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Media Alerts - Phillip Lee Fantone v. Fred Lantini, Joe Burger, and Ron Mackey - Third Circuit
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February 24, 2015
  Phillip Lee Fantone v. Fred Lantini, Joe Burger, and Ron Mackey - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Holds No Due Process Claim in Pennsylvania for the Combination of Revocation of Parole and Harsh Conditions of Confinement

Area of Law: Due Process, Conditions of Confinement, Retaliation

Issues Presented: Whether a state has interfered unlawfully with an inmate's protected liberty interests with respect to the conditions of his confinement and the possibility of his parole and whether a state officer may have unlawfully retaliated against the inmate for exercising his constitutional rights.

Brief Summary: The Third Circuit held that the inmate did not have a liberty interest in the pre-execution grant of parole. Thus, he could not make a due process claim for the revocation of his parole before it was given to him. However, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded the case on the inmate's retaliation claim. The Court found that the inmate sufficiently alleged that he engaged in protected activities which caused the guards to retaliate against him by placing him in solitary confinement.

Extended Summary: Fantone was incarcerated at a State Correctional Institution (SCI). Two years into his sentence, the Parole Board exercised its discretion to grant him parole. Before his parole hearing, prison officials charged Fantone with several prison violations. Fantone asserted that he was threatened by a guard after these incidents which caused him to file a grievance against the guard. After these charges, Fantone appeared before an examiner for a hearing on the charges and was found guilty. The examiner sanctioned Fantone to 35 days in a Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), which was time that he had already served. As a condition of release from the RHU, the guards required Fantone to write a statement revoking his grievance. Under duress from the guards, Fantone wrote the statement.

A few days after being released into the general population, prison officers transferred Fantone back into the RHU while they were investigating another charge against him. He remained in the RHU for approximately a month. On administrative appeal, Fantone obtained dismissals of both misconduct charges due to a lack of reliable evidence. Fantone avers that these disciplinary actions caused the Parole Board to rescind his parole. Regardless of the fact that he obtained dismissals of both charges, the Parole Board did not reinstate his parole. In fact, Fantone remained in the RHU for about 7 months until he was transferred to another SCI.
Fantone argued that his due process rights were violated because of the combination of his long stays in the RHU and his revocation of parole. Second, he argued that the defendants conspired to deprive him of his due process rights. Fantone's third and final argument was that the prison officials retaliated against him by placing him in the RHU for several months because Fantone would not confess to the charges and because he filed a grievance against one of the guards.
The Third Circuit first considered the legal principle that a liberty interest may only arise from the Due Process Clause itself or from the laws of the states. There are special rules that govern inmates' liberty interests because lawful incarceration brings with it necessary withdrawals from liberty. An inmate's liberty interests are generally limited only to those restrictions that are atypical and a significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. Where state law provides parole authorities with complete discretion to rescind a grant of parole prior to an inmate's release, as Pennsylvania law does, the inmate does not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in being paroled before his actual release. The Third Circuit found that even with Fantone's combination argument, the circumstances did not rise to a level atypical to normal prison occurrences or a significant hardship. Thus, the Third Circuit held that Fantone did not have a liberty interest in the grant of parole prior to the completion of his sentence. Similarly, without a finding of a due process violation, Fantone could not succeed on his conspiracy claim.

Unlike his due process claims, the Third Circuit found that Fantone had alleged facts for a claim of retaliation sufficient to overcome a motion to dismiss. Reversing the District Court, the Third Circuit found that Fantone met the three factors for pleading a claim of retaliation. First, Fantone engaged in constitutionally protected activity when he filed a grievance and when he refused to make a statement asserting his guilt of the misconduct charges. Second, Fantone suffered at the hands of a state actor, the prison officials, and had adverse actions against him sufficient to deter a person from exercising his constitutional rights, placing him in the RHU. Third, the protected activity was a substantial or motivating factor in the state actor's decision to take adverse action. The Third Circuit found that Fantone sufficiently pled that the prison officials were motivated to place him in the RHU because of Fantone's exercise of his rights.

Thus, the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's dismissal of the actions based on Due Process but reversed the dismissal of Fantone's retaliation claims and remanded for further proceedings.
To read the full opinion, please visit

Panel (if known): Vanaskie, Greenberg, and Cowen, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: December 9, 2014

Date of Issued Opinion: February 18, 2015

Docket Number: No. 13-3611

Decided: Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part

Case Alert Author: Antoinette Snodgrass

Counsel: Tarah E. Ackerman, Thomas S. Jones, and Peter D. Laun, Counsel for Appellant; Kathleen G. Kane, John G. Knorr, III, Kemal A. Mericli, and Robert A. Willig, Counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Judge Greenberg

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 02/24/2015 10:40 AM     3rd Circuit  

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