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Mitchell v. Horn

January 29, 2003

MARK MITCHELL, APPELLANT
v.
MARTIN F. HORN, ET AL.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 98-cv-04742) District Judge: Honorable Edmund V. Ludwig

Before: Roth, Rendell*fn1 and Ambro, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

As amended February 14, 2003.

MARK MITCHELL, APPELLANT
v.
MARTIN F. HORN, ET AL.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 98-cv-04742) District Judge: Honorable Edmund V. Ludwig

Gregg H. Levy, Esquire Kevin C. Newsom, Esquire (Argued) Covington & Burling 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004 Attorneys for Appellant

D. Michael Fisher, Esquire J. Bart DeLone, Esquire (Argued) Calvin R. Koons, Esquire John G. Knorr, III, Esquire Office of Attorney General Appellate Litigation Section 15th Floor, Strawberry Square Harrisburg, PA 17120 Attorneys for Amicus The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Before: Roth, Rendell*fn1 and Ambro, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued August 1, 2002

OPINION OF THE COURT

Mark Mitchell, a Pennsylvania inmate acting pro se, filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violations of his First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He alleges that a correctional officer planted contraband near his locker because he filed complaints against that officer, that he was denied a fair hearing on the contraband charges, and that, as a result, he was placed in disciplinary confinement for several months, including four days in a cell that was smeared with feces and infested with flies and in which he could not eat, drink, or sleep. The District Court dismissed Mitchell's complaint sua sponte the day it was filed without requiring service on the defendants. For the reasons below, we reverse the District Court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

On appeal from the dismissal of a complaint, we assume the allegations in the complaint to be true. See Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287, 291 (3d Cir. 2002); Micklus v. Carlson, 632 F.2d 227, 230 (3d Cir. 1980).

On October 5, 1996, while Mitchell was an inmate in the Drug and Alcohol Unit at the Graterford Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania ("Graterford"), prison officials entered his living area to conduct a search. During the search, they found a folded brown paper napkin containing drugs and U.S. currency taped under Mitchell's locker. Mitchell denied owning or knowing about the contraband, and his urinalysis tested negative for drugs. At the security office, Mitchell asked a correctional officer to preserve the tape that had affixed the contraband under his locker so that it could be fingerprinted. Although Mitchell offered to pay for the fingerprint analysis, the prison denied his request. Pending a hearing on the contraband charges, prison officials placed him in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU").

The next day, prison officials brought Mitchell to the institution's security unit for questioning. Lieutenant Kowalski told Mitchell that he had information suggesting that Officer Ronald Wilson, the officer regularly assigned to the Drug and Alcohol Unit, framed Mitchell. Mitchell concurred that he had been set up and again requested fingerprint testing to prove his innocence. Kowalski offered to look into the matter, and Mitchell was returned to the RHU.

Two days after the officers discovered the contraband, Mitchell was called to a disciplinary hearing, in preparation for which he was permitted five minutes to confer with an inmate assistant. During the hearing, Mitchell argued that someone had set him up. He noted that the area in which the officers found the contraband was easily accessible to others, requested that the hearing examiner inquire when that area had last been searched, and asked again for a fingerprint test. His requests were denied. Finding Mitchell guilty of contraband charges and of lying to a prison employee, the hearing examiner sentenced him to ninety days in disciplinary custody.

Following proper procedure, Mitchell appealed the hearing examiner's verdict first to the Program Review Committee, then to the prison superintendent, and finally to the chief counsel. Each appeal was denied. During the pendency of these appeals, Mitchell was relocated to a cell normally used to house mentally ill inmates. The cell had "human waste smeared on the walls" and was"infested ...


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