Tillery v. Wetzel et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 12 MOTION TO DISMISS, 21 MOTION to Dismiss.Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 8/22/17. (dw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
MAJOR GEORGE TILLERY,
JOHN WETZEL, et al.,
CIVIL NO. 3:CV-16-0235
Presently before the Court are two motions to dismiss the Complaint filed by
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) Defendants1 and those employed by the
contract medical care providers at SCI-Mahanoy and SCI-Frackville.2 (ECF Nos. 12 and 21.)
For the reasons that follow, the DOC Defendants' motion will be granted in part and
denied in part, while the medical Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted.
The Department of Corrections Defendants are: Secretary John Wetzel; SCI-Mahanoy
Superintendent John Kerestes,; Dr. Paul Noel, Director fo the DOC Medical Services; SCI-Frackville
Superintendent Brenda Tritt; SCI-Frackville Deputy Superintendent George Miller, Acting
Superintendent's Assistant Jennifer Newberry; John Steinhart, Chief Health Care Administrator (CHCA)
SCI-Mahanoy; Vickie Stanishefski, former CHCA SCI-Frackville; RN Karen Holly; Major Michael
Damore; Lt. Clark; Ms. Griffin; Captain S. Downs; Sharon Luquis; Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance
Officer, DOC Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals; and Randall Sears, Deputy Counsel.
The named medical care providers, Dr. John Lisiak and Dr. Haresh Pandya, are
represented by separate counsel than the DOC Defendants.
Pro se Plaintiff, Major George Tillery, a sixty-seven year old African-American inmate
presently housed at the Frackville State Correctional Institution (SCI-Frackville), in Frackville,
Pennsylvania. Mr. Tillery is serving a life sentence without parole. He has been housed in
various state and federal prisons over the past thirty years, including USP-Leavenworth, SCICamp Hill's Special Management Unit, and New Jersey's Management Control Unit.3 (ECF
No. 1, Compl.) He has served more than twenty years in solitary confinement. (Id., ¶ 43.)
In March 2010, Mr. Tillery returned to the Pennsylvania DOC and was housed at SCIForest, a maximum security facility and placed on the Restricted Release List (RLL). (Id., ¶
33.) While there he participated in the RLL Step Down program. (Id., ¶ 40.) Upon his
successful completion of the program, and with Secretary Wetzel's approval, on April 30, 2014,
Mr. Tillery was transferred to SCI-Mahanoy's Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) under
administrative custody. (Id., ¶ 40.) At the time of his transfer, Mr. Tillery had been misconduct
free for eleven years. (Id.)
Events at SCI-Mahanoy
On May 14, 2014, two weeks after his arrival at SCI-Mahanoy, he was released to
general population and placed on cellblock DB. (Id., ¶ 42.) John Kerestes was SCI-Mahanoy's
Superintendent when Plaintiff arrived at the facility. Superintendent Kerestes previously served
Mr. Tillery is an experienced litigator who served as the lead plaintiff in a class action
challenging the conditions of confinement at SCI-Pittsburgh in the late eighties. See Tillery v.
Owens, 719 F. Supp. 1256 (W.D. Pa. 1990), aff'd, 907 F.2d 418 (3d Cir. 1990).
as the Deputy Superintendent at SCI-Frackville when Mr. Tillery was housed there in 2002 but
eventually transferred out after he was accused of organizing inmates to attack officers. (Id.,
In November 2014, at the suggestion of Major Damore, supervisor of all unit managers
at SCI-Mahanoy, Mr. Tillery was selected to become a Peer Specialist. Peer Specialists,
including Mr. Tillery, were paid to participate in a ten day training program at the DOC's Central
Office. (Id., ¶ 47.) His job as a Peer Specialist required him to be on-call twenty four hours
a day to assist prison staff with a problem with a prisoner or otherwise assisting other
prisoners, particularly the elderly and mentally ill. In his role as Peer Specialist, Mr. Tillery met
monthly with Maj. Damore and unit managers to discuss prisoner problems. (Id., ¶ 49.) He
received approximately seventy dollars a month as compensation. (Id., ¶ 47.)
On February 25, 2015, Maj. Damore removed Mr. Tillery from his position as Peer
Specialist in retaliation for his advocating for himself and other inmates. Maj. Damore also
moved him from cellblock DB to cellblock CB on the other side of the prison. Maj. Damore told
him the move was to give him a “new start.” (Id., ¶¶ 61 - 62.) On March 5, 2015, Mr. Tillery
filed Grievance 555752 (ECF No. 22-1, p. 12), asserting he was removed from his job in
retaliation for “saying bad things about the prison,” and advising Maj. Damore of “Ms. Griffin's
racial views.” (Id.) He claims he was removed by Maj. Damore who did not follow DC-ADM
816 when removing him from his position. (Id.) George Beaver, SCI-Mahanoy's Corrections
Employment Vocational Coordinator responded to the grievance on March 11, 2015. (Id., p.
