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Mims v. Ufland

August 1, 2008

ROBERT MIMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORRECTION OFFICER D. UFLAND, CORRECTION OFFICER B. STEVENS, CORRECTION OFFICER R. WESTFIELD, CORRECTION OFFICER M. SEAMAN, CORRECTION OFFICER M. RHYNDERS, CORRECTION OFFICER R. TILLEY, CORRECTION OFFICER S. NILES, SERGEANT M. SCOTT, SERGEANT S. ROGERS, SERGEANT LONZACK, DIRECTOR THOMAS G. EAGEN, HEARING OFFICER GERARD GUINEY, GREEN HAVEN SUPERINTENDENT ROBERT ERCOLE, DIRECTOR DONALD SELSKY AND JOHN DOES 1- 8, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Robert Mims ("Mims") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging various deprivations of his constitutional rights during his incarceration at Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven"). Mims filed an amended complaint on August 10, 2007, which included causes of action (1) under the Eighth Amendment in connection with a beating he allegedly suffered at the hands of the staff at Green Haven on March 27, 2006 (the "March 27 attack"); (2) under the Due Process Clause in connection with a grievance and a disciplinary proceeding related to the March 27 attack; (3) under the Eighth Amendment for denial of medical care; (4) under New York State law for assault and battery; and (5) under New York State law for general negligence. On August 21, 2007, defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss the state law causes of action, as well as the Eighth Amendment claim alleging denial of medical care. In his opposition, Mims agreed to withdraw his state law claims; an Opinion dated November 21, 2007, denied the motion as to the Eighth Amendment medical care claim.

Defendants now move for partial summary judgment as to (1) the medical care claim, (2) the Due Process claim, and (3) the Eighth Amendment claim arising out of the March 27 attack insofar as it is alleged against defendants Sergeants Scott and Lonzack, and Officers Niles, Rhynders, Tilley, and Stevens, whom defendants claim were not personally involved in the alleged attack.*fn1 In his opposition, Mims withdraws the medical care claim, and all claims against defendants Director Thomas G. Eagen, Green Haven Superintendent Robert Ercole, Director Donald Selsky, and Officer Niles. Mims does defend his Eighth Amendment claim as to the sergeants and officers noted in defendants' summary judgment motion, as well as the due process claim against defendant Hearing Officer Gerard Guiney regarding his conduct of Mims's disciplinary proceeding.*fn2 In reply, defendants reassert that the due process claim should be dismissed, and that Sergeants Scott and Lonzack were not personally involved in the March 27 attack.*fn3 Thus, as presently configured, the claims to be addressed in this motion are the Eighth Amendment claims against Sergeants Scott and Lonzack and the due process claim against Hearing Officer Guiney. For the following reasons, defendants' motion for partial summary judgment is denied in part and granted in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are relevant to the issues presented by this motion, and are either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to Mims, unless otherwise noted. During all relevant times, Mims was incarcerated at Green Haven. On February 13, 2006, while traveling to the evening meal, Mims was confronted by Officer Ufland, who cursed at him and directed him to return to his cell. Afterward, cold food was delivered to Mims and approximately twenty other inmates that had not been permitted to eat at the mess hall. Mims promptly filed a grievance regarding this incident.

The next day, Sergeant Lonzack indicated to Mims that he "had no business" filing a grievance against Officer Ufland and told Mims that he would not process his grievance. Sergeant Lonzack also told Mims that he should "watch [himself]," which Mims understood to be some form of threat. For these actions, Mims also filed a grievance against Sergeant Lonzack.

On the afternoon of March 27, 2006, Officer Ufland again confronted Mims while he, in the company of a group of fellow inmates, was on his way to the mess hall. Again using foul language, Officer Ufland told Mims to stand against a nearby wall so that he could be searched. He was then frisked by another officer, and again told by Officer Ufland to return to his cell. Mims verbally protested, but did return to his cell and began writing up another grievance against Officer Ufland. Upon his return, Mims was placed in "keeplock" status.*fn4

At approximately 5:50 p.m. that same day, Mims's cell was opened for the apparent purpose of allowing him to take a shower. Mims was uncertain whether he was permitted to shower due to his keeplock status, but he exited the cell with his soap, towel, and wash cloth and headed toward the shower. When he arrived at the shower door, he discovered that it was locked. He then yelled to the officer in the nearby "bubble," Officer Seaman, to tell him that the shower was locked. Mims asked Officer Seaman why he was let out for a shower if the shower door was locked, at which time Officer Westfield arrived, approached Mims, and asked him, in vulgar terms, why he was out of his cell. Mims explained that his cell had been opened for him to shower; Officer Westfield did not respond, but rather closed an adjacent door, thereby preventing Mims from returning to his cell.

Thereafter, approximately four other officers arrived, including Officer Ufland. These officers told Mims to stand against the wall, at which time, Mims alleges, they began to beat him, including hitting him in the head, back, and legs with batons. Mims also alleges that he was kicked in the face by Officer Ufland and stabbed in the leg with an unknown object by Officer Stevens. Mims was handcuffed, taken downstairs into a supply room, and thereafter to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") and the medical facility, during which time, Mims alleges, the beating and verbal abuse continued while Mims loudly protested.

Although Mims could not identify all of the prison officials who were involved with the attack -- at his deposition, Mims indicated that it seemed as though as many as twenty officers were present -- he testified at his deposition that, in addition to the officers noted above (Westfield, Seaman, and Ufland), Sergeant Scott and Sergeant Rogers were involved in taking him downstairs and to the SHU, and that Sergeant Scott admitted him to the SHU. Contemporaneous inter-departmental memoranda written by Officers Rhynders and Tilley indicate that they also responded at the scene of the incident and were involved in escorting Mims to the SHU, and a "Report of Strip Frisk on Admission to SHU" further indicates that Sergeant Scott was present during Mims's admission to the SHU. Finally, Officers Ufland, Westfield, Seaman, and Sergeant Rogers completed memoranda that indicate that they were present at and involved in the incident.*fn5

Mims alleges that, when he was examined following the attack, his lip, leg, and mouth were bloody. During the subsequent disciplinary proceeding, however, medical staff who treated Mims testified that while Mims did have a small laceration on his leg, another on his lip, and some pain in his right hand, he had no notable bruises or injuries consistent with an attack of the severity described by Mims.

Later on March 27, an inmate misbehavior report was issued to Mims, authored by Officers Ufland and Niles. Mims was charged with violations of prison rules regarding violent conduct, creating a disturbance, assault on staff, and the possession of alcohol (which Officer Niles reported had been discovered in Mims's cell during a search on the evening of March 27). Defendant Guiney was assigned to conduct the Tier III disciplinary hearing on these charges, which commenced on April 2, 2006, and concluded on May 3, when Mims was found guilty on all four charges and sentenced principally to eighteen months in the SHU and loss of various privileges for twenty-four months. As discussed in greater detail below, Mims alleges that Guiney was a biased and partial hearing officer because he did not permit him to call certain witnesses, curtailed relevant witness testimony, improperly removed him from the hearing, unreasonably credited the testimony of corrections officers, and generally displayed a biased and unfair attitude toward Mims.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment may not be granted unless all of the submissions taken together "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), Fed. R. Civ. P. The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a material factual question, and in making this determination the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When the moving party has asserted facts showing that the non-movant's claims or defenses cannot be sustained, the opposing party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," and cannot rest on the "mere allegations or denials" of the movant's pleadings. Rule 56(e), Fed. R. Civ. P.; accord Sista v. CDC Ixis N. ...


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