Judge dismisses suit against Phila. Clerk of Courts

By Jon Campisi | Jul 18, 2012

A federal judge in Southeastern Pennsylvania has granted a motion by the Philadelphia

Clerk of Courts' office to dismiss a pro se civil action initiated by a man who alleged he had been unlawfully housed in a state correctional institution after being found guilty by a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge of recklessly endangering another person.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss without prejudice, allowing the plaintiff, Joseph L. Beatty, Jr., to file an amended complaint.

Beatty’s complaint, first filed in late November of last year, alleged that officials failed to transfer him from a state correctional facility to a county prison after it was determined that he should have been serving out his sentence in a county jail.

According to background information on the case, Beatty was sentenced on March 21, 2011, to 11 to 24 months of confinement following his guilty conviction by Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Jacquelyn Frazier-Lyde.

Beatty was sentenced to serve, and did serve, some of his sentence at the state prison in Somerset County.

However, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Palumbo vacated Beatty’s sentence on Aug. 1, 2011.

Despite the vacating of the sentence, however, Beatty remained imprisoned at the state institution, he claimed in his lawsuit, since Palumbo’s order was not docketed until Jan. 13 of this year.

Because of the late docketing, Beatty was not only ordered to remain in state prison, but he was not brought down for his scheduled resentencing hearings on three separate occasions.

In early February of this year, Beatty was finally transferred from Somerset to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia.

On Feb. 14, Municipal Court Judge Frazier-Lyde resentenced Beatty to time served with immediate parole.

In his lawsuit, Beatty claimed that the Philadelphia Clerk of Courts failed to properly entered Judge Palumbo’s order vacating Beatty’s sentence, an error that caused him to remain in state custody.

Beatty claimed this failure resulted in damages of $125 per day for lost wages since he would have likely been paroled once in the city jail.

Beatty further claimed that he was physically assaulted by two inmates while in state custody, and that he continues to suffer from anxiety and depression due to his state incarceration.

The Clerk of Courts filed a motion to dismiss Beatty’s lawsuit in mid February of this year for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted.

The defendant argued that Beatty failed to allege a constitutional violation, specifically, that Beatty has no constitutional right to choose the location of his incarceration.

U.S. District Judge Robreno granted the defendant’s motion on July 13.

In his memorandum outlining his decision, Robreno wrote that Beatty failed to plead a plausible claim that he was deprived of any rights secured by the constitution or U.S. laws.

Robreno wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that a prisoner has no “protectable liberty interest of confinement in a particular state prison.”

Citing Meachum v. Fano, Robreno wrote that that case provided that “[G]iven a valid conviction, the criminal defendant has been constitutionally deprived of his liberty to the extent that the State may confine him and subject him to the rules of its prison system so long as the conditions of confinement do not otherwise violate the constitution.”

Robreno wrote that in Beatty’s case, while the Philadelphia Clerk of Courts seemed “derelict in its duty” to promptly enter the order vacating Beatty’s sentence, the plaintiff had “no protectable liberty interest in being housed in county prison while waiting for his resentencing.”

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