Heim v. Dauphin County Prison et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 28 Motion to Dismiss. See Order for specific details. Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 8/31/11 (jam, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DAUPHIN COUNTY PRISON, et al.,
CIVIL NO. 3:CV-10-1656
Plaintiff, Joseph Heim, a prisoner formerly housed at the Dauphin County
Prison (DCP), in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, seeks to hold the named defendants
liable for violating his constitutional rights when they illegally charged him room and
board fees pursuant to the DCP’s Financial Responsibility program. (Doc. 1,
Compl.) As relief, Mr. Heim seeks reimbursement of all unauthorized funds
deducted from his inmate account as well as the expungement of the entire debt
imposed by DCP. Id. Named as defendants are the following Dauphin County
employees/entities: the DCP; Warden DeRose; Deputy Warden Nichols; Deputy
Warden Carroll; the Prison Board of Inspectors; the DCP Business Office; and
Freddie McNeal. Id.
Presently before the Court is the Dauphin County defendants’ Motion to
Dismiss. (Doc. 28). For the reasons that follow, it shall be granted in part and
denied in part.
Standard of Review for Motions to Dismiss
On a motion to dismiss, “[w]e ‘accept all factual allegations as true, construe
the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether,
under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to
relief.’” Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoted case omitted).
Nevertheless, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions” or “[t]hreadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege sufficient facts “to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); see also Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).
Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings
drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197,
2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003).
Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint “even
when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend,” unless such an amendment would
be inequitable or futile. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004).
However, a complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the
plaintiff has no right to recover is properly dismissed without leave to amend.
Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002).
During April 2010, Mr. Heim was recommitted to the DCP by his parole
officer.1 (Doc. 1, Compl. at CM/ECF p. 8.)2 During the intake process, his cellphone
and a $30.00 check were confiscated. (Id. at p. 9.) The intake officer gave
Plaintiff’s cellphone to Mr. Heim’s parole officer, but refused to turn over the$30.00
check to the parole officer as Plaintiff requested because Plaintiff “may owe [the
prison] money”. (Id.)
The following excerpt is found in the DCP inmate handbook.
FEES FOR SERVICE/FINANCIAL
The Dauphin County Prison Board of Inspectors has
approved a policy for Financial Responsibility, under
which fees are charged to inmates for Room & Board,
certain Medical services and medications, and other
services. The Financial Responsibility Policy also
includes funds to be deducted from an inmate’s account
as restitution for damage, defacing, or destruction of
Dauphin County Prison property. General information
and current fees for various services are listed below.
Fees for service are subject to change; any changes will
ROOM AND BOARD
At the time of release, Room and Board will be assessed
on all sentenced inmates incarcerated at Dauphin
County Prison. For purposes of Room and Board
charges, a County or State parole violation is considered
The Complaint does not specify when Mr. Heim was initially committed to the
Unless otherwise noted, all citations to the record reflect the docket number and
page number assigned by the electronic case filing system (CM/ECF) rather than the page
numbers of the original documents.
a sentence. Also, sentenced inmates from other
counties that have been transferred to DCP will be
assessed Room and Board charges. The inmate will be
billed $10.00 for each day spent in the institution,
beginning with the date on which the inmate was
sentenced. The per diem rate will be increased by $5.00
for each commitment period after the first commitment.
Inmate workers who appear on the work detail list (i.e.
work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day) will receive credit
towards their room and board. Any inmate wishing to
voluntarily begin paying room and board costs during
incarceration will be offered the opportunity to establish a
payment plan. Payment plans must equal at least 50%
of incoming funds. No payment plan may be set up
without the approval of the Business Office; such an
agreement must stipulate the amount to be paid on a
monthly basis. All payment plans are void upon
Delinquent accounts will be turned over to a collection
agency. Balances not satisfied through a collection
agency will be recorded on an inmate’s permanent
record. An inmate who has previously been incarcerated
in Dauphin County Prison, was released with an
outstanding balance, and is committed again to DCP, will
be required to pay any outstanding balance on record.
Therefore, at the time of recommitment, inmates will be
assessed 100% of any money in their possession.
