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Rigano v. County of Sullivan

April 13, 2007

DANIELLE RIGANO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF SULLIVAN, SULLIVAN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, SHERIFF DANIEL HOGUE, IN HIS CAPACITY AS SHERIFF AND INDIVIDUALLY, UNDERSHERIFF JOSEPH DECKER, IN HIS CAPACITY AS UNDERSHERIFF AND INDIVIDUALLY, LAW ADMINISTRATOR KENNETH LAPORTE, IN HIS CAPACITY AS JAIL ADMINISTRATOR AND INDIVIDUALLY, DEAN WASHINGTON, JERMAINE DAVIS, KEISHAU DAVIS, MARQUIS FIELDS, AND CORRECTIONS OFFICERS JAMES PUGH, ROBERT MCCAULEY, JOHN HAMILTON, ANDEAS NEDWETZKY, GREG MCDOAL, JAMES BILYOU, THOMAS COMPASSO, SGT. JAMES GINTY, BRIAN GLEASON AND BRAD MAGIE, SUED IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conner, Sr. D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Danielle Rigano, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants the County of Sullivan (the "County"), the County Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff's Office"), Sheriff Daniel Hogue ("Hogue"), Undersheriff Joseph Decker ("Decker"), County Jail Administrator Kenneth LaPorte ("LaPorte"),*fn1 inmates of the County Jail Dean Washington ("Washington"), Jermaine Davis ("J. Davis"), Keishau Davis ("K. Davis") and Marquis Fields ("Fields") (collectively, the "inmate defendants"), and Corrections Officers of the County Jail James Pugh ("Pugh"), Robert McCauley ("McCauley"), John Hamilton ("Hamilton"), Andeas Nedwetzky ("Nedwetzky"), Greg McDoal ("McDoal"), James Bilyou ("Bilyou"), Thomas Compasso ("Compasso"), Sergeant James Ginty ("Ginty"), Brian Gleason ("Gleason") and Brad Magie ("Magie"),*fn2 for violation of his constitutional rights guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.*fn3 Plaintiff also brings a claim for negligence against the County defendants, as well as claims for assault, battery and false imprisonment against the inmate defendants. Plaintiff alleges that he was harassed and beaten by the inmate defendants over the course of a twelve-hour period while serving his sentence at the County Jail, and that the County defendants failed to properly supervise the inmates or were otherwise deliberately indifferent to the treatment that plaintiff endured. The County defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56 on plaintiff's claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for common law negligence. Plaintiff thereafter withdrew his § 1983 claim against the County and all claims against the Sheriff's Office, Hogue, Decker, LaPorte, McCauley, Hamilton, Bilyou and Ginty. (See Pl. Mem. Opp. Mot. Summ. J. at 1.) Plaintiff continues to assert: (1) a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Pugh, Nedwetsky, McDoal, Compasso, Gleason, Magie and the inmate defendants; (2) a negligence claim against the County, Pugh, Nedwetsky, McDoal, Compasso, Gleason and Magie; and (3) common law claims of assault, battery and false imprisonment against the inmate defendants. (See id.) For the following reasons, the County defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

Viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff,*fn4 the record reveals the following relevant facts. On the night of November 8, 2002, after socializing at a local bar, plaintiff and William Depaw ("Depaw"), apparently a friend of plaintiff, broke into the home of the individual who owned the bar that they were frequenting and stole several bottles of liquor and a watch. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B(Pl. Dep. at 30-32).) A week later, plaintiff was arrested and later pled guilty to second degree burglary and petit larceny. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 33); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 1.) Plaintiff was seventeen years old*fn5 when he committed the crime and was adjudicated as a Youthful Offender.*fn6 (SeeWatkins Aff'm, Ex. 1.) On December 17, 2003, he was sentenced to two hundred hours of community service, five years of probation and incarceration for six consecutive weekends at the County Jail (the "Jail") to commence on January 2, 2004. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B(Pl. Dep. at 36); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 1.)

On January 2, 2004, at approximately 6:00 p.m., plaintiff's grandfather brought him to the Jail to begin his sentence. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B(Pl. Dep. at 38); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 1.) Upon his arrival, he was booked, searched and issued a blue jumpsuit to wear. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B(Pl. Dep. at 42).) Plaintiff also underwent an intake process required by New York State law to determine where and in what manner he would be housed. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 42); LaPorte Aff. ¶ 5, Exs. A, B, D.)

As part of the intake process, all inmates are asked a series of questions by a corrections officer who then completes the "Initial Inmate Classification Form," which results in a score that is used in determining how the inmate will be classified and, as a result, where he will be housed.*fn7 (See LaPorte Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. A.) The questions relate to the prisoner's criminal history, present charges, escape history, age, employment status, residency and other considerations, including, inter alia, whether he had: (1) ever been victimized in prison; (2) any enemies currently in the Jail population; (3) cooperated with or provided testimony to law enforcement; (4) a history of mental illness; and (5) any physical disabilities. (See LaPorte Aff., Exs. A, B; County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 42-47).) In addition, prisoners are asked whether they know of any reason why they should not be placed in general population. (See LaPorte Aff., Ex. B.) Throughout the entire examination, plaintiff did not indicate anything to suggest that he should not be placed into general population and, based upon his offense and age at the time, he was assigned to maximum security housing reserved for inmates between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, which was located in the Jail's "Cell Block C, Second Tier."*fn8 (See LaPorte Aff. ¶¶ 5, 7, 11, Exs. A, B; County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 39, 46-47, 49-50).)

