Doty v. Jarvis
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry)Since Dotys civil rights claim is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory," it will be dismissed, without prejudice, as legally frivolous. Wilson, 878 F.2d at 774. Jurisdiction will be declined with respect to Plaintiffs pendent state law claim. An appropriate Order will enter.Signed by Honorable Richard P. Conaboy on 4/25/17. (cc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL NO. 3:CV-17-138
Christopher Doty, an inmate presently confined at the State
Correctional Institution, Frackville, Pennsylvania (SCI-Frackville)
initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
Named as sole Defendant is SCI-Frackville Hearing Examiner
Accompanying the Complaint is a request for leave to
proceed in forma pauperis.
See Doc. 7. For the reasons that
follow, Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiff admits that on July 20, 2015 he participated in the
assault of another SCI-Frackville inmate.
As a result of his
involvement, he received an institutional misconduct charging him
Doty was found guilty of that charge by Hearing
Examiner Lequis, a non-defendant, and was sanctioned to a ninety
(90) day term of disciplinary custody.
After Plaintiff completed service of his disciplinary custody
term, he was allegedly placed in administrative segregation on or
about October 18, 2015 by a prison Program Review Committee (PRC).
According to the Complaint, a PRC subsequently recommended that
Plaintiff be returned to general population on June 22, 2016.
contends that the PRC’s decision disregarded his expressed fears
for his safety if returned to general population.
indicates that he thereafter refused an order to return to general
population and was issued a misconduct as a consequence of that
A hearing on the misconduct charge was conducted by Hearing
Examiner Jarvis on June 28, 2016.
Jarvis allegedly dismissed the
misconduct informing the Plaintiff that the inmate needed to deal
with any ramifications from other prisoners stemming from his
involvement the July 2015 incident.
See Doc. 1, ¶ 12.
asserts that he filed a grievance against Jarvis regarding the
actions and remarks attributed to that Defendant during the
On July 5, 2016, Doty asserts that he elected to forego
attendance at a disciplinary hearing stemming from a June 29, 2016
misconduct charge because multiple prisoners
to walk around freely.
were being permitted
Plaintiff was found guilty of the charge
(presumably failure to obey an order) by the Defendant and was
sanctioned to a thirty (30) day term of disciplinary custody.
id. at ¶ 15.
On August 4, 2016, Plaintiff was again issued a misconduct for
refusing to obey an order to return to general poulation.
disciplinary hearing on the charge was conducted on August 9, 2016.
Plaintiff was found guilty by the Defendant and received a thirty
(30) day term of disciplinary custody as a sanction.
See id. at ¶
On August 19, 2016, Doty was issued another misconduct for
refusing to obey an order.
Following a disciplinary hearing before
Defendant Jarvis, the Plaintiff was sanctioned to another thirty
(30) day term of disciplinary custody. See id. at ¶ 16.
Plaintiff next contends that he was issued another misconduct
for refusing to return to general population on October 6, 2016.
disciplinary hearing on the charge was conducted by the Defendant
on October 11, 2016.
The Plaintiff was again found guilty and
sanction to another thirty (30) day term of disciplinary custody.
See id. at ¶ 23.
On November 4, 2016, Doty received yet another misconduct for
refusing to go to general population.
Once again Defendant Jarvis
presided at the ensuing misconduct hearing, found Plaintiff guilty,
and sanctioned him a thirty (30) day disciplinary custody term.
See id. at ¶ 25.
The Complaint contends that Defendant Jarvis
acted in retaliation over Plaintiff’s filing of a grievance against
him by finding the inmate guilty with respect to each of the above
described disciplinary proceedings.
Doty also indicates that he
was not given proper credit for time spent in disciplinary custody
at least with respect to some of the sanctions imposed by Hearing
Examiner Jarvis and that he should not have been found guilty for
simply expressing fears for his safety.
The Complaint also raises
a state law tort claim of negligence against Hearing Examiner
As relief, Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and
punitive damages for emotional and mental injuries as well as
declaratory and injunctive relief including expungement of the
underlying disciplinary charges.
When considering a complaint accompanied by a motion to
proceed in forma pauperis, a district court may rule that process
should not issue if the complaint is malicious, presents an
indisputably meritless legal theory, or is predicated on clearly
baseless factual contentions.
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319,
327-28 (1989), Douris v. Middleton Township, 293 Fed. Appx. 130,
132 (3d Cir. 2008).