13.) He wrote that
[o]n February 25, 2015 you attended a Support Team Hearing on
your current housing unit C-B, which was conducted by Major
Damore (Mjr. Unit Managment); for being a disruptive influence to
both inmates and staff on your previous housing unit D-B. Per
policy DC-ADM 816, Inmate Compensation Manual; Section 1 General Procedures; Subsection B, #6. No inmate has a right to
be assigned or continue in any specific work assignment. And a
Support Team Hearing is the same as an informal disciplinary
action. Your pay rate was reduced to 2d ($.29), and will be
reinstated once you are placed in a block job. You were removed
from your assignment as a Certified Peer Support through your
(Id.) (emphasis in original). On March 26, 2015, Superintendent Kerestes upheld Mr. Beaver's
denial of the grievance. (Id., p. 16.) Mr. Tillery's initial appeal to the Secretary's Office of
Inmate Grievances & Appeals (SOIGA) was returned on April 17, 2015, without resolution due
to Plaintiff's failure to supply a signed and dated legible copy of his initial grievance. (Id., p.
23.) On June 9, 2015, Keri Moore signed the SOIGA resolution of this grievance on Dorina
Varner's behalf. (Id., p. 11.) SOIGA denied Mr. Tillery's appeal. (Id.)
Mental Health & Medical Issues
As with most senior citizens, Mr. Tillery has numerous medical issues: hypertension;
poor circulation; degenerative arthritis in his leg and back; episodes of labored breathing and
chest pain; a failing liver with an intrahepatic stint; and untreated Hepatitis C. He has also had
his gall bladder removed. In the past he was provided an additional mattress, orthopedic
shoes, a back brace as well as medication for these ailments. (Id., ¶ 34.)
As a condition of his release from the Step Down Program, and his entry into general
population, Mr. Tillery was to receive mental health aftercare. Yet, his requests for the same
were ignored by Ms. Griffin, his Unit Manager (UM), “who didn't want prisoners from RLL to
be complaining about prison conditions.” (Id. at ¶ 44.) On August 26, 2014, Mr. Tillery filed
grievance 524682, to obtain weekly psychological sessions.4
In December 2014, Mr. Tillery developed a skin rash covering his lower extremities. At
first he purchased hydrocortisone cream from the prison commissary to treat it. When the rash
became worse, and he learned other inmates on the block had the same rash, he went to sick
call. He was given another cream, triamcinolone, as treatment. (Id., ¶¶ 50 - 51.) On January
31, 2015, Mr. Tillery filed Grievance 549714, “object[ing] to the lack of diagnosis and improper
treatment” of his ongoing skin rash. (Id., ¶ 52.) On February 24, 2015, Nurse Karen Holly
denied Grievance 549714. She also disputed Mr. Tillery's assertion of a “rash epidemic” on
the housing unit and asked for his proof of the same. CHCA Steinhart and Superintendent
Kerestes upheld Nurse Kelly's “hostile” grievance response. (Id., ¶ 58.) On March 11, 2015,
Mr. Tillery filed Grievance 556111 complaining of Dr. Lisiak and RN Holly's “deliberate
indifference” to his continuing painful skin rash. (Id., ¶ 68.) It was denied as frivolous. (Id.)
Plaintiff filed a similar grievance on December 6, 2015, while he was housed at
SCI-Frackville. See ECF No. 22-1, Grievance 601408, pp. 31 - 32. In that grievance, Mr.
Tillery claims he has a “Stability C” rating and that members of the psychology and medical
department were colluding with Deputy Miller to deny him proper mental health treatment in
retaliation for his filing of grievances. (Id., p. 32.) Mr. Tillery appealed this grievance to
final review. See ECF No. 22-2, Moore Decl., ¶ 12.
Mr. Tillery noticed another inmate, Mumia Abu-Jamal, suffering from the same rash and
not looking well. He urged this inmate to seek medical assistance. (Id., ¶ 53.) On or about
February 18, 2015, in his role as a Peer Specialist, Plaintiff approached Superintendent
Kerestes, and told him Mumia Abu-Jamal “looked as if he was going to die and needed to be
taken to the hospital.” (Id., ¶ 54.) Superintendent Kerestes told him to mind his own business
and take care of himself. (Id.) He also shared his concern that older inmates were getting
misconducts for sleeping through count and that there was an undiagnosed and untreated skin
rash in the cellblock. (Id., ¶ 55.) Two days later Maj. Damore “berated” Mr. Tillery for having
spoken Supt. Kerestes and said that “he should have just come to [him].” (Id., ¶ 57.)
On March 30, 2015, Mr. Abu-Jamal was rushed to an outside hospital in diabetic shock.
He returned to the facility on April 2, 2015. (Id., ¶ 69.) “It became publicaly known that Tillery
had advocated for Mumia Abu-Jamal and warned Kerestes that Abu-Jamal needed to go to
the hospital.” (Id., ¶ 73.)
