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Guilbert v. Sennett

July 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge



Plaintiff, an inmate proceeding pro se, commenced this action pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Following dismissal of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim, Defendants moved for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim.

Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion is granted.


A. Facts

On September 22, 2003, Defendant James M. Sennett, an Attica Correctional Facility Correction Officer, filed an inmate misbehavior report against Plaintiff Emilio Guilbert, an inmate, who was then housed at the Attica Correctional Facility.*fn1 The misbehavior report charged Plaintiff with failing to turn in his eating utensils following his breakfast meal. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 14.*fn2 ) Plaintiff denied the allegation, and claimed that Sennett, who was collecting trays that morning, dropped a number of trays while collecting them, and then confused Plaintiff's tray, which contained all utensils, with the tray of the inmate located in the cell next to Plaintiff, which did not. (Docket No. 51-2, Pl.'s Dep., 6:11-16; 7:19.) As a result of the charge, Plaintiff was placed on a five day "pre-hearing restricted diet." (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 13; Docket No. 16, p. 3.)

Later that same day, Plaintiff was charged with destruction of state property, flooding his cell, and violation of a direct order. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 21.) A second misbehavior report was filed against Plaintiff, and Plaintiff was placed in a strip cell for a period of 48 hours. (Docket No. 8, Pl.'s Amend. Compl., ¶ 16.) Plaintiff did not deny the allegations in the second report, but stated that he "became agitated and psychotic due to being falsely accused of not turning in his utensils." (Pl.'s Amend. Compl., ¶ 16.)

Plaintiff underwent two separate hearings addressing the conduct alleged in the two misbehavior reports. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 18.) The first hearing took place on October 3, 2003, and addressed Plaintiff's alleged failure to return his utensils. (Pl.'s Amend. Compl., ¶ 33.) Plaintiff was completely exonerated from any