Indisputably meritless legal theories are
those "in which either it is readily apparent that the plaintiff's
complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or that the defendants are
clearly entitled to immunity from suit ... ."
Roman v. Jeffes, 904
F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Sultenfuss v. Snow, 894 F.2d
1277, 1278 (11th Cir. 1990)).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has
added that "the plain meaning of 'frivolous' authorizes the
dismissal of in forma pauperis claims that . . . are of little or
no weight, value, or importance, not worthy of serious
consideration, or trivial."
1080, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995).
Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d
It also has been determined that "the
frivolousness determination is a discretionary one," and trial
courts "are in the best position" to determine when an indigent
litigant's complaint is appropriate for summary dismissal.
v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).
The Complaint asserts that Plaintiff has suffered emotional
distress for which he seeks to recover monetary damages.
1, p. 7.
There is no allegation that Doty has suffered any
accompanying physical injury.
For the reasons outlined below,
Plaintiff is not entitled to recover compensatory damages for
mental anguish or emotional injury.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) provides that “[n]o federal civil action
may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison or other
correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered
while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury."
Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247,250 (3d Cir. 2000), the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recognized that where
a plaintiff fails to allege actual injury, Section 1997e(e) bars
recovery of compensatory damages.
However, the Third Circuit Court
of Appeals added that an inmate alleging a violation of his
constitutional rights may still pursue the action to recover
nominal and/or punitive damages even in the absence of compensable
Under the standards announced in Allah, Plaintiff’s request
for monetary relief to the extent that it seeks compensatory
damages for emotional and psychological injuries for violation of
his constitutional rights is barred by Section 1997e(e).
Plaintiff alleges that he was improperly sanctioned to
multiple terms of disciplinary confinement.
The Complaint explains
that Doty should not have been punished for simply voicing concerns
regarding his need to be kept separated from other prisoners.
A plaintiff, in order to state a viable civil rights claim,
must plead two essential elements:
(1) that the conduct complained
of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2)
that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or
immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995);
Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution
provides in pertinent part: "No State shall . . . deprive any
person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law .
. . ."
The Supreme Court has mandated a two-part analysis of a
procedural due process claim:
first, "whether the asserted
individual interests are encompassed within the . . . protection of
'life, liberty or property[,]'" and second, "if protected interests
are implicated, we then must decide what procedures constitute 'due
process of law.'"
Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672 (1977).
If there is no protected liberty or property interest, it is
obviously unnecessary to analyze what procedures were followed when
an alleged deprivation of an interest occurred.
Liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment may
arise either from the Due Process Clause itself or from state law.
Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-26 (1976).
In Wolff v.
McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-73 (1974), the Supreme Court
recognized that "prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a
criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a
defendant in such proceedings does not apply."
Id. at 556.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court held that a prisoner facing serious
institutional sanctions is entitled to some procedural protection
before penalties can be imposed.
Id. at 563-71.
In Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995), the Supreme Court
reiterated that the due process safeguards set forth in Wolff must
be provided when the challenged disciplinary proceeding results in
a loss of good time credits.
However, Sandin focused the liberty
interest analysis from one "based on the language of a particular
regulation" to "the nature of the deprivation" experienced by the
Id. at 481.
In Sandin the Supreme Court reasoned, inter
alia, that "[d]iscipline by prison officials in response to a wide
range of misconduct" is expected as part of an inmate's sentence.
Id. at 485.
The nature of an inmate’s confinement in disciplinary
segregation was found similar to that of inmates in administrative
segregation and protective custody at his prison. Id. at 486.
Focusing on the nature of the punishment instead of on the
words of any regulation, the Supreme Court held that the procedural
protections in Wolff were inapplicable because the "discipline in
segregated confinement did not present the type of atypical,
significant deprivation in which a state might conceivably create a
The Court examined the nature of
disciplinary segregation and found that "[b]ased on a comparison
between inmates inside and outside disciplinary segregation, the
State's actions in placing him there for 30 days did not work a
major disruption in his environment."
In the final holding of
the opinion, the Court stated that neither the state prison
regulation in question, nor the Due Process Clause itself, afforded
a protected liberty interest that would entitle state prisoners to
the procedural protections set forth in Wolff." See id. at 487
1. The Sandin Court relied on three factors in making this
determination: (1) confinement in disciplinary segregation
mirrored conditions of administrative segregation and other
Courts within this circuit, applying Sandin in various
actions, have found no merit in procedural due process claims
presented regarding institutional misconduct proceedings which
resulted in disciplinary custody placement.
