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KNOWLES v. NEW YORK CITY DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS

November 17, 1995

TED KNOWLES, Plaintiff, against NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KOELTL

 John G. Koeltl, District Judge:

 The pro se prisoner plaintiff, Ted Knowles, has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against the defendant, New York City Department of Corrections ("DOC"), claiming that his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment has been violated. The plaintiff alleges that he was slashed across the face by a fellow prisoner, that he required sixty stitches as a result, that the prison guards were aware of the risk to him or were deliberately indifferent to the risk of injury, and that as a result, he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

 I.

 While the plaintiff named various "John Doe" defendants, he has never named or served them. The defendant DCC has moved for summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, claiming that there are no issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The DCC argues that it cannot be liable for a constitutional violation unless the prison guards were themselves liable for such a violation. The DCC argues that the undisputed facts establish that the guards did not have the sufficient subjective state of mind necessary for an Eighth Amendment violation and therefore summary judgment dismissing this action is appropriate. *fn1"

 During the relevant time, the plaintiff was a prisoner in the punitive segregation unit of the Otis Bantum Correction Center (also known as the North Facility) at Rikers Island. The North Facility is a housing unit for inmates who are being disciplined for poor behavior. Inmates in the North Facility are kept locked in their cells at all times, except for a daily one hour recreation period, which usually takes place at 10:00 a.m. Knowles Dep. at 56.

 On July, 8, 1993, at 10:15 a.m., the plaintiff and approximately twelve other inmates from the North Facility were escorted to the recreation area for their daily recreation period. The recreation area, or yard, is a rectangular fenced-in area with a basketball court in the center surrounded by a five-foot strip of blacktop. Knowles Dep. at 61-62. The North Facility and the yard entrance gate are at one end of the recreation area and the river is at the opposite end. According to the plaintiff, the prison guards normally would strip search the prisoners before allowing them to enter the yard. However, on this day, the guards merely "patted down" each prisoner. Knowles Dep. at 56, 58.

 There were three corrections officers guarding the yard on July 8, 1993; two inside the fence and one outside the fence. One of the officers inside the fence and the officer outside the fence were speaking to one another halfway between the gate and the far end of the recreation area during the relevant time. Knowles Dep. at 65-68. The other officer inside the fence was near the entrance gate.

 Knowles was seated on the ground at the end of the yard opposite the gate and was speaking with another inmate. Knowles Dep. at 65-67. He was facing the river with his back to the North Facility and to the other inmates in the yard. Knowles Dep. at 65-67. Knowles noticed a group of inmates walking in his direction, but did not feel threatened because he had never had any problems with other inmates at the North Facility, including those approaching him. Knowles Dep. at 72-73.

 While Knowles was seated, at least two other inmates suddenly and unexpectedly came up from behind him and slashed the left side of his face with a sharp instrument. Knowles Dep. at 54, 72-73, 82-84. Knowles turned around in time to see his attackers walking away and to observe the corrections officers commanding them to halt. Knowles Dep. at 84. Knowles covered his wound with his hands and walked across the yard to the gate. Halfway across the yard, he was met by a corrections officer and by the time he reached the gate, approximately ten corrections officers and two captains had arrived in response to the incident. Knowles Dep. at 84-90. Plaintiff was taken first to the North Facility infirmary, then to a public hospital where approximately sixty stitches were necessary to close his wound. Knowles Dep. at 107-108. At least one of the attackers was apprehended. Knowles Dep. at 114.

 The plaintiff claims that, in the infirmary just after the incident, an unnamed corrections officer told the plaintiff that the plaintiff was not at fault for the attack, but that it was the result of a "war" between Spanish and Jamaican inmates in another part of the facility. Knowles Dep. at 54. According to the plaintiff, the corrections officer told him that Jamaican inmates had "cut" a Spanish inmate at "HDM", another part of the Rikers Island prison facility, in connection with the "war", and that the Spanish inmate subsequently had been moved to the North Facility. Knowles Dep. at 54. The corrections officer told the plaintiff in the infirmary that other Spanish inmates (although not the particular Spanish inmate who had been cut since he was not in the yard on the day in question) were responsible for the plaintiff's injuries and that their actions were in retaliation for the Jamaican inmates' attack on the Spanish inmate.

 The plaintiff alleges that there were circumstances that targeted him as an obvious potential victim. The plaintiff is not a Jamaican; he does, however, have long "dreadlocks", a hairstyle which could be associated with Jamaicans. Also, the Plaintiff was born and raised in St. John, Antigua and speaks with a Caribbean accent. The plaintiff claims that he had absolutely no knowledge or involvement in the "war" between the Jamaican and Spanish inmates until this incident, Knowles Dep. at 100, and thus, he did not and could not warn prison officials of any threat to his safety.

 II.

 Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. Partnership, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "The trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be ...


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