HINTON v. TENNIS et al

Filing 33

MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE LAWRENCE F. STENGEL ON 10/27/10. 10/28/10 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED, E-MAILED AND FAXED. (COPY TO PRO SE)(lvj, )

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HINTON v. TENNIS et al Doc. 33 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA C O R E Y HINTON, P la in tiff v. F R A N K L I N J. TENNIS, et al. D e fe n d a n ts : : : : : : : C I V I L ACTION No. 08-0295 MEMORANDUM S T E N G E L , J. O c to b e r 27, 2010 C o re y Hinton, a former inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, b ro u g h t this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of h is rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The d e f e n d a n ts are several officials of the correctional facilities in which Mr. Hinton has been in c a rc e ra te d . They have filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the F e d e ra l Rules of Civil Procedure.1 Mr. Hinton has not responded to the motion, and the tim e to do so has expired. For the following reasons, I will grant the motion in its e n tire ty, and enter judgment in favor of the defendants. I. BACKGROUND In 1995, as a result of two separate and unrelated incidents, Mr. Hinton was 1 I note that the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, see Document #29, yet filed a brief in support of its motion to dismiss, see Document #30. The pleadings in this case are closed, and discovery is complete. Although the brief does not provide a standard of review, I will construe the motion as one for summary judgment. Dockets.Justia.com convicted of attempted homicide and car theft. Three years later, the attempted homicide c h a rg e was reduced to aggravated assault. He was sentenced on both convictions to four to six years' imprisonment to run consecutively, and served the maximum time. In 2004, M r. Hinton was convicted of a drug offense, and sentenced to two to five years' im p ris o n m e n t. The record indicates that he was "maxed out" on that conviction on N o v e m b e r 29, 2009. Mr. Hinton testified at his deposition that, in early 2006, while at the State C o rre c tio n a l Institution at Rockview, he applied for pre-release to a community c o rre c tio n s center. On May 15, 2006, Mr. Hinton was told by his counselors at Rockview th a t they would support him for pre-release. He was also told, however, that no final d e c is io n would be made until letters were sent to the district attorney, the sentencing ju d g e , and any victims. Those letters were mailed on May 22, 2006. Because no replies w e re received within thirty days, another meeting was scheduled, and he met with his c o u n s e lo rs at Rockview on July 10, 2006. Two weeks before that meeting, Mr. Hinton was denied parole based on his need to attend a required "batterers" group. The administration at Rockview, nevertheless, a p p ro v e d Mr. Hinton for pre-release. On October 16, 2006, Mr. Hinton was transferred to the Joseph Coleman Center in Philadelphia, a community corrections center. On January 4, 2007, Defendant Evans Gary, Jr., one of the regional directors of the C o le m a n Center, issued a misconduct charge against Mr. Hinton alleging that Mr. Hinton 2 had threatened a staff member in the early hours of January 1, 2007. Such conduct would b e considered a violation of one of the conditions of Mr. Hinton's pre-release program. Mr. Hinton has consistently maintained that he was asleep at the time of the alleged o f f e n s e , and thus was innocent of the charges. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hinton was tra n s f e rre d to the State Correctional Institution at Graterford. Hearing Examiner Mary C a n in o held a hearing at Graterford on January 8, 2007 on the misconduct charges. Mr. H in to n insists that he submitted a witness form to Miss Canino at the hearing, although th e re is no record of the form and he does not have a copy of it. Miss Canino dismissed th e charges without prejudice because the misconduct report did not specifically allege th e threatening behavior with which Mr. Hinton was charged. A second misconduct report for the same incident was issued by Mr. Gary. After a h e a rin g on February 8, 2007, Miss Canino dismissed the charges without prejudice for the re p o rt's same deficiency, i.e., failure to allege the threatening behavior. Mr. Hinton did n o t submit a witness form prior to the second hearing. Mr. Hinton was transferred to Rockview, where on March 23, 2007, he received ye t another set of charges stemming from the January 1, 2007 incident. A hearing on th o s e charges was conducted on March 27, 2007.2 Mr. Hinton also did not submit a w itn e s s form for that hearing. Defendant Robert Reed, the hearing examiner, found Mr. H in to n guilty of both charges in the misconduct report, i.e., threatening a staff member 2 Mr. Hinton recalls the hearing taking place on March 23, 2007. The record reflects, however, that the hearing was held on March 27, 2007. See Document #29-3 at 11-12. 3 and violating a condition of pre-release. In his report of hearing action, Mr. Reed stated th a t he "believes the staff member's written report over the denial of inmate Hinton that H in to n did make a threat towards staff when he stated that he was going to kick S u p e rv is o r Bennett's f**king ass." Mr. Reed sanctioned Mr. Hinton by revoking his p re -re le a s e status. Mr. Hinton received no time in disciplinary custody as a result of b e in g found guilty of these charges. Mr. Hinton appealed Mr. Reed's decision to the Program Review Committee, the s u p e rin te n d e n t of Rockview, and the Chief Hearing Examiner of the Department of C o rre c tio n s . Mr. Reed's decision was upheld at each level of review. In his amended complaint, Mr. Hinton claims that he had been granted a liberty in te re s t through the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole when he was "granted p a ro le ,"3 released from Rockview, and placed in the Coleman Center. He further c o n te n d s that the revocation of his "parole constitutes grounds for claiming deprivation of a constitutionally-based liberty interest, which was illegally terminated through his re m o v a l from Coleman Hall and transfer to SCI - Graterford and further transfer to SCI R o c k v ie w ." He seeks the reversal of the hearing examiner's decision, expungement of th e incident from his record, re-instatement of his pre-release status, and punitive d a m a g e s in the amount of $10,000 plus costs and attorneys fees. 3 I note that parole and pre-release are not interchangeable terms. Mr. Hinton was denied parole in June 2006, but was granted pre-release a few months thereafter. 