After plaintiff's intake was completed, a corrections officer escorted plaintiff through a hallway towards Cell Block C and past the "first tier" where the adult inmates were housed. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 49-50, 64, 70).) When they arrived at the second tier, the corrections officer instructed plaintiff to enter a gated common area containing some tables and chairs and a television. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 49-50, 55, 59).) Four or five other inmates were already fraternizing in the area. (See id.) He was instructed to go into his cell, which was the first cell of five consecutive cells located against the far wall of the common area. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 49, 51).) Once plaintiff entered the cell, the corrections officer closed its barred gate by using a lever located outside the general area. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 49, 60).) The inmate population of Cell Block C, tier two on the weekend of January 2, 2004 consisted of plaintiff, the inmate defendants and Kevin Matthews ("Matthews").*fn9 (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 55).)

It is the Jail's policy for a corrections officer to be stationed at a desk in Cell Block C between the two tiers where he is able to view the barred gates leading into both areas containing the cells. (See LaPorte Aff. ¶ 18.) Every fifteen minutes, the corrections officer is required to conduct a visual inspection of the inmates and the tier itself. (See id. ¶ 19.) As LaPorte explaind, "[t]o accomplish this, the officer would walk from his desk several feet to the barred door to each grouping of cells and visualize each prisoner and the activities of those prisoners." (Id.) In order to insure that the required inspections are conducted, the Jail instituted an electronic recording system know as "Guard1." (See id. ¶ 20.) Guard1 monitors the guard's activities by requiring that "[e]ach officer carr[y] a small electronic wand that he must touch to an electronic sensor at the various vantage points at which he . . . position[ed] himself in order to view the inmates." (Id.) Each time the officer touches the electronic sensor with the electronic wand, the Guard1 system generates a computerized record of the contact, which can be later printed out in physical form. (See id.) It is also the Jail's policy to conduct head counts every eight hours during which the inmates are required to enter their cell so that the guards can "visualize the flesh of each inmate so as to prevent the use of dummies in escape attempts." (See id. ¶ 21.)

A few minutes after plaintiff was put in his cell, one of the inmate defendants came over to plaintiff's cell and asked him his name and what he was in for. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 53-54).) Throughout the evening, the other inmate defendants came over and started conversations with plaintiff. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 55).) Plaintiff claims that he did not feel threatened in anyway at this time. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 54).) However, upon learning that plaintiff was sentenced to incarceration only during the weekends, the other inmates threatened him with physical violence if he did not smuggle drugs or alcohol into the Jail the following weekend. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 57, 61-62).)

At some point on Friday evening, a corrections officer instructed plaintiff to switch cells with Matthews, who was in the adjacent cell. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 57-58).) Matthews had to be locked down because he was placed on suicide watch and the lock on the barred gate to the second cell was not functioning. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 60, 79); County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt. (received 1/4/07), Ex. B).) At this time, plaintiff did not inform the corrections officer that the other inmates had threatened him because, according to plaintiff, he did not "feel the need to" and their threat did not "bother" him. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 62-63).)

After plaintiff was moved to the second cell, his cell gate remained open and the other inmates walked "freely" in and out of his cell, casually speaking with him. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 61, 63).) On Saturday morning, the inmates invited plaintiff to watch television with them in the common area of the tier. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 61); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 44).) They told plaintiff that they disliked DePaw, plaintiff's co-defendant, and that they were going to "hurt him" the next time that they saw him. (See Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 46-47).) It is unclear how the other inmates knew of DePaw.

The inmate defendants began to "horse around" with plaintiff and he began to feel threatened. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 63-64); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 45, 47).) Plaintiff testified that the inmate defendants were ordering him around, slapping him on the back, punching him with closed fists in the arms, back, chest and stomach, and pushing him around. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 65-66); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 50).) Plaintiff also claims that the inmate defendants uttered racial slurs at him, calling him "whitey" and "cracker." (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 66-67);Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 51).) Plaintiff protested, but they continued harassing him until lunch was served. (See Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 51-52); County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 67).) Plaintiff does not recall seeing any corrections officers conducting their visual inspections of the inmates and the tier at any time during the morning. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 65, 67);Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 53).) However, according to the Guard1 system, a corrections officer conducted an inspection approximately once every twenty minutes on that day. (See LaPorte Aff., Ex. E.)

After lunch, plaintiff claims that the harassment worsened. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 69);Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 53).) For the remainder of the night, the inmate defendants continued to berate him and push him around and, at one point, they made him dress like a girl and dance on a table. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 69);Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 53, 59).) While plaintiff was dancing, the other inmates slapped him in the buttocks and spat on him. (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 73); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 59-60, 62).) The inmate defendants also forced plaintiff to do their laundry and smoke a cigarette which they claimed contained banana peel.*fn10 (See County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 73-74); Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 60-61).)

Between lunch and dinner while the harassment was taking place, plaintiff observed several corrections officers at the gate inspecting the inmates and the tier, but the other inmates engaged in tactics to distract the officers' attention from plaintiff, including screaming at the officers, forcing plaintiff into his cell and standing in front of plaintiff's cell to block the officers' view of him. (See Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 54); County Defs. Rule 56.1 Stmt., Ex. B (Pl. Dep. at 70-72).) According to plaintiff, the inmates also threatened plaintiff that they would kill him if he reported their behavior to the corrections officers. (See Watkins Aff'm, Ex. 6 (Pl. Dep. at 54).) The officers always remained on the outside of the tier looking in through the barred gate. (See id. (Pl. Dep. at 55, 56-57).) Plaintiff was able to see the officers touch their wand to the electronic ...


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