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Miller v. Ferguson

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 30, 2019

TAMMY FERGUSON, et al, Defendants.


          JOEL H. SLOMSKY J.

         Plaintiff Kenneth Malik Miller, 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. Miller seeks to proceed in forma pauperis and has also filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction.[1] For the following reasons, the Court will grant Miller leave to proceed in forma pauperis, dismiss his Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim, and deny the Motion for Preliminary Injunction without prejudice to Miller asserting the claim as a new cause of action.

         I. FACTS[2]

         Miller was previously incarcerated at SCI Graterford. As that prison was closing, inmates and their property were relocated to SCI Phoenix. Miller alleges members of a Corrections Emergency Response Team ("CERT") took custody of prisoners' property in connection with the move. Miller alleges generally that prisoners' properly 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. Miller 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 21.)[3]

         Miller'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 24.)

         Miller asserts claims under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment based upon the destruction of property. (Id. at 33.) He also raises an Eighth Amendment claim based on "cruel and unusual treatment" and deliberate indifference, a racial hatred and religious discrimination claim, and a claim described as "In house post deprivation remedies to make amends."[4] (Id. at 34.) Miller attached to his Complaint an affidavit he signed, as well as 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 47-59.) Grievances that Miller attached as exhibits to his Complaint reflect that he lost the following property in the course of the transfer: (1) legal materials; (2) family photos; (3) the manuscript for a self-published book; (4) religious articles; (5) sneakers; and (6) handcrafted art work. (Id. at 63-64.) It appears that a settlement of Miller's property loss claims resulted in his receiving $190 credited to his prison trust account, even though he valued the loss at $5, 258.92. (Id. at 39-40.)


         The Court grants Miller leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[5] 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 Miller 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, Miller has failed to state a claim.

         A. Lack of Standing

         Many of Miller'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.'" Marin 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 Miller is raising claims based on conduct that did not directly affect his property or cause him harm, and to the extent Miller is raising claims on behalf of other inmates, he lacks standing to pursue those claims.

         B. Shutting Down the Grievance System

         Miller's allegations about the failures of the prison grievance system also do not state a claim. "Prison inmates do not have a constitutionally protected right to a grievance process." Jackson v. Gordon,145 Fed.Appx. 774, 777 (3d Cir. 2005) (per curiam); see also Caldwell v. Beard,324 Fed.Appx. 186, 189 (3d Cir. 2009) (per curiam). Accordingly, although the ineffectiveness of the grievance system would affect the analysis regarding whether Miller properly exhausted his claims as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, it does not provide an ...

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