Lt. Clark's Searches of Mr. Tillery's Cell
On February 18, 2015, Lt. Clark conducted an “investigative” cell search of Plaintiff's
cell. His cell was left in shambles and some of his legal materials were removed. A few day
later “most of” his legal materials were returned. Plaintiff filed grievance 554099 concerning
this event. (Id., ¶ 56.) Lt. Clark searched Mr. Tillery's cell again on February 25, 2015 “by
accident.” (Id., ¶ 59.) Meanwhile, UM Griffin threatened Plaintiff “with [a] designation as a
'Muslim combatant' if he kept filing grievances.” (Id., ¶ 60.) On March 10, 2015, Lt. Clark
conducted another search of Plaintiff's cell, allegedly random, that left it in shambles. (Id., ¶
63.) Mr. Tillery filed Grievance 556125 on March 12, 2015 alleging that while the DOC had the
right to conduct cell searches, Lt. Clark's searches “were conducted to deprive him of legal
materials and to harass him.” (Id., ¶ 63 and 66.) Plaintiff also filed a “criminal complaint”
against Lt. Clark “for theft of his personal property and submitted it to [Maj.] Damore.” (Id., ¶
64.) Lt. Clark then threatened to search Plaintiff's cell whenever he was on duty because Mr.
Tillery had filed “state charges” against him. (Id., ¶ 65.) Mr. Tillery was told that the
justification for the cell searches was that he was designated an “escape risk”. (Id., ¶ 67.)
Transfer from SCI-Mahanoy to SCI-Frackville
On April 8, 2015, Mr. Tillery was transferred from SCI-Mahanoy to SCI-Frackville without
advance notice. He was not permitted to pack his personal effects or legal papers. (Id., ¶ 74.)
He had not received any misconducts while at SCI-Mahanoy. (Id., ¶ 75.) He was told SCIMahanoy initiated “an administrative swap.” (Id., ¶ 76.) Captain Downs, SCI-Frackville's
Intelligence Officer, initially objected to the transfer as Mr. Tillery's prior stay at SCI-Frackville
“didn't work.” (Id., ¶ 77.) Mr. Tillery's legal counsel was scheduled to meet with him, at SCIMahanoy, on April 9, 2015 and received no advance notice that he had been moved to SCIFrackville. (Id., ¶ 78 - 81.)
On April 8, 2015, Mr. Tillery's legal counsel emailed “DOC Counsel” and Superintendent
Kerestes that he was improperly classified as an escape risk and that his periodic cell searches
were not justified. (Id., ¶ 80.) On April 13, 2015, Plaintiff's legal counsel mailed a copy of the
letter to Superintendent Tritt. (Id., ¶ 82.) Counsel asserted that the cell searches and transfer
were in retaliation for client's filing of grievances, misclassification as an escape risk and for
his speaking out on behalf of Mr. Abu-Jamal. (Id., ¶ 82.)
Events at SCI-Mahanoy
Mr. Tillery requested Superintendent Tritt to correct the erroneous information in his file
that labeled him an “escape risk”. Superintendent Tritt advised him that SCI-Frackville was a
“new slate” and that he would have to wait until March 2016 to conduct a security classification
(Id., ¶ 84.)
Mr. Tillery filed Grievance 564228 on April 29, 2015 based on
Superintendent Tritt's refusal to conduct a review.
False and Retaliatory Misconduct Charges
On April 30, 2015, Mr. Tillery was charged with receiving a “letter with positive test
results for suboxone.” Capt. Downs issued Plaintiff misconduct B723372 charging Mr. Tillery
with two Class 1 misconducts: #22 Possession or use of a dangerous or controlled substance
and #40 Unauthorized Use of Mail or telephone. (Id., ¶ 86.) The substance was affixed to the
envelope and underneath the postage stamp. ((Id., ¶ 87.) After testing in the institution's
security office, Mr. Tillery was placed in administrative custody pending the outcome of his
misconduct hearing. (Id., ¶¶ 87 - 88.) No investigation was conducted to determine who the
letter was from, no independent testing of the material alleged to be a controlled substance
was conducted. No attempt was made to show that Mr. Tillery solicited or had any knowledge
of the suboxone being sent to him. (Id., ¶ 89.) Prior to this incident, Mr. Tillery had never
received a misconduct for drugs or dirty urine in 32 years. (Id., ¶ 90.) HEX Luquis conducted
Plaintiff's misconduct hearing on May 7, 2015. (Id., ¶¶ 92 - 93.) She found him guilty of both
charges and gave him 90 days in the RHU for each, totally 180 days, or until October 26, 2016.
(Id., ¶ 93.)
Mr. Tillery filed a Misconduct Hearing Appeal to the Program Review Committee (PRC)
arguing the punishment was disproportionate to the offense and that there was insufficient
evidence to support the decision. (Id., ¶ 95.) Mr. Tillery denied any knowledge or involvement
in the attempt to smuggle drugs into the institution via the mail. He claims he was “set up.”
(Id., ¶ 96.) The PRC upheld HEX Luquis' determination. (Id., ¶ 98.) On May 18, 2015, Plaintiff
appealed the PRC's decision to Superintendent Tritt. (Id., ¶ 99.)
On May 13, 2015, Mr. Tillery asked Superintendent Tritt to be criminally arrested for
his alleged crime because there was insufficient evidence to support the misconduct findings
and lack of legitimate testing of the alleged drug. (Id., ¶ 97.) He also offered to take a lie
detector test. (Id.) Superintendent Tritt declined his request noting the testing was quite clear
and valid. (Id.)
