PHILADELPHIA – An inmate serving a life sentence at SCI-Phoenix claims a now-retired prison unit manager retaliated against him on two occasions, in response to his protest for losing his single-occupancy cell and for filing a lawsuit against the manager in question.
On Feb. 27, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Gene E.K. Pratter dismissed both plaintiff Shawn T. Walker’s first retaliation claim against former prison unit manager Frank Regan and a request for punitive damages, while allowing his second retaliation claim to proceed.
When Walker was incarcerated at SCI-Graterford, in July 2013, he said that he was asked in a staffing meeting to give up his “Z-Code” designation standing of 20 years, which allowed him occupancy in a single cell. Walker refused and allegedly made threatening remarks at the very suggestion of relinquishing his Z-Code status.
After the staffing meeting, eight prison officials voted for Walker to retain the Z-Code status, but also recommended he receive an additional “H-Code” designation and increase his custody level from 3 to 4 – signifying that he was a “high-risk inmate with a high potential for repeating a demonstrated assaultive behavior.”
“Although eight prison officials voted in favor of adding an H-Code designation to Mr. Walker and increasing his custody level, the final decision belonged to the prison superintendent. The superintendent, following the recommendations of the prison officials, left in place Mr. Walker’s Z-Code, increased his custody level to 4, and assigned Mr. Walker an H-Code,” Pratter said.
“Mr. Walker argues that Mr. Regan made the decision to heighten Mr. Walker’s custody level and designate him with an H-Code as retaliation for his refusal to accept removal of his Z-Code.”
Six months later, in January 2014, Walker was housed in the prison’s B-Block, where Regan was unit manager. At that time, Walker’s H-Code designation had been removed and he had been downgraded to custody level 3. However, Walker then initiated the instant lawsuit against Regan.
Then, Walker says he was told he was being transferred to another cell block on the other side of the prison, the cause for which is disputed between the parties. According to Mr. Walker, the move was another instance of retaliation by Mr. Regan, this time initiated in response to Mr. Walker suing Mr. Regan. Mr. Regan counters that he needed to move a Z-Coded inmate to B-Block, and Mr. Walker’s move was necessary to create space and because it was “prudent to exchange one Z-Coded inmate for another.”
Regan alleged Walker threatened to attack him, so he left the cell and returned, this time with a group of guards.
“After the guards opened Mr. Walker’s cell, they patted him down and took him to a restricted custody cell unit. Mr. Walker eventually learned that he had been charged with misconduct by Mr. Regan for making threats and refusing an order. It appears that Mr. Walker was never actually moved to Upper H-Block and, after his release from the restricted custody unit, Mr. Walker was moved to D-Block instead. Mr. Walker alleges that the attempted move to Upper H-Block and the misconduct charge were used by Mr. Regan to retaliate against Mr. Walker for suing Mr. Regan,” Pratter stated.
Pratter explained her rationale in deciding the resolution of the matter.
“Mr. Walker has two retaliation claims. As to the first claim, relating to the 2013 decision to assign Mr. Walker an H-Code designation, the Court will grant the summary judgment motion because Mr. Walker cannot establish that his protected speech was a substantial factor in his H-Code designation,” Pratter said.
“And for the second claim, stemming from the attempt to move Mr. Walker to Upper H-Block and a resulting misconduct write-up, the Court will deny summary judgment because the circumstances surrounding Mr. Walker’s relocation and the misconduct charge are sufficient to support an inference of retaliatory causation. The Court also rejects Mr. Regan’s argument that punitive damages are not warranted as a matter of law.”
The plaintiff is representing himself in this matter.
The defendant is represented by Sue Ann Unger of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office’s Litigation Section, in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-07556
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com