Lamancusa v. Garman et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry). Signed by Honorable Matthew W. Brann on 1/12/17. (lg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL NO. 4:CV-15-2400
January 12, 2017
This pro se civil rights action was filed by Anthony Lamancusa, an inmate
presently confined at Rockview State Correctional Institution, Bellefonte,
Pennsylvania (SCI-Rockview). Service of the Complaint was previously ordered
Named as Defendants are two SCI-Rockview officials, Superintendent
Mark Garman and Inmate Accounts Manager Brian Miller. Plaintiff describes
himself as being “mentally incompetent and disabled.” Doc. 1, ¶ 1. As a result,
Lamancusa claims that he is unable to perform prison employment. Plaintiff
states that all SCI-Rockview inmates should receive $ 15.00 per month in idle pay
until they are physically able to work and inmates who are medical patients should
be given a monthly $ 10.00 medical allowance. See id. at p 4. According to the
sparsely worded Complaint, Plaintiff has been subjected to a retaliatory denial of
medical allowance and idle pay because of his mental disability. Plaintiff seeks
Defendants responded to the complaint by filing a motion to dismiss, or in
the alternative, motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 15. The opposed motion
is ripe for consideration.
Defendants argue that the Complaint cannot proceed because: (1)
Lamancusa failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies, (2) there are no
assertion of personal involvement by Defendants in any acts of constitutional
misconduct; and (3) a viable allegation of retaliation has not been raised.
Standard of Review
Defendants’ pending dispositive motion is supported by evidentiary
materials outside the pleadings. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) provides in
part as follows:
If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters
outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded
by the court, the motion must be treated as one for
summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be
given reasonable opportunity to present all the material
that is pertinent to the motion.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(d).
This Court will not exclude the evidentiary materials accompanying the
Defendants' motion. Thus, their motion will be treated as solely seeking summary
judgment. See Latham v. United States, 306 Fed. Appx. 716, 718 (3d Cir.
2009)(when a motion to dismiss has been framed alternatively as a motion for
summary judgment such as in the present case, the alternative filing “is sufficient
to place the parties on notice that summary judgment might be entered.”)
Summary judgment is proper if “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure
materials on file, together with any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 23132 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the outcome of
the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248 (1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” only if there is a sufficient evidentiary
basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of
a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260
F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609
(M.D. Pa. 1992). Unsubstantiated arguments made in briefs are not considered
evidence of asserted facts. Versarge v. Township of Clinton, 984 F.2d 1359, 1370
(3d Cir. 1993).
Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to
support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply
sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its]
own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions
on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id.
(internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted).
Summary judgment should be granted where a party “fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and
on which that party will bear the burden at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.
“‘Such affirmative evidence – regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial –
must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of
the court) than a preponderance.’” Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v.
Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).
Defendants’ initial summary judgment argument asserts that Plaintiff failed
to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this suit. See Doc. 17, p. 8.
Plaintiff generally counters that exhaustion is not required.1 See Doc. 18, ¶ ¶ 9 &
Section 1997e(a) of title 42 U.S.C. provides:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison
conditions under Section 1979 of the Revised Statutes of
the United States (42 U.S.C. 1983), or any other federal
law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other
correctional facility until such administrative remedies
as are available are exhausted.
Under that provision, administrative exhaustion is required “irrespective of the
forms of relief sought and offered through administrative avenues.” Porter v.
Nussle, 122 S.Ct. 983, 992 (2002); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n. 6
(2001). Claims for monetary relief are not excused from the exhaustion
requirement. Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 74 (3d Cir. 2000). Dismissal of an
inmate’s claim is appropriate when a prisoner has failed to exhaust his available
Lamancusa also argues that sua sponte dismissal for non-exhaustion is not
appropriate. However, since Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the
basis of non-exhaustion this is not a case where sua sponte dismissal is being
administrative remedies before bringing a civil rights action. Ahmed v.
Sromovski, 103 F. Supp. 2d 838, 843 (E.D. Pa. 2000). “[E]xhaustion must occur
prior to filing suit, not while the suit is pending.” Tribe v. Harvey, 248 F.3d 1152,
2000 WL 167468, *2 (6th Cir. 2000)(citing Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 645
(6th Cir. 1999)); Oriakhi v. United States, 165 Fed. Appx. 991, 993 (3d Cir. 2006).
An inmate is not required to specifically plead or demonstrate exhaustion in
his or her complaint. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); see also Ray
v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287 (3d Cir. 2002)(a prisoner does not have to allege in his
complaint that he has exhausted administrative remedies). Rather, pursuant to the
standards announced in Williams v. Runyon, 130 F.3d 568, 573 (3d Cir. 1997), it
is the burden of a defendant asserting the defense of non-exhaustion to plead and
prove it.2 The United States Supreme Court in Jones noted that the primary
purpose of the exhaustion requirement is to allow prison officials to address
complaints before being subjected to suit, reducing litigation to the extent
complaints are satisfactorily resolved, and improving litigation that does occur by
leading to the preparation of a useful record.
In Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003), the United States Court
of Appeals for the Third Circuit similarly stated that “[f]ailure to exhaust
administrative remedies is an affirmative defense for the defendant to plead.”
The administrative exhaustion mandate also implies a procedural default
component. Spruill v. Gillis 372 F.3d 218, 222 (3d Cir. 2004). As explained by
the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a procedural default rule
“prevents an end-run around the exhaustion requirement.” Id. at 230. It also
ensures “prisoner compliance with the specific requirements of the grievance
system” and encourages inmates to pursue their administrative grievances “to the
fullest.” Id. Similarly, the United States Supreme Court has observed that proper
exhaustion of available administrative remedies is mandatory, meaning that
prisoners must comply with the grievance system’s procedural rules, including
time limitations. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 (2006).
A Consolidated Inmate Grievance Review System has been established by
the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”).3 A copy of the policy has
been submitted in support of Defendants’ non-exhaustion argument. Section III of
DC-ADM 804 (effective May 1, 2015) states that “every individual committed to
its custody shall have access to a formal procedure through which to seek
resolution of problems or other issues of concern arising during the course of
While the DOC’s grievance system has been periodically amended, the three
tiered appeal system was in effect throughout the relevant period of Plaintiff’s SCIRockview confinement.
confinement.” See Doc. 16-6, p. 2 (III). It adds that the formal procedure shall be
known as the Inmate Grievance System and provides a forum of review and two
(2) avenues of appeal. Section I ("Grievances & Initial Review") of DC-ADM
804 provides that, after attempted informal resolution of the problem, a written
grievance may be submitted to the Facility Grievance Coordinator within fifteen
(15) working days after the events upon which the claims are based but allowances
of extensions of time will be granted under certain circumstances. A rejected
grievance may be resubmitted within five (5) working days of the rejection notice
An appeal from the Grievance Coordinator's Initial Review decision may be
made in writing within fifteen (15) working days to the Facility Manager or
Superintendent. A final written appeal may be presented within fifteen (15)
working days to the Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals
(SOIGA). A prisoner, in seeking review through the DOC grievance system, may
include reasonable requests for compensation or other legal relief normally
available from a court. However, an improperly submitted grievance will not be
In support of their non-exhaustion argument, Defendants have submitted a
a declaration under penalty of perjury by Helen Shambaugh who is employed by
the DOC as a SOIGA Administrative Officer and is custodian for SOIGA inmate
grievance records. See Doc. 16-1, Exhibit A. Shambaugh states that based upon
her review of the grievance appeal records routinely maintained by the DOC,
Lamancusa has filed two grievances while in DOC custody, neither of which have
proceeded to final administrative appeal. See id. at ¶ 10.
A declaration under penalty of perjury by SCI-Rockview Superintendent
Assistant Jeffrey Rackovan has also been submitted. See Doc. 16-2. Rackovan
avers that he is responsible for the review and tracking of prisoner grievances at
the prison. Based on his review of Plaintiff’s grievance records, Rackovan
likewise states that Lamancusa filed two grievances while at SCI-Rockview.
However, the Superintendent Assistant points out that neither grievance regarded
the claim presently before this Court and neither grievances was administratively
appealed. See id. at ¶¶ 20-22. Defendants have also provided a copy of the DOC
grievance procedure policy together with Plaintiff’s grievance records.
Although Plaintiff suggests that he is not required to exhaust administrative
remedies, Section 1997e(a) clearly states otherwise. Furthermore, the Third
Circuit has recognized that “[t]here is no futility exception” to the exhaustion
requirement. Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 112 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Nyhuis,
204 F.3d at 75. A subsequent Third Circuit decision reiterated its no futility
exception by rejecting an inmate’s argument that exhaustion should be excused
because prisoner grievances were regularly rejected. Hill v. Smith, 186 Fed.
Appx. 271, 274 (3d Cir. 2006). “[S]ensitive subject matter or ‘fear of retaliation’
as a basis for excusing a prisoner’s failure to exhaust” have also been rejected.
Pena-Ruiz v. Solorzano, 281 Fed. Appx. 110, 113 (3d Cir. 2008).
The undisputed record establishes first that the DOC had an established
grievance procedure in place during the relevant time period. Second, Lamancusa
failed to file a grievance relating to his pending claim against the Defendants.
Defendants’ undisputed evidence satisfies their burden of establishing that
Plaintiff did not fully exhaust this available DOC administrative remedy prior to
initiating this action. Based upon those factors as well as Plaintiff’s failure to
provide a viable reason to excuse his failure to exhaust, a finding of nonexhaustion and entry of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants under the
well-settled Spruill and Woodford standards is appropriate.
Defendants next contend that they are alternatively entitled to entry of
summary judgment because the Complaint does not allege that either of them had
any personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violations. See Doc. 17, p.