4 II. STANDARD OF REVIEW S u m m a ry judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to in te rro g a to rie s , and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is n o genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment a s a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such th a t a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. L ib e rty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it might a f f e c t the outcome of the case under governing law. Id. A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility for in f o rm in g the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record th a t it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v . Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of p ro o f on a particular issue at trial, the movant's initial Celotex burden can be met simply b y "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the n o n -m o v in g party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, " th e adverse party's response, by affidavits or otherwise as provided in this rule, must set f o rth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). That is, summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by m a k in g a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to th a t party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex 5 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 322. Under Rule 56, the court must view the evidence p re s e n te d on the motion in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Anderson v. L ib e rty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255. The court must decide not whether the evidence u n m is ta k a b ly favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a v e rd ic t for the plaintiff on the evidence presented. Id. at 252. If the non-moving party h a s exceeded the mere scintilla of evidence threshold and has offered a genuine issue of m a te ria l fact, then the court cannot credit the movant's version of events against the o p p o n e n t, even if the quantity of the movant's evidence far outweighs that of its o p p o n e n t. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America, Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3 d Cir. 1992). III. DISCUSSION In his amended complaint, Mr. Hinton alleges that he was denied both his right to d u e process and his liberty interest when he was transferred from the Coleman Center to G ra te rf o rd without a hearing, and when he was not permitted to call witnesses at his m isc o n d u c t hearings. He indicates that the liberty interest was granted to him by the P e n n sylv a n ia Board of Probation and Parole, as is evidenced by his placement into the C o le m a n Center. Mr. Hinton contends that by terminating that liberty interest, the D e p a rtm e n t of Corrections violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. Title 42 of the United States Code 1983 provides remedies for deprivations of rig h ts established in the Constitution or federal laws. It does not, by its own terms, create 6 substantive rights. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979). Section 1983 p ro v id e s , in part: E v e ry person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, re g u la tio n , custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the D is tric t of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any c itiz e n of the United States or other person within the ju ris d ic tio n thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, o r immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be lia b le to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or o th e r proper proceeding for redress. T o have succeeded on his due process claim, Mr. Hinton must have first d e m o n s tra te d that he was deprived of a liberty interest when his pre-release status was re v o k e d , and he was transferred from the Coleman Center to Graterford. "Protected lib e rty . . . interests generally arise either from the Due Process Clause or from s ta te -c re a te d statutory entitlement." Fraise v. Terhune, 283 F.3d 506, 522 (3d Cir. 2002) (q u o tin g Shoats v. Horn, 213 F.3d 140, 143 (3d Cir. 2000)); see also Asquith v. Dep't of C o rre c tio n s , 186 F.3d 407, 409 (3d Cir. 1999). The Supreme Court has recognized that " a s long as the conditions or degree of confinement to which the prisoner is subjected is w ith in the sentence imposed upon him and is not otherwise violative of the Constitution, th e Due Process Clause does not in itself subject an inmate's treatment by prison a u th o ritie s to judicial oversight." Asquith, 186 F.3d at 410 (quoting Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U .S . 460, 468 (1983)); see also Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005) ("We have h e ld that the Constitution itself does not give rise to a liberty interest in avoiding transfer to more adverse conditions of confinement"); Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225 7 (1976) (no liberty interest arising from Due Process Clause itself in transfer from low-to m a x im u m -s e c u rity prison because confinement in any of the State's institutions is within th e normal limits or range of custody which the conviction has authorized the State to im p o s e ); Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 245 (1983) (transfer of an inmate to a p riso n in another state did not implicate due process clause). Here, the record demonstrates that the only loss suffered by Mr. Hinton as a result o f the misconduct report and subsequent conviction was the revocation of his pre-release s ta tu s . Mr. Hinton was not subjected to confinement that exceeded the sentence imposed