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Turley v. Britton

February 24, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge



Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights while he was incarcerated at Mid-State Correctional Facility. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendants' rejection of his request to mail a letter to the State Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"), without paying the requisite postage, was an unconstitutional abridgement of his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff also contends that Defendants' action contravened Department of Corrections' Directives concerning the "privileged" status of prisoners' correspondence with governmental agencies, allowing such materials to be mailed without paying postage.

Currently before the Court is Magistrate Judge Homer's Report-Recommendation and Order and Plaintiff's objections thereto.


At all relevant times, Plaintiff was an inmate at Mid-State and Marcy Correctional Facilities. On or about July 28, 2003, while incarcerated at Mid-State Correctional Facility, he attempted to mail a letter to the DMV. The mail room at Mid-State Correctional Facility rejected the letter because Plaintiff had not paid the $.37 postage. See Deposition of Mark A. Turley dated December 20, 2004 ("Turley Tr.") at 20. On August 4, 2003, Plaintiff filed a grievance requesting that all outgoing mail to the DMV be classified as privileged because the DMV was a state agency. On August 28, 2003, Plaintiff was transferred from Mid-State Correctional Facility to Marcy Correctional Facility. See Turley Tr. at 16. Upon his arrival at Marcy Correctional Facility, the mail room mailed his letter to the DMV without charging him postage. See id. at 24-25.

On September 8, 2003, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant Britton, the mail room supervisor at Marcy Correctional Facility, asking her whether correspondence to the DMV would be classified as privileged. Defendant Britton responded that "DMV mail is not considered legal mail. However, we would not reject this mail. It would be processed as regular mail." See Complaint at Exhibit "2."

On September 23, 2003, Defendant Costello, the Superintendent at Mid-State Correctional Facility, denied Plaintiff's grievance. See Complaint at Exhibit "3." Plaintiff appealed that decision; and, on October 15, 2003, the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") accepted Plaintiff's request that outgoing correspondence to the DMV would be treated as privileged. See Complaint at Exhibit "4." CORC explained that "Directive #4421, Section 721.2, (d), does indicate that incoming mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles would not be processed as privileged correspondence, however, outgoing mail to this Department would be treated as privileged correspondence and afforded the weekly free postage allowance per Directive #4421." See id. (emphasis added).

After receiving CORC's response, Plaintiff commenced this action on November 28, 2003. Defendants moved for summary judgment, and Plaintiff cross-moved for summary judgment. See Dkt. Nos. 34, 36. Magistrate Judge Homer issued a Report-Recommendation and Order on January 4, 2006, in which he recommended that this Court grant Defendants' motion with respect to Plaintiff's second cause of action, dismiss Plaintiff's first cause of action, and deny Plaintiff's cross-motion. See Dkt. No. 45. Plaintiff timely filed his objections to these recommendations. See Dkt. No. 46.


A. Standard of Review

The district court reviews de novo those portions of the magistrate judge's report-recommendation and order to which a party objects, see Singleton v. Caron, No. 9:03-CV-00455, 2006 WL 2023000, *1 (N.D.N.Y. July 18, 2006) (citations omitted), and for clear error those portions to which a party does not object, see Stokes v. Artus, No. 05 Civ. 1975, 2006 WL 1676437, *2 (S.D.N.Y. June 14, 2006) (citation omitted). With these standards in mind, the Court will review Magistrate Judge Homer's recommendations in light of Plaintiff's objections.

B. Plaintiff's First Amendment Claim

It is well-established that "[t]o prevail on a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must '"show that [an] official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right."'" Johnson v. Goord, 445 F.3d 532, 534 (2d Cir. 2006) (quotation omitted). Moreover, "[a] defendant's personal involvement in the alleged unlawful conduct is a prerequisite for a finding of liability in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Bennett v. Hunter, No. 9:02-CV-1365, 2006 WL 1174309, *4 (N.D.N.Y. May 1, 2006) (citations omitted). Thus, "[t]o prevail on a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against an individual, a plaintiff must show some tangible connection between the alleged unlawful conduct and the defendant." Id. (citation omitted). Finally, when the defendant is a supervisor, "mere 'linkage' to the unlawful conduct through 'the prison chain of command' (i.e., under the doctrine of respondeat superior) is insufficient to show his or her personal involvement in the unlawful conduct." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, to show that a supervisor was personally involved in the alleged constitutional violation, the plaintiff must establish that the supervisor (1) directly participated in that violation, (2) failed to remedy that violation after learning of it through a report ...

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