Following the misconduct hearing, Mr. Tillery's attorney investigated the sender's
address of tainted mail. (Id., ¶ 104.) Mr. Abdul H. Jamal (ne Larry Francis) from Philadelphia
admitted to sending Mr. Tillery the letter but denied including any drugs in it. (Id., ¶¶ 105 -
106.) He signed an affidavit to the same which was provided to Secretary Wetzel, DOC Legal
Counsel Theron Perez, Superintendent Kerestes and Superintendent Tritt. (Id., ¶ 109.) Mr.
Tillery's legal counsel sought a full investigation of the retaliatory conduct against Mr. Tillery,
including the misconduct. (Id.)
On June 25, 2015, DOC Deputy Chief Counsel Randall N. Sears “rejected the Plaintiff's
objections to the set-up retaliatory disciplinary charges.” (Id., ¶ 118 and ¶ 155.)
Lt. Brian Taylor
On June 10, 2015, Lt. Brian Taylor, of the DOC's Office of Special Investigations (OSI),
interviewed Mr. Tillery at the request of Secretary Wetzel. (Id., ¶ 112.) Lt. Taylor conducted
a full review of Mr. Tillery's history in the Pennsylvania DOC, his medical complaints, his
retaliatory transfer from SCI-Mahanoy to SCI-Frackville, false separation and charges that are
still kept in Plaintiff's file and are used to incorrectly classify him and his security designation
as an “escape risk” and the retaliatory false misconduct he received. (Id., ¶ 113 - 114.) Lt.
Taylor advised Plaintiff that the “prison officials have no proof that he committed the
misconducts, but that [Mr.] Tilleyr had no proof it was a set up.” (Id., ¶ 116.)
(4) RHU Conditions of Confinement
Mr. Tillery claims he was not provided with a change of underwear in the RHU from April
30, 2015 until May 20, 2015. (Id., ¶ 103.) After his family insisted, he received his liver
medication. He did not receive his legal papers until May 20, 2015. (Id.) On June 12, 2015,
Mr. Tillery's request to call his attorney was denied by the PRC. (Id., ¶ 117.) Additionally, he
claims he was denied his medications, placed on food rations, denied commissary and contact
visits, and allowed very limited outdoor exercise. (Id., ¶ 128). While in the RHU, Mr. Tillery lost
twenty pounds. (Id., ¶ 139.)
On May 22, 2016, a corrections officer “put a dirty toilet brush in [Mr. Tillery's] food tray,
to be used to clean his cell.” (Id., ¶ 129.) Plaintiff claims this to be “another act of harassment
and retaliation.” (Id.) On May 25, 2015, Mr. Tillery filed Grievance 567683 concerning this
health hazard. (ECF No. 22-1, p. 25.) Ms. Newberry received the grievance on May 26, 2015.
(Id.) Plaintiff was provided with an Initial Response to his grievance on June 9, 2015. (Id., p.
26.) On June 11, 2015, Mr. Tillery filed an appeal to the Facility Manager. (Id., p. 27.)
Superintendent Tritt denied his appeal on June 12, 2015. (Id., p. 28.) Plaintiff filed an appeal
to SOIGA on June 25, 2015. (Id., p. 29.) SOIGA dismissed his appeal at final review due to
his failure to provide all the necessary paperwork required under the DOC's grievance policy
for consideration. (Id., p. 30.) Noting that this was not Mr. Tillery's first time in failing to provide
all necessary documentation for review, he was not given the opportunity to submit a corrected
On July 23, 2015, a 90-day review was conducted by the PRC. Mr. Tillery's request to
cut his DC time in half was denied. (Id., ¶ 120.) He was also denied a call to his attorney and
his orthopedic boots. (Id.) On August 6, 2015, Mr. Tillery's request to Superintendent Tritt to
reduce his disciplinary custody time was denied. (Id., ¶ 121.) On August 27, 2015, the PRC
voted to release Mr. Tillery to general population the week of August 31, 2015. (Id., ¶ 122.)
On September 2, 2015, Superintendent Tritt released Mr. Tillery from DC status. Mr. Tillery
was released to general population on September 7, 2015. (Id.)
Mr. Tillery was housed in the RHU Annex following his release from disciplinary custody.
(Id., ¶ 125.) The bottom tier of that unit contains general population inmates while the upper
level houses RHU inmates. (Id.) The RHU population is “loud and distraught.” (Id.)
Ms. Smith, Mr. Tillery's psychologist who treats him for anxiety and depression,
recommended that he be placed on a “regular” general population cellblock. This request was
denied by Capt. Downs and Deputy Miller for retaliatory purposes. (Id., ¶ 126.)
Retaliatory Medical Neglect and Mistreatment
When Mr. Tillery was transferred to SCI-Frackville on April 8, 2015, he was denied his
extra mattress, orthopedic shoes and back brace (id., ¶ 127), items that he has had at previous
institutions for over ten years. His potassium supplements were also not refilled. (Id., ¶ 127.)
On May 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed Grievance 566793 concerning this denial. CHCA Stanishefski
and Grievance Coordinator Newberry denied the grievance without legitimate medical reasons.
(Id., ¶ 128.) He filed Grievance 569706 on May 28, 2015 after Dr. Haresh Pandya refused to
grant his request for an additional mattress and brace to address his back pain. (Id., ¶ 120.)
