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Jackson v. Portuondo

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


February 16, 2007

NATHANIEL JACKSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEONARD PORTUONDO, PAUL ANNETTS, JIMMIE HARRIS, KENNETH DECKER, ROBERT CUNNINGHAM, JAY SQUILLACE, A. GOODMAN, DOREN PARISI, EVAN GORELICK, A.C. WRIGHT, AND D. WILKINS, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

On March 16, 2001, pro se plaintiff Nathaniel Jackson commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. See Dkt. No. 1. Defendants' motion for summary judgment was referred to Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles for report and recommendation. See Dkt. No. 81;28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), (B); N.D.N.Y. R. 72.3(c); Gen. Order No. 12, § D(1)(G). After a lengthy motion practice,*fn1 Magistrate Judge Peebles issued a report recommending the dismissal of all claims except the due process claim against defendant Squillace. See Report-Recommendation ("R&R"), Dkt. No. 93.

Broadly construing Jackson's amended complaint, Judge Peebles concluded that: (1) Jackson's rights were not violated when he was denied leave to attend his brother's funeral; (2) the prison was justified in monitoring Jackson's mail; (3) Jackson's due process rights were not violated during the disciplinary hearings; and (4) pursuant to the doctrine of res judicata, the settlement agreement previously negotiated by the parties effectively precludes Jackson's First Amendment claim.

Both Jackson and the defendants have filed timely objections. See Dkt. Nos. 94, 95. Jackson raises both specific and unspecific objections,*fn2 and defendants raise one specific objection. Specific objections will be reviewed under a de novo standard, while unspecific objections will be reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard. See Almonte v. N.Y. State Div. of Parole, 9:04-CV-484, 2006 WL 149049 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2006).

Upon careful consideration of the arguments, the relevant parts of the record, and the applicable law, the court adopts the Report-Recommendation in its entirety.

II. Discussion

1. Specific Objections

a. Jackson's Specific Objection

Jackson raises one specific objection. Prior to this lawsuit, Jackson entered into a settlement agreement with DOCS, settling all claims against DOCS arising out of their alleged violation of Jackson's right to practice his religion. See Jackson v. Mann, 95-CV-1838 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 22, 1995); Dkt. No. 133. Now, relying on the doctrine of continuous violation, Jackson argues that the settlement agreement does not preclude his religious discrimination claim. Specifically, Jackson maintains that because defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his Jewish faith in a continuous and ongoing nature, his First Amendment claim should survive.

As an initial matter, while Jackson objects to Judge Peebles' finding, he fails to offer any legal basis in support of his objection. Nonetheless, the court has reviewed Judge Peebles' finding de novo.

Judge Peebles concluded that the alleged misconduct supporting Jackson's First Amendment claim was previously resolved by the parties' January 2001 settlement agreement. As such, Judge Peebles found that Jackson's First Amendment claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Following a review of the record, the court agrees with Judge Peebles' analysis. Jackson's allegations of discrimination arise out of the set of facts previously settled. Moreover, Jackson cannot now claim a new violation of his rights based on the continuous violation doctrine. This is a new argument that was neither raised in his amended complaint nor addressed by the Magistrate Judge. Having reviewed Judge Peebles' report de novo, the court concludes that Jackson's religious discrimination claim is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Accordingly, Jackson's First Amendment claim is dismissed.

b. Defendants' Specific Objection

Defendants also raise one specific objection. They claim that Judge Peebles improperly failed to recommend that Jackson's due process claim against defendant Squillace be dismissed. The court will review this objection de novo.

In order to address defendants' objection, the court must briefly state the complex procedural posture of this case. Early in the course of litigation, defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which was assigned to Judge Peebles for report and recommendation. See Dkt. No. 43. Judge Peebles' report recommended the dismissal of Jackson's fourth cause of action, which specifically named defendant Squillace. See Dkt. No. 53. He also recommended that Jackson's fifth cause of action survive. See id. However, Jackson's fifth cause of action did not specifically name defendant Squillace. Judge Kahn subsequently adopted Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation in its entirety. See Dkt. No. 65. Moreover, the "Wherefore Clause" of Judge Kahn's order specifically named Squillace as a surviving defendant in the fifth cause of action. See id. Since their motion to dismiss did not result in a dismissal of the entire lawsuit, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment against the remainder of Jackson's claims, including his fifth cause of action. See Dkt. No. 81. In drafting their motion papers, defendants assumed that all of the claims against defendant Squillace had been dismissed since he was not originally named in the fifth cause of action. See Dkt. Nos. 53, 65. Therefore, defendants did not address Jackson's fifth cause of action as against Squillace.

Considering the facts in the light most favorable to Jackson, the court concludes that the fifth cause of action can be interpreted to include a claim against defendant Squillace. While he is not specifically named in the amended complaint, Judge Kahn's order adopting Judge Peebles' report does name Squillace as part of the surviving fifth cause of action. The state's objection on this ground is well-taken given the confusion in the record. However, at this juncture, leinency to pro se litigants requires a broad construction of the claims in Jackson's favor. Therefore,having reviewed Judge Peebles' report de novo, the court agrees with Judge Peebles' conclusion and adopts his report. However, and in fairness to the defendants given the confusion in the prior orders, they may renew their motion for summary judgment as to defendant Squillace after they have had an opportunity to depose Jackson on this issue.

2. Unspecific Objections

The remainder of Jackson's objections fail to specifically address Judge Peebles' factual and legal conclusions. Instead, Jackson has simply repeated the facts and arguments he initially raised before Magistrate Judge Peebles.*fn3 His objections contain no new analysis or arguments, nor do they cite authority in support of what are otherwise mere conclusory claims. Given the inadequacy of these objections, he has procedurally defaulted. See Almonte v. N.Y. State Div. of Parole, 9:04-CV-484, 2006 WL 149049 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2006). Accordingly, the court has reviewed the remainder of Judge Peebles' report and recommendation for clear error. See Almonte, 2006 WL 149049, at *6. Having discerned none, the court adopts the remainder of the report and recommendation in its entirety.

III. Conclusion

The court has reviewed the objected-to portions of the report de novo and the remainder under a clearly erroneous standard. The court accepts and adopts all aspects of Judge Peebles' recommendation. Accordingly, defendants' motion is granted, with the exception of the fifth cause of action as to defendant Squillace. Defendants may renew their motion on this issue following further discovery.

Finally, Jackson objects to Judge Peebles' conclusion that the defendants did not violate his due process rights during the July and August 2000 disciplinary hearings. Specifically, Jackson claims that he was prevented from calling witnesses and that insufficient evidence existed to find him guilty. As Judge Peebles noted, Jackson was afforded the opportunity to call witnesses. Moreover, sufficient evidence existed that Jackson was guilty of the charges against him. Overall, Jackson has failed to establish that his due process rights were violated.

WHEREFORE, for the foregoing reasons, it is hereby

ORDERED that Judge Peebles' March 7, 2006 Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 93) is accepted and adopted; and it is further

ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 81) is GRANTED in part and DENIED as to the remaining claim against defendant Squillace; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court provide copies of this Order to the parties.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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