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Reid-Douglas v. Deparlos

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 17, 2019

STEVEN REID-DOUGLAS, DANIELLE REID-DOUGLAS, Plaintiffs,
v.
WARDEN KEVIN DEPARLOS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          HON. JOHN E. JONES III JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Steven Reid-Douglas (“Mr. Reid-Douglas”) and Danielle Reid-Douglas (“Mrs. Reid-Douglas” or “Scott”)[1] (collectively referred to as “Plaintiffs”), formerly pretrial detainees housed at the Lycoming County Prison (“LCP”), Williamsport, Pennsylvania, initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on October 30, 2017.[2] (Doc. 1). The matter is presently proceeding via an Amended Complaint (Doc. 39) filed on January 10, 2018.

         Pending before the Court is a motion (Doc. 85) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, filed by Defendants Kevin DeParlos (“DeParlos”), Brad Shoemaker (“Shoemaker”), Chris Ebner (“Ebner”), Michael White (“White”), R. Jack McKernan (“McKernan”), Tony R. Mussare (“Mussare”), and Richard Mirabito (“Mirabito”), seeking an entry of summary judgment on Plaintiffs' remaining claims, Count I “Violation of First Amendment Right to Intimate Association” (Doc. 39, pp. 3-7), and Count II “Retaliation for Exercising First Amendment Right” (Id. at 10, 11).

         Initially, in response to Defendants' statement of material facts asserting that that Plaintiffs have failed to adduce any evidence that Defendant Ebner violated their First Amendment rights, Plaintiffs state “[t]his averment is undisputed; thus, this defendant is voluntarily being dismissed.” (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 69, 77; Doc. 108, p. 9, ¶¶ 68, 76). The complaint against Defendant Ebner will be dismissed, with prejudice, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2).

         Remaining for disposition is the First Amendment right to intimate association claim against Defendants DeParlos, Shoemaker, McKernan, Mussare, and Mirabito, and the First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants DeParlos, Shoemaker, McKernan, Mussare, Mirabito, and White. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment regarding these remaining claims.

         Also pending is Plaintiffs' motion (Doc. 99) for a protective order, which will be denied.

         I. Motion for Protective Order

         Plaintiffs seek a protective order striking personal correspondence between Plaintiffs that was confiscated on October 26, 2017, during a search of Mrs. Reid-Douglas's cell. (Doc. 99). Because the Court will not consider the correspondence in any manner in deciding the motion for summary judgment, the motion will be denied as moot.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). “[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) (emphasis in original); Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097, 1111 (3d Cir. 1990). A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Id.; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2 d 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).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d Cir. 1996). Although the moving party must establish an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not “support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Celotex, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can meet its burden by “pointing out ... that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims.” Id. at 325.

         Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (stating that the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”); Wooler v. Citizens Bank, 274 Fed.Appx. 177, 179 (3d Cir. 2008). The party opposing the motion must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of proving at trial, because “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 also Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992). “[T]he non-moving party ‘may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must . . . set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.'” Picozzi v. Haulderman, 2011 WL 830331, *2 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2)). “Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true.” Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America. Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         If the non-moving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The adverse party must raise “more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor” and cannot survive by relying on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant will not be adequate to support a denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for the non-movant on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         B. Statement of Material Facts

         1. First Amendment Right to Intimate Association

         Plaintiffs, who are legally married, were committed to the Lycoming County Prison (“LCP”) on June 15, 2017, as pretrial detainee codefendants charged in a criminal conspiracy case. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 1-4; Doc. 108, p. 2, ¶¶ 1-4). Upon commitment, Plaintiffs received a copy of the Inmate Handbook. (Id. at 7; Doc. 108, p. 2, ¶ 7; Doc. 87, p. 24). The handbook contains the following inmate mail policy: “Unless authorized by the prison administration inmates are not permitted to correspond with other inmates. Sometimes, immediate family members are permitted to correspond with one another, but must receive permission before doing so.” (Id. at 5; Doc. 87, p. 21; Doc. 108, p. 19). The policy is memorialized in LCP Prison Policy 16.1 “Inmate Mail, ” which states in relevant part: “1. Inmates are not permitted to correspond with prohibited parties or through a third party. 2. Inmates are not permitted to correspond with inmates in other sections of the prison or with inmates in other correctional institutions without prior permission of prison administration. This includes Lycoming County Prison inmates transferred to other county prisons.” (Doc. 86, ¶ 6; Doc. 87, p. 23; Doc. 108, p. 23).

         In June 2017, shortly after their incarceration, in accordance with the above policy, Plaintiffs sought permission to directly correspond with one another. (Doc. 86, ¶ 8; Doc. 108, p. 3, ¶ 8; Doc. 108, pp. 24-35, 38). The requests were denied. (Doc. 108, p. 3, ¶ 9; Doc. 108, pp. 24-35, 38, 39). Defendant Shoemaker denied Plaintiffs' requests based on security concerns and risks associated with inmate-to inmate correspondence, as well as the concern that “as co-defendants and alleged co-conspirators they would be even more likely to communicate about illegal activity.” (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 23, 30; Doc. 87, ¶ 23; Doc. 108, p. 27-35). He did not find that Plaintiffs' circumstances warranted an exception to the policy. (Doc. 86, ¶ 22).

         Plaintiffs unequivocally dispute “that the circumstances of the present case did not warrant an exception to Defendant's [sic] rule. Inasmuch as Plaintiffs had a pending Emergency Custody Petition pending with regard to the safety of their children which several weeks after the Plaintiffs' incarceration the 12 year old son passed away in the care of the biological father and through the neglect of Children and Youth Service that was the sole basis of filing such Petition due to the children facing imminent danger while in the custody of the biological father as such danger came to pass on July 3, 2017. Thus, correspondence between the Plaintiffs was dire in the present case amongst other matters.” (Doc. 108, p. 4, ¶ 22).

