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Lashley v. Wakefield

April 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge


This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by a prisoner, Corey Lashley, who is confined with the New York State Department of Corrections ("DOCS") on a robbery conviction. Several of plaintiff's claims were dismissed by the Court in its summary judgment decision of May 2, 2005. The only remaining claim is plaintiff's claim that he was retaliated against by several employees of DOCS because he complained and filed a grievance concerning a policy that he disagreed with concerning procedures in the prison law library.

The Court appointed counsel to represent Lashley and, thereafter, the parties consented to a bench trial. The matter was tried to the Court on April 16 and April 17, 2007. Three witnesses testified: plaintiff, Lt. Paul Piccolo and Retired Corrections Officer Marlene Wakefield. At the conclusion of plaintiff's case, the Court dismissed the claim against a third defendant, Gregory Sarra.

This Decision and Order constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 52.

Plaintiff testified that he was confined to the 5 Points Correctional Facility at Romulus, New York during 2001 and 2002. During some of that time, plaintiff was assigned to the law library as a law clerk.

The incident that precipitated the lawsuit occurred on October 8, 2001. Plaintiff testified that the officer in charge of the library, defendant Wakefield, advised all of the law clerks on October 8 that there was a new "policy" in effect. Inmates would routinely use law clerks to assist in researching and preparing legal filings. According to plaintiff, Wakefield told the clerks that they could only spend about 5 minutes with each client inmate.

Plaintiff testified that he disagreed with this policy and believed that there should be no time limits for consultation. He confronted Officer Wakefield and inquired about the new "policy" and requested to see a copy of it. Plaintiff claimed that Wakefield told him to file a grievance if he did not like the policy. That same day, plaintiff filed such a grievance (Ex. 1).

Both Lt. Piccolo and Wakefield testified that the new restriction only related to conferring with inmates behind the counter where the law clerks maintained their desks. As long as the consultation did not occur there, the inmate and the law clerk could confer in the library as long as necessary. It appears that plaintiff understood this part of the new policy since he describes it similarly in his grievance (Ex. 1). This policy, therefore, was not as restrictive as plaintiff originally claimed.

Plaintiff claims that Wakefield was upset when he challenged the new rule and claims that she filed a misbehavior report against him because of that irritation. Wakefield filed a misbehavior report (Ex. 2A-B) charging plaintiff with failing to obey a direct order, harassment and related charges. The misbehavior report described Lashley's conduct as abusive and threatening toward her. Plaintiff admitted that he disputed the policy but denied that he acted improperly toward Wakefield. Wakefield, on the other hand, testified that plaintiff was very upset over her directive, was disorderly and was yelling at her. She feared for her safety. Because of that, she contacted her supervisor, Lt. Piccolo. Wakefield testified that she never had any prior problems with plaintiff and that the policy was issued by her superiors.

Lt. Piccolo was contacted that day and removed plaintiff from the library and confined him to his cell pending resolution of the misbehavior report. According to plaintiff, Piccolo told him that plaintiff was "crazy" for writing up, i.e. filing a grievance against, one of his officers and that he, Piccolo, would teach plaintiff a lesson. Plaintiff remained in keeplock for 8 days until the charges against him were dismissed (Ex. 5A-B).

Plaintiff filed another grievance (6A-6B) complaining of Wakefield's retaliatory conduct. Plaintiff admitted that he never had any more problems with Wakefield and that he returned to work in the library. At one point, Lt. Piccolo told plaintiff that he was too aggressive and confrontational with another officer in the library concerning the challenged library policy.

Plaintiff apparently showed that librarian Ex. 30 which was a response to one of his grievances about the library policy. Plaintiff claims that this decision vindicated him. I have reviewed plaintiff's Ex. 30, though, and it merely states in general that law clerks should have ample opportunity to assist inmates. The decision did not speak directly about the policy limiting law clerks from conversing with inmates at a particular location in the library.

Plaintiff also complained that his cell was searched more than normal after the October 8 incident. Plaintiff claimed that his property was tossed about the cell, which plaintiff believed was contrary to DOCS' regulations. Plaintiff was of the opinion that these frequent cell searches were caused by Lt. Piccolo.

There was testimony that after one of the cell searches, a misbehavior report was written against plaintiff on December 4, 2001 alleging theft of a library book. Plaintiff was confined in keeplock once again for about 10 days until the hearing when all charges were dismissed when it was established that plaintiff had ...

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