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Case Name Porter v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections PC-PA-0051
Docket / Court 2:17-cv-00763-MPK ( W.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization MacArthur Justice Center
Case Summary
This is a case about a prisoner who has been kept in solitary confinement on death row for thirty-three years. On June 12, 2017, a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County, Pennsylvania, filed this lawsuit in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff sued the ... read more >
This is a case about a prisoner who has been kept in solitary confinement on death row for thirty-three years. On June 12, 2017, a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County, Pennsylvania, filed this lawsuit in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Represented by the public interest organizations Abolitionist Law Center and MacArthur Justice Center, the plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees. He claimed that the defendants keeping him in solitary confinement despite his perfect disciplinary record in DOC custody and well after his death sentence was vacated in 2003 was cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and violated the plaintiff's rights to liberty, equal protection, and due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly. On June 29, 2017, the plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction to move him from solitary to the general population, which the court denied on July 12 to give the defendants a chance to respond to the complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction. The plaintiff filed another motion for a preliminary injunction on August 8, 2017, which the court denied on September 15. In its order denying the motion, the court said that the plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits of his claim. The appeals regarding the order vacating his death sentence were still pending a resentencing hearing and thus his death sentence was still operative.

On July 9, 2018, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court granted on November 8. The court held that the plaintiff's procedural due process claims were not viable because his death sentence was still active, that the substantive due process claims were redundant because of the Eighth Amendment claim, and that the plaintiff did not provide evidence for his Eighth Amendment claim.

The plaintiff appealed the summary judgment order to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on November 9, 2018. On September 1, 2020, the appeals court affirmed the district court's granting of summary judgment for the substantive due process and Eighth Amendment claims, the latter of which was on the grounds that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. However, the appeals court reversed summary judgment for the procedural due process claim. In 2017, the Third Circuit had held in Williams v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (848 F.3d 549), that Fourteenth Amendment due process "limits the State's ability to subject an inmate to the deprivations of death row once the death sentence initially relied upon to justify such extreme restrictions is no longer operative.” Here, the Third Circuit applied Williams to death row prisoners whose orders vacating their death sentence were still pending pursuant to local rules, such that the prisoner here had a procedural due process right in avoiding continued indefinite solitary confinement. The defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity on this claim, and the Third Circuit remanded the case to the district court to determine damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. 974 F.3d 431 (3d Cir. 2020).

The defendants filed for a rehearing on September 28, 2020, and that the Third Circuit denied on October 28. This case is ongoing.

Lauren Yu - 11/15/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Secretary of Corrections
Superintendent for the State Correctional Institution at Greene
Unidentified managers at the State Correctional Institution at Greene
Plaintiff Description A prisoner under the custody and care of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Indexed Lawyer Organizations MacArthur Justice Center
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 07/05/2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
W.D. Pa.
11/05/2020
2:17-cv-00763-MPK
PC-PA-0051-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
W.D. Pa.
07/05/2017
Jury Trial Demand [ECF# 9]
PC-PA-0051-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Pa.
09/15/2017
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 25] (2017 WL 4099784)
PC-PA-0051-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Pa.
11/08/2018
Opinion and Order [ECF# 69] (2018 WL 5846747)
PC-PA-0051-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
09/01/2020
Opinion (974 F.3d 431)
PC-PA-0051-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
show all people docs
Judges Cowen, Robert E. (D.N.J., Third Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004
Greenaway, Joseph A. Jr. (D.N.J., Third Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004
Kelly, Maureen P (W.D. Pa.) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0002 | PC-PA-0051-0003 | PC-PA-0051-9000
Porter, David James (Third Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004
Plaintiff's Lawyers Greenfield, Daniel M (Illinois) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004
Grote, Bret D. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004 | PC-PA-0051-9000
Morgan, Jamelia N. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bradley, Scott A. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-9000
Mericli, Kemal Alexander (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004
Mullen, Daniel B (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004
Other Lawyers Doss, Michael P (Illinois) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004
Rovner, Laura Lee (Colorado) show/hide docs
PC-PA-0051-0004

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