Thereafter, when money is received at the Prison for an
inmate after recommitment, 50% is applied to the
negative balance and 50% is placed into his/her
Commissary account for use by the inmate.
(Doc. 1-2, Inmate Handbook at pp. 38 - 39):
The DCP Inmate Handbook also contains a Grievance policy which allows any
DCP inmate to file a administrative complaint “about the behavior or action toward an
inmate by a staff member or another inmate, or any matter of concern, including
conditions of confinement.” (Id. at p. 47.)
Mr. Heim alleges that DCP’s Financial Responsibility Policy violates his 1st,
8th, and 14th Amendment rights as he never agreed or consented to participate in the
Financial Responsibility program. (Doc. 1 at pp. 6 -7.) Plaintiff claims DCP officials
lack the authority to impose such fees and that he received no notice of the program
or opportunity to challenge the indebtedness prior to his funds being
confiscated. (Id.) Finally, he claims he is being treated unfairly as it costs no more
to house him, a recommitted inmate, than to house an inmate committed for the first
time to the DCP. Plaintiff argues that the increased Room and Board per diem fee
based on the number of one’s commitments to the DCP is discriminatory, punitive
and illegal. (Id. at p. 10.)
First Amendment Claim
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or
abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the
right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the Government for a redress of grievances.
U.S. Const. amend I.
The Court is at a loss as to how Plaintiff maintains that the collection of per
diem fees violates the First Amendment, and Plaintiff has not explained the legal
basis of this claim. Furthermore, as Plaintiff fails to provide any factual allegations
from which a court may plausibly infer a First Amendment cause of action, this claim
will be dismissed. See Zurawski v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Authority,
No. 10-3062, 2011 WL 3418367, *1 (3d Cir. Aug. 5, 2011)(citing Ashcroft,
, 129 S.Ct. at 1949).
Fourth Amendment Deprivation of Property3
To the extent Joseph Heim alleges his cell phone was confiscated in violation
of the Fourth Amendment, this claim will be dismissed. There is no doubt that the
protections of the Fourth Amendment with respect to seizures of a prisoner's
“effects” or property do not apply in the prison context. Doe v. Delie, 257 F.3d 309,
316 (3d Cir. 2001) (“The Hudson court confirmed that a Fourth Amendment right to
be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is inconsistent with
incarceration.”) “The Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable
searches does not apply within the confines of the prison cell.” Hudson v. Palmer,
468 U.S. 517, 526, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 3200, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984). Once committed
to DCP, Mr. Heim did not have a protected liberty interest in not being searched and
having his cell phone, which is contraband within the facility, confiscated.
Accordingly, the Fourth Amendment claim, insofar as it concerns Plaintiff’s cell
phone, is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Eighth Amendment Excessive Fine Claim
Per the Financial Responsibility Policy, upon Joseph Heim’s recommitment to
the DCP, 100% of the money in his possession, $30, was seized to pay for the
outstanding Room and Board fees balance accrued during first DCP commitment.
Defendants did not address Mr. Heim’s Fourth Amendment claim. Nonetheless,
as Mr. Heim is proceeding in forma pauperis, the court maintains the authority pursuant to
the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) to dismiss a complaint “at any time”.
Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which was not relied upon by a defendant in a
motion to dismiss, the court may nonetheless sua sponte rest its dismissal upon such
ground pursuant to the screening provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
Additionally, he was subject to an increased Room and Board fees of $15 per day
due to his new recommitment. Joseph Heim argues the imposition of the Room and
Board fee itself, as well as the increased rate due to his recomittment, violate his
Eighth Amendment rights.
The Eighth Amendment states that: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor
excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” U.S. Const.
amen. VIII; see also Tillman v. Lebanon Cnty. Corr. Facility, 221 F.3d 410, 417 n.7
(3d Cir. 2000). The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual
punishment forbids prison officials from subjecting prisoners to inhumane conditions
of confinement. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1976, 128
L.Ed.2d 811 (1994). “[P]rison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate
food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must ‘take reasonable measures to
guarantee the safety of the inmates[.]’ ” Id. (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S.
