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Love v. Whitman

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.

September 23, 2019

ROBERT A. LOVE, Plaintiff,




         Plaintiff Robert A. Love initiated this civil rights action alleging that his civil rights were violated when he was held in prolonged solitary confinement as an out-of-state parole or probation violator in Pennsylvania State Correction Institution at Mercer’s (“SCI Mercer”) Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) for between six to eight months. Presently for disposition is the following:

(1) A motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 filed by Defendants Secretary of Corrections John A. Wetzel (“Secretary Wetzel”), former Superintendent Brian Thompson (“Superintendent Thompson”), [2] Deputy Superintendent Debra K. Sauers (“Deputy Superintendent Sauers”), Deputy Superintendent Michael J. Mahlmeister (“Deputy Superintendent Mahlmeister”), Lieutenant Steven McFadden (“Lt. McFadden”), Corrections Counselor Edward Whitman (“Counselor Whitman”), and Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole Institutional Parole Agent Eric Prenatt (“Parole Agent Prenatt”) (collectively the “Corrections Defendants”) (ECF No. 80).

         The court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons that follow, the Corrections Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part without prejudice consistent with the following order.


         Plaintiff was formerly a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) confined at SCI Mercer. He brings the present action challenging the constitutionality of being placed in solitary confinement as an out-of-state parole or probation violator and generally brings 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cruel and unusual punishment and due process claims pursuant to the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

         Plaintiff’s Initial Criminal Charges, Secondary Arrest and Parole/Probation Violation

         On July 31, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested in Jefferson County, New York for criminal trespass, grand larceny and possession of heroin. As a result of the arrest, Plaintiff was sentenced to six months of incarceration in New York and five years of probation. After serving four months of incarceration in New York, Plaintiff was released on parole on February 21, 2013.[3] Thereafter, Plaintiff transferred his parole from New York to Pennsylvania under supervision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (“PBPP”).

         In December 2013, Plaintiff was charged with several different criminal charges in Pennsylvania. Upon learning of these new charges, PBPP issued a warrant to commit and detain Plaintiff for violating his parole/probation at the direction of the New York state authorities.

         After being arrested pursuant to the PBPP’s detainer warrant, Plaintiff was transported to SCI Mercer at approximately 1200 hours on December 30, 2013. While Plaintiff maintains that he was a probation violator, Corrections Defendants maintain that Plaintiff was considered a parole violator. Regardless, it is apparent from the record that DOC treated Plaintiff as a parole violator during his confinement at SCI Mercer.[4]

         DOC Officials

         Secretary Wetzel is the head of the DOC and has the authority to create policy.

         Superintendent Thompson was the top official at SCI Mercer during the time that Plaintiff was incarcerated in the RHU. Plaintiff claims that Superintendent Thompson implemented and enforced the policies of the DOC at SCI Mercer.

         Deputy Superintendents Sauers and Mahlmeister were Deputy Superintendents at SCI Mercer during the time that Plaintiff was incarcerated there and were members of the Program Review Committee (“PRC”) in charge of reviewing inmate confinement in the RHU including that of Plaintiff.

         Lt. McFadden was the supervisor of the RHU when Plaintiff was incarcerated at SCI Mercer and Plaintiff claims that he implemented and/or enforced RHU policies.

         Counselor Whitman was a corrections counselor at SCI Mercer during the time that Plaintiff was incarcerated there. Counselor Whitman was assigned as the intake counselor on the intake housing unit. In that role, he assisted inmates including “out of state parole returns” such as Plaintiff. Whitman also served as part of Plaintiff’s unit team and participated in Plaintiff’s thirty-day reviews for “Administrative Custody” status.

         Parole Agent Prenatt was employed by PBPP as an institutional parole agent assigned to SCI Mercer. In this role, Parole Agent Prenatt assisted field agents supervise parolees who were recommitted to a state correctional facility. This included presenting and reviewing paperwork with incarcerated parolees.

         Administrative Custody Procedures – DC-ADM 802

         Administrative Custody (“AC”) “is a status of confinement” for inmates that DOC uses “for non-disciplinary reasons that provides closer supervision, control, and protection than is provided in general population.” DC-ADM 802 §3.A.1 (ECF No. 83-1 at 14). An inmate confined in AC status “shall not have the privileges available in general population security level housing.” Id. For example, an inmate confined to AC status is not permitted radio, television or telephone calls except emergency or legal telephone calls, is permitted only limited personal property, may not have any contact visits, are confined to their cells for 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the exception of being permitted to exercise one hour per day, five days per week, and are given the opportunity to shower three times per week. DC-ADM 802 § 3.A.2-8. Inmates with AC status are housed in the RHU which is more commonly known as solitary confinement. DC-ADM 802 § 3.A.2. The RHU houses inmates confined to AC status and inmates being housed in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons.

         DOC has established and implemented a policy and procedures manual with respect to AC procedures, referred to as the DC-ADM. DC-ADM 802 effective November 19, 2013 (ECF No. 83-1, p.1-19). An inmate can be confined to AC status for myriad reasons. For example, inmates can be confined to AC status if their presence in general population constitutes a “threat to life, property, himself/herself, staff, other inmates, the public, or the secure or orderly running of the facility[, ]” or if there are “no records and/or essential information” available to “determine the inmate’s custody level or housing needs.” DC-ADM 802 § 1.A.1.a-k. Pertinent here, where an inmate is “being held temporarily for another authority and is not classified for the general population of the holding facility” the inmate may be confined to AC status. DC-ADM 802 § 1.A.1.h. However, if the inmate is a “Parole Violator, ” or a temporary transfer from another facility, the inmate is “eligible for release to general population[.]” Id.

         DC-ADM 802 also establishes requirements for administrative review of an inmate’s AC status. An inmate should receive an initial hearing by the PRC which explains the reasons for the inmate’s placement in AC status. DC-ADM 802 § 2.A.2, 5. There is also an appeal process for the inmate to challenge the PRC’s decision. Id. at § 2.C. An inmate’s AC status must be reviewed by the PRC “every seven days for the first two months.” Id. at § 2.D.1. Likewise, “[e]ach inmate in AC status shall be seen weekly by his/her counselor.” Id. at § 2.D.2. The inmate’s unit management team must review the inmate’s AC status “after 30 days and every 30 days thereafter.” Id. at § 2.D.3. These periodic reviews are also subject to the appeal process established in DC-ADM 802 § 2.C. In addition to periodic reviews by prison officials, when an inmate’s confinement to AC exceeds thirty days, “[a] qualified psychologist or psychiatrist shall personally interview and conduct an assessment” of the inmate. Id. at § 2.D.7. If the inmate’s AC status is prolonged, “a mental health assessment [shall] be completed at least every 90 calendar days.” Id.

         Plaintiff’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ...

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