6. A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable 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. 1990).
Civil rights claims cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior.
Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Rather, each named
defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally
involved in the events or occurrences which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v.
Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d
1077 (3d Cir. 1976). As explained in Rode:
A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal
involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . [P]ersonal involvement
can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of
actual knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of
participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however,
must be made with appropriate particularity.
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.
Superintendent Garman and Inmate Accounts Manager Davis are each
employed in supervisory capacities within SCI-Rockview. There are no assertions
that either of those officials directed or took any action whatsoever with respect to
the Plaintiff’s alleged non-eligibility for idle and medical allowance pay.
Moreover, there are no factual allegations set forth in the Complaint whatsoever
which could support a claim that either Defendant was even aware that Lamancusa
was being denied idle or medical allowance pay. As such, the Rode personal
involvement requirement has not been satisfied.
It is also possible that Plaintiff may be attempting to establish liability
against the two Defendants due to their responses or non-response to his
administrative grievances or complaints. Prisoners also have no constitutionally
protected right to a grievance procedure. See Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’
Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 137-38 (1977)(Burger, C.J., concurring) (“I do
not suggest that the [grievance] procedures are constitutionally mandated.”);
Speight v. Sims, 283 Fed. Appx. 880, 881 (3d. Cir. 2008)(citing Massey v.
Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001)(“[T]he existence of a prison grievance
procedure confers no liberty interest on a prisoner.”)
While prisoners do have a constitutional right to seek redress of their
grievances from the government, that right is the right of access to the courts
which is not compromised by the failure of prison officials to address an inmate’s
grievance. See Flick v. Alba, 932 F.2d 728, 729 (8th Cir. 1991) (federal grievance
regulations providing for administrative remedy procedure do not create liberty
interest in access to that procedure).
Accordingly, any attempt by Plaintiff to establish liability against the
Defendants based upon their handling of his administrative grievances or
complaints does not support a constitutional claim. See also Alexander v.
Gennarini, 144 Fed. Appx. 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005)(involvement in post-incident
grievance process not a basis for § 1983 liability); Pryor-El v. Kelly, 892 F. Supp.
261, 275 (D. D.C. 1995) (because prison grievance procedure does not confer any
substantive constitutional rights upon prison inmates, the prison officials' failure to
comply with grievance procedure is not actionable). Pursuant to the above
discussion Defendants’ request for entry of summary judgment on the basis of
lack of personal involvement is also meritorious.
To establish a Section 1983 retaliation claim, a plaintiff bears the burden of
satisfying three (3) elements. First, a plaintiff must prove that he was engaged in a
constitutionally protected activity. Rauser v. Horn, 241 F.3d 330, 333 (3d Cir.
2001). Second, a prisoner must demonstrate that he “suffered some ‘adverse
action’ at the hands of prison officials.” (Id.)(quoting Allah v. Seiverling, 229
F.3d 220, 225 (3d Cir. 2000)). This requirement is satisfied by showing adverse
action “sufficient ‘to deter a person of ordinary firmness’ from exercising his First
Amendment rights.” (Id.)(quoting Suppon v. Dadonna, 203 F.3d 228, 235 (3d Cir.
2000)). 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,
287 (1977)). The mere fact that an adverse action occurs after a complaint or
grievance is filed is relevant, but not dispositive, for the purpose of establishing a
causal link between the two events.4 See Lape v. Pennsylvania, 157 Fed. App’x.
491, 498 (3d Cir. 2005).
Once Plaintiff has made a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the
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.
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).
Defendants contend that Plaintiff has not established that he was engaged in
any constitutionally protected conduct which resulted in adverse action being
taken against him by prison officials. See Doc. 17, p. 7. Under the first prong of
Rauser, a plaintiff must prove that he was engaged in a constitutionally protected
activity. The third Rauser prong requires a prisoner must prove that his
constitutionally protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor
underlying the alleged improper denial of medical allowance pay.
Based upon a liberal reading of the Complaint, Plaintiff does not allege that
the purported retaliatory denial of medical allowance and idle pay was taken in
response to his initiation of grievances and civil suits or any other constitutionally
protected conduct. As such, Plaintiff not satisfied that the Rauser requirements of
showing that his engagement in constitutionally protected activity was a
motivating factor for the alleged adverse action. Defendants’ request for entry of
summary judgment on the retaliation claim will also be granted.
Defendants’ dispositive motion will be construed as solely seeking
summary judgment. The undisputed record shows that Plaintiff failed to exhaust
his available administrative remedies prior to initiating this action. Second, the
Complaint fails to allege personal involvement by either Defendant in any
unconstitutional acts. Third, a viable claim of retaliation is not set forth in the
Complaint. Based upon those findings, the request for entry of summary
judgment will be granted. An appropriate Order will enter.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Matthew W. Brann
Matthew W. Brann
United States District Judge
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