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Harrison v. Goord

June 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., United States District Judge


Plaintiff Edward Harrison ("Harrison" or "Plaintiff") brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Glenn Goord, William Mazzuca, Roland Larkin, Carlton Good, Arlan Pelc, James Buonato, Charles Hobbs, Dale Larsen, Sgt. Rama, Richard Woodward, Nicholas Volhos, Kenneth Conklin, Rene Hernandez, Frank Woodward, and Enrique Torres,*fn1 claiming that he was subject to cruel and unusual punishment due to the conditions of his confinement, harassment, retaliation and mail tampering in violation of his rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. On January 21, 2009, Defendants*fn2 moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds that (1) Harrison failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); (2) Harrison's allegations are incredible as a matter of law; (3) Harrison's allegations fail to state a cause of action for a constitutional violation; (4) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (5) Defendants lacked personal involvement; and (6) Harrison has failed to establish deliberate indifference. Plaintiff opposed Defendants' motion. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.


Harrison has been incarcerated in the DOCS system since 2002. See Deposition of Edward Harrison ("Harrison Dep.") at 5:21-25. He was transferred from Five Points Correctional Facility Special Housing Unit ("Five Points") to Fishkill Special Housing Unit ("Fishkill") in July 2004. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 38. Before his transfer, Harrison had filed several grievances regarding misbehavior reports he had been issued at Five Points relating to an alleged work stoppage, which is unrelated to the allegations of this case. See Harrison Dep. at 100:5-101:6. Shortly after arriving at Fishkill, in July 2004, Harrison was visited by a Mr. Davidow of the Inspector General's Office, who interviewed Harrison regarding his grievances related to the events that had occurred at Five Points. See Compl. ¶ 40. Directly after the interview with Inspector Davidow, as he was being escorted from the interview room to his housing unit, Defendants Conklin and Volhos warned Harrison that he should not have been contacting the Inspector General's office. Id. ¶ 41. Plaintiff alleges that beginning with this incident in July 2004, Defendants began a pattern of harassment and confrontation in retaliation for Harrison's complaints of events that occurred in correctional facilities.

Plaintiff does not allege that he encountered any other threats or harassment relating to this incident until over two months later, on September 25, 2004, when Defendant Volhos came to his cell to make it "verbally clear that Plaintiff could and would get physically hurt or injurred [sic]." Id. ¶ 42.*fn4 As a result of this confrontation, Harrison filed a formal complaint against Defendant Volhos. Id. ¶ 43. Several days later, after escorting him back to his cell after a dentist's appointment, Defendant Conklin failed to remove Harrison's shackles for upwards of 45 minutes. Harrison Dep. at 16:2-6. Plaintiff filed a formal complaint against Defendant Conklin as a result of this incident. Compl. ¶ 45. Several days later, Defendant Conklin approached Harrison in his cell block and called Harrison a "rat;" thereupon, Plaintiff filed another complaint against Defendant Conklin. Id. ¶ 46-47. Several days later, Defendants Larson and Frank Woodward visited Harrison's cell to investigate a complaint, where Woodward verbally abused Harrison, using curse words and a racial slur, and told Harrison to stop filing grievances. Id. ¶ 48. Defendant Larson, who was Defendant Frank Woodward's supervisor, merely stood by and did nothing. Id. Plaintiff filed yet another formal complaint based on this incident. Id. ¶ 49.

Approximately one month later, Plaintiff was issued a number of misbehavior reports, including for possession of contraband, destruction of property, and failure to obey a direct order. See id. ¶¶ 50-52; Pl. Aff. Exh. 2, 3, 6. Plaintiff alleges that these misbehavior reports were issued in retaliation for having spoken with the Inspector General in July and for filing complaints against the various corrections officers at Fishkill. See Compl. ¶¶ 51-54. Plaintiff alleges that he appealed these "tickets" but never received any reply. Id. ¶¶ 58-59. As a consequence of having been "written up," Harrison was moved from his cell on the second floor to a different cell on the first floor. See id. ¶ 60. While escorting Harrison to the new cell, Defendant Hernandez told Harrison he was lucky he didn't fall and hurt himself on the walk down the stairs; Harrison interpreted this statement as a threat. See id. ¶ 61. Upon arriving in the cell, Harrison noticed a small amount of water that had collected on the floor, but did not complain about it. See Harrison Dep. at 97:22-98:7. As it turned out, the shower in the cell "did not have the proper equipment" and every time Harrison took a shower, the shower drain would back-up and approximately an inch and a half of water would collect on the cell floor. Compl. ¶¶ 64-67; Harrison Dep. at 98:17-24. The cell was designated for handicapped inmates, and the flooding was apparently caused by the fact that the shower, which could accommodate a wheelchair, had a low "lip" and allowed water to spill over from the shower area into the cell. Harrison Dep. at 19:21-20:5; Declaration of Dale Larsen ("Larsen Decl.") ¶ 6. Because the door to the recreation pen ("rec pen") attached to the cell let in a draft, the water on the floor would become "freezing cold" and the collected water was "dirty" and "filthy." Compl. ¶ 68. Harrison alleges he informed numerous officers of the problem with the shower, but his complaints and requests for cleaning supplies were ignored. Id. ¶ 69. He further alleges that Sergeant Woodward was aware of the flooding situation, but did nothing to remedy it. Id. ¶¶ 71-72. Harrison and his cellmate both filed grievances concerning the shower conditions. Id. ¶ 75. Harrison also personally told Defendant Goode about the situation, and Goode told Harrison "he would look into the problem," but Harrison was never told what was being done to correct the problem. Id. ¶¶ 77-78. Unrelated to the shower conditions, on October 31, 2004, Plaintiff wrote a grievance complaining that he was being deprived of communication with his family, that his legal mail was being interfered with, that he was denied certain personal items and that he had been placed in mechanical restraints without due process. Id. ¶ 79-80.

