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Railey v. Ebbert

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 26, 2019

WARDEN DAVID J. EBBERT, et al., Defendants


          Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case was initiated by the filing of a complaint pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), in Civil Action No. 18-716 by pro se Plaintiffs Camden Barlow, Christopher Alvarez, Justin Haynes, Darryl Taylor, Tabarus Holland, Terrell Wilson, Tony C. Knott, Agustin Argueta, Douglas Piggee, and Nathan A. Railey (“Railey”), all of whom were incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (“USP Lewisburg”) at that time. (Doc. No. 1.) In that complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants had violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, their First Amendment rights to access the courts, and their First Amendment rights regarding mail. Subsequently, Doreteo Garcia, Juan Carlos Valles, and David Jackson were added as Plaintiffs. (Doc. No. 28). On July 24, 2018, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection claim and their access to the courts claim and directed service of their First Amendment enhanced mail restriction claim. (Doc. Nos. 38, 39). On October 10, 2018, the Court granted Railey’s motion to sever and directed that each individual Plaintiff file an amended complaint under a separate civil action number by November 9, 2018. (Doc. Nos. 89, 90).

         Railey filed an amended complaint on December 12, 2018 (Doc. No. 106), which the Court dismissed for failure to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on January 3, 2019 (Doc. No. 110). The Court granted Railey leave to file a second amended complaint within twenty (20) days. (Id.) After receiving extension of time (Doc. Nos. 117-120), Railey filed his second amended complaint and memorandum in support thereof (Doc. Nos. 121-22) on April 18, 2019. In his second amended complaint, Railey names as Defendants Warden David J. Ebbert (“Ebbert”), SIS Officer Buebendorf (“Buebendorf”), Officer Gass (“Gass”), Counselor Tharp (“Tharp”), and an Unnamed Mailroom Officer. He alleges that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights by interfering with and destroying his mail and by retaliating against him by seizing his legal property, refusing to provide legal copies, and interfering with the administrative remedy process. (Doc. No. 121.) He also contends that Defendants violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights by failing to properly implement and apply the enhanced mail monitoring procedures and his equal protection rights[1] by discriminating against him on the basis of his classification as a sovereign citizen. (Id.) As relief, Railey seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.[2](Id.)

         By Order entered on April 22, 2019, the Court directed Railey to provide a name and address for Defendant Unnamed Mailroom Officer within thirty (30) days and directed service of the second amended complaint upon Defendant Gass. (Doc. No. 123.) Railey subsequently filed a motion for a thirty (30)-day extension to provide identifying information for Defendant Unnamed Mailroom Officer (Doc. No. 128), which the Court granted in an Order entered on May 2, 2019 (Doc. No. 129). Despite the extension of time, Railey has not provided identifying information for this Defendant.

         Defendants Ebbert, Buebendorf, Tharp, and Gass filed a motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment on July 1, 2019 (Doc. No. 132) and filed their supporting materials on July 15, 2019 (Doc. Nos. 135-36). After receiving an extension of time (Doc. Nos. 137-38), Railey filed his response to Defendants’ statement of material facts and oppositional brief (Doc. Nos. 143-44) on September 4, 2019. In an Order dated September 17, 2019, the Court noted that Defendants’ motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment asserts, inter alia, that Railey failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this action. Pursuant to Paladino v. Newsome, 885 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2018), the Court informed the parties that it would consider the exhaustion issue in the context of summary judgment, and by doing so, would consider matters outside the pleadings in its role as factfinder. (Id.) Accordingly, the Court directed Defendants to, within fourteen (14) days, file an amended or supplemental brief and statement of material facts “to further address the issue of whether Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and present any additional materials pertinent to the issue to the extent they have not already done so.” (Id.) The Court directed Railey to file a brief in opposition within twenty-one (21) days from the date that Defendants filed their amended or supplemental materials. (Id.) The Court directed Railey to “specifically address the issue of administrative exhaustion and submit materials and documents pertinent to the issue.” (Id.) The Court also directed him to “file a statement of material facts specifically responding to the numbered paragraphs in Defendants’ statements.” (Id.)

         Defendants filed their reply brief on September 18, 2019 (Doc. No. 146), as well as a letter noting that they “will not avail themselves of the opportunity to file a supplemental memorandum and statement of material facts but will instead rely on the papers previously filed” (Doc. No. 147 at 2). Given Defendants’ letter, there will be no supplemental materials to which Railey can respond. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment is ripe for resolution.


         A. Motion to Dismiss, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court’s inquiry is guided by the standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a “more heightened form of pleading.” See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Id. The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Accordingly, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint “not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant’s claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.’” Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d Ed. 2004)).

         In the context of pro se prisoner litigation specifically, the court must be mindful that a document filed pro se is “to be liberally construed.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A pro se complaint, “however inartfully pleaded, ” must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” and can only be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the court to render 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). “[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). The Third Circuit has held that filing a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment is sufficient “to place the parties on notice that summary judgment might be entered.” Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 578-79 (3d Cir. 1996).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is “genuine” if there is sufficient evidence with which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Skerski v. Time Warner Cable Co., 257 F.3d 273, 278 (3d Cir. 2001); White v. Westinghouse Elec, Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).

         A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis of its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The non-moving party then has the burden to “come forth with ‘affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings, ’ in support of its right to relief.” U.S. Bank, Nat’l Ass’n v. Greenfield, No. 1:12-cv-2125, 2014 WL 3908127, *2 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2014) (quoting Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004)). “If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party’s assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), ” a court may grant summary judgment or consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2-3).


         Railey was previously confined in the Special Management Unit (“SMU”) at USP Lewisburg from December 26, 2017 ...

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