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Hall v. LT. Lidwell

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 20, 2019

LT. LIDWELL, et al., Defendants



         I. Background

         Plaintiff, an inmate confined in the Smithfield State Correctional Institution, (“SCI-Smithfield”), Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff names as Defendants the following SCI-Smithfield employees: Lt. Alan Lidwell and Correctional Officer Michael McConoughey. Id.

         By Order dated July 1, 2015 Plaintiff was permitted to proceed in forma pauperis and process was issued. (Doc. 8).

         On August 19, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim of denial of access to the courts. (Doc. 14). In response to Defendants’ motion, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 16). Thus, the action proceeds via Plaintiff’s amended complaint.

         By Memorandum and Order dated November 21, 2016, Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s amended complaint was denied. (Docs. 25, 26).

         On January 5, 2017, Defendants filed an answer to the complaint. (Doc. 30). By Order dated January 23, 2017, the above captioned action was stayed pursuant to the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, and Defendant McConoughey was not required to respond to any discovery requests or otherwise participate in the above captioned action until 60 days after his return from overseas military duty. (Doc. 31).

         On December 27, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 38). By Order dated April 22, 2019, this Court lifted its January 23, 2017 stay and directed Plaintiff to respond to Defendants’ pending motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 44). On May 5, 2019, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 45). Thus, the motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED.

         II. Allegations in the Amended Complaint

         In October, 2013, Hall was transferred to SCI-Smithfield. (Doc. 16). He alleges that on August 15, 2014, he was sent to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) with all his property from his single cell. Id.

         On August 23, 2014, Plaintiff states that he was “called out of the RHU cell to inventory his property very late and was rushed to go through his property do (sic) the late hour.” Id. After being rushed to go through the property, the items were packed and Plaintiff was given confiscated items receipt #23255. Id. The receipt, which was signed by Defendant McConoughey, reflected “2 boxes legal material and hold pending grievance.” Id. Plaintiff states that he was “told by the Officer he needed permission for an extra box for legal property” and that Plaintiff “wrote for and was approved.” Id.

         Plaintiff states that he “received a letter from the court stating that the deadline to file his Amended P.C.R.A. is due on October 15, 2014.” Id. He claims that Defendant Lidwell “came to [his] cell for proof of Plaintiff’s deadline” and “Plaintiff showed the letter and Lt. Lidwell said another officer will take you to get the legal property.” Id. Allegedly, Defendant McConoughey “came to the cell door with one box of legal property and said he could not give [Plaintiff] all of [his] legal boxes.” Id. Plaintiff informed McConoughey that he “needed to go through the two legal boxes to get what was needed to do his Amended P.C.R.A. Petition.” Id. Defendant McConoughey responded “no, Lt. Lidwell said to give you a few folders from a box and that was his orders.” Id.

         On October 6, 2014, Plaintiff was released from the RHU and had an opportunity to explain the situation to Deputy Whitesel, who informed Plaintiff “that he would look into the matter and get back with him at a later date.” Id.

         Plaintiff claims that “due to C/O McConoughey and Lt. Lidwell misplacing and not being able to find Plaintiff’s legal box, Plaintiff was unable to file his Amended P.C.R.A. petition in a timely manner with the proper issue to be heard by the court.” Id. Specifically, he states that “the documents that were lost in the box by the Defendants were affidavits from witnesses, transcripts and letters from lawyers that were need[ed] to prove Plaintiff’s position” that “he meet[s] the time bar exception standard and how said petition was timely.” Id.

         Plaintiff states that he “did write the Judge again for an extension, but her response was ‘You will not be granted any further extension to file your amended petition.” Id.

         Thus, Plaintiff filed the instant action in which he seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Id.

         III. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).

         When determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v. Consolidated Rail Corporation, 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir. 1992); White v. Westinghouse Electric Company, 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In order to avoid summary judgment, however, parties may not rely on unsubstantiated allegations. Parties seeking to establish that a fact is or is not genuinely disputed must support such an assertion by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, ” by showing that an adverse party’s factual assertion lacks support from cited materials, or demonstrating that a factual assertion is unsupportable by admissible evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (requiring evidentiary support for factual assertions made in response to summary judgment). The party opposing the motion “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Parties must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case that they bear the burden of proving at trial, for “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992). Failure to properly support or contest an assertion of fact may result in the fact being considered undisputed for the purpose of the motion, although a court may also give parties an opportunity to properly provide support or opposition. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         IV. Statement of Undisputed Facts

         On September 27, 2006, following a jury trial in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Plaintiff was convicted of the following offenses under docket number CP-51-CR0108131-2004: murder of the second degree, robbery-inflict serious bodily injury; burglary and criminal conspiracy to engage in murder. (Doc. 42 at 33, Criminal Docket Sheet). On November 21, 2006, the trial court sentenced Hall to a mandatory sentence of LIFE on the charge of murder of the second degree, with the burglary and robbery merging with the murder charge. Id. Plaintiff was sentenced to a 100 to 200 month term of imprisonment on the criminal conspiracy charge, to run consecutive to the murder sentence. Id. Post-sentence motions were filed on November 30, 2006 and denied on April 3, 2007. Id.

         On April 27, 2007, a notice of appeal was filed at 1135 EDA 2007 in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Id. The Superior Court denied Plaintiff’s appeal ...

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