United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
ROBERT L. HINES, III, Plaintiff,
TAMMY FERGUSON, et al, Defendants.
PETRESE B. TUCKER, J.
before the Court is an Amended Complaint filed by Plaintiff
Robert L. Hines, III, a prisoner currently incarcerated at
SCI Phoenix, which raises claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 stemming from the destruction of inmate property during
the transfer of prisoners from SCI Graterford to SCI Phoenix.
Hines also asserts claims related to his mail. For the
following reasons, the Court will dismiss Hines's claims
based on the destruction of his property and sever the claims
based on Hines's mail.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
initial Complaint named 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 moving the inmates and their property; and
(4) Secretary of Correction John Wetzel. Hines generally
alleged that members of a Corrections Emergency Response Team
("CERT") who were responsible for transporting
inmates' property from SCI Graterford to SCI Phoenix
deliberately destroyed some of that property during the move.
Hines alleged that CERT members destroyed certain of his
religious materials, art supplies, legal materials, family
photographs, and other personal property. He asserted claims
under the First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendments, and appeared to seek relief based on the
destruction of his own property as well as on behalf of
prisoners other than himself who suffered similar property
granting Hines leave to proceed in forma pauperis,
the Court screened the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). Relevant here, the Court concluded that Hines
failed to state a claim for denial of access to the courts
because he failed to plausibly allege that he was prevented
from pursing a non-frivolous challenge to his conviction
based on the loss or destruction of his legal property. The
Court also observed that Hines had not stated a First
Amendment claim based on the destruction of religious items
because he failed to allege that he was prevented from
practicing his religion. Hines could not state a due process
claim based on the loss and/or destruction of his property
due to the availability of post-deprivation remedies, and he
failed to state an equal protection claim because he did not
plausibly allege that he was treated differently from others
similarly situated. Hines was given leave to file an amended
filed an Amended Complaint which again names Ferguson,
Sipple, Wetzel, and CERT John Does as Defendants, and adds
Smart Communications as a Defendant. He brings First, Sixth
and Fourteenth Amendment claims predominately based on the
destruction of his legal, religious, artistic, and other
personal property in connection with the transfer of
prisoners to SCI Phoenix. He has also added claims that concern
his mail, which were not included in the initial Complaint
and that do not relate to the destruction of property that
occurred during the transfer. Hines seeks compensatory and
punitive damages, and declaratory relief as to his mail-based
who was convicted of murder in 1998 but claims his innocence,
alleges that the loss of legal property prevented him from
pursuing an extra-judicial challenge to his conviction
through the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office's
Conviction Integrity Unit ("CIU"). See
Commonwealth v. Hines, CP-51-CR-0606671-1997 (Phila. Ct.
of Common Pleas); see also Com. v. Hines, No. 2353
EDA 2015, 2016 WL 2798224, at *1 (Pa. Super. Ct. May 11,
2016) ("On June 11, 1998, following a bench trial, the
trial court convicted [Hines] of murder of the first degree,
and related offenses."). He alleges that the destroyed
legal materials included affidavits, "prepared legal
briefs, documents, exhibits, transcripts, letters from
attorneys, District Attorneys, Judges like (Honorable David
Savitt), who is now deceased, that shed light on [his]
innocence, or a cover up of the truth of [his]
innocence." (Am. Compl. ECF No. 7 at
August 2, 2019, Hines received a letter from the CIU which
indicated that the CIU received Hines's submission,
reported that the CIU began a "preliminary investigation
into [his] claims," and asked Hines to complete
"revised and updated Submission and Consent forms"
to assist with the "process." (Id. at 15
& 27.) Hines asserts that the materials he sought to
submit to the CIU to support his allegations of "actual
innocence, corrupt offices, [and] Brady proof were destroyed.
(Id. at 15.) Hines also indicates that he was
prevented from pursuing a challenge in state court.
to his religious property, Hines alleges that among the
destroyed property were four kufis, one prayer rug, and four
religious texts. Hines asserts that "these type and
colored items (Kufis, Books, and Prayer Rug), are no longer
allowed for purchase." (Id. at 20.) Hines also
alleges that, as a condition of his Islamic faith, he must
have a clean prayer rug, the ability to cover his head, and
the ability to pray and read religious texts.
also asserts claims based on the destruction of his art work
and family photographs. According to Hines, the loss of his
art work-which he describes as "a hand crafted
assortment of origami work"-and art supplies violates
his First Amendment right to express himself. (Id.
at 23.) He also asserts a First Amendment claim based on the
loss of his family photographs.
further alleges that members of CERT conspired against him
because he is African American, Muslim, and a "Jail
House Litigator." (Id. at 24.) That allegation
is based on Hines's assertion that most of the CERT
members were "majority white males of the Middle or
Western district, [whose] conduct shows traits of religious,
racial, and [ethnic] misconduct." (Id.) Hines
contends that CERT members' behavior "fits the
pattern of retaliation" and notes that he was using the
grievance system and litigating matters in court at the time
of the move. (Id.)
Amended Complaint adds claims not asserted in his original
Complaint that the Court understands to be challenging the
Department of Corrections's recently adopted mail policy.
"Pursuant to that policy, non-privileged incoming mail
addressed to inmates must be sent to Smart
Communications' facility in Florida where the mail is
scanned, emailed to the facility where the inmate is located,
printed by DOC staff, and delivered to the
inmate." Robinson v. Pa. Dep't of
Corr., Civ. A. No. 19-1689, 2019 WL 2106204, at *1 (E.D.
Pa. May 13, 2019). Hines alleges that his "protected
mail" is being "read, copied, censored,
infringed, [and] invaded," and that prison officials
contracted with Smart Communications to violate his
"protected rights to communicate, without intrusion of
privacy to his attorney, the district
attorney. Judges and the courts."
(Am. Compl. ECF No. 7 at 17 (underscore in original).) In
that regard, Hines alleges that letters from the District
Attorneys Office and letters from other law firms who
contacted him were not opened in his presence, and he did not
receive the original copy. He also contends that his mail is
being copied and stored in a database for seven years in
accordance with the policy.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Hines is proceeding in forma pauper is, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to
dismiss the Amended Complaint if it fails to state a claim.
Whether the Amended 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), seeTourscher 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 ...