CHCA Stanishefski and Grievance Officer Newberry denied his grievance. (Id.)
On May 29, 2015, Mr. Tillery “was given a medical work-up including radiology of his
spine, hips and feet.” (Id., ¶ 131.) Additionally, on June 10, 2015, he received his backbrace.
Still without relief from his painful skin rash, which had developed into open oozing
sores, Mr. Tilllery filed Grievance 571661 in June 2015 and Grievance 574084, asserting a
claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs because the institution “refused to
prescribe an ointment that was helping because it 'cost too much.'” (Id., ¶ 132.) The first
grievance was denied by Ms. Newberry, and the second by CHCA Stanishefsky. (Id., ¶ 133.)
On August 6, 2015, Secretary Tritt denied Plaintiff's appeal of Grievance 574084. (Id., ¶ 135.)
On July 29, 2015, Mr. Tillery submitted a special request to Dr. Pandya for treatment
followed by Grievance 580695 citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the
Eighth Amendment. (Id., ¶ 134.) A surgical skin biopsy was done on Mr. Tillery's left shin
dated August 20, 2015 revealed “a rare fungal organism” that is otherwise not diagnosed. (Id.,
¶ 136.) On August 27, 2015, CHCA Stanishefski denied Grievance 580695. (Id., ¶ 137.) Mr.
Tillery still suffers from the skin rash. (Id., ¶ 138.)
On October 26, 2015, after days of ignoring Plaintiff's complaints of a bowel obstruction,
he was taken to the Wyoming Vallley Medical Center for treatment. Mr. Tillery knew the
symptoms of a bowel obstruction since he had this three times before. (Id., ¶ 140.) Mr.
Tillery's daughter's request to learn more about his condition or to speak with him directly were
denied by Superintendent Tritt. (Id., ¶ 141.) His daughter made repeated calls to the nurse
at SCI-Frackville to receive medical updates on her father. When she was able to reach the
nurse she was only given “partial” reports. (Id., ¶ 142.) Five days after his admission, Mr.
Tillery was discharged from the hospital. (Id., ¶ 143.) Initially he was taken to a different
facility and held in their RHU. He was transferred back to SCI-Frackville on November 2, 2015
without receiving a post-hospitalization diet or any follow-up medical treatment. (Id., ¶ 145.)
Although nauseated and in pain, Mr. Tillery did not see any medical personnel until November
4, 2015. (Id., ¶ 146.)
Mr. Tillery claims that as a chronic clinic patient he is entitled to medication and testing
without cost. He should receive proper treatment and not be forced to pay for medication that
should be provided to him. He claims requiring him to pay for his treatment and medication
is another form of retaliation for his exercise of his First Amendment rights. (Id., ¶ 146.)
Interference with Mr. Tillery's Access-to-Courts
In September 2014, when Mr. Tillery was released to SCI-Mahanoy's general
population, he resumed his efforts, with the assistance of counsel, to overturn his conviction.
(Id., ¶ 147.) Lt. Clark hampered this process by refusing to “immediately process” Mr. Tillery's
request to put his legal counsel on his legal visitors list. (Id.)
While at SCI-Frackville he was denied attorney telephone calls while in the RHU. (Id.,
¶ 149.) He was also denied a confidential visit with his attorney on May 12, 2015 in the
Administrative Custody visiting room. Additionally, his May 22, 2015 and July 31, 2015,
attorney visits were limited to one hour even though his attorney, who was traveling from NYC,
requested two hour visits. (Id.) Finally, he claims his counsel was initially denied permission
to bring a legal pad and pen to his November 3, 2015, legal visit after he returned from his
emergency hospitalization following his bowel obstruction. (Id.) He claims these acts were
“carried out under the authority of [Superintendent] Tritt and [Deputy] Miller.” (Id., ¶ 150.)
Plaintiff filed Grievance 580308 concerning the time restrictions placed on his May and
July 2015 attorney visits. Lt. Reichart denied the grievance on August 8, 2015. (Id., ¶ 151.)
His appeal to Superintendent Tritt was denied on August 13, 2015. (Id., ¶¶ 152 - 153.)
However, she reversed the denial of allowing counsel to bring a notepad and pen to the
November 3, 2015, meeting. (Id., ¶ 154.)
Mr. Tillery claims to have “exhausted his administrative remedies by filing grievances
through the appeal process as set forth by DOC Regulations. Additionally, Tillery is in
substantial compliance in that all issues existing prior to June 10, 2015 and are raised in this
complaint were discussed directly with a representative of the DOC Office of Special
Investigation, Lt. Taylor on June 10, 2015, and no remediable action was taken by the DOC.”
(Id., ¶ 155.)
The DOC's Administrative Remedy / Grievance Process
The Pennsylvania DOC has a three step grievance appeal process. DC-ADM 804 was
established to ensure that inmates have an avenue through which to resolve issues relating
to their incarceration. (ECF No. 22-2, Moore Aff., ¶ 4; see also http://www.cor.state.pa.gov.)