On December 17, 2004, when Defendant Conklin was escorting Harrison's cellmate out of the cell, per standard procedure, he asked Harrison to step outside into the rec pen area. See Harrison Dep. at 64:13-23; Compl. ¶ 82; Declaration of Kenneth Conklin ("Conklin Decl.") ¶ 7. At the time, Harrison was dressed only in his undergarments. See Harrison Dep. at 64:5-6. As the door to the rec pen was closing, Defendant Conklin ordered Harrison to get dressed in his winter clothing, but he did not. Id. at 65:4-10. Plaintiff alleges that Conklin left him locked out in the rec pen in his underwear for an excessive period of time. Compl. ¶ 82. As a result of this incident, Defendant Conklin issued Plaintiff a misbehavior report for failure to obey a direct order. Pl. Aff. Exh. 14. Plaintiff filed a formal complaint relating to this incident. See Declaration of Arlan Pelc ("Pelc Decl.") ¶ 6, Ex. A. Plaintiff received a response from Defendant Pelc regarding this incident, to which he replied on December 31, 2004. See Compl. ¶ 90. Thereafter, Plaintiff embarked on a prolific letter-writing campaign, writing approximately 100 letters from December 2004 to February 2005, both internal and external, to various individuals and organizations such as Commissioner Goord, the Inspector General's office, the Bureau of Prisons, the Legal Aid Society and the American Civil Liberties Union. See id. ¶¶ 86, 88-96, 98-99, 101-111. Plaintiff does not specify the contents of these letters or the grievances to which they may have related.

Plaintiff does not dispute that he never appealed any of the formal grievances he did file that relate to the incidents that give rise to this lawsuit. Plaintiff alleges that, notwithstanding his many complaints and grievances, he received no responses to the majority of his correspondence. Because he never heard back, Plaintiff alleges the Defendants must have been tampering with his mail and causing it to be destroyed or deflected from its intended destination. However, Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he observed his grievances and letters being deposited into the locked box designated for outgoing mail, that he doesn't know who has the keys to the mailbox, and that his only basis for the contention that his mail was tampered with is that he never received responses to his grievances and letters. See Harrison Dep. at 84:13-91:7; see also id. at 73:2-11.


A motion for summary judgment must be granted if the moving party shows "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and it "is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Summary judgment should be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact, "the non-moving party may not rely on mere conclusory allegations nor speculation, but instead must offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful." Golden Pac. Bancorp v. F.D.I.C., 375 F.3d 196, 200 (2d Cir. 2004); see also Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (finding party opposing summary judgment "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts"). Rather, he "must come forward with evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in [his] favor." Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) ("When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in [the] rule, . . . the adverse party's response . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.") (emphasis added). The facts must be presented in a form that would be admissible at trial. Major League Baseball Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 309 (2d Cir. 2008). Even if the parties dispute material facts, summary judgment must be granted "unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Id.

Where, as here, the party opposing summary judgment is proceeding pro se, the Court must "read the pleadings . . . liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Corcoran v. New York Power Auth., 202 F.3d 530, 536 (2d Cir. 1999); see also Jacobs v. Ramirez, 400 F.3d 105, 106 (2d Cir. 2005). Still, "proceeding pro se does not otherwise relieve [a party] from the usual requirements of summary judgment." Price v. Engert, 589 F. Supp. 2d 240, 244 (W.D.N.Y. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). As is well-established by both the Supreme Court and the Second Circuit, even pro se litigants must comply with the relevant law and procedures. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) ("While we have insisted that the pleadings prepared by [pro se]prisoners be liberally construed . . . we have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel."); Triestman v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2006) ("[P]ro se status does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.") (citation omitted).


"In an effort to address the large number of prisoner complaints filed in federal court, Congress enacted the [PLRA]. Among other reforms, the PLRA . . . requires prisoners to exhaust prison grievance procedures before filing suit." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 202 (2007) (citations omitted). "The Supreme Court has held that 'the PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.'" Macias v. Zenk, 495 F.3d 37, 40 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002)). The exhaustion provision of the PLRA states:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. ยง 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such ...

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