Corbeil v. Cahill et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re; defts' MSJ 19 . (See memo for complete details.) Signed by Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner on 3/25/14. (ki)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CLINTON MATTHEW CORBEIL
VINCENT CAHILL III, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:13-CV-1323
(Chief Judge Conner)
Plaintiff Clinton Matthew Corbeil (“plaintiff”), an inmate formerly housed at
the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg (“USP-Lewisburg”), Pennsylvania,
commenced this Bivens1, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, civil rights action on May 15, 2013. (Doc.
1.) The matter is presently proceeding via an amended complaint (Doc. 9), wherein
plaintiff names the following individual defendants: Vincent Cahill, III (“Cahill”),
Supervisor of Education; Angelo J. Jordon (“Jordon”), Disciplinary Hearing Officer;
Teacher Jeremy Wachter (“Wachter”); and Teacher Matthew Kaskie (“Kaskie”).
Before the court is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) or for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56
filed on behalf of all defendants. (Doc. 19.) For the reasons set forth below, the
motion will be denied.
Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403
U.S. 388 (1971). Bivens stands for the proposition that “a citizen suffering a
compensable injury to a constitutionally protected interest could invoke the general
federal-question jurisdiction of the district courts to obtain an award of monetary
damages against the responsible federal official.” Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478,
Motion to Dismiss
Standard of Review
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the
dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
FED . R. CIV . P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the
court must “accept as true all [factual] allegations in the complaint and all
reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.” Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007)
(quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is
generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it “may also
consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and
items appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran &
Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat
Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).
Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide “the
defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”
Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the
face of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See
Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step,
“the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.’”
Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal
elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as
true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id.; see also Fowler v.
UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210–11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the well-pleaded factual
allegations have been isolated, the court must determine whether they are
sufficient to show a “plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556U.S. at 679 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege
facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level”). A claim “has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Allegations of the Complaint
Plaintiff alleges that, on June 10, 2009, he was institutionally employed as an
education worker at USP-Lewisburg. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1.) Purportedly, plaintiff exhibited
“outstanding” and “superior” work and, as a result, he was reassigned to the
“Library,” which enabled him to receive a substantially higher salary. (Id. at ¶ 2.)
According to the amended complaint, Corbeil continued to receive outstanding
work evaluations from July 7, 2009, through March 12, 2010, and was the highest
paid inmate worker. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-4.) During this time period, Corbeil lodged several
complaints against BOP staff and raised concerns with certain policies. (Id. at ¶ 5.)
For example, on March 12, 2010, he alleges that he spoke to defendant Cahill about
expanding the law library hours to comply with BOP policy and requested that
Cahill consider providing general population inmates with more educational
programming. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Plaintiff alleges that Cahill responded that “You inmates
don’t have any say so in here and you should know your place, I’m firing you, and if
you continue to push for changing the law library hours or expanding educ.
programs I’ll make your life miserable by placing you in the SHU and transferring
you to another ‘hell hole’ prison.” (Id. at ¶ 7.)
Between the dates of March 12, 2010 and March 16, 2010, defendant Cahill
allegedly removed plaintiff from his “educ./library assignment” on three occasions,
(Doc. 9, ¶ 9), only to have other staff members reassign plaintiff to the same
position. (Id.) “Eventually, defendant Cahill used his rank as the supervisor of
educ. To demand that his staff cease reassigning plaintiff to his educ./library work
On July 20, 2011, defendant Kaskie suggested that plaintiff partake in adult
continuing education (“ACE”) classes that aired on the inmate radio station. (Doc.
9, ¶ 10.) Between the dates of July 26, 2011, and August 8, 2011, plaintiff listened to
the radio programs, took notes, and completed the required tests. (Id. at ¶ 12.) On
August 9, 2011, he delivered his completed ACE tests to defendant Wachter and
requested credit. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Wachter allegedly responded “I’m not giving you
credit, you’re just trying to get $25, rather than answering your cop-out so you can
file on this matter – Mr. Cahill already told me if you tried this I was to write you up
and he’d make sure you were locked up and placed into the SHU (Special Housing
Unit) as well as transferred so he didn’t have to deal with your BP-9.” (Id. at ¶ 14.)
Later that same day, “Wachter wrote a false and fictitious incident report against
plaintiff (Incident Report #2196141) [charging him with stealing and being in an
unauthorized area] in retaliation and in conspiracy with defendants Cahill and
Kaskie for plaintiff’s filing about trying to get credit for ACE classes” and plaintiff
was transferred to the SHU. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-17.)
Plaintiff alleges that defendants Kaskie, Wachter, Cahill and Jordan
fabricated memorandums, denied him evidence and witnesses, and threatened or
otherwise discouraged staff representatives from assisting plaintiff during the
disciplinary hearing process. (Doc. 9, ¶¶ 20-22.) Further, defendant Jordan, who
found plaintiff guilty, was not impartial during the hearing and “pre-sanctioned”
him. (Id. at ¶ 23.)
Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241
in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia concerning
the disciplinary action taken by defendants. (Doc. 9, ¶ 28.) Plaintiff represents that
as a result of his habeas petition, the incident report was expunged and his good
time was restored.