Pursuant to DC-ADM 804, the Inmate Grievance System, inmates must first file the grievance
with the Facility Grievance Coordinator at the facility where the events upon which the
complaint is based. If the inmate is unsatisfied with the initial review of his or her grievance,
he or she may file an appeal of the decision with the Facility Manager (Superintendent). Upon
receiving a decision from the Superintendent, the inmate may appeal that decision to final
review by SOIGA. (Id., ¶¶ 5 - 7.)
Via the DOC's Inmate Handbook, inmates are provided with notice of the Grievance
Policy and the requirements they must meet in grieving their issues through the Grievance
Policy. (Id., ¶ 8.) Pursuant to § VI(D)(1)(g) of DC-ADM 804,
An inmate appealing a grievance to final review is responsible for
providing the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals
with all required documentation relevant to the appeal. A proper
appeal to final review shall includ photocopies of the initial
grievance, initial review response, the inmate appeal to the Facility
Manager, and the Facility Manager's decision. Failure to provide
the proper documentation may result in the appeal being
(Id., ¶ 9.) Since 2002, Mr. Tillery has only submitted four grievances to SOIGA for final review:
Grievance Nos. 510467, 601408, 555752, and 567683. (Id., ¶ 12.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in
whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ.
P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining
if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant
Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will
ultimately prevail. Id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint
fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).
A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The statement
required by Rule 8(a)(2) must “ ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.’ ” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167
L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127
S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964. However, mere conclusory statements will not
do; “a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must “show” this entitlement
by alleging sufficient facts. Id. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a
complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678,
129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 - 50, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). As such, “[t]he touchstone of the pleading
standard is plausibility.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012).
The inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts: (1)
identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory
allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and
evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently
alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint,
a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,"
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1973, meaning enough factual allegations “ 'to raise
a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' ” each necessary element.
Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a `probability requirement,' but
it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should
assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief." Id., 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.
In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the complaint, exhibits
attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230
(3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192,
1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when
the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the
documents to the motion to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1196. The
Court need not assume that the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint,
see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit
a complaint's “ 'bald assertions' ” or “ 'legal conclusions,' ” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist.,
132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d
1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Mr. Tillery's Exhaustion of available Administrative Remedies
Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), before a prisoner may bring a civil
rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or any other federal law, he must exhaust all
available administrative remedies. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Ross v. Blake,
, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858, 195 L.Ed.2d 117 (2016). This “exhaustion requirement applies
to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular
episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534
U.S. 516, 532, 122 S.Ct. 983, 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002).
The PLRA's exhaustion
requirement applies to retaliation claims. Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 531 (3d Cir.
2003)(citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 532, 122 S.Ct. at 992).
Inmates, however, need only exhaust those administrative remedies which are
“available” to him. See Robinson v. Supt. SCI Rockview, 831 F.3d 148, 153 (3d Cir. 2016)
(quoting Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 113 (3d Cir. 2002) (“[W]e note that the PLRA requires
exhaustion of 'available' administrative remedies and defined such as those that are 'capable
of use; at hand.' ”).
Exhaustion is mandatory and must be “proper,” which requires a prisoner to “us[e] all
steps that the agency holds out, and [to do] so properly (so that the agency addresses the
issues on the merits).” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90 , 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2383, 165 L.Ed.2d
368 (2006)(emphasis in original). This means that the prisoner plaintiff must have completed
"the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules, including
deadlines, as a precondition to bringing suit in federal court." (Id.) The "filing [of] an untimely
or otherwise procedurally defective administrative grievance or appeal" does not satisfy the
PLRA's exhaustion requirement.
Failure to substantially comply with procedural
requirements of the applicable prison's grievance system will result in a procedural default of
the claim. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 227-32 (3d Cir. 2004); Small v. Camden Cty, 728 F.3d
265, 272 (3d Cir. 2013) (completion of the administrative review process “means ‘substantial’
compliance with the prison's grievance procedures”). Further, the Supreme Court has held that
"there is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted
claims cannot be brought in court." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 212, 127 S.C. 910, 918-19,
166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007). Inmates complaining about prison conditions must exhaust prison
grievance remedies before initiating a lawsuit. See Jones, 549 U.S. at 204, 127 S.Ct. at 914;
see also Strickengloss v. State Corr. Inst. at Mercer, 531 F. App’x 193, 194 (3d Cir. 2013)
(nonprecedential) (inmates required to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit); see
also Oriakhi v. United States, 165 F. App’x 991, 993 (3d Cir. 2006) (nonprecedential) (noting
“unanimous circuit court consensus” that prisoner cannot fulfill the exhaustion requirement after
filing the complaint). As such, dismissal of an inmate's claim is appropriate when the prisoner
has failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies before bringing a civil-rights action.
Nifas v. Beard, 274 Fed.Appx. 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2010) (nonprecedential)(affirming grant of
summary judgment that dismissed claims without prejudice where administrative remedies
were not exhausted prior to commencement of action).
A prisoner is not required to allege that administrative remedies have been exhausted.
Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287 (3d Cir. 2002). Failure to exhaust available administrative
remedies is an affirmative defense. (Id.) As such, it must be plead and proven by the
Defendants. Brown, 312 F.3d at 111.