517, 526–27, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 3200, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984)). The prohibition on
excessive fines “limits the government’s power to extract payments, whether in cash
or in kind, ‘as punishment for some offense.’” United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S.
321, 328, 118 S.Ct. 2028, 2033, 141 L.Ed.2d 314 (1998)(citing Austin v. United
States, 509 U.S. 602, 609-610, 113 S.Ct. 2801, 2805, 125 L.Ed.2d 488 (1993)).
In order to demonstrate that the charges imposed upon him were “excessive fines,”
Plaintiff would have to allege that the charges imposed upon him were fines, and
that such fines were excessive.
Faced with a similar policy charging inmates a flat per diem rates, the Third
Circuit Court of Appeals found such fees did not per se violate the Eighth
Amendment. See Tillman, supra. In Tillman, an inmate challenged a $10 per diem
housing fee assessed inmates at the Lebanon County Prison. Tillman, 221 F.3d at
413. Relying on case law of the United States Supreme Court and the Third Circuit
Court of Appeals, the Court held that as long as the provision of a humane
environment, adequate food, clothing and shelter, medical care and the reasonable
measures to guarantee an inmate’s safety were not contingent on an inmate’s ability
to pay for these services, it was permissible for prison authorities to “seek
reimbursement from the party receiving the benefit of [this] care.” Id. at 418-419;
see also Reynolds v. Wagner, 128 F.3d 166, 173-74 (3d Cir. 1997).
Addressing Tillman’s excessive fines claim, the Court found the $10 a day
charged by the Cost Recovery Program did not amount to an excessive fine as it
was part of a rehabilitation and responsibility program. Id. at 120. However, the
Court found that “[i]f the assessments and confiscations under the Cost Recovery
Program ‘can only be explained as serving in part to punish,’ they are ‘punishment’
for purposes of the Excessive Fines Clause, even if they may also be understood to
serve remedial purposes.” Tillman, 221 F.3d at 420 (quoting Austin, 509 U.S. at
610, 620-21, 113 S.Ct. at 2805-06, 2811-12). In this case, the rationale for the
imposition of the Room and Board fee is not on the record. Additionally, the Inmate
Handbook attached to the Complaint reveals that the Room and Board fees charged
inmates at the DCP are not uniform. The per diem rate varies depending on the
individual inmate’s number of commitments to the DCP. Based on the Complaint
alone, this Court cannot determine the DCP’s intent for enacting the Room and
Board fee, or whether the sliding scale of fees charged for room and board are
meant to punish Plaintiff for his repeat incarcerations to the facility or whether they
serve some rehabilitative purpose. For these reasons, Defendants’ motion to
dismiss Joseph Heim’s Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines claim will be denied.
Fourteenth Amendment Claim
Joseph Heim maintains that he was entitled to notice and a hearing before
the DCP assessed him room and board fees pursuant to the Financial
Responsibility Policy, or deducted funds from his prison account without his
authorization to satisfy these debts.
The Fourteenth Amendment forbids state actors from depriving persons of
life, liberty or property without due process of law. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; see
also Elmore v. Cleary, 399 F.3d 279, 282 (3d Cir. 2005). To state a claim for due
process, an inmate must allege “(1) that the state deprived him of a protected
interest in life, liberty, or property and (2) the deprivation occurred without due
process of law.” Burns v. PA Dep't of Corr., 544 F.3d 279, 285 (3d Cir. 2008). The
Third Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized that inmates have a property interest
in funds held in their prison accounts. Id. at 286 (citing Reynolds v. Wagner, 128
F.3d 166, 179 (3d Cir. 1997)). Thus, they are entitled to due process when prison
authorities place an encumbrance on the inmate’s account, even though no
deduction or seizure has yet taken place. Id. at 291. “In procedural due process
claims, the deprivation by state action of a constitutionally protected interest in ‘life,
or property’ is not itself unconstitutional; what is unconstitutional is the deprivation of
such an interest without due process of law.” Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125,
110 S.Ct. 975, 983, 108 L.Ed.2d 100 (1990). Here, there is no question that Mr.
Heim has properly alleged the first prong of this due process analysis, and thus the
only question presented is whether his prison account was assessed without
adequate procedural safeguards. See McKeithan v. Beard, 322 F. App'x 194, 198
(3d Cir. 2009).
