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Picarella v. Brouse

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 14, 2020

KRISTA BROUSE, et al., Defendants


          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Charles Picarella (“Picarella”), an inmate formerly housed at the Northumberland County Prison, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). The matter is proceeding via a second amended complaint. (Doc. 35). The remaining defendant is sergeant Krista Brouse. Before the court is defendant's motion (Doc. 84) for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant the motion.

         I. Allegations of the Second Amended Complaint

         Picarella was housed at the Northumberland County Prison from approximately June 23, 2014 through December 10, 2014. (Doc. 35 ¶ 19). From November 3, 2014 through December 10, 2014, he was assigned to cell thirty-nine in the left wing of the prison. (Id. at ¶ 20).

         During his incarceration, Picarella alleges that he “create[d] pen and ink drawings as a creative outlet, form of expression, and form of speech.” (Id. at ¶ 21). Picarella displayed the drawings in his cell, on his cell door, and on the walls adjacent to his cell. (Id. at ¶ 22). He asserts that the drawings did not obstruct the view into his cell. (Id. at ¶ 23). Picarella further states that he gave drawings to fellow inmates and prison staff, and “trade[d]” the drawings with fellow inmates and prison staff for various commodities. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25).

         On November 16, 2014, while Picarella was sleeping, defendant Brouse allegedly confiscated ten of his drawings. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27). Later that afternoon, Picarella asserts that fellow inmates informed him that defendant Brouse removed the drawings. (Id. at ¶ 30). Picarella claims that he was not provided any official notice of the intended seizure of his drawings. (Id. at ¶¶ 28-29). Picarella further alleges that he did not receive any compensation for the taking of his property. (Id. at ¶ 31).

         On November 22, 2014, Picarella filed a grievance regarding the confiscation of his artwork. (Id. at ¶ 32; Doc. 35, at 9). After Picarella filed the grievance, defendant Brouse informed him that she did not approve of the drawings, and she would confiscate any new drawings and place him in the restricted housing unit if he created new drawings. (Doc. 35 ¶ 33). On November 29, 2014, a lieutenant denied the grievance because the drawings depicted naked women and were considered pornography. (Doc. 35 ¶¶ 34-36; Doc. 35, at 9). On December 2, 2014, Picarella appealed the denial of his grievance. (Doc. 35 ¶ 38; Doc. 35, at 11). Picarella claims that he did not receive a response to his grievance appeal. (Doc. 35 ¶¶ 39-40).

         II. Legal Standard

         Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any material fact” and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden of proof tasks the non-moving party to come forth with “affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings, ” in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The court is to view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Thomas v. Cumberland County, 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. See Pappas, 331 F.Supp.2d at 315.

         III Discussion

         A. First Amendment Claim

         Picarella asserts that the confiscation of artwork violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213 (1940), offers protection for a wide variety of expressive activities. See U.S. Const. amend I. These rights are lessened, but not extinguished in the prison context, where legitimate penological interests must be considered in assessing the constitutionality of official conduct. See Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).

         For purposes of this memorandum, the court will assume that Picarella's right to possess artwork is entitled to Constitutional protection. Once a protectable First Amendment interest has been demonstrated, an inmate may show that a prison regulation or practice violates his Constitutional rights by demonstrating that it violated the “reasonableness test” set forth in Turner, 482 U.S. at 89, and O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987). This test examines the following four factors: (1) whether the regulation or practice in question furthers a legitimate governmental interest unrelated to the suppression of expression; (2) whether there are alternative means of exercising First Amendment rights that remain open to prison inmates; (3) whether the right can be exercised only at the cost of less liberty and safety for guards and other prisoners, and the effect on prison resources in general; and (4) whether an alternative exists which would fully accommodate the prisoners' rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests. Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 415-18; Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-91. “The objective is to determine whether the regulation is reasonable given the prison administrators' penological concerns and the inmate's interest in engaging in the constitutionally protected activity.” DeHart v. Horn, 227 F.3d 47, 59 (3d Cir. 2000). However, prison administrators need not choose the least restrictive means possible in trying to further penological interests, Thornburgh, 490 U.S. at 411, and it is the burden of the plaintiff to disprove the validity of a prison regulation or practice. Williams v. Morton, 343 F.3d 212, 217 (2003) (citing Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126 (2003)).

         With respect to the first Turner factor, defendant asserts that the confiscation of Picarella's artwork was rationally related to legitimate security interests at the Northumberland County Prison. (Doc. 85, at 8-10). It is important to note that prison officials are “accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve ...

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