As exhaustion is a precondition for bringing suit and, as such, it is a “‘'threshold issue
that courts must address to determine whether litigation is being conducted in the right forum
at the right time.’” Small v. Camden Cnty., 728 F.3d 265, 269 - 270 (3d Cir. 2013) (emphasis
in original) (citations omitted). Accordingly, “judges may resolve factual disputes relevant to
the exhaustion issue without the participation of a jury.” Id. at 271.
Mr. Tillery cloaks each of his seven causes of action in terms of a retaliation claim. See
ECF No. 1, pp. 40 - 48. He claims that each of the actions taken by the DOC Defendants and
Medical Defendants was motivated in retaliation for grievances he filed or advocacy he
engaged in on behalf of other inmates. While Mr. Tillery states he has exhausted all of his
available administrative remedies, and even identifies the grievances he has filed relating to
his claims, the Medical Defendants argue that he has only presented four grievances to SOIGA
for final review and that none of them pertain to retaliation by either Dr. Lisiak or Dr. Pandya.5
(ECF No. 21, Medical Defs’. Mot. to Dismiss.) The Court agrees.
In support of their motion to dismiss, the Medical Defendants provide the affidavit of Ms.
Keri Moore, the Assistant Chief of SOIGA who affirms that since 2002, Mr. Tillery has only
Mr. Tillery did not file a brief in opposition to the Medical Defendants’ motion to dismiss.
presented four grievances to SOIGA: Grievance Nos. 510467, 601408, 555752 and 567683.
(ECF No. 22-2, Moore Aff. at ¶12.) The Court will review each grievance in turn.
Mr. Tillery filed Grievance No. 510467 on May 21, 2014 while housed at SCI-Mahanoy.
(ECF No. 22-1, pp. 1 - 10.) In the grievance he asserts that the medical department is being
negligent and exhibiting deliberate indifference to his chronic back pain by not providing him
with a second mattress and back brace, items that he received at previous prisons. (Id., p. 3.)
Nurse Holly denied the grievance. (Id., p. 4.) Superintendent Kerestes upheld Nurse Holly’s
initial response to the grievance. (Id., p. 6.) Dorina Varner, first referred the matter to the
Bureau of Health Care Services for review and then, on September 10, 2014, denied Plaintiff’s
appeal to SOIGA. (Id., pp. 1 - 2.) In addition to failing to name either of the Medical
Defendants as responsible for denying the issuance of an extra mattress, Plaintiff fails to allege
that the mattress was denied for retaliatory purposes. Thus, the Court holds that while Mr.
Tillery successfully exhausted his administrative remedies as to his claim that he was denied
a medically necessary mattress, he failed to properly exhaust his claim that any named
defendant at SCI-Mahanoy withheld the extra mattress for retaliatory reasons.
Next, the Court examines Mr. Tillery’s administrative exhaustion of Grievance No.
555752. (Id., pp. 10 - 23.) This grievance was filed on March 15, 2015, while Plaintiff was
housed at SCI-Mahanoy. (Id., p. 12.) In the grievance Plaintiff asserts Maj. Damore removed
him from his job as a Peer Specialist without Due Process in retaliation for “saying bad things
about the prison” and after he reported “Ms. Griffin’s racial views” to him. (Id.) George Weaver
provided the initial response to the grievance and denied it. (Id., p. 13.) Superintendent
Kerestes upheld the initial response. (Id., p. 16.) Dorina Varner denied Plaintiff’s appeal to
SOIGA. (Id., p. 11.) Mr. Tillery properly exhausted his retaliation claim raised in Grievance
No. 555752, thus he is permitted to pursue that claim in this action.
The third grievance, Grievance No. 567683 was filed on May 29, 2015, when Mr. Tillery
was housed in SCI-Frackville’s RHU. (Id., pp. 24 - 29.) Plaintiff alleges that CO Warren’s
practice of passing a toilet brush through the slot/wicket on his RHU door, where his food tray
is also passed, is unsanitary and placed his health at risk. (Id., p 25.) Ms. Newberry receipted
the grievance on May 26, 2015. It was referred to another prison official who denied the
grievance. (Id., p. 26.) Superintendent Tritt denied the grievance appeal on June 12, 2015.
Mr. Tillery’s appeal to SOIGA was denied on August 13, 2015 by Dorina Varner. (Id., p. 24.)
Thus, the issues presented in Grievance No. 567683 are properly exhausted. However, Mr.
Tillery did not raise a claim of retaliation in this grievance, he grieved the RHU procedure for
distributing toilet brushes as unsanitary, not retaliatory.
The fourth grievance Mr. Tillery pursued to final review, Grievance No. 601408,
concerns Mr. Tillery’s “Stability C” rating and Ms. Smith’s collusion with Deputy Miller to deny
him weekly psychology visits which he claims were required following his release from the RLL.
He also asserts Deputy Miller housed him in the general population area of the RHU annex in
retaliation for his filing of grievances. (Id., pp. 31 - 32.) Ms. Newberry receipted the grievance.
