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Davis v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 6, 2019

ANGELO L. DAVIS, Plaintiff,

          CONNER, C. J.



         The plaintiff, Angelo L. Davis, filed his original pro se complaint in this prisoner civil rights action on March 25, 2016. (Doc. 1.) At the time of filing, he was no longer incarcerated, having been released from prison nine days earlier. On January 11, 2018, with leave of court, Davis filed his amended complaint.[1] (Doc. 68; Doc. 71; see also Doc. 73.)

         On April 15, 2019, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 126), together with their statement of material facts and supporting exhibits (Doc. 127). On April 29, 2019, the defendants filed their brief in support of the motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 130.) Several months later, after multiple extensions of time, the plaintiff has failed to file any substantive response in opposition to the defendants' motion. (See Doc. 132; Doc. 133; Doc. 134; Doc. 135; Doc. 136; Doc. 137; Doc. 138; Doc. 139; Doc. 140; Doc. 141; Doc. 142; Doc. 143.)

         The matter is ripe for disposition.

         I. Background

         The plaintiff's claims arise out of a pair of “shakedown” cell searches that occurred on October 9 and 13, 2014. Correctional officers conducting the searches were looking for K2 synthetic marijuana, none of which was found in the plaintiff's possession. At the time, Davis was incarcerated at SCI Camp Hill, located in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. He had only recently arrived there from another prison.

         Various items of the plaintiff's personal property were confiscated as a result of these “shakedown” searches, and he received a misconduct report charging him with possession of contraband, lying to an employee, loaning and borrowing property, and failure to report contraband. Some of these items had been received by Davis from other inmates when they were released from prison. Prior to his arrival at SCI Camp Hill, Davis had been through multiple “shakedown” cell searches at other institutions, where he had been permitted to keep the same items of property without confiscation or misconduct charges.

         On October 15, 2014, a disciplinary hearing on the misconduct charges was held before a hearing examiner. Davis was found guilty and sanctioned with 30 days in the restricted housing unit (“RHU”). In his complaint, Davis alleged that he was not provided with copies of property confiscation slips or his legal property, which impaired his ability to mount a defense at the disciplinary hearing. He unsuccessfully appealed the disciplinary sanction.

         While in the RHU, Davis has alleged that his cell was unfit for human habitation. He claims that it had rodent droppings on the floor, a broken sink and toilet, and water (including urine) on the floor. He has further alleged that he had a hernia at the time and was denied medical attention or treatment, and that he was forced to jump up to and down from the top bunk while suffering from this untreated hernia.

         Davis also alleged that he was actively litigating two federal civil rights actions at that time, and the confiscation of his legal property interfered with his ability to litigate those actions: Davis v. Harlow, W.D. Pa. No. 2:11-cv-01506, and Davis v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrs., W.D. Pa. No. 2:14-cv-01551.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be granted only if “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). A fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is “genuine” only if the evidence “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a summary judgment motion, all 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.” Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” and demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the non-movant must set forth specific facts, supported by the record, demonstrating that “the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must first determine if the moving party has made a prima facie showing that it is entitled to summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331. Only once that prima facie showing has been made does the burden shift to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331.

         Both parties may cite to “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for the purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “An affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). “Although evidence may be considered in a form which is inadmissible at trial, the content of the evidence must be capable of admission at trial.” Bender v. Norfolk S. Corp., 994 F.Supp.2d 593, 599 (M.D. Pa. 2014); see also Pamintuan v. Nanticoke Mem'l Hosp., 192 F.3d 378, 387 n.13 (3d Cir. 1999) (noting that it is not proper, on summary judgment, to consider evidence that is not admissible at trial).

         Here, the defendants have moved for summary judgment, but the plaintiff has failed to submit a brief in opposition or any other papers contesting the defendant's motion. The plaintiff's failure to actively oppose the defendant's motion for summary judgment implicates two local rules, which provide that a party who fails to file a brief in opposition to a motion “shall be deemed not to oppose such motion, ” L.R. 7.6, and that all material facts set forth in the movant's statement of material facts “will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted” by a counter-statement of material facts by the non-movant, L.R. 56.1.

         However, the plaintiff's failure to respond to the motion does not mean that the defendants are automatically entitled to summary judgment. See Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990). These local rules must be construed and applied in a manner consistent with Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Id. at 174. Thus, in the context of a motion for summary judgment, a non-movant's failure to file an opposition brief and counter-statement of material facts is “construed as effecting a waiver of [the non-movant's] right to controvert the facts asserted by the moving party in the motion for summary judgment or the supporting material accompanying it.” Id. at 175-76. The moving party must nevertheless establish that, based on the facts set forth in support of its motion, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See id.; see also Lorenzo v. Griffith, 12 F.3d 23, 28 (3d Cir. 1993); Miller v. Ashcroft, 76 Fed. App'x 457, 462 (3d Cir. 2003) (“Even though the applicable [Middle District of Pennsylvania] local rules provide that a summary judgment motion is to be considered unopposed and its statement of material facts admitted where a responsive brief is not timely filed, the Magistrate Judge was still required to find that the undisputed facts warranted judgment as a matter of law.”) (citations omitted).

         In other words, in the absence of active opposition by the non-movant, the two-step, burden-shifting analysis that normally applies on summary judgment is abbreviated to just the first step, requiring the moving party to make a prima facie showing that it is entitled to summary judgment, based on the undisputed facts of record. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331.

         III. Discussion

         Davis asserts federal civil rights claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides a private cause of action with respect to the violation of federal constitutional rights. The statute provides in pertinent part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Section 1983 does not create substantive rights, but instead provides remedies for rights established elsewhere. City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985). To establish a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived the plaintiff of a right secured by the United States Constitution. Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995).

         Here, Davis claims that the defendants conducted an unreasonable search of his prison cell for contraband and confiscated legal documents and other personal property from his cell, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. He claims that his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights were violated because some of the property seized from his cell had previously been in the possession of other inmates without seizure of the property or disciplinary charges against them. He claims that his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated by the seizure of his personal property. He claims that he was denied his First and Fourteenth Amendment right of access to courts because the seizure of his legal property interfered with his ability to litigate two civil rights actions. Davis claims that he was denied his Fourteenth Amendment due process right to present documentary evidence in his defense at his disciplinary hearing. He claims that his due process rights were also violated when a deputy superintendent failed to timely respond to his misconduct appeal. Davis claims that his confinement in an RHU cell with mouse droppings and the stench of urine constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. Davis further claims that one of the defendants was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs because she assigned him to a top bunk even though he had a hernia. He claims, in cursory fashion only, that he was deprived of his Thirteenth Amendment right to be free from involuntary servitude or slavery. Finally, Davis claims that he was held by Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) illegally because it had failed to receive and maintain a valid copy of his sentencing order.

         A. Sentencing Order Claim

         We begin with the last of these claims. Davis claims that he was illegally incarcerated because the DOC was unable to provide him with a copy of his sentencing order-implying that no valid sentencing order ever existed. This claim is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Under this doctrine, a claim is barred where three circumstances are present: “(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving (2) the same parties or their privies and (3) a subsequent suit based on the same cause of action.” Lubrizol Corp. v. Exxon Corp., 929 F.2d 960, 963 (3d Cir. 1991). With respect to the first factor, Davis presented the very same claim in a prior lawsuit, where it was dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See Davis v. Pa. Dep't ofCorrs., Civil Action No. 14-1551, 2016 WL 1639623 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 26, 2016). No. appeal was taken. This ...

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