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WILLIAMS v. GOORD

July 28, 2000

RAHSAAN WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
GLENN S. GOORD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scheindlin, District Judge.

      OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se plaintiff Rahsaan Williams brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against officials and employees of the New York State Department of Correction Services ("DOCS") at Sullivan Correctional Facility ("Sullivan").*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated at Sullivan, defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Fourteenth, First and Eighth Amendments. Specifically, plaintiff claims that he was (i) unlawfully confined in Sullivan's Special Housing Unit ("SHU") without due process of law; (ii) subjected to retaliation after he complained about his improper confinement; and (iii) deprived of his right to daily exercise as a result of being placed in mechanical restraints. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Pursuant to Rule 56(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendants now move for summary judgment on three grounds. First defendants contend that plaintiff cannot show any violation of his constitutional rights. Second, defendants contend that plaintiffs claims against certain defendants are barred because there is no allegation of personal involvement. Third, defendants contend that the Eleventh Amendment bars recovery of damages from defendants in their official capacity. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

During relevant time periods, plaintiff was an inmate at Sullivan in Fallsburg, New York. The facts set forth below are taken from the pleadings, the supporting affidavits and other materials presented.

In a determination dated June 28, 1998, Haynal found plaintiff guilty of all charges and imposed a penalty of 90 days confinement to Sullivan's Special Housing Unit ("SHU"); loss of packages, telephone and commissary privileges for those 90 days; and loss of 90 days of good-time credit. See 6/28/98 Superintendent Hearing Disposition Rendered ("Hearing Disposition"), Ex. B to Compl.

Plaintiff appealed Haynal's determination to the Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program Office, alleging that several of his due process rights had been denied at the Tier III hearing. See 7/8/98 Appeal from a Superintendent's Hearing, Ex. C to Compl. He specifically contended that his rights were violated because Haynal (1) failed to conduct a fair and impartial hearing when the alleged victim testified that plaintiff was not the one who assaulted him and Haynal failed to credit this testimony or to further investigate; (2) denied plaintiff the right to call a witness who allegedly refused to testify and failed to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged refusal; (3) denied plaintiffs request for a copy of the victim's medical records; and (4) denied plaintiff his right to assistance. See id.

While plaintiff was in SHU, Portz, who was on duty, went from cell to cell and asked the SHU inmates if they wanted out-of-cell exercise. See 1/31/00 Affidavit of Portz in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Portz Aff.") ¶¶ 4-6. Plaintiff allegedly refused to go to the recreation yard that day. See id. ¶¶ 7, 8 and accompanying exhibit. Later, plaintiff filed a grievance with Kuhlmann against Portz for denying him exercise. See 8/2/98 Letter, Ex. E to Compl. Portz states that he never refused plaintiff exercise. See Portz Aff. ¶ 8 and accompanying exhibit.

Three days later, when Portz conducted the morning go-around, plaintiff allegedly told Portz that he would "kick [his] ass when [he] get[s] the chance." Portz Aff. ¶ 10 and accompanying exhibit. Portz escorted plaintiff to the recreation yard for exercise. See id. Upon returning from the yard to his cell, plaintiff allegedly continued to threaten Portz, stating "just remember for every action there is a reaction." Id. These statements were corroborated by Corrections Officer Miller. See 8/10/98 Hearing Disposition, Ex. E to Portz Aff. As a result, plaintiff was charged with making threats and verbal harassment. See 8/5/98 Inmate Misbehavior Report, Ex. F to Compl. The next day, plaintiff filed a complaint with Kuhlmann against Portz, alleging that Portz had retaliated against plaintiff in response to his filing a grievance against Portz. See 8/6/98 Letter, Ex. M to Compl. Portz asserts that August 12, 1998 was the first time he was notified, interviewed or made aware of plaintiffs allegations. See Portz Aff. ¶ 9.

Following a Tier II Disciplinary Proceeding, plaintiff was found guilty of threatening and verbally harassing a corrections officer and penalized with 30 days loss of packages, telephone and commissary privileges. See 8/10/98 Hearing Disposition, Ex. G to Compl. In addition, plaintiff was placed in mechanical restraints on his hands and waist when moving from his cell to the showers and when exercising, by order of Deputy Superintendent Aidala.*fn2 See 8/10/98 Restraint Order, Ex. H to Compl. The mechanical restraint order remained in place for 28 days. See 8/17/98, 8/24/98 and 8/31/98 Restraint Orders, Ex. L to Compl.