In determining what due process is required, the Court is mindful that “not all
situations calling for procedural safeguards call for the same kind of procedure.”
Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 2600, 33 L.Ed.2d 484
(1972). The Supreme Court of the United States has explained that “due process,
unlike some legal rules, is not a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated
to time, place and circumstances”; rather, it is “flexible and calls for such procedural
protections as the particular situation demands.” Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S.
319, 334-35, 96 S.Ct. 893, 902-03, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted). Identifying what process is due “generally requires
consideration of three distinct factors”:
First, the private interest that will be affected by the official
action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such
interest through the procedures used, and the probable
value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural
safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest,
including the function involved and the fiscal and
administrative burdens that the additional or substitute
procedural requirement would entail.
Id. at 335.
It is well established that random and unauthorized deprivations of property
by state officials do not violate the federal constitution if an adequate
post-deprivation state remedy exists. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct.
1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1981), overruled in party by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S.
327, 106 S.Ct. 662, 88 L.Ed.2d 662 (1986); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 104
S.Ct. 3194, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984); Burns, 642 F.3d at 172. However, where the
deprivation takes place pursuant to a prison policy, the balancing test announced in
Mathews must be examined to determine if a pre-deprivation hearing is necessary
under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Applying this standard to cases impacting an inmate’s property interest in his
prison account with respect to non-disciplinary sanctions, the United States Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit has considered the requisite level of procedural due
process necessary for the collection of prisoner room and board fees and concluded
that it is impractical to expect prisons to provide pre-deprivation proceedings in this
situation “even when the inmate refuses to grant authorization”. Tillman, 221 F.3d at
421 n.12 421-422. To require a pre-deprivation hearing before the collection of
outstanding fees (of which the inmate has prior notice) would be impractical,
significantly increase transaction costs, and hinder the prison’s ability to reduce their
costs of incarceration. Id. at 422. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has found the
assessment of such fees “routine matters of accounting, with a low risk of error.” Id.
Any assessment errors “may be corrected through the prison’s grievance program
without any burden on the prisoner’s rights.” Id. at 422. Furthermore, Tillman held
that due process is fully satisfied where post-deprivation procedures are available
through the normal prison grievance system. Id.
Here, Joseph Heim challenges a room and board policy very similar to that in
Tillman. It is clear from the documents attached to the Complaint that Plaintiff had
notice of both the Room and Board fee and grievance policy upon his admission to
the DCP via the Inmate Handbook. See Doc. 1-2. The grievance policy is similar to
others reviewed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and provides a sufficient post
deprivation remedy. Id.; Tillman, 221 F.3d at 410. The DCP grievance policy allows
inmates the opportunity to challenge “any matter of concern” related to their
incarceration, including the Room and Board assessment or deductions from their
prison account. Doc. 1-2 at p. 47. Thus, where as here, the correctional facility
routinely collects or assesses fees, or otherwise performs ministerial accounting
tasks, procedural due process is satisfied by the availability of a post-deprivation
proceeding, namely, the normal prison grievance process. Tillman, 221 F.3d at 422.
Therefore, Plaintiff's due process claim will be dismissed for failure to state a claim
on which relief can be granted.
Equal Protection Claim
Plaintiff alleges that charging inmates different per diem rates based on their
number of commitments to the DCP, defendants denied him equal protection. Doc.
1, Compl. Essentially, he is alleging the defendants have created an
unconstitutional distinction within the class of inmates housed at DCP. Defendants
do not specifically address Plaintiff’s claim so the Court reviews the complaint sua
sponte to ensure that it states a claim on which relief may be granted. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Plaintiff does not allege any differential treatment by
defendants and he therefore fails to plead the material elements of an equal
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires all
persons “similarly situated” to be treated alike. See City of Cleburne, Tex. v.
Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 3254, 87 L.Ed.2d 313
(1985); Millard v. Hufford, 415 F. App’x 348, 349 (3d Cir. 2011). A petitioner who
alleges an equal protection violation has the burden of proving the existence of
purposeful discrimination that had a discriminatory effect on him. See McCleskey v.
Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 292, 107 S.Ct. 1756, 1767, 95 L.Ed.2d 262 (1987).
Accordingly, to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he
was a member of a protected class; (2) he was treated differently from similarly
situated persons outside of his protected class; and (3) the discrimination was
purposeful or intentional rather than incidental. See Chambers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila.
Bd. of Educ., 587 F.3d 176, 196 (3d Cir. 2009); see also Tillman, 221 F.3d at
Joseph Heim’s complaint fails to state an equal protection claim. First,
neither prisoners nor indigents constitute a suspect class. See Abdul-Akbar v.
McKelvie, 239 F.3d 307, 317 (3d Cir. 2001). Thus, Plaintiff has failed to show that
he is a member of a suspect class. Next, he fails to show that he has been treated
differently from other DCP inmates who are recommitted to the DCP, i.e. that they
too were not charged an increased per diem rate based on their number of
commitments to the facility. Therefore, Mr. Heim has failed to allege any facts that
would support the basic elements of an equal protection claim. His assertion of an
equal protection violation is no more than conclusory and should be denied.
Mr. Heim alleges that his various constitutional rights were violated as a result
of the implementation and enforcement of a Dauphin County policy. Specifically,
the Room and Board fee was enacted by the DCP Board of Inspectors via its
Financial Responsibility Policy. Doc. 1-2 at p. 38. Although not specifically
identified as a municipal liability claim, based on the allegations of the Complaint,
clearly this pro se plaintiff is asserting such a claim. Defendants do not address this
claim in their motion to dismiss.
Municipalities and other government bodies may be sued under Section
1983. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-92, 98
S.Ct. 2018, 2035-36, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). In order to state a legally sufficient
claim for municipal liability under Section 1983, a plaintiff must plead the existence
of a municipal policy or custom, and that said policy or custom caused the alleged
constitutional violation. Id. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2037-38; see also McTernan v. City of
York, PA, 564 F.3d 636, 657 (3d Cir. 2009). Liability may not be imposed solely on
a respondeat superior theory. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691, 98 S.Ct. at 2036. Section
1983 only “imposes liability on a government that, under color of some official policy,
‘causes’ an employee to violate another’s constitutional rights.” Id. at 692, 98 S.Ct.
at 2036. Thus, “a local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury
inflicted solely by its employees or agents. ” Id. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2038.
Where, as here, Plaintiff alleges that a flawed policy inflicted constitutional
injuries, he has sufficiently asserted a claim of municipal liability against the Dauphin
County Prison and Prison Board of Inspectors as they approved the Financial
Responsibility Policy which authorized the assessment and collection of Room and
Board fees. See Doc. 1-2 at p. 38. At this stage of the proceedings, there is
inadequate information in the record to make a determination as to whether any of
the individual defendants (DeRose, Nichols, Carroll and McNeal) are members of
the Prison Board of Inspectors. Thus, defendants’ motion to dismiss the individual
defendants based on their alleged lack of personal involvement will be denied.
The Court will issue an appropriate order.
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. RICHARD CAPUTO
United States District Judge
Date: August 31, 2011
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DAUPHIN COUNTY PRISON, et al.,
CIVIL NO. 3:CV-10-1656
AND NOW, this 31st day of AUGUST, 2011, it is ordered that:
1. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (doc. 28) is granted in part and
denied in part.
2. Joseph Heims’ First and Fourth Amendment claims against the
named defendants is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted.
3. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment
Excessive Fines claim is denied.
4. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Dauphin County Prison, the
Prison Board of Inspectors and the Business Office is denied.
5. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss DeRose, Nichols, Carroll and
McNeal based on their alleged lack of personal involvement is denied.
6. Defendants are granted twenty-one (21) days from the date of
this Order to file an Answer to the Complaint.
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. RICHARD CAPUTO
United States District Judge