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Warren v. Goord

March 5, 2007



Plaintiff Vincent Warren, appearing pro se, brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Glenn Goord, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"); William Phillips, Superintendent of Green Haven Correctional Facility; Thomas Eagen, Director of the Inmate Grievance Program for DOCS; and John Doe,*fn1 Deputy Superintendent of Security at Green Haven Correctional Facility. Defendants have moved for dismissal of the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants the motion to dismiss in part and denies it in part.


Plaintiff is an inmate housed at Green Haven Correctional Facility. At approximately 9:00 PM on January 1, 2004, an unidentified assailant slashed the left side of plaintiff's face. (Compl. ¶¶ 12--13.) At the time of the attack, plaintiff alleges that he was watching television in the E/F yard; immediately after the attack, plaintiff began to "swing at a group of people" who were seated behind him watching television. (Id. ¶¶ 14--15.) After this incident, plaintiff was handcuffed and taken to the Green Haven clinic, where he received a total of twelve stitches to his left cheek. (Id. ¶¶ 16--17.) Based on the failure of the prison to install metal detectors at the entrance to the E/Fyard, plaintiff filed a grievance requesting monetary damages for the "lack of proper security measures" that allegedly resulted in the assault. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 19.) Plaintiff also requested that the facility begin using metal detectors before inmates are permitted to enter the yard. (Id. ¶ 20.) Ultimately, the grievance was denied, and plaintiff's appeal to the Central Office Review Committee was also denied. (Id. ¶¶ 21--23.)

In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendant Goord created a policy under which serious assaults on inmates occurred in prison yards and that he was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who failed to protect prisoners from "deadly inmates." (Id. ¶¶ 24--26.) Plaintiff alleges that defendant Phillips exhibited deliberate indifference by failing to install metal detectors despite his knowledge that inmates were being slashed and stabbed; to support this argument, plaintiff alleges that an inmate was killed in mid-2003 and that Phillips is aware that weapons are sometimes buried in the yard. (Id. ¶¶ 27--28, 34--35.) Plaintiff's only allegation against defendant Eagen is that he denied plaintiff's grievance concerning the attack. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff seeks $1,000,000 in damages for his injury as well as laser surgery to remove the scar on his face. (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff also seeks an injunction requiring maximum security state prisons to install metal detectors at the entrance to prison yards. (Id. ¶ 38.) On October 12, 2006, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


A motion to dismiss may be granted only when "'it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45--46 (1957)). In ruling on such a motion, this Court is required to accept "the material facts alleged in the complaint as true." Easton v. Sundram, 947 F.2d 1011, 1014--15 (2d Cir. 1991) (citing Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546 (1964) (per curiam)). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff is likely to prevail ultimately, 'but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 69 F.3d 669, 673 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Weisman v. LeLandais, 532 F.2d 308, 311 (2d Cir. 1976) (per curiam)).The Court must be especially cautious against improper dismissal when the complaint is pro se or when it alleges civil rights violations. Easton, 947 F.2dat 1015 (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520--21 (1972)); see also Hernandez, 18 F.3d at 136. The Court is required to construe the pro se complaint "'liberally, applying less stringent standards than when a plaintiff is represented by counsel.'" Branham v. Meachum, 77 F.3d 626, 628--29 (2d Cir. 1996) (quoting Robles v. Coughlin, 725 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir. 1983)).


Plaintiff asserts in his complaint that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights. (See Compl. ¶ 32 ("It was cruel and unusual punishment to place plaintiff in a fish tank full of sharks, basically, a yard full of violent inmates with weapons.").) More specifically, plaintiff argues that the defendants' failure to install metal detectors at the entrance to the prison yard constitutes an Eighth Amendment violation because the failure demonstrates a deliberate indifference to plaintiff's safety.

1. The Claim Against Phillips and Goord

While not mandating "comfortable prisons," the Eighth Amendment does require prison officials to provide humane conditions of confinement, including the duty to "ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Amendment also imposes a duty on prison officials to "'take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.'" Id. (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526--27 (1984)). Despite this general requirement to protect inmates, "not . . . every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another . . . translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety." Id. at 834. To state a cognizable failure to protect claim under § 1983, the inmate must demonstrate that two conditions are met. First, for a claim "based on failure to prevent harm, the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Id. (citing Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993)).Second, the inmate must show that prison officials acted with "deliberate indifference" to the safety of the inmate. Hayes v. New York City Dep't of Corrections, 84 F.3d 614, 620 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Morales v. New York City Dep't of Corrections, 842 F.2d 27, 30 (2d Cir. 1988). The test for deliberate indifference is twofold: To act with deliberate indifference, "the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; see also Hayes, 84 F.3d at 620 ("[A] prison official has sufficient culpable intent if he has knowledge that an inmate faces a substantial risk of serious harm and he disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate the harm." (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847)). With these standards in mind, the Court will now examine plaintiff's failure to protect claim.

a. Substantial Risk of Serious Harm

The Court finds that plaintiff has satisfied the first prong of the inquiry. In the complaint, plaintiff alleged that he was the victim of a violent attack by other inmates that resulted in a wound requiring twelve stitches across his left cheek. (Compl. ¶¶ 13--17.) This attack, especially when considered in light of plaintiff's allegations of a recent murder and other attacks on inmates, sufficiently pleads that plaintiff was put at substantial risk of serious harm. See, e.g., Zimmerman v. Macomber, No. 95 Civ. 0882 (DAB), 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12499, 2001 WL 946383, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 21, 2001) (finding that inmate who had been repeatedly stabbed by another inmate met substantial risk requirement); King v. Dep't of Correction, No. 95 Civ. 3057 (JGK), 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1825, 1998 WL 67669, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 1998) (finding that attack by another inmate, resulting in cut to inmate's face, neck, and shoulder requiring twelve stitches, met this standard); Knowles v. New York City Dep't of Corrections, 904 F. Supp. 217, 221 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (finding that violent slashing attack by another inmate, which resulted in deep cut to face requiring sixty stitches, satisfied substantial risk requirement).

b. Deliberate Indifference

Defendants argue that plaintiff does not satisfy the deliberate indifference prong because he "fail[ed] to show particularized knowledge by the defendants that there was a risk to plaintiff." (Pl.'s Mot. to Dismiss 8.) However, the Supreme Court held in Farmer v. Brennan that an inmate could demonstrate deliberate indifference not only by showing that prison officials failed to respond to a particularized threat to the complaining plaintiff, but also "by showing that a substantial risk of inmate attacks was longstanding, pervasive, well-documented, or expressly noted by prison officials in the past, and the circumstances suggest that the defendant-official being sued had been exposed to information concerning the risk." 511 U.S. at 842 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also, e.g., Matthews v. Armitage, 36 F. Supp. 2d 121, 125 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (describing plaintiff's burden under deliberate indifference prong as showing that "the particular plaintiff entered within the zone of that risk as known to the defendants"); Murchison v. Keane, No. 94 Civ. 466 (CSH), 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9096, 1996 WL ...

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