Thereafter, plaintiff filed a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Program, stating that he was being subjected to retaliatory discipline for filing a grievance against Portz. See 8/14/98 Inmate Grievance Complaint, Ex. I to Compl. He also stated that the mechanical restraints left on during his one hour of daily exercise constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. See id. Kuhlmann reviewed plaintiffs grievance and found it to be "lodged in retaliation for a misbehavior report issued by the grievant by the officer [Portz] in question." 8/28/98 Memorandum, Ex. J to Compl. On appeal to the Central Office Review Committee, plaintiff noted that Kuhlmann

not surprisingly did not touch on the unlawful full-restraint policy in which SHU inmates under a restraint-order are compelled to remain in full-restraints (handcuffs and waistchains) during their one (1) hour exercise period — which deprives inmates of their right to exercise. This unlawful policy is being carried out for the purpose of punishment — where each SHU inmate spends their one (1) hour of daily exercise in a solidly secured one-man cage by their [sic] self [sic] with brick walls around them, and therefore presents no threat to security during exercise periods.

Id. (emphasis in original). An investigation by the Central Office Review Committee found that "there is no requirement that [the mechanical restraints] be removed during the grievant's exercise period." 10/14/98 Inmate Grievance Decision, Ex. G to Portz Aff.

In mid-August, plaintiff filed two complaints with Kuhlmann. His first complaint stated that the mechanical restraints violated his Eighth Amendment rights. See 8/15/00 Letter, Ex. K to Compl. Kuhlmann referred this complaint to Aidala, who found that the imposition of mechanical restraints was "reasonable, prudent and well within the bounds of accepted principles and sound correctional practices" given plaintiffs "rather extensive disciplinary history" and recent charges. 8/21/98 Memorandum, Ex. 11 to Pl. Dep. Plaintiffs second complaint was filed with Kuhlmann after plaintiff was again denied exercise when Portz allegedly placed the waistchains on plaintiff too tightly. See 8/17/98 Letter, Ex. N to Compl. Kuhlmann also referred this complaint to Aidala, who found the complaint "without merit." 8/24/98 Memorandum, Ex. O to Compl. I

In late August, plaintiff filed a second grievance with the Inmate Grievance Program, complaining of retaliation by Sanok, Smithy and Brickner. See 8/24/98 Inmate Grievance Complaint, Ex. P to Compl. In this grievance, plaintiff alleged that the three corrections officers denied him exercise in retaliation for plaintiff filing grievances against Portz. He specifically claimed that Sanok and Smithy stated that "assholes like me [sic] don't deserve to go to exercise, just stay in my [sic] cell and continue writing complaints." Id. He also alleged that Brickner stated "you lucky that's all you got deaded [sic] on, you keep writing all these complaints you gonna get yours." Id. Plaintiff further alleged cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the mechanical restraints left on during his one hour of daily exercise. See id. According to defendants, plaintiff was only denied exercise because he did not request it during the morning go-around. See Portz Aff. ¶¶ 22-27 and accompanying exhibits. A full investigation by the Inmate Grievance Program ensued, including but not limited to interviews of both inmate witnesses and corrections officers. See 9/10/98 Inmate Grievance Decision, Ex. M to Portz Aff. It was determined that plaintiffs allegations were unfounded and that his grievance lacked merit. See id.

In September, after plaintiff had served 68 days of his 90-day sentence in SHU, Selsky, the Director of the Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program, reversed the Tier III Hearing Determination of June 28, 1998 on the ground that Haynal failed to make a further inquiry or to document a witness's refusal to testify on plaintiffs behalf. See 9/3/98 Reversal of Superintendent's Hearing/Expunction Order, Ex. 5 to Pl. Dep. Records containing references to the Tier III hearing were ordered to be expunged. See id. Eight days later, after having spent 75 days in SHU, plaintiff was released from SHU confinement and returned to the general population at Clinton Correctional Facility. See Pl. Dep. at 12.

B. Procedural Background

On December 23, 1998, plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs Complaint sets forth three claims. Claim I alleges that plaintiffs confinement in SHU violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Compl. ¶¶ 2-5. He maintains that, while in SHU, he was (i) confined to his cell for 23 hours a day; (ii) deprived of his personal property; (iii) allowed only one hour of daily exercise; (iv) restricted in his phone privileges; (v) allowed only one visit per week; (vi) allowed to shower only three times per week; and (vii) unable to participate in programs or to use the law library. See Pl. Dep. at 40-44; Plaintiffs Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Pl.Mem.") at 7-8.

Claim II alleges that plaintiffs First Amendment rights were violated when Portz issued a false misbehavior report in retaliation for plaintiffs grievances against Portz. Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 8, 19. Plaintiff also claims that Sanok, Smithy and Brickner deprived him of exercise in retaliation ...


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