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Harris v. McGinnis

September 30, 2004

DAMECHA HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
M. MCGINNIS, FORMER SUPERINTENDENT; WALTER RUSSETT, CORRECTIONAL LIEUTENANT; QUACKENBUSH, CORRECTIONAL LIEUTENANT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Laura Taylor Swain, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Damecha Harris, a New York State prisoner, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Lieutenant Walter Russett ("Russett"), Lieutenant Quackenbush ("Quackenbush"), and "Former Superintendent" McGinnis*fn1 ("McGinnis") (collectively, "Defendants") violated his constitutional due process rights when he was placed in keeplock confinement at the Green Haven Correctional Facility of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("Green Haven") for 151 days. The Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that Plaintiff's due process claims do not implicate a constitutionally-protected liberty interest, that Defendants have qualified immunity, and that Defendant McGinnis was not personally involved in the alleged violations. Plaintiff responded to the motion with a document captioned "Notice of Motion in Support of Affidavit for Summary Judgment Opposing Defendants' Memorandum of Law In Support of Motion to Dismiss" and a document captioned "Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 (A) and (B)." The Court has construed Plaintiffs' papers principally as opposition to the motion to dismiss the complaint.

The Court has considered thoroughly all of the parties' submissions relating to the instant motion. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint is granted insofar as Plaintiff asserts claims against the Defendants in their official capacities, and insofar as Plaintiff asserts a claim against Defendant McGinnis in his individual capacity.

Defendants' motion is denied in all other respects, and Plaintiff's summary judgment and Rule 50 motions are denied.

BACKGROUND

The following relevant facts are alleged in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint ("Complaint" or "Compl."). *fn2 The confinement of which Plaintiff complains resulted from two disciplinary incidents that occurred on May 2, 2000, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Green Haven. Plaintiff was "written" up on that day by a correctional officer for destroying a cell locker and self-mutilation after the officer allegedly observed Plaintiff engaging in those activities.*fn3 Plaintiff was taken to the "(P.S.U.) Cell Sallite (sic) Unit." (Compl. ¶ 1.) Later that day, in the "P.S.U.," another correctional officer claimed to have seen something resembling a nail in Plaintiff's possession, and prepared a misbehavior report charging Plaintiff with a weapons violation, tampering with property without authorization, and self-mutilation. *fn4 Plaintiff was placed in keeplock *fn5 confinement on May 2, 2000, and was not given written notice of the reasons for his keeplock confinement until May 10, 2000, when he was served with two Inmate Misbehavior Reports. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 12, 19, 20 and Ex. A and C.) A Tier III superintendent hearing took place on May 15, 2000, regarding the First Charge. (Compl. ¶ 1, Ex. B.) The hearing was conducted by Defendant Russett, a Correctional Lieutenant at Green Haven, who found plaintiff guilty on all charges and imposed penalties of 180 days' keeplock confinement, 180 days' loss of telephone privileges, 90 days' suspended commissary privileges, and 90 days' loss of packages. (Compl. ¶ 1, Ex. B.) A Tier III superintendent hearing on the Second Charge was held before Defendant Russett on May 22, 2000. (Compl. Ex. D.) Defendant Russett found Plaintiff guilty of at least two of the charges *fn6 and imposed penalties of an additional 90 days' keeplock, 90 days without packages and telephone privileges, and 90 days of suspended commissary privileges. (Id.) The 90-day keeplock confinement penalty for this offense was to be served beginning on October 29, 2000, immediately following the conclusion of Plaintiff's confinement for the First Charge; the other restrictions were to commence following expiration of the restrictions imposed in connection with the First Charge (Compl. Ex. D.)

Plaintiff alleges that the aforementioned disciplinary procedure was "untimely and defective" and that he was denied a fair hearing when his objections to the disciplinary procedure were ignored by Lieutenant Russett. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 31.) Plaintiff appealed the Tier III decisions to Donald Selsky, Director of the Special Housing Unit, pursuant to 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 254.8. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.) On July 19, 2000, following an appeal hearing, Selsky reversed the first Tier III determination. (Compl. Ex. E.) Selsky reversed the Tier III determination on the Second Charge on September 28, 2000. (Compl. Ex. F.) Plaintiff alleges that he was confined in keeplock in connection with the misbehavior charges for a total of 151 days.

Citing provisions of New York State regulations relating to prison inmate misbehavior and confinement proceedings, Plaintiff asserts that his rights to due process have been violated because he was entitled to written notification of reasons for his confinement within 72 hours of the commencement of that confinement and he did not receive such notification for eight days, and that he was entitled to a hearing on each of the charges within seven days of the commencement of his confinement and his Tier III hearings were not begun until May 15, 2000, and May 22, 2000, respectively. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-3, 31.) Plaintiff seeks damages for psychological harm he allegedly suffered by reason of the challenged confinement. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 37.)

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review for Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Pro Se Claims

In considering a motion to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must accept as true the material facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Grandon v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 147 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 1998); Torres v. Mazzuca, 246 F. Supp. 2d 334, 338 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). A motion to dismiss should only be granted if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 102, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957); see also Strougo v. Bassini, 282 F.3d 162, 167 (2d Cir. 2002). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 378 (2d Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 808 (1996) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 235-236, 94 S. Ct. 1683, 1686, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90 (1974)).

Complaints prepared by pro se plaintiffs should be construed liberally and held to "'less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Scott v. Gardner, 287 F. Supp. 2d 477, 483 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (citations omitted). Pro se complaints should thus be interpreted "'to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Knight v. Keane, 247 F. Supp. 2d 379, 383 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)). In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court may only consider "'facts stated on the face of the complaint, in documents appended to the complaint or incorporated in the complaint by reference, and... matters of which judicial notice may be taken.'" Leonard F. v. Israel Disc. Bank of New York., 199 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Allen v. WestPoint-Pepperell, Inc., 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1991)). The complaint "'must contain specific allegations of fact which indicate a deprivation of constitutional ...


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