex. E.) On December 31, 2018, the Chief Grievance Officer denied Bowman's second appeal, explaining that Bowman received “detailed responses to [his] grievance” and that “[he was] removed due to security concerns.” (Id. ¶ 19 & Ex. F.)

         On December 12, 2018, while his second appeal was pending, Bowman was barred from a banquet that took place at the Prison because it occurred in the gym where he was not allowed to go. (Id. ¶ 18.) He claims he did not receive a refund for the ticket that he paid for. (Id.) Bowman does not allege, nor does it appear, that he filed a grievance related to this incident. Bowman also asserts that when his son tried to visit the Prison in February 2019, his son refused a staff request to search his vehicle and was therefore not permitted to visit Bowman. (Id. ¶ 20.) Prison officials advised Bowman that his son was removed from Bowman's list of approved visitors. (Id.) Again, Bowman does not allege, nor does it appear, that he filed a grievance related to this incident.

         In March and June 2019, Bowman wrote to Defendant Eason and asked if he could be moved back to the Honor Block, because the allegations against him were unfounded. (Id. ¶ 21 & Ex. G.) Defendant Eason denied both of Bowman's requests. (Id. ¶ 22 & Ex. H.) Bowman contends that the Prison returned three other inmates to their jobs and the Honor Block after concluding separate investigations involving those inmates. (Id. ¶ 23.) Bowman does not allege, nor does it appear, that he filed a grievance related to this alleged difference in treatment.

         On July 16, 2019, Bowman filed his § 1983 Complaint, asserting that Defendant Wahl failed to answer his grievance appropriately and denied Bowman's first appeal while under a conflict of interest. (Id. ¶¶ 24-26.) He also contends that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment and Equal Protection rights in the way they handled his investigation and grievance and removed him from his job and the Honor Block. (Id. ¶¶ 29-33.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A plaintiff seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis must establish that he is unable to pay for the costs of his suit. See Walker v. People Exp. Airlines, Inc., 886 F.2d 598, 601 (3d Cir. 1989). Where, as here, a court grants a plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court must determine whether the Complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). That inquiry requires the court to apply the standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Under that standard, the court must take all well-pleaded allegations as true, interpret them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draw all inferences in his favor. See Kokinda v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corr., No. 17-cv-3165, 2019 WL 2577750, *2 (3d Cir. June 24, 2019) (quotation omitted). Moreover, because Bowman is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his pleadings liberally. See Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011), as amended (Sept. 19, 2011).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Leave To Proceed I ...


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