(Id.) Deputy Meintel denied it upon initial review. (Id., p. 33.) Superintendent Tritt denied the
appeal on December 29, 2015. (Id., p. 34.) However, because Mr. Tillery failed to provide
SOIGA with all of the required documentation for final review, the appeal was dismissed
without consideration of the merits. (Id., p. 30.) Thus, Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust all his
available administrative remedies with respect to Grievance No. 601408. Accordingly, all
claims that could have derived from this grievance are dismissed as procedurally defaulted.
In sum, the DOC’s administrative remedy process was available to Mr. Tillery to properly
challenge his conditions of confinement, including retaliation, claims. Mr. Tillery does not
assert that prison officials thwarted his exhaustion efforts in any manner. As asserted in the
Complaint, Mr. Tillery commenced grievances on many of the issues he complained of, yet
only pursued four of them to final review as required by the DOC’s grievance policy. Of the
four, only three of them were properly presented to SOIGA for consideration. Moreover, of the
three properly exhausted grievances, only one of them6 includes a claim of retaliation,
Grievance No. 555752, concerning the loss of his job. (ECF No. 22-1, pp. 12 - 23.) As such,
all unexhausted claims must be dismissed without leave to amend as Mr. Tillery cannot now
remedy this oversight.
Mr. Tillery’s Remaining Retaliation Claims
Retaliating against a prisoner for the exercise of his constitutional rights is
unconstitutional. Bistrain v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 376 (3d Cir. 2012). It is well settled that
“[g]overnment actions, which standing alone, do not violate the Constitution, may nonetheless
The Court notes that this does not resolve Mr. Tillery’s claim that he was issued a
retaliatory misconduct because the DOC has a separate administrative remedy process for
challenging misconduct hearing appeals. The DOC Defendants have not sought dismissal of this
be constitutional torts if motivated in substantial part by a desire to punish an individual for
exercise of a constitutional right.” Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 224–25 (3d Cir. 2000)
(quoting Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 386 (6th Cir. 1999)).
To prevail on a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he engaged in
constitutionally protected conduct; (2) he suffered, at the hands of a state actor, an adverse
action; and (3) his constitutionally protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in
the state actor's decision to discipline him. Watson v. Rozum, 834 F.3d 417, 422 (3d Cir.
2016) (internal citations omitted).
The filing of grievances or a lawsuit satisfies the constitutionally protected conduct prong
of a retaliation claim. Mearing v. Vidonish, 450 Fed.Appx. 100, 102 (3d Cir. 2011) (per curiam)
(citing Millhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373–74 (3d Cir. 1981)); see also Mitchell v. Horn,
318 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir. 2003) (“Mitchell’s allegation that he was falsely charged with a
misconduct in retaliation for filing complaints against Officer Wilson implicates conduct
protected by the First Amendment.”) Similarly, “oral complaints to prison personnel have been
held to constitute protected activity.” Mack v. Yost, 427 F. App’x 70, 72 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing
Pearson v. Welborn, 471 F.3d 732, 740 - 41 (7th Cir. 2006)).
Here two possible claims of retaliation remain: (1) Maj. Damore removed Plaintiff from
his prison job in retaliation for statement he made concerning Ms. Griffins and the prison; and
(2) his receipt of a retaliatory misconduct by Capt. Downs following the institution’s interception
of a drug laced letter addressed to Plaintiff. At this early stage of the case, the Court finds Mr.
Tillery has properly asserted both retaliation claims. The question now remains as to whom
these claims rest.
Maj. Damore is alleged to have removed Mr. Tillery from his job. George Beaver (nondefendant) investigated Plaintiff’s grievance and denied it. (ECF No. 22-1, p. 13.) As to
Defendants Superintendent Kerestes and Dorina Varner, Mr. Tillery has failed to allege that
their involvement in this matter exetended beyond their denial of his grievance and subsequent
appeal. An individual government defendant in a civil rights action must have personal
involvement in the alleged wrongdoing; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation
of respondeat superior.” Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005). The denial of
a grievance or concurrence in an administrative appeals process is not sufficient to state a
claim. See Pressley v. Beard, 266 F. App’x 216, 218 (3d Cir. 2008) (“The District Court
properly dismissed these defendants and any additional defendants who were sued based on
their failure to take corrective action when grievances or investigations were referred to them.”)
For this reason, the Court grants the motion to dismiss Mr. Tillerys claims against
Superintendent Kerestes and Dorina Varner with prejudice.
As to Mr. Tillery’s claim concerning his receipt of a false and retaliatory misconduct, the
Court will allow this claim to proceed against Capt. Downs (who issued him the misconduct)
and the HEX Luquis.
DOC Defendants Wetzel, Kerestes, Tritt, Miller, Newberry, Steinhart, Holly, Stanishefski,
Clark, Griffin, Varner and Sears will be dismissed from the action due to Mr. Tillery’s failure to
exhaust his claims against them. Similarly, Drs. Lisiak and Pandya will be dismissed as
Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his claim that they delayed or denied him medical care for
retaliatory reasons. This action will proceed on the following retaliation claims: (1) Maj.
Damore removed Mr. Tillery from his job; and (2) Capt. Downs and HEX Luquis issuance of
a false and retaliatory misconduct related to Plaintiff’s receipt of a letter containing suboxone.
An appropriate order follows.
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. RICHARD CAPUTO
United States District Judge
DATE: August 22, 2017
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