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Ahlers v. Grygo

March 13, 2009

KARL AHLERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TODD A. GRYGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

ONLINE PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Karl Ahlers, currently detained at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center in New York City, brings this pro se action alleging violations of his constitutional rights during his incarceration at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility ("AKCF") on Staten Island. The defendants, which include both named and unidentified AKCF officers, move for summary judgment on Ahlers's claims. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, and the claim against the unidentified officers is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

In November 2001, Ahlers was incarcerated at AKCF. He alleges that during this time, he worked as a clerk in the AKCF law library and assisted inmate Daniel Smith in prosecuting a legal action against defendant Todd Grygo, a corrections officer at AKCF. Amended Compl. 3. Ahlers contends that when Grygo heard that he was assisting Smith, he made remarks such as "what goes around, comes around" and "payback is a bitch" in Ahlers's presence. Id. Ahlers's submissions do not indicate when Grygo made these statements.

On March 17, 2002, Grygo was assigned to Ahlers's housing area at AKCF. Grygo asked Ahlers if the two towels hanging on a divider in Ahlers's area were dry. Ahlers checked the towels, found that they were dry, and began to fold one of them. Grygo then began to remove other inmates' hanging towels and toss them on the respective inmates' lockers. Returning to Ahlers's area, Grygo removed the remaining towel and "threw it over the open door of [Ahlers's] locker." Id. at 4. Ahlers then told Grygo "I would appreciate it if you would keep your dirty hands off a towel that I use on my body," and Grygo replied "I told you to remove the towels." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Ahlers then stated that he was complying with Grygo's order, and Grygo accused Ahlers of "playing games" and told Alhers he would "take care of" him. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

Following this incident, Grygo wrote a misbehavior report accusing Ahlers of violating "inmate rule[s] of behavior" 106.10 (failure to obey a direct order) and 107.11 (harassment).*fn1 Amended Compl. 4, see also Ahlers Dep. 25. The disciplinary hearing for Grygo's report was originally scheduled for March 25, 2002, and was finally held before Lieutenant Ferro on March 28. Ahlers alleges that Ferro repeatedly told him that "since [Ahlers] worked in the Law Library, he (Ferro) would 'make sure that [Ahlers] received due process.'" Id. at 5.

Ahlers alleges that he did not receive "an impartial hearing as required by Title VII, NYCRR, Section 253.1(b); NYS DOCS Directive 4932, Section 253.1(b)." Id. at 6. He claims that Ferro prevented him from asking Grygo "all the questions pertaining to the incident," that Ferro had "an off-the-record conversation with Grygo," and that "Grygo's examination" was conducted via a speakerphone, making it "extremely difficult" for Ahlers, who hearing is impaired, to understand Grygo's testimony." Id. Ahlers also contends that, during the hearing, "it was ascertained" that Grygo "had made a false entry concerning the incident in the housing unit log book." Id. at 5.

Following the hearing, Ferro found that Ahlers had violated rule 107.1 but had not violated rule 106.10. Ahlers Dep. 30-31. On the Disciplinary Hearing Disposition Sheet, Ferro listed Ahlers's "dirty hands" statement as the "Evidence Relied Upon." Amended Compl. at 7.*fn2

Under "Reasons For Disposition," he wrote, "Making harassing comments to a corrections officer performing his duties will not be tolerated in a correctional facility. This disposition will serve to deter future type [sic] misbehavior." Id. Ahlers was sentenced to seven days' confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU). Ahlers states that he immediately appealed Ferro's decision to the AKCF's superintendent, but he was taken "directly" to the SHU "without any of his property nor medications," and was denied use of prescription eye medication for "more than 24 hours" following his placement in the SHU. Id. at 8. He alleges that four unidentified corrections officers withheld his medication during this period, and only desisted "after intervention by the Inmate Grievance civilian supervisor at the time, Mr. Johnny Blue, on March 30, 2002." Id. at 12.