See Torres v. Fauver,
292 F.3d 141, 150-51 (3d Cir. 2002)(because prisoners can
reasonably anticipate transfer to disciplinary custody, placement
in segregation as a disciplinary sanction did not implicate a
protected liberty interest); Smith v. Mensinger, 293 F.3d 641, 645,
654 (3d Cir. 2002)(seven (7) months of disciplinary confinement did
not implicate liberty interest).
In Diaz v. Canino, 2012 WL 5352483 *3 (3d Cir. Oct. 31, 2012),
the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reiterated that the sanctions
resulting from prison disciplinary hearings do not affect a
protected liberty interest unless the sanction imposes an atypical
and significant hardship on the inmate.
In Diaz, the Court of
Appeals concluded that a 360 day term of disciplinary confinement
did not implicate a protected liberty interest.
rules of law set forth in Sandin and the subsequent line of
decisions by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, this Court finds
that any Plaintiff's claims pertaining to the imposition of five
forms of discretionary confinement; (2) based on a
comparison between inmates inside and outside segregation, the
state's action in placing the inmate there did not work a
major disruption in the inmate's environment; and (3) the
state's action did not inevitably affect the duration of
separate thirty (30) day periods of disciplinary custody which were
imposed as the result of
misconduct charges does not set forth a
viable constitutional claim because Doty had no protected liberty
Since there is no claim by Doty that he was sanctioned to a
loss of good time credits or any other sanction which adversely
affected the duration of his confinement, a viable due process
claim has not been set forth.3
The Plaintiff makes a claim that he was subjected to
retaliation for his filing of a grievance against Hearing Examiner
According to the Complaint, Jarvis acted improperly by
finding Plaintiff guilty of multiple disciplinary charges when the
inmate was simply acting in fear for his safety.
To establish a Section 1983 retaliation claim, a plaintiff
bears the burden of satisfying three (3) elements.
plaintiff must prove that he was engaged in a constitutionally
Rauser v. Horn, 241 F.3d 330, 333 (3d Cir.
It is further noted that a disciplinary charge issued
against Doty was dismissed by the Defendant on June 28, 2016
without the imposition of any sanctions and as such does not set
forth a viable claim.
It is initially noted that Plaintiff indicates that Jarvis
dismissed the initial charge and allowed Plaintiff opportunity to
return to general population. However Plaintiff indicates that he
did not wish to return to general population and he does not deny
that he denied multiple orders by correctional staff on various
dates to return to general population.
Second, a prisoner must demonstrate that he “suffered some
‘adverse action’ at the hands of prison officials.”
Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 225 (3d Cir. 2000)).
requirement is satisfied by showing adverse action “sufficient ‘to
deter a person of ordinary firmness’ from exercising his First
235 (3d Cir. 2000)).
Id. (quoting Suppon v. Dadonna, 203 F.3d 228,
Third, a prisoner must prove that “his
constitutionally protected conduct was ‘a substantial or motivating
factor’ in the decision to discipline him.”
Rauser, 241 F.3d at
333-34 (quoting Mount Health Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274,
The mere fact that an adverse action occurs after either a
misconduct appeal or grievance is filed is relevant, but not
dispositive, for the purpose of establishing a causal link between
the two events.
See Lape v. Pennsylvania, 157 Fed. App’x. 491, 498
(3d Cir. 2005).
Only where the facts of a particular case are
“unusually suggestive” of a retaliatory motive will temporal
proximity, standing alone, support an inference of causation.
Krouse v. American Sterlizer Co., 126 F.3d 494, 503 (3d Cir. 1997).
Once the plaintiff has made a prima facie case, the burden
shifts to defendants to prove by a preponderance of the evidence
that they “would have made the same decision absent the protected
conduct for reasons reasonably related to penological interest.”
Carter v. McGrady, 292 F.3d 152, 158 (3d. Cir. 2002) (internal
quotation and citation omitted).
When analyzing a retaliation
claim, it must be recognized that the task of prison administrators
and staff is difficult, and the decisions of prison officials
require deference, particularly where prison security is concerned.
Rauser, 241 F.3d at 334.
As noted in Allah, a prisoner litigating a retaliation claim
need not prove that he had an independent liberty interest in the
privileges that he was denied.
