United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
D. MARIANI, United States District Judge.
Hill, a Pennsylvania state prisoner, filed this civil rights
complaint in 2011 alleging that numerous individuals violated
his constitutional rights. (Docs. 1, 6). After Hill filed
this 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, 117).
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 Barrett to determine whether the parties could reach an
amicable resolution to the dispute. (Doc. 125). To protect the
confidentiality of the negotiations, the Court entered an
order on December 2, 2018, directing prison officials at
State Correctional Institution Huntingdon ("SCI
Huntingdon") "to refrain from photocopying or
otherwise recording direct communications between Plaintiff
and the court appointed mediator"
("Order"). (Doc. 130).
this Order, on December 15, 2018, a letter from Barrett to
Hill was opened and photocopied by two prison
guards-identified by Defendants as Donald Lowe and Jason
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 SCI
Huntingdon Superintendent Kevin Kauffman (collectively
"Motion Defendants") for civil contempt. (Doc. 132).
Motion Defendants acknowledged that mail from Barrett was
photocopied, but 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 Motion Defendants to file a more responsive brief
that included sworn affidavits to support any factual
assertions. (Doc. 136).
Defendants duly complied and again asserted that sanctions
should be denied because, although Lowe and Kyler violated
the Order, they did not act in bad faith. (Doc. 137).
Specifically, Lowe and Kyler asserted that they had no
knowledge of the Order on December 15, 2018, when they opened
the letter from Barrett. (Id. at 5-6; see Id
. at Exs. 2, 3). Moreover, Motion Defendants contended
that "no one at SCI-Huntingdon knew of, or had seen the
Order on December 15, 2018, " and the
Superintendent's office had no record of having received
the Order. (Id. at 6; see Id . at Ex. 1).
Rather, according to Motion Defendants, Lowe and Kyler opened
the letter in reliance on the then-extant Pennsylvania Depart
of Corrections ("PA DOC") policy that mandated
prison officials open, inspect, and photocopy all incoming
prisoner mail. (Doc. 137 at 3, 5; id. at Ex. 4).
filed a reply brief in which he asserted that-contrary to any
assertion that Lowe and Kyler had no knowledge of the
Order-he personally informed both officers that the Order
prohibited them from opening Barrett's letter. (Doc. 139
at 2). Hill further claimed that, on March 5, 2019,
correctional officers again opened and photocopied a letter
from Barrett to Hill. (Id. at 3). The resolution of
Hill's motion thus appeared to rely on unresolved factual
issues-including questions of credibility-that necessitated
an evidentiary hearing, which was held on September 19, 2019.
hearing, this Court heard from SCI Huntingdon Administrative
Officer Andrea Wakefield, SCI Huntingdon Security Captain
Kevin Stevens, Lowe, Kauffman, and Hill. Wakefield testified
that all mail addressed to the Superintendent of SCI
Huntingdon is reviewed by the Superintendent's Assistant
and that, between December 1, 2018, and January 31, 2019, she
acted as the Superintendent's Assistant. (Evidentiary
Hearing Tr. at 6-7). Wakefield further stated that
institutional records do not show that SCI Huntingdon
received the Order. (Id. at 7-9).
testified that he oversees the department that searches
incoming mail and that, in December 2018, Pennsylvania state
prison regulations provided that incoming privileged mail
must be opened and photocopied in front of the inmate to whom
it was addressed. (Id. at 10-11). Stevens was
notified of the Order for the first time on February 19,
2019, and immediately directed Lieutenant Caleb Younker to
inform "all mailroom personnel, as well as all search
team members" not to photocopy any mail from Barrett to
Hill. (Id. at 11-12). Younker then sent an email to
most relevant staff members informing them of the directive;
for an unknown reason, Lowe was not copied on that email.
(See id. at 12; Evidentiary Hearing Def. Ex. 2).
Lowe testified that he was not informed of the Order until
May 2019 and, thus, photocopied Hill's mail in March
2019. (Evidentiary Hearing Tr. at 22-23). Upon consideration
of the parties' briefs, affidavits, and testimony, and
for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant
Hill's motion for sanctions.
motion for civil contempt, Hill requests monetary sanctions
for the admitted breach of the Order. (Doc. 132). As
discussed previously, Motion Defendants assert that sanctions
are not warranted because staff at SCI Huntingdon were not
aware of the Order when they photocopied Hill's mail.
(Doc. 137). Based upon the submissions to the Court and
testimony at the evidentiary hearing, there appear to be
three relevant events that bear upon the motion for contempt:
(1) the December 15, 2018, photocopying of a letter from
Barrett to Hill ("December 15 Incident"); (2) the
March 5, 2019, photocopying of a letter from Barrett to Hill
("March 5 Incident"); and (3) the photocopying of
mail from Barrett to Hill on March 19, 2019 ("March 19
of contempt requires a movant to demonstrate (1) that a valid
order of the court existed; (2) that the defendants had
knowledge of the order; and (3) that the defendants disobeyed
the order." F.T.C. v. Lane Labs-USA, Inc., 624
F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks
omitted). "These elements must be proven by 'clear
and convincing' evidence, and ambiguities must be
resolved in favor of the party charged with contempt."
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
"Although courts should hesitate to adjudge a defendant
in contempt when there is ground to doubt the wrongfulness of
the conduct, an alleged contemnor's behavior need not be
willful in order to contravene the applicable decree."
Id. (internal citations and quotation marks
omitted). "In other words, good faith is not a defense
to civil contempt." Id. (internal quotation
marks omitted). Upon finding an individual in civil
contempt, courts may impose a broad variety of sanctions
depending upon the circumstances of the case and may sanction
a nonparty if he or she "abet[s] the defendants or [is]
legally identified with him." Quinterv. Volkswagen
of Am., 676 F.2d 969, 973 (3d Cir. 1982) (ellipsis
undisputed that there is a valid court order that prohibited
"prison officials... [from] photocopying or otherwise
recording direct communications between Plaintiff and the
court appointed mediator." (Doc. 130 at 2). Moreover,
Motion Defendants concede that-in two instances-prison
officials photocopied mail from Barrett to Hill, thereby
establishing that the Order was disobeyed. (Doc. 137-2; Doc.
137-3; Evidentiary Hearing Tr. at 13-15, 22-24). Therefore,
the only dispute is whether prison officials had knowledge of
the Order at the time they violated it.