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Mitchell v. New York State Department of Correctional Services

January 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge



This is an action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 brought by plaintiff Dontie Mitchell ("Plaintiff"), a prison inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), against DOCS and various DOCS employees. Now before the Court are three motions (Docket Nos. [#17][#21][#24]) to dismiss the Amended Complaint [#10] in this action. For the reasons that follow, the applications are granted in part and denied in part.


On June 7, 2006, Plaintiff commenced this action. Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] purported to state seven causes of action. Specifically, the Complaint alleged the following: 1) DOCS's inmate grievance program is ineffective and unfair generally, and in addition, defendants Glenn Goord ("Goord"), Michael McGinnis ("McGinnis") and Joseph Cieslak ("Cieslak") used the grievance program to deny him access to the court; 2) DOCS's disciplinary system is unfair; 3) DOCS's disciplinary rule 105.12 targeting gang-related activities is unconstitutionally vague and violates inmates' right to free expression and association; 4) DOCS facilities are unsafe and psychologically harmful to inmates because of staff violence and intimidation; 5) Staff at Southport Correctional Facility ("Southport") misuse mechanical restraints (handcuffs and waist-chains); 6) Southport's mailroom supervisor routinely interferes with inmates' right to send and receive mail; and 7) DOCS refuses to accommodate the religious dietary needs of members of the Nation of Islam ("NOI"). The Complaint purported to state claims on behalf of Plaintiff and "individual prisoners similarly situated." Along with his Complaint, Plaintiff submitted an application to proceed in forma pauperis [#2].

On October 7, 2006, the Honorable John T. Elfvin, United States District Judge, issued a Decision and Order [#8] granting Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis. Judge Elfvin also reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant 28 U.S.C. § § 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(a), and dismissed all but Plaintiff's first cause of action, brought on his own behalf. In that regard, Judge Elfvin determined that Plaintiff's first claim stated a cause of action against Goord, McGinnis and Cieslak. (Decision and Order [#8] at 4) ("Plaintiff alleges that [Goord, McGinnis and Cieslak] violated his First Amendment right to seek redress and effectively deny him access to Court by implementing and manipulating grievance policies. . . . [This] claim is sufficient to go forward as pleaded with respect to plaintiff on his own behalf."). Judge Elfvin dismissed the remaining claims, with leave to amend, finding that with regard to those claims Plaintiff had "not established that he himself suffered or [was] about to suffer any of the complained-of injuries or constitutional violations." (Id.). Judge Elfvin granted Plaintiff until December 4, 2006 to file an amended complaint and directed Plaintiff to "include allegations that demonstrate his personal stake in the claims. For example, Plaintiff should inform the Court if he himself is a member of the Nation of Islam and to what extent he has experienced the complained-of treatment." (Id. at 5).*fn1 The Decision and Order stated that unless Plaintiff filed a satisfactory amended complaint on or before December 4, 2006, his claims would be dismissed with prejudice. The Decision and Order also dismissed all claims brought on behalf of other inmates, since Plaintiff was proceeding pro se, and since he had not alleged that the complained-of conduct affected him personally. (Id.).

On December 6, 2006, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [#10], which again purported to state seven separate causes of action. Specifically, the Amended Complaint alleged the following: 1) DOCS Inmate Grievance Program is unfair and ineffective; 2) DOCS staff misuse the prison disciplinary system to harass inmates; 3) DOCS provides an unsafe and psychologically damaging living environment; 4) DOCS employees misuse mechanical restraints; 5) Southport's mail room Supervisor violates DOCS rules concerning inmate mail; 6) DOCS denies inmates belonging to the NOI religion a diet that conforms with their beliefs; and 7) Officials at Southport denied Plaintiff religious meals on two occasions. Plaintiff again purported to assert claims on behalf of similarly situated inmates. Along with the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff filed an application [#11] for class certification and for appointment of counsel.

On May 14, 2007, the Court issued a Decision and Order [#12] directing that Plaintiff's individual claims could proceed, and dismissing the class claims without prejudice. With regard to Plaintiff's individual claims, the Court stated the legal standard as follows:

Sections 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(a) of 28 U.S.C. require the Court to conduct an initial screening of the amended complaint. In evaluating the complaint, the Court must accept as true all factual allegations and must draw all inferences in plaintiff's favor. See, King v. Simpson, 189 F.3d 284, 287 (2d Cir. 1999). Dismissal is not appropriate 'unless it appears beyond doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.' Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); and see Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir. 1998). (Decision and Order [#12] at 2). The Court then applied the standard and found that all of the causes of action stated claims and could not be dismissed. (Id. at 2-3). In other words, the Court held that the Amended Complaint complied with the directions contained in the Court's previous Decision and Order.

Defendants subsequently filed the subject motions to dismiss [#17][#21][#24], which seek to dismiss all but Plaintiff's fifth cause of action.*fn2 Defendants first contend that this action should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to file the Amended Complaint on or before December 4, 2006, as directed by the Court. Alternatively, Defendants contend that the claims lack specificity. Defendants further maintain that any claims against the State of New York , and any claims for money damages against individual defendants in their official capacities, are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Defendants Goord, Lucien Leclaire ("Leclaire") and T. Brousseau ("Brousseau") also maintain that the Complaint fails to allege that they were personally involved in any constitutional violation.


Defendants' motions are brought pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP"). With regard to the Rule 12(b)(1) application, it is well settled that,

[a] case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. In resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a district court ... may refer to evidence outside the pleadings. A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.

Makarova v. U.S., 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir.2000) (citations omitted). The law with regard to Eleventh ...

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