Ahlers also alleges that he was wrongfully deprived of property during this period. Corrections Officer Daland was responsible for packing and inventorying Ahlers's possessions and delivering them to the SHU. Ahlers alleges that other inmates saw Daland discarding some items during the packing, and that Daland filed a misbehavior report alleging that Ahlers possessed contraband, but these "charges" were ultimately dismissed. He alleges that another officer, DeSanto, went through his property while he was in the SHU, "but the inventory . . . that Daland had prepared was mysteriously missing, as well as items that were later ascertained to have been packed by Daland." Id. at 8.*fn3 The missing items included Ahlers's "complete legal and personal address file" and "all his pens and postage stamps." Id. Ahlers also indicates that he filed a "Facility Claim" relating to this missing property but did not receive a favorable resolution. Ahlers Dep. 56 ("I may have gotten a response where he denied everything and it was dismissed.").

On March 31, 2002, the Superintendent "modified" Ahlers's sentence, and Ahlers spent only three days and five hours in the SHU. Amended Compl. 9. Upon his release, however, he was not returned to the "Veteran's Dorm" where he had previously lived, even though beds were available there. Instead, he spent several months in less desirable housing before returning to his former dorm. Id. at 9.

On May 30, 2002, Ahlers filed a complaint alleging various civil rights violations arising from the aforementioned events. On July 2, 2003, after several months of motion practice, Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending that I dismiss all of the claims in the complaint with two exceptions: (1) the retaliation claim against Grygo and (2) the claim that certain defendants violated Ahlers's Eighth Amendment rights by withholding his medications. Judge Bloom also recommended that I grant Ahlers leave to amend his complaint to specify the officers personally involved in the Eighth Amendment violation. No objections were filed and, in an order dated July 22, 2003, I adopted Judge Bloom's R&R in its entirety, and dismissed Ahlers's complaint with leave to replead.

On August 5, 2003, Ahlers filed an amended complaint. On September 2, 2003, I granted defendants' request to enlarge the time to respond to September 30, 2003. Defendants did not file an answer until July 8, 2004. Judge Bloom scheduled a telephone conference for September 2004, but adjourned it after receiving a letter from Ahlers indicating that he had recently undergone surgery and had limited access to his legal papers. On October 21, 2004, Ahlers notified Judge Bloom that his health remained poor and he still had not obtained his legal papers from AKCF. He also requested that Judge Bloom appoint counsel to represent him. Judge Bloom denied this request on November 4, 2004, finding that Ahlers had failed to make a showing of merit sufficient to warrant the appointment of counsel.

On January 8, 2005, Ahlers wrote Judge Bloom to request assistance in obtaining certain documents relevant to his claim. On March 6, 2006, Judge Bloom issued an order denying this request as moot, noting that the parties, after Ahlers's request, had conducted discovery and motion practice.

Nearly two years after this order, Judge Bloom ordered Ahlers to show cause why his case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. In a letter dated December 2, 2007, Ahlers informed Judge Bloom that he was the subject of a civil commitment proceeding and was presently confined in the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. On March 29, 2008, I directed Ahlers to inform the Court of the status of his commitment proceedings. On June 16, 2008, after a brief reply from Ahlers, I declined to continue to hold the case in abeyance, and set a schedule for pretrial motions. On December 23, 2008, defendants filed their motion for summary judgment. They attached three exhibits to their motion: a copy of Ahlers's amended complaint, the transcript of a December 8, 2008 deposition of Ahlers, and a declaration by defendant Grygo. On January 9, 2009, Ahlers filed a "Statement in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment." Oral argument was scheduled for February 6, 2009. On February 5, 2009, I received a fax from the Legal Affairs Department of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center informing me that Ahlers would not be able to participate in the February 6 argument. Accordingly, I took the motion on submission.

DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Summary Judgment

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a moving party is entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994) ("[T]he burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that no genuine issue respecting any material fact exists." (citing Heyman v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1320 (2d Cir. 1975))). A fact is "material" within the meaning of Rule 56 when its resolution "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is "genuine" when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In determining whether an issue is genuine, "[t]he inferences to be drawn from the underlying affidavits, exhibits, interrogatory answers, and depositions must be ...


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