         According to Defendant Shoemaker, formerly employed as the Deputy Warden of Operations at LCP, and currently employed as the Warden at LCP, the inmate mail policy was put into place to ensure the safety of prison staff and inmates against the risks associated with inmate-to-inmate communications. (Doc. 86, ¶ 10; Doc. 87, Declaration of Brad Shoemaker (“Shoemaker Decl.”), pp. 9, 10, ¶ 19)). “The purpose, rationale, and reasoning behind the prohibition is to protect the safety and security of the Prison from the risk that inmates may communicate to: a. develop and maintain informal organizations, such as gangs, which pose a threat to the safety and security of Prison staff and/or other inmates; b. communicate the layout of the Prison; c. communicate escape plans; d. coordinate the movement of contraband into and out of the Prison; e. coordinate violent acts against Prison staff and/or other inmates; f. communicate the number, movement, and schedule of Prison staff on shift at a given time; and, g. track the movements of other inmates.” (Id. at 11; Id. at 19).

         Defendant Shoemaker, suggests that, as an alternative to the inmate-to-inmate correspondence ban, one Plaintiff could relay information to a friend or relative who could then relay the information back to the other Plaintiff. (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 33, 34).

         According to Defendant Shoemaker, monitoring Plaintiffs' letters would have a negative effect on other inmates and prison resources; LCP has only one staff member per day who, in addition to correctional officer duties, is solely responsible for screening incoming mail for contraband. (Doc. 86, ¶ 16). LCP, which is almost always at its population capacity of 256 inmates, does not have the manpower, time, money or training to monitor inmate-to-inmate correspondence “which would require staff to read, decipher, and evaluate all potential threats contained or hidden within said mail.” (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 13-15, 17, 18; Doc. 108, p. 3, ¶ 15). He further notes that “Correctional Officers at the Prison are already at their capacity in terms of responsibilities. They are responsible for covering cell-blocks and operations on a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year basis, and in addition they from time to time must cover inmate transports and hospitalizations. It would be a massive drain on Prison personnel and Prison resources to allow inmate-to-inmate mail on the condition that such mail may be carefully screened for hidden messages.” (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 19, 20).

         Because of the negative impact such a screening process would have, LCP has no alternative to the policy that generally bans inmate-to-inmate mail, unless permission is obtained. (Id. at 21).

         Plaintiffs dispute that the policy is reasonably related to legitimate security interest because two prisoners housed at LCP, Kasan Sanders and Isis Dent, could directly correspond with one another while housed at LCP. (Doc. 108, p. 3, ¶¶ 10, 11). They further “dispute that the policy is necessary to protect prison staff and inmates from serious security threats inasmuch as there is no policy regarding co-defendant or co-defendant spouses.” (Id. at 12). They dispute that it would be a massive drain on prison personnel and resources to allow monitoring of inmate to inmate correspondence because, as demonstrated by the following, it is a function correctional officers already perform: 1. A declaration of an LCP inmate, Bryan Bacon, who declares that other inmates, Mr. Tomecki who was housed at LCP and his wife, Mrs. Tomecki, who was housed at LCP's Pre-release center, were approved to correspond with one another. (Doc. 108, Declaration of Bryan Bacon, pp. 36, 37); 2. Memoranda from Defendant Shoemaker, dated February 5, 2018, advising Plaintiffs that their incoming and outgoing mail will be read and reviewed until further notice based on interception of third party mail. (Doc. 108, pp. 52, 53); and, 3. Various inmate requests dated May, June and August 2018, indicating that their third party mail had been intercepted. (Doc. 108, pp. 3, 4, ¶¶ 14, 21, pp. 52-59).

         2. First Amendment Retaliation

         LCP has an established a three-step grievance process, which is set forth in the Inmate Handbook, and requires the filing of an initial grievance, an appeal to the Warden, and a final appeal to the Prison Board. (Doc. 86, ¶ 35; Doc. 108, p. 6, ¶ 34). Mr. Reid-Douglas filed a grievance on November 12, 2017, alleging that misconducts issued on October 13, 2017 and October 26, 2017, were in retaliation for him filing a mandamus complaint. (Id. at 37; Doc. 108, p. 6, ¶ 36). Defendant Shoemaker denied the grievance on November 13, 2017. (Id. at 38; Doc. 108, p. 6, ¶ 37). On that same day, Mr. Reid-Douglas filed an appeal to Defendant DeParlos. (Doc. 108, p. 6, ¶ 38; Doc. 108, p. 81). LCP has no record of this appeal. (Doc. 86, ¶ 39). Mr. Reid-Douglas received no response to his appeal. (Doc. 108, p. 6, ¶ 38).

         On September 13, 2017, Correctional Officer Balliet (“C.O. Balliet”) witnessed Mrs. Reid-Douglas “hiding/leaving” notes for Mr. Reid-Douglas within the prison law library, in violation of prison rules including, inter alia, “Unauthorized contact including any form of contact with inmates in isolation or other cellblocks unless authorized.” (Doc. 86, ¶¶ 41, 42; Doc. 108, p. 7, ¶¶ 41, 42; Doc. 87, pp. 64, 65). C.O. Balliet reported the incident to his supervisor, Defendant White, and issued an incident report. (Doc. 86, ¶ 43; Doc. 108, p. 7, ¶ 43; Doc. 87, pp. 64, ...


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