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Gonzalez v. Coughlin

June 9, 2008

WILLIAM GONZALEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, III, COMMISSIONER NYS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES (DOCS), ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lyle E. Strom, Senior Judge United States District Court

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment (Filing No. 159). Having reviewed the motion, the parties' briefs and evidentiary submissions, and the applicable law, the Court finds defendants' motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

On a motion for summary judgment, all reasonable factual inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See, e.g., Savino v. City of New York, 331 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 2003)(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). However, to survive a motion for summary judgment, "the nonmoving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)(emphasis omitted)(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e))(citation omitted). "Conclusory allegations, conjecture, and speculation . . . are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact." Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998)(citation omitted). Thus, "statements that are devoid of any specifics, but replete with conclusions, are insufficient to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment." Bickerstaff v. Vassar Coll., 196 F.3d 435, 452 (2d Cir. 1999)(citations omitted), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1242 (2000).

"In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant may satisfy this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Vann v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1040, 1048 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). A party "moving for summary judgment must prevail if the [non-movant] fails to come forward with enough evidence to create a genuine factual issue to be tried with respect to an element essential to its case." Allen v. Cuomo, 100 F.3d 253, 258 (2d Cir. 1996)(citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff William Gonzalez filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York on September 6, 1994 (Filing No. 1). Plaintiff named the following defendants in his original complaint: Thomas Coughlin, III; Daniel Senkowski; Donald Selsky; Officer R. Varin; Lieutenant Carey; and Ms. Matos, also known as Ms. Deleon. Plaintiff brought his action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging he was deprived of procedural due process in connection with a Tier III disciplinary hearing that took place on August 19-23, 1991. After the Tier III hearing, plaintiff was sentenced to 180 days in keeplock confinement. He served 163 days before the Tier III hearing was administratively reversed and plaintiff's record was expunged. In his complaint, plaintiff also stated that he intended to file another § 1983 action based on an assault on the plaintiff at CCF on February 24, 1994, and based on legal property of plaintiff's that was allegedly lost intentionally by prison official's during plaintiff's transfer to another prison.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint (Filing No. 13). On May 6, 1996, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation and granted defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that plaintiff's 163 day keeplock confinement did not rise to the level of a protected liberty interest (Filing No. 32). The plaintiff appealed the dismissal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The Second Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the district court to make factual determinations as to the actual conditions of plaintiff's keeplock confinement pursuant to Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on July 31, 2000, naming thirty-four defendants and asserting several claims (Filing No. 59).

Plaintiff filed a separate § 1983 action on March 10, 1997 (Filing No. 1 in 9:97CV320). However, because plaintiff delivered his complaint to prison officials to forward to the Court on February 24, 1997, the complaint will be deemed filed on February 24, 1997 (Filing No. 4 in 9:97CV320). See Dory v. Ryan, 999 F.2d 679 (2d Cir. 1993)(holding a pro se prisoner's civil complaint was deemed filed the day the complaint was delivered to prison officials). The district court found that the complaint failed to comply with Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) and 10(b) and ordered plaintiff to amend his complaint or the case would be dismissed. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint which added more defendants and claims and still failed to comply with the federal rules. The Court ordered the amended complaint stricken and gave plaintiff one more opportunity to amend his complaint within 30 days. When plaintiff failed to do so, the district court dismissed his complaint. Plaintiff's case was reinstated after he moved to vacate the judgment and appealed to the Second Circuit. On July 31, 2000, plaintiff filed the same amended complaint (Filing No. 34 in 9:97CV320) that he had filed in 9:94CV1119. The district court entered an order to consolidate the two cases on August 10, 2000.

Defendants move for summary judgment on the following grounds: (1) plaintiff's due process claims should be dismissed because plaintiff's keeplock confinement did not rise to the level of a protected liberty interest; (2) various claims in the amended complaint should be dismissed as time-barred because they do not relate back to the original complaints; (3) plaintiff's claims based on inadequate medical treatment should be dismissed because they are without merit; and (4) defendants Rodas, Scales, Fein, Koenigsmann, Zwillinger, Bliden, and Schneider are entitled to qualified immunity.

DISCUSSION

I. Due Process Claims

Plaintiff alleges he was denied procedural due process at a Tier III disciplinary hearing that took place on August 19-23, 1991. To state a claim for denial of due process, "a prisoner must allege that he possessed a protected liberty interest, and was not afforded the requisite process before being deprived of that liberty interest." Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593 (2d Cir. 2000). "Disciplinary confinement does not deprive an inmate of a liberty interest unless the confinement imposes [an] 'atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.'" Gonzalez v. Coughlin, No. 96-2494, 1998 WL 2410, at *1 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 1998)(quoting Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995)).

Plaintiff claims his time keeplock confinement was an atypical and significant hardship for the following reasons: "(a) plaintiff was segregated from the general population for eating, recreation and all other group activities; (b) plaintiff was confined to his cell for 23 hours per day; (c) plaintiff lost privileges including commissary, phone, FRP, law library access, religious services attendance and bathhouse privileges; and (d) plaintiff was subjected to the violent and dangerous conditions then present in Lower Block F" (Filing No. 59 ("Amended Complaint") ΒΆ 22). In addition, plaintiff ...


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