United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
D. MARIANI JUDGE.
Hill, a Pennsylvania state prisoner, filed this civil rights
complaint in 2011 alleging that numerous individuals violated
his constitutional rights. (Docs. 1, 6). Currently pending
before the Court is Hill's motion for sanctions against
Donald Lowe, Jason Kyler, and Superintendent Kauffman for
violating a court order entered after this matter was closed.
(Doc. 132). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will
defer ruling on the motion for sanctions pending an
Hill filed this civil rights complaint, the matter proceeded
in due course and, in January 2017, was referred to Mediator
Joseph A. Barrett for mediation. (Doc. 111). Shortly
thereafter, the parties reached a settlement agreement
("Agreement") and the case was closed. (Docs. 116,
the parties disagreed on the implementation of the Agreement
and, in August 2017, Hill filed a motion to enforce the
Agreement. (Doc. 120). The matter was therefore referred back
to Mediator Barrett to determine whether the parties could
reach an amicable resolution to the dispute. (Doc. 125). To
protect the confidentiality of the negotiations,
Court entered an order on December 2, 2018, directing prison
officials "to refrain from photocopying or otherwise
recording direct communications between Plaintiff and the
court appointed mediator" ("Order"). (Doc.
this Order, a December 12, 2018, letter from Mediator Barrett
to Hill was opened and photocopied by two prison
guards-identified by Defendants as Lowe and Kyler. (Docs.
132, 133, 137). As a consequence of this violation of the
Order, Hill requested that the Court impose monetary
sanctions against Lowe, Kyler, and Kauffman. (Doc. 132).
Defendants opposed the motion on the ground that there was no
evidence of bad faith on the part of Lowe and Kyler. (Doc.
133). Finding the response deficient, the Court directed
Defendants to file a more responsive brief that included
sworn affidavits to support any factual assertions. (Doc.
have now filed such a brief in which they again assert that
sanctions should be denied because, although Defendants
violated the Order, they did not act in bad faith. (Doc.
137). Specifically, Defendants state that Lowe and Kyler had
no knowledge of the Order when they opened the December 12,
2018, letter from the Mediator. (Id. at 5-6; see
Id. at Exs. 2, 3). Moreover, Defendants contend that
"no one at [Hill's place of incarceration] knew of,
or had seen the Order on December 15, 2018," and the
Superintendent's office has no record of ever having
received the Order. (Id. at 6; see Id. at
Ex. 1). Rather, according to Defendants, Lowe and Kyler
opened the letter in reliance on the then-extant Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections' policy that mandated prison
officials open, inspect, and photocopy all incoming prisoner
mail. (Doc. 137 at 3, 5; id. at Ex. 4).
has filed a reply brief in which he asserts that-contrary to
Defendants' assertion that Lowe and Kyler had no
knowledge of the Order-he personally informed both officers
that the Order prohibited them from opening Mr. Barrett's
letter. (Doc. 139 at 2). Hill further claims that, on March
5, 2019, correctional officers again opened and photocopied a
letter from Mr. Barrett to Hill. (Id. at 3). This
allegation is concerning because, on February 1, 2019, after
Hill filed his motion for sanctions, defense counsel informed
the Court that she would "impress upon [prison] staff
the significance of the Court's Order and the importance
of it being obeyed at all times going forward." (Doc.
133 at 5). If Hill's assertion is accurate, despite
counsel's promised admonition, correctional officers
again violated the Order.
clear from the briefs submitted by the parties that both
Hill's claim and the defense to that claim are entirely
fact-based. The factual disputes regarding the correctional
officers' knowledge of the Order, and whether they have
again violated the Order, necessitate a credibility
determination and thus cannot be resolved on the current
record. Cf. Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 82
n.25 (1977) (noting in habeas context that "[w]hen the
issue is one of credibility, resolution on the basis of
affidavits can rarely be conclusive ..."). The Court
therefore concludes that an evidentiary hearing is required
to resolve this matter.
foregoing reasons, the Court will reserve ruling on
Hill's pending motion for sanctions (Doc. 132) pending an
evidentiary hearing which will be scheduled to resolve all
outstanding factual disputes. An appropriate order will