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Donato v. Phillips

January 17, 2007

DAVID DONATO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL PHILLIPS, COMMISSIONER HEARING OFFICER, DONALD SELSKY, DIRECTOR INMATE GRIEVANCE PROGRAM AND FLOYD BENNETT, SUPERINTENDENT, ELMIRA CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY Senior United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

Plaintiff David Donato commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that he was denied his procedural due process rights in connection with discipline imposed upon him while incarcerated at the Elmira Correctional Facility. Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 seeking dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety.

I. FACTS

On October 19, 2000, Plaintiff provided a urine sample for a urinalysis. Plaintiff was selected for a urine test based on a computer printout from the New York State Department of Correctional Services' Central Office in Albany that randomly selects from inmates who have had drug-related misconduct within the past two years, twice a year. The urinalysis tested positive for cannabinoids. The urine sample was collected in the presence of Officer Reisdorf. Reisdorf took the sample and placed it in the refrigerator. Officer Brannen obtained the specimen from the refrigerator and performed the urinalysis. A second urinalysis was performed on October 20, 2000. This test also came back positive for cannabinoids. As a result of the urinalysis, Plaintiff was issued an inmate behavior report dated October 20, 2000. The report charged Plaintiff with a violation of rule 113.24 that prohibits inmates from using, or being under the influence of, any narcotics or controlled substance unless prescribed by a health services provider. Plaintiff disputed the results of the test because he was tested on October 13 and October 31, both of which were negative for cannabinoids. Plaintiff, therefore, believed that the positive test results on the 19th and 20th were the result of a contaminated urine sample or the result of medications he may have been taking.

Defendants contend that a hearing was commenced on the misbehavior report on October 26, 2000. Plaintiff denies that the hearing began on that date, but claims that the hearing actually commenced at a later time. Defendant Michael Phillips acted as the hearing officer. During the hearing, Plaintiff requested that Officer Reisdorf be called as a witness. Plaintiff did not list Officer Residorf as a witness on his Assistant Form. After considering the misbehavior report and the evidence submitted at the hearing, including evidence of Plaintiff's history of nine prior drug/alcohol-related matters, Phillips concluded that Plaintiff violated rule 113.24. Phillips imposed a penalty of twenty-four months in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") with a corresponding loss of privileges and recommended loss of 36 months of good time.

Plaintiff appealed the hearing to the Commissioner. Upon considering the appeal, Defendant Donald Selsky, Director of the Department of Correctional Services' Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program advised Plaintiff that his penalty had been reduced to twelve months in SHU, twenty-four months loss of privileges, and thirty-six months of recommended loss of good time.

Thereafter, Plaintiff commenced an Article 78 proceeding challenging the disciplinary disposition. On September 14, 2001, the Washington County Court issued an order annulling the hearing officer's determination, ordering it expunged from Plaintiff's file, and ordering that Plaintiff be released from any penalties related to the hearing officer's determination. The basis for the court's determination was that "the hearing officer failed to give a reason why C.O. Reisdorf was not presented for testimony as is required by section 254.5 of Title 7 of the New York Codes, Rules and [Regulations (hereinafter, 'NYCRR')." Washington County Court concluded that Defendants' "violation of their own regulation under the circumstances here was also a violation of [Plaintiff's] constitutional right to call witnesses."*fn1

On October 5, 2001, Plaintiff was transferred to general population at Elmira Correctional Facility. Neither Defendants Selsky nor Bennett were involved in deciding where, or when, Plaintiff would be transferred.

Plaintiff commenced the instant action contending that Defendants denied his due process rights by failing to allow certain documentary evidence; failing to commence the hearing within seven days; being sarcastic, condescending, and biased during the hearing process; and denying Plaintiff's right to call a witness.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

It is well settled that on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, see Tenenbaum v. Williams, 193 F.3d 581, 592 (2d Cir. 1999), and may grant summary judgment only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine if the relevant evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the Court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving party believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to a dispositive issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

If the movant is able to establish a basis for summary judgment, the burden of production shifts to the party opposing summary judgment who must produce evidence establishing the existence of a factual dispute that a reasonable jury could resolve in his favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. Abramson v. Pataki, 278 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2002). However, a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon "mere allegations or denials" asserted in his pleadings, Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 525-26 (2d Cir. 1994), or on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation. Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d. Cir. 1998).

III. DISCUSSION

The primary issues presented are whether Plaintiff was denied his due process rights because: (1) he was unable to have Officer Reisdorf and Inmate Harrison testify at his disciplinary hearing; and ...


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