UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
March 31, 2009
ANTHONY G. GILL, PLAINTIFF,
F. CALESCIBETTA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge
DECISION and ORDER
Currently before the Court in this pro se prisoner civil rights action are Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 45), and United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles's Report-Recommendation recommending that one of Plaintiff's retaliation claims be dismissed, and that the remaining three retaliation claims withstand dismissal (Dkt. No. 102). Neither party has filed Objections to the Report-Recommendation. For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety, and Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
On October 11, 2000, Plaintiff filed this action against thirteen (13) individuals employed by the New York State Department of Correctional Services, at Auburn Correctional Facility. Although Plaintiff's Complaint asserts a number of constitutional violations on the part of these thirteen Defendants, the only claims that remain after the Second Circuit's February 1, 2006, Summary Order are Plaintiff's four (4) retaliation claims against five (5) Defendants. (Dkt. No. 78.)*fn1 With regard to these retaliation claims, generally, in his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that his rights under the First Amendments were violated when Defendants retaliated against him on four separate occasions for filing grievances. (See generally Dkt. No. 1.)
On April 16, 2001, Defendants filed their Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. (Dkt. No. 26.) On October 11, 2002, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 45.) On February 12, 2003, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 60, 61.) On September 10, 2003, District Judge Joseph M. Hood issued a Memorandum-Decision and Order granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. (Dkt. No. 68.) On October 10, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal to the Second Circuit from the Decision and Order. (Dkt. No. 73.) On February 1, 2006, the Second Circuit issued a Summary Order, affirming in part and remanding in part Judge Hood's Memorandum-Decision and Order. (Dkt. No. 78.) Specifically, the Second Circuit remanded Plaintiff's four (4) retaliation claims against the five (5) Defendants, with specific instruction that the Court "determine, in light of the Second Circuit's intervening decision of Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379 (2d. Cir. 2004), whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants engaged in retaliatory conduct that would 'deter a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness from exercising his constitutional rights.'" Gill v. Calescibetta, 157 F. App'x. 395 (2d Cir. 2005). (See also Dkt. No. 78.)
In February 2007, the parties submitted supplemental briefing on the retaliation issue.
(Dkt. Nos. 94, 95.) In their brief, Defendants concede that triable issues of fact exist regarding the portion of Plaintiff's retaliation claim relating to the two periods of keeplock confinement he experienced. (Dkt. No. 95.) However, Defendants argue that the remaining two retaliation claims (which deal with the termination of Plaintiff's employment in the prison mess hall, and the posting of one of his grievances in the mess hall) should be dismissed. (Dkt. No. 95.)
On March 11, 2009, Magistrate Judge Peebles issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part. (Dkt. No. 102.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Peebles recommended (1) that Plaintiff's retaliation claim against Defendants Pidlypchak and Calescibetta relating to the posting of Plaintiff's grievances in the mess hall be dismissed, but (2) that Plaintiff's retaliation claim relating to his termination from employment in the prison mess hall be referred for trial, along with Plaintiff's two retaliation claims relating to his keeplock confinement.*fn2 Familiarity with the grounds of the Report-Recommendation is assumed in this Decision and Order.
II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Standard of Review on Objection from Report-Recommendation
When specific objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court makes a "de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).*fn3 When only general objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court reviews the report-recommendation for clear error or manifest injustice. See Brown v. Peters, 95-CV-1641, 1997 WL 599355, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept.22, 1997) (Pooler, J.) [collecting cases], aff'd without opinion, 175 F.3d 1007 (2d Cir.1999).*fn4 Similarly, when a party makes no objection to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court reviews that portion for clear error or manifest injustice. See Batista v. Walker, 94-CV-2826, 1995 WL 453299, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 31, 1995) (Sotomayor, J.) [citations omitted]; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition [citations omitted]. After conducing the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
B. Standard Governing Motion for Summary Judgment
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, summary judgment is warranted if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In addition, "[the moving party] bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the... [record] which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of any genuine issue of material fact." Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). However, when the moving party has met this initial responsibility, the nonmoving party must come forward with "specific facts showing a genuine issue [of material fact] for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).
A dispute of fact is "genuine" if "the [record] evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the novmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. As a result, "[c]onclusory 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]; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). As the Supreme Court has famously explained, "[The nonmoving party] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" [citations omitted]. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986).
As for the materiality requirement, a dispute of fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id. [citation omitted].
Implied in the above-stated burden-shifting standard is the fact that, where a nonmoving party fails to adequately respond to a motion for summary judgment, a district court has no duty to perform an independent review of the record to find proof of a factual dispute--even if that nonmoving party is proceeding pro se.*fn5 (This is because the Court extends special solicitude to the pro se litigant, in part by ensuring that he or she has received notice of the consequences of failing to properly respond to the motion for summary judgment.)*fn6 As has often been recognized by both the Supreme Court and Second Circuit, even pro se litigants must obey a district court's procedural rules.*fn7 For this reason, this Court has often enforced Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) by deeming facts set forth in a moving party's statement to have been admitted where the nonmoving party has failed to properly respond to that statement*fn8 --even where the nonmoving party was proceeding pro se in a civil rights case.*fn9
Neither party has objected to any portion of Magistrate Judge Peebles's Report-Recommendation. As a result, the Court reviews the entire Report-Recommendation under the "clear error" standard. After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Peebles's Report-Recommendation, the Court concludes that the Report-Recommendation is not clearly erroneous. Magistrate Judge Peebles employed the proper legal standards, accurately recited the established facts of this case, and reasonably applied the law to those facts. As a result, the Court accepts and adopts the Report-Recommendation in its entirety for the reasons stated therein.*fn10
For example, Magistrate Judge Peebles correctly determined that filing a grievance is a protected activity, and that removal from a prison job may constitute adverse action under certain circumstances. In addition, Magistrate Judge Peebles correctly determined that there is a question of fact as to whether Plaintiff's removal from his prison job constitutes retaliation, given that he was removed from his job in the mess hall within close temporal proximity to his filing grievances relating to the conditions of the mess hall. This Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Peebles that it is quite possible that the motivation for Plaintiff's removal from his position in the mess hall was his asthma and/or asthmatic attack while in the mess hall kitchen recreation area. However, as Magistrate Judge Peebles also noted, the affidavit of Dr. Anthony Graceffo, submitted by Defendants in support of their motion for summary judgment, is evidence of a question of material fact as to the motivation for Plaintiff's removal. As a result, the Court finds, for the same reasons as Magistrate Judge Peebles, that there is an issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff's removal was pretextual.
For all of these reasons, the Court accepts and adopts the Report-Recommendation ACCORDINGLY, it is ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Peebles's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 102) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 45) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff's retaliation claim relating to his termination from employment in the prison mess hall survive Defendants' motion for summary judgment and be referred for trial, along with Plaintiff's two retaliation claims relating to his keeplock confinement.