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Adams v. Correctional Emergency Response Team

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 28, 2019

GARLAND ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONS EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM (CERT), et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GOLDBERG, J.

         Plaintiff Garland Adams, a prisoner currently incarcerated at SCI-Phoenix, brings this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985, against the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), Superintendent Tammy Ferguson (misspelled Tammy Furguson), and John/Jane Doe members of CERT.[1] Adams alleges that his constitutional rights were violated by the loss and destruction of his property during the movement of prisoners from SCI Graterford to SCI Phoenix. He seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Adams leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint for failure to state a claim without prejudice to amendment.

         I. FACTS

         Adams's claims stem from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' movement of prisoners from SCI-Graterford to SCI-Phoenix in July of 2018. According to the Complaint, CERT is a team of prison staff that, under Ferguson's supervision, moved the legal and personal property of inmates from SCI Graterford to SCI Phoenix. Adams alleges that CERT members removed their name tags during the course of the move so that prisoners would not be able to identify them.

         On July 15, 2018, Adams relinquished his property to CERT members for transport to SCI Phoenix. When he received his property after the move, he observed that the following items were missing: “3 pair of Nike Overplay sneakers, 1 religious necklace, 6 white T-shirts, 6 pair [of] heavy duty thermal socks, 3 pair of Long Johns, 2 pair of thermal pants and shirts, 2 sweat suits, and legal mail and trial notes.” (Compl. at 5.)[2] Adams estimates the value of these items to be $8, 000. Adams, who is black, also observed that unknown CERT members defaced his property by writing racial epithets and drawing swastikas on pictures of his nephews, who are also black.

         Adams alleges that CERT members conspired to “mistreat[] and abus[e] the personal, legal and religious property, in a similar fashion of over one hundred of the inmates whom they moved from SCI-Graterford to SCI-Phoenix.” (Id.) He also alleges that these events happened under Ferguson's supervision. Adams alleges that he attempted to file a grievance about the matter but that the Defendants refused to respond, rendering the grievance process unavailable.

         Based on those allegations, Adams asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He also asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985 based on the manner in which his property was defaced. Adams contends that members of CERT conspired to deprive him of equal protection of the laws and Ferguson “joined in and encouraged, if not spearheaded the conspiracy” by “shirking her responsibility” to protect prisoners' property and allowing CERT members to conceal their name tags. (Id. at 7.) Adams seeks millions of dollars in damages.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court grants Adams 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 Adams is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Claims under § 1983

         “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, Adams's Complaint fails to state a claim.

         1. Official Capacity Claims

         The Complaint reflects that Adams is suing the Defendants in their official and individual capacities. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a state and its agencies in federal court that seek monetary damages. See Pennhurst State Sch. And Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-100 (1984); A.W. v. Jersey City Public Schs., 341 F.3d 234, 238 (3d Cir. 2003). Suits against state officials acting in their official capacities are really suits against the employing government agency, and as such, are also barred by the Eleventh Amendment. A.W., 341 F.3d at 238; see also Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991); Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 ...


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