Thus, the relevant inquiry is not
whether the alleged retaliatory conduct was unconstitutional.
the contrary, Plaintiff only needs to establish that he was
subjected to adverse action in retaliation for his engagement in
constitutionally protected conduct.
The submission of grievances is constitutionally protected
See Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 530 (3d Cir. 2003).
As such, this Court will accept that the first prong of Rauser,
i.e., that the plaintiff be engaged in a constitutionally protected
activity, has been satisfied.
The second prong of Rauser requires that Doty allege that he
suffered adverse action sufficient to deter a person of ordinary
firmness from exercising his First Amendment rights.
must show that his pursuit of grievances was a substantial or
motivating factor behind the alleged abuse by correctional staff as
required under Rauser.
The filing of a disciplinary charge, although not otherwise
actionable under § 1983, is actionable if done in retaliation for
an inmate's filing of a grievance pursuant to established
Sprouse v. Babcock, 870 F.2d 450, 452 (8th Cir. 1989);
see also Newsom v. Norris, 888 F.2d 371, 377 (6th Cir. 1989)
(filing of false disciplinary charges is not a constitutional
violation unless charges were filed in retaliation for the exercise
of a constitutional right); Flanagan v. Shively, 783 F. Supp. 922,
931 (M.D. Pa. 1992) (McClure, J.) (same); Wilson v. Maben, 676 F.
Supp. 581, 584 (M.D. Pa. 1987) (Nealon, J.) ("When an inmate
charged with misconduct has been afforded . . . procedural due
process . . ., an allegation that he was falsely accused does not
state a claim for a violation of his constitutional rights . . .
There are simply no facts set forth by Doty which could
arguably support a claim under Rauser that the Defendant
intentionally subjected him to a retaliatory finding of guilt.
is specifically noted that Jarvis was not the person who filed the
disciplinary charges at issue.
Second, there are no allegations
that Hearing Examiner Jarvis failed to provide Plaintiff with any
of the procedural due process protections provided to inmates
during disciplinary proceedings.
Third, Plaintiff does not dispute
that he committed the charged acts of misconduct, i.e., Doty
refused multiple orders to return to general poulation.
those considerations, a viable claim that Jarvis retaliated against
Plaintiff as a consequence for pursuing a constitutionally
protected activity has not been set forth in the Complaint.4
State Law Claim
The Complaint also asserts that Plaintiff wishes to pursue a
state law negligence claim.
Federal courts have jurisdiction over
state claims which are related to the federal claims and result
from a common nucleus of operative facts.
See United Mine Workers
v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966); Aldinger v. Howard, 427 U.S. 1,
Supplemental jurisdiction may be declined over a claim
when the court has dismissed all claims over which it has original
See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) (1997).
When rendering a
determination regarding pendent jurisdiction district courts should
consider judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the
New Rock Asset Partners v. Preferred Entity
Advancements, 101 F.3d 1492, 1505 (3d Cir. 1996)(citation omitted).
Once jurisdiction has been exercised over the state claim,
elimination of the federal claim does not deprive the court of
jurisdiction to adjudicate the pendent claim.
Id. (citing Lentino
v. Fringe Emp. Plans, Inc., 611 F. 2d 474, 479 (3d Cir. 1979)).
However, if a federal claim is dismissed prior to trial, the
This determination is bolstered by the fact that Jarvis
dismissed the first misconduct against Doty and offered the
prisoner the opportunity to return to general population.
Moreover, there is no viable failure to protect claim since there
are no allegations that Jarvis had the authority to either have
Plaintiff removed from or placed into administrative segregation.
district court should decline to decide the pendent state claims,
“unless considerations of judicial economy, convenience, and
fairness provide an affirmative justification for doing so.”
Borough of West Mifflin v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 788 (3d Cir.
Since this Court has dismissed the federal claims against
the Defendant, jurisdiction will be declined with respect to any
pendent state law claim that Plaintiff wishes to pursue.
Since Doty’s civil rights claim is "based on an indisputably
meritless legal theory," it will be dismissed, without prejudice,
as legally frivolous.
Wilson, 878 F.2d at 774.
be declined with respect to Plaintiff’s pendent state law claim.
An appropriate Order will enter.
S/Richard P. Conaboy
RICHARD P. CONABOY
United States District Judge
DATED: APRIL 25, 2017
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