He states that “[a]lthough the BOP has restored [his] good -time and
expunged the complained about incident report, as a result of this false incident
report plaintiff was; required to serve about 100 days in the ‘hole’ (most of time that
he did not have any of his personal belongings including legal work, address book,
radio, etc.), lost a high-paying prison job where he earned about $1500 per year, was
unable to participate in the contact visits that he was having prior to getting placed
in the hole, was transferred to a very less desirable prison with 1500 inmates (versus
220) that was more violent and over 1000 miles away from his friends and family,
was denied participation in a religious Life Connections program offered by the
BOP, and lost access to his telephone, commissary, and other general rights and
privileges.” (Doc, 9, ¶ 29.) He avers that his First amendment right to file
grievances and petition the courts and his due process rights were violated by
defendants. (Id. at ¶ 30.)
A Bivens action is the federal counterpart to an action filed under 42 U.S.C. §
1983. See Paton v. LaPrade, 524 F.2d 82 (3d Cir.1975); Farmer v. Carlson, 685 F.
Supp. 1335, 1338 (M.D.Pa. 1988). Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code
offers private citizens a cause of action for violations of federal law by state officials.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
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 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. . . .
Id.; see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95
F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege
“the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States,
and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting
under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Plaintiff alleges that defendants retaliated against him because he was filing
grievances concerning access to the prison law library and the lack of expansion of
inmate adult educational programs. The First Amendment 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). Retaliation for expressive activities can
infringe upon an individual’s rights under the First Amendment. See Allah v.
Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 224-25 (3d Cir. 2000). To prevail on a retaliation claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that he was engaged in
constitutionally protected activity; (2) that he suffered an “adverse action” by
government officials; and (3) that there is “a causal link between the exercise of his
constitutional rights and the adverse action taken against him.” Rauser v. Horn,
241 F.3d 330 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Allah, 229 F.3d at 225).
Plaintiff also alleges that he is entitled to monetary compensation because his
due process rights were violated in the context of the disciplinary hearing.2 The
Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides in pertinent
part that “[n]o State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law. . . .” Due process protections attach in prison disciplinary
Plaintiff alleges that subsequent to his filing of a petition for writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in the United States District Court for the
Western District of Virginia, the Bureau of Prisons expunged his incident report
expunged and restored his good conduct time.
proceedings in which the loss of good-time credits is at stake. See Wolff v.
McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564–65 (1974). In Wolff, the Supreme Court held that an
inmate must receive “(1) advance written notice of the disciplinary charges; (2) an
opportunity, when consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals, to call
witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense; and (3) a written
statement by the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the
disciplinary action.” Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985). Further, the
disciplinary hearing officer’s decision must be supported by “some evidence” on the
record. See Hill, 472 U.S. at 454, 105 S.Ct. 2768.
Review of plaintiff’s amended complaint (Doc. 9), coupled with a reading of
his brief (Doc. 30) in opposition to defendants’ motion, reveals that plaintiff is
plainly alleging First Amendment retaliation and Fourteenth Amendment due
process claims. Defendants ostensibly fail to recognize the retaliation claim and,
consequently, do not address it in their motion to dismiss or for summary judgment.
Rather, they misapprehended plaintiff’s allegations of adverse action, i.e., loss of
prison job, placement in the SHU, interference with filing of grievances, loss of
privileges, denial of education materials, and transfer to a less desirable facility, as
individual constitutional claims and move to dismiss each of them.3
defendants do not respond in any fashion to plaintiff’s claim that the procedures
used during his disciplinary proceedings violated his Fourteenth Amendment due
process rights. Therefore, defendants’ motion to dismiss will be denied.
Standard of Review
Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do
not present a “genuine issue as to any material fact” and for which a jury trial
would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED . R. CIV . P. 56(c). The
burden of proof is upon 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); FED . R. CIV . P.
56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). “‘The
non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in the
complaint; instead, it must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or
by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, and designate
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’ Celotex [ ], 477 U.S. [ ]
Defendants attempt to remedy this misapprehension in their reply brief.
See Doc. 41, at 4-10. However, new arguments raised for the first time in a reply
brief may be disregarded by the court. Anspach v. City of Philadelphia, 503 F.3d
256, 259 n. 1 (3d Cir. 2007) (observing that absent compelling circumstances, “failure
to raise an argument in one’s opening brief waives it.”); Bayer AG v. Schein
Pharma. Inc., 129 F. Supp.2d 705, 716 (D.N.J. 2001). Moreover, these arguments are
more appropriately raised in the context of standard Rule 56 motion practice, i.e.
after the development of a full and complete factual record.
324 [ ] (1986) (internal quotations omitted).” Schiazza v. Zoning Hearing Bd.,
Fairview Twp., York County, Pa, 168 F. Supp. 2d 361, 365 (M.D. Pa. 2001). This
evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the
non-moving party on the claims. See 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); see also FED . R. CIV . P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the
cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.
Defendants invoke the defense of qualified immunity in their summary
judgment motion. “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government
officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person
would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (internal
quotation marks omitted). “Qualified immunity balances two important
interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power
irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and
liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. It
“provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). “Thus, so
long as an official reasonably believes that his conduct complies with the law,
qualified immunity will shield that official from liability.” Sharp, 669 F.3d at 159
(citing Pearson, 555 U.S. at 244). Although qualified immunity is generally a
question of law that should be considered at the earliest possible stage of
proceedings, a genuine dispute of material fact may preclude summary judgment
on qualified immunity. Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 325–26 (3d Cir. 2009).
Defendants argument is plainly flawed in that it does not seek the protection
of qualified immunity on the retaliation or due process claims contained in
plaintiff’s amended complaint. Hence, the summary judgment motion will be
For the above-stated reasons, defendants’ motion (Doc. 19) to dismiss or for
summary judgment will be denied.
An appropriate order will issue.
/S/ CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
United States District Court
Middle District of Pennsylvania
March 25, 2014
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