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Watts v. Pataki

June 22, 2009

LESTER WATTS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGE PATAKI; GEORGE B. ALEXANDER, NYS EXEC. DEPT. DIVISION OF PAROLE; BRIAN FISCHER, COMMISSIONER, NYS DOCS; SALLY A. THOMPSON, COMMISSIONER; JENNIFER ARENA, COMMISSIONER; VANESSA A. CLARKE, COMMISSIONER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lyle E. Strom, Senior Judge United States District Court

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on defendants'*fn1 motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a cause of action pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Filing No. 27). Upon review, the Court finds the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was convicted of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree and sentenced to two concurrent indeterminate 5 to 10 year terms of imprisonment on January 2, 2002 (Filing No. 4, Ex. E at CM/ECF 19, Ex. F at CM/ECF 22). During all times relevant to the amended complaint, plaintiff was incarcerated at Bare Hill Correctional Facility and held in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") (Filing No. 11 at 1-2; Filing No. 4, Ex. F at CM/ECF 22). During his incarceration, plaintiff was issued an earned eligibility certificate (Filing No. 4, Ex. E at CM/ECF 20).

In 2004, plaintiff appeared before a Merit Board for parole release consideration, and merit release was denied (Filing No. 4, Ex. C at CM/ECF at 15-16). Plaintiff became eligible for regular parole consideration in 2005 and appeared before his initially scheduled appearance; parole was denied (Filing No. 4, Ex. D at CM/ECF at 17-18). Plaintiff re-appeared before the Parole Board on September 4, 2007, and parole was again denied (Filing No. 4, Ex. E at CM/ECF at 19-20).

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming the procedures used during his September 4, 2007, parole hearing and the repeated denials of parole violated his rights under the Sixth, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendments of the Federal Constitution and due process and equal protection provisions of the New York State Constitution. The defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities, and include the following individuals: Sally Thompson, Jennifer Arena, and Vanessa Clarke, the Parole Board Commissioners who presided over plaintiff's September 4, 2007, parole hearing; George Alexander, Chairman of the DOCS Division of Parole; George Pataki, who was Governor of New York at all times relevant to the Second Amended Complaint; and Brian Fischer, Commissioner of DOCS (Filing No. 11 at 24; Filing No. 27-2 at CM/ECF 4). The amended complaint seeks monetary relief, including punitive damages, a new parole hearing, and an order directing DOCS and the New York Division of Parole to release plaintiff from confinement (Filing No. 11 at 19, 24).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), the Court ". . . must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir. 1994); Conyers v. Rossides, 558 F.3d 137, 143 (2d Cir. 2009). "In adjudicating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court must confine its consideration 'to facts stated on the face of the complaint, in documents appended to the complaint or incorporated in the complaint by reference, and to matters of which judicial notice may be taken.'" Leonard F. v. Israel Discount Bank, 199 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 1999)(quoting Allen v. WestPoint-Pepperell, Inc., 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1991)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must state "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

DISCUSSION

I. PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS AGAINST THOMPSON, ARENA, AND CLARKE

Plaintiff alleges Thompson, Arena, and Clarke are liable under § 1983 for the procedures used during plaintiff's parole hearing. In particular, plaintiff alleges Thompson, Arena, and Clarke's decision to deny parole violated plaintiff's constitutional rights because it was based on false information in plaintiff's prison file and did not take into account all of the information relevant to a parole determination. The commissioners are entitled to absolute immunity from § 1983 liability on these claims.

". . . [P]arole board officials, like judges, are entitled to absolute immunity from suit for damages when they serve a quasi-adjudicative function in deciding whether to grant, deny or revoke parole." Montero v. Travis, 171 F.3d 757, 761 (2d Cir. 1999). Here, the alleged conduct plaintiff complains of regards the commissioners' decision to deny parole and the manner in which they arrived at that decision. Thus, plaintiff's claims for damages against the commissioners are barred by the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity.*fn2 In addition, the commissioners are entitled to immunity on plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief because plaintiff has not alleged that a declaratory decree was ...


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