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Guarneri v. West

October 23, 2007

JOSEPH PAUL GUARNERI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CALVIN E. WEST, SUPERINTENDENT ELMIRA CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Joseph Paul Guarneri, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated in a number of respects by defendants, all of whom were at all relevant times officials or employees of DOCS or of the State of New York.

Plaintiff amended his complaint as of right on November 17, 2005. Dkt. #4. Defendants have moved to dismiss certain claims asserted by plaintiff in the amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1

DISCUSSION

I. Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6): General Principles

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the facts in the complaint are presumed to be true, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiff's favor. See E.E.O.C. v. Staten Island Savings Bank, 207 F.3d 144, 148 (2d Cir. 2000). A complaint may be dismissed only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Drake v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 147 F.3d 169, 171 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).

Because plaintiff appears pro se, the complaint must be liberally construed in his favor, and held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)); see also Ferran v. Town of Nassau, 11 F.3d 21, 22 (2d Cir. 1993). The Court interprets complaints submitted by pro se plaintiffs to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. Burgin v. GMC, No. 04-CV-503S, 2006 WL 469355 at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2006) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)).

The rules concerning liberal construction of pro se complaints have their limits, however. In order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the complaint "must contain specific allegations of fact which indicate a deprivation of constitutional rights; allegations which are nothing more than broad, simple and conclusory statements are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983." Holland v. Goord, No. 05-CV-6295, 2006 WL 1983382 at *2 (W.D.N.Y. July 12, 2006) (quoting Alfaro Motors, Inc. v. Ward, 814 F.2d 883, 887 (2d Cir. 1987)). See also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) ("While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do") (internal quotes and citations omitted).

II. Claims Against Defendants Spitzer, McLaughlin, West and Conway

Defendants move to dismiss the claims against defendants Eliot Spitzer, Kenneth McLaughlin, Calvin West and James Conway, on the ground that plaintiff has failed to allege their personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violations. At the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit, these defendants were, respectively, the New York State Attorney General, Director of Operations of the DOCS Inspector General's Office, Superintendent of Elmira and Superintendent of Attica.

A plaintiff asserting a § 1983 claim against a supervisory official in his individual capacity must allege that the supervisor was personally involved in the alleged constitutional deprivation. Johnson v. Newburgh Enlarged Sch. Dist., 239 F.3d 246, 254 (2d Cir. 2001); Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2001). That requirement may be satisfied by alleging facts showing that:

(1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation; (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom; (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts; or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberated indifference to others' rights by failing to act on information indicated that constitutional acts were occurring. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995); Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323-24 (2d Cir. 1986).

"[M]ere 'linkage in the prison chain of command' is insufficient to implicate a [supervisory official] in a § 1983 claim." Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431, 435 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir. 1985)); see also Colon, 58 F.3d at 874 ("The bare fact that [the defendant] occupies a high position in the New York prison hierarchy is insufficient to sustain [plaintiff's] claim"). It is well established that "[t]here is no respondeat superior liability in § 1983 cases." Green v. Bauvi, 46 F.3d 189, 194 (2d Cir. 1995).

Applying these principles here, it is clear that the claims against Spitzer and McLaughlin must be dismissed. Virtually nothing is mentioned about them in the complaint, and it is plain that Guarneri's claims against them are premised solely ...


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