u p o n him or that otherwise violated the Constitution, and therefore no liberty interest c re a te d by the Due Process Clause itself was impinged. See Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 468 ("It is plain that the transfer of an inmate to less amenable and more restrictive quarters for n o n -p u n itiv e reasons is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a p riso n sentence"). Moreover, Mr. Hinton's change in classification level does not involve a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 8 8 n. 9 (1976) (prison officials have discretion over prisoner classifications and prisoners h a v e no legitimate Due Process concerns in them). Mr. Hinton is also unable to demonstrate that he was deprived of a state-created lib e rty interest. In Sandin v. Conner, the Supreme Court recognized that such interests a re "generally limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of 8 its own force, . . . nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in re la tio n to the ordinary incidents of prison life." 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995); see also S h o a ts , 213 F.3d at 143; Asquith, 186 F.3d at 412. In ascertaining whether something is a n "atypical and significant" hardship, a court considers "what a sentenced inmate may re a s o n a b ly expect to encounter as a result of his or her conviction in accordance with due p ro c e s s of law." Asquith, 186 F.3d at 412 (quoting Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703, 706 n .2 (3d Cir. 1997). Consequently, the focus of this inquiry should be on the nature of the d e p riv a tio n . See Sandin, 515 U.S. at 481-482. Although an inmate who is transferred f ro m the Coleman Center to Graterford and/or Rockview faces additional restrictions, the tra n s f e r does not impose an atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary in c id e n ts of prison life. See Fraise v. Terhune, 283 F.3d at 522. A sentenced state p riso n e r can reasonably expect to be housed in a state correctional institution during his te rm of imprisonment. It is part of the ordinary incidents of prison life. The nature of b e in g deprived of one's pre-release status does not impose an atypical and/or significant h a rd s h ip on a prisoner. Accordingly, because Mr. Hinton was not deprived of a legally recognized liberty in te re s t, he cannot show a violation of due process. Even if Mr. Hinton could show, h o w e v e r, that he was denied a liberty interest, the Department of Corrections still p ro v id e d him with adequate procedures under the circumstances. Transfers to the most h a rs h prison conditions trigger only minimal procedures, and even then, Due Process does 9 not require prior notice of the transfer or the right to call witnesses as long as the inmate is provided with a meaningful opportunity to challenge the grounds of his segregation. In H e w itt v. Helms, the Supreme Court considered the process due inmates assigned to a d m in is tra tiv e custody, holding that in those situations, an "informal, non-adversary re v ie w " at which the prisoner has the opportunity to state his views, satisfies the re q u ire m e n ts of due process: A n inmate must merely receive some notice of the charges a g a in s t him and an opportunity to present his views to the p ris o n official charged with deciding whether to transfer him to administrative segregation. Ordinarily a written statement b y the inmate will accomplish this purpose, although prison a d m in is tra to rs may find it more useful to permit oral p re s e n ta tio n s in cases where they believe a written statement w o u ld be ineffective. So long as this occurs, and the d e c is io n m a k e r reviews the charges and then-available evidence against the prisoner, the D 4 5 9 U.S. at 476; see also Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 217 (informal procedures giving notice f o r basis of placement in a "supermax" facility, an opportunity for rebuttal at a hearing a n d multiple levels of review satisfied due process). While Mr. Hinton's transfer from a c o m m u n ity corrections center to a state prison is much less severe than a transfer to a " s u p e rm a x " facility, he is not entitled to any more procedures than an inmate facing s e g re g a te d confinement.4 Mr. Hinton was provided with notice of the charges, and was g iv e n an opportunity to present his side to the hearing examiner. He also took advantage 4 I note that this is not a case where good-time credit is at stake as it was in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974), which would require a more formalized adversarial proceeding. 10 of the opportunities for subsequent review of the hearing examiner's decision. No further p ro c e s s was required. In conclusion, because Mr. Hinton was not deprived of a constitutionally-based lib e rty interest when his pre-release status was revoked, he cannot establish a denial of his c o n s titu tio n a l right to due process. An appropriate Order follows. 11 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA C O R E Y HINTON, P la in tiff v. F R A N K L I N J. TENNIS, et al. D e fe n d a n ts : : : : : : : C I V I L ACTION No. 08-0295 ORDER A N D NOW, this 27th day of October, 2010, upon consideration of the d e f e n d a n ts ' unanswered motion for summary judgment (Document #29), it is hereby O R D E R E D that the motion is GRANTED in its entirety. T h e Clerk of Court is directed to mark this case CLOSED for all purposes. B Y THE COURT: /s/ Lawrence F. Stengel LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, J. IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA C O R E Y HINTON, P la in tiff v. F R A N K L I N J. TENNIS, et al. D e fe n d a n ts : : : : : : : C I V I L ACTION No. 08-0295 ORDER OF JUDGMENT A N D NOW, this 27th day of October, 2010, in accordance with my Order g ra n tin g the defendants' motion for summary judgment, and in accordance with Federal R u le of Civil Procedure 58, judgment is hereby entered in favor of the defendants, and a g a in s t the plaintiff. B Y THE COURT: /s/ Lawrence F. Stengel LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, J.

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