PAPA v. CHESTER COUNTY PRISON et al
MEMORANDUM THAT PLFF'S MOTION TO TRANSFER IS DENIED BECAUSE PLFF. CAN POINT TO NO CONCRETE HARM THAT HIS CLAIM HAS SUFFERED DUE TO DEFICIENCIES OF THE LAW LIBRARY AT SCI-CHESTER, ETC. AN APPROPRIATE ORDER FOLLOWS.. SIGNED BY HONORABLE THOMAS N. ONEILL, JR ON 9/26/12.9/26/12 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE PLFF., MAILED AND E-MAILED TO COUNSEL.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
PHILLIP J. PAPA
CHESTER COUNTY PRISON,
DIRECTOR JACK HEALY and
SEPTEMBER 26, 2012
Presently before me is pro se 1 plaintiff Phillip Papa’s Motion to Request Transfer to a
State Facility and defendants’ Answer thereto. For the following reasons the motion is denied.
Papa is currently incarcerated at SCI-Chester. He filed a complaint alleging that the
prison provides no Jewish religious services or kosher meals and that this denies him his
constitutionally protected ability to practice his religious beliefs. See Dkt. No. 5, ECF p. 3-5.
His complaint requests placement in a state correctional institute that provides weekly Jewish
religious services as well as kosher meals and compensatory damages. Id. at 5. Defendants filed
an answer in which they assert that Papa is being provided with kosher meals, that he has been
permitted to see a rabbi and that his worship requests are being met (e.g. defendants assert that
Papa has been provided with a Tanakh, as he had previously requested). See Dkt. No. 10, ECF
Pro se pleadings must be held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted
by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Pro se complaints, especially from
civil rights plaintiffs, should be read liberally, as prisoners in particular are often at an
informational disadvantage that may prevent them from pleading the full factual predicate for
their claims. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 233–34 & n.6 (3d Cir. 2004).
p. 2. Additionally, defendants question the sincerity of Papa’s religious beliefs and allege that
his suit (and the instant motion) is merely a means by which to achieve a transfer to a different
state prison. See Docket # 13, ECF p. 1.
In the present motion, Papa contends that the conditions at SCI-Chester deprive him of
meaningful access to the courts. He asserts, inter alia, that he is only allowed access to the law
library for two hours a week, that he has no access to any person(s) trained in the law or a law
librarian and that he has no access to a copy machine or carbon paper. See Dkt. No. 12, ECF p.
2-3. Further, Papa alleges that that his “legal mail” has not been delivered in a reasonable
amount of time (and at times has been delayed up to 12 days), which has rendered him unable to
“obtain legal information from outside parties.” Id. at p. 4.
Defendants oppose the motion, asserting that requests for library access can be made
through the “inmate’s counselor and/or the Director of Inmate Services,” and such requests from
“any inmate with an approved pro se motion from any court will be honored” by prison staff.
See Docket # 13, ECF p. 2. Defendants also argue that “limited access to the law library is
insufficient to grant relief by way of a transfer . . . for denial of access to the courts because . . .
[Papa] has failed to plead any actual injury to his efforts to pursue a legal claim.” Id., citing
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). For the reasons set forth below, I agree with
defendants that Papa has not alleged any actual injury which would constitute a denial of access
to the courts, and so deny the motion.
It is well-established that inmates have a fundamental constitutional right of access to the
courts. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 346. However, the right is limited to direct criminal appeals, habeas
petitions and civil rights actions. Id. at 354. Within those areas, the right of access to the courts
“requires access to adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law
for filing challenges to criminal sentences, both direct and collateral, and civil rights actions.”
Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 224 (3d Cir. 2000). But an inmate has no independent right to
such facilities or programs. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351. Rather, the right of access to the courts
merely ensures that inmates possess “the capability of bringing contemplated challenges to
sentences or conditions of confinement before courts.” Id. at 356. 2 In Christopher v. Harbury,
the Supreme Court held that to pursue a claim for an access to the courts violation an inmate
must establish that the denial of access caused was an actual injury to a nonfrivolous or arguable
claim. 563 U.S. 403, 415 (2002). An actual injury must be pled regardless of whether the
inmate is alleging a denial of access to the courts for an anticipated future claim or one that was
lost or impeded because access was denied. Id. at 414-15. 3 Because the right of access to the
The right of access to the Court
does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into
litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder derivative
actions to slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires to be provided are
those that the inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or
collaterally, and in order to challenge the conditions of their confinement.
Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental
(and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355.
Claims for denial of access to the courts may arise from the frustration or hindrance of
“a litigating opportunity yet to be gained” (forward-looking access claim) or from the loss of a
meritorious suit that cannot now be tried (backward-looking claim). Christopher, 536 U.S. at
412-15. As part of the requirement to plead an injury, a plaintiff must allege that “a
nonfrivolous legal claim had been frustrated or was being impeded.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353; see
also Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415. The plaintiff must describe this “predicate claim . . . well
enough to apply the ‘nonfrivolous’ test and to show that the ‘arguable’ nature of the underlying
claim is more than hope.” Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415. The complaint should “state the
underlying claim in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) just as if it were being
independently pursued, and a like plain statement should describe any remedy available under
the access claim and presently unique to it.” Id. at 417–18.
courts is ancillary to Papa’s underlying claim, in order to establish an entitlement to any relief, he
must first demonstrate that the denial of his access to the law library resulted, or will result, in
some harm to his pursuit of the current litigation. Id. at 415.
Nothing in the record suggests that Papa’s pursuit of his claims has suffered from the
prison regulations that govern his access to the prison law library. Indeed, the docket reveals that
Papa has responded to court orders and successfully applied for in forma pauperis status after
initially failing to do so. See Dkt. Nos. 2-4. See Ingram v. SCI Camp Hill, No. 08-0023, 2010
WL 4973302, at *16 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 1, 2010) (dismissal of plaintiff’s action without prejudice
for failure to comply with in forma pauperis requirements did not constitute loss of claim
sufficient to state injury under denial of access to the courts); aff’d sub nom. Ingram v. S.C.I.
Camp Hill, 448 F. App’x 275, 280 (3d Cir. 2011). Papa does not identify any claim that he
anticipates filing that has been compromised by any limitations imposed upon his access to the
law library, nor does he identify any specific ways that his ability to pursue his current claim has
been hindered. While Papa asserts that he is only allowed two hours a week at the library due to
prison regulations, he has not shown how this has harmed his pursuit of his claims in this case.
See e.g., Gay v. Shannon, 211 F. App’x 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2006) (affirming dismissal of First
Amendment right of access claim because prisoner did not allege that he was actually injured by
having limited access to his legal materials). Moreover, Papa has been placed in Protective
Custody at his own request, which subjects his library access to a more curtailed schedule. See
Docket # 13, ECF p. 2.
I am reluctant to disturb the internal deliberations of prison officials regarding Papa’s
housing status or location of detention, and at this stage, such a review is unnecessary. 4 The
“[P]rison administrators should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and
execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order
Constitution only requires that prisoners be able to present their grievances to the courts, and
Papa has thus far done so. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 360. Because Papa can point to no concrete harm
that his claim has suffered due to deficiencies of the law library at SCI-Chester, I will deny his
motion for transfer.
An appropriate Order follows.
and discipline and to maintain institutional security.” Carter v. McGrady, 292 F.3d 152, 158 (3d
Cir. 2002), quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547 (1979). When a prison regulation
impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to
legitimate penological interests. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). To ensure that courts
afford appropriate deference to prison officials, the Supreme Court has determined that prison
regulations alleged to infringe constitutional rights are judged under a “reasonableness” test less
restrictive than that ordinarily applied to alleged infringements of fundamental constitutional
rights. O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987). Even where claims are made
under the First Amendment, a court must not substitute its judgment on difficult and sensitive
matters of institutional administration for the determinations of those charged with the
formidable task of running a prison. Id. at 353. Courts are ill-equipped to deal with problems of
prison administration and where state penal institutions are involved, federal courts have a
further reason for deference to the appropriate prison authorities. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 387.
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