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Rahman v. Fisher

April 10, 2009

SHA-HEED RAHMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER BRIAN FISHER, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER LUCIEN J. LECLAIRE, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER RICHARD ROY, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL HOUSING VENETTOZZI, SUPERINTENDENT LUIS MARSHALL, FIRST DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT K. DECKER, HEARING OFFICER MRS. CALERO, OFFICER J. TEJEDA DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Sha-Heed Rahman ("Rahman"), a former inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"), has sued Commissioner Brian Fischer, Deputy Commissioner Lucien LeClaire, Deputy Commissioner Richard Roy, Director of Special Housing Venettozzi, Superintendent Luis Marshall, First Deputy Superintendent K. Decker (collectively, "supervisory defendants"), Hearing Officer Mrs. Calero ("Calero"), and Officer J. Tejeda ("Tejeda") for use of excessive force and deprivation of due process in violation of his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The supervisory defendants now move to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the amended complaint of December 31, 2008, and are assumed to be true for the purposes of deciding the motion to dismiss.*fn1 On June 4, 2007, Rahman went to the Sing Sing mess hall for lunch and noticed that an officer was serving food. Upon seeing this, Rahman said to a cook that he understood officers were not supposed to handle food. Tejeda overheard this comment and called Rahman a "snitch." After Rahman finished lunch, Tejeda and others assaulted Rahman. Rahman suffered numerous injuries, and as of the filing of his amended complaint, Rahman still experienced back and knee problems.

Rahman alleges his assault was part of a pattern of guards assaulting inmates in Sing Sing's Housing Block B. In a July 16, 2007 letter to Fischer, which he attaches to the complaint, Rahman notified Fischer "[I]n Housing Block B, you have more use of force and assault on staff going on than any place else." Rahman claims that a review of assault reports from May 1, 2007 to August 1, 2007 for Housing Block B would reveal a pattern of officers on the 7:00 - 3:00 and 3:00 -- 11:00 shifts assaulting inmates in the "C.R. Program."*fn2 According to Rahman, "over a hundred inmates have been assaulted by officers between June through July and . . . a pattern has developed to cover this up by issuing false misbehavior reports." Moreover, Rahman says that "complaints of these assaults were sent to Commissioner Fischer . . . and no one did anything to change the behavior of its staff practice of assaulting inmates." Rahman does not specify whether Fischer had received these complaints prior to Rahman's June 4 assault.

After the assault, Tejeda wrote Rahman a false misbehavior report, which resulted in Rahman being sent to Sing Sing's Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). At Rahman's disciplinary hearing, Hearing Officer Calero prejudged his guilt and refused to allow Rahman to call inmate Hansberry as a witness. This hearing resulted in Rahman remaining in the SHU.

Rahman wrote to the supervisory defendants to complain about both the assault and the disciplinary hearing process. Rahman wrote to Fischer on July 2, and July 16, to complain about the assault and to request that he be interviewed by someone from the Inspector General's office about the incident. Someone from that office had come to meet Rahman the previous month, but did not conduct an interview. In a July 30 letter to Fischer, Rahman reiterated his concerns about not having been interviewed by the Inspector General's office. This letter also included a complaint that Superintendent Marshall had refused to respond to Rahman's discretionary appeal. On August 23, Rahman wrote to Fischer to complain about inmate Hansberry not being allowed to testify at Rahman's hearing. In addition, Rahman complained about his troubles to Fischer in person on an unspecified date.

Rahman also wrote to the other supervisory defendants. He wrote to LeClaire to complain that his appeal of the outcome of the disciplinary hearing had been "rubber stamped" and that he had not seen anyone from the Inspector General's office. Rahman asked Roy to send someone to investigate his assault claim, but no one from Roy's office came to meet Rahman. Rahman wrote to Marshall to request a discretionary review of his hearing.

Marshall did not respond. Rahman sent his appeal to Venettozzi and asked him to listen to the hearing tape.

Rahman filed his original complaint on May 9, 2008. The supervisory defendants moved to dismiss that complaint on November 13. On December 31, Rahman filed an amended complaint substituting defendant Venettozzi for Acting Director of Special Housing Keith Dubray.*fn3

DISCUSSION

A trial court considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must "accept as true all factual statements alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party." McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). At the same time, "conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to defeat a motion to dismiss." Achtman v. Kirby, McInerney & Squire, LLP, 464 F.3d 328, 337 (2d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).

Under the pleading standard set forth in Rule 8(a)(2), complaints must include a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). "[A] plaintiff is required only to give a defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Leibowitz v. Cornell Univ., 445 F.3d 586, 591 (2d Cir. 2006). Rule 8 is fashioned in the interest of fair and reasonable notice, not technicality, and therefore is "not meant to impose a great burden upon a plaintiff." Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005). No heightened pleading standard applies to claims brought under Section 1983. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993) (rejecting a heightened pleading standard for a civil rights claim asserting municipal liability); Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 153-59 (2d Cir. 2007). Section 1983 claims need not be plead with particularity, but may be averred generally. Leatherman, 507 U.S. at 168.

A court considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion applies a "flexible plausibility standard, which obliges a pleader to amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification is needed to render the claim plausible." Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 213 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). "To survive dismissal, the plaintiff must provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through factual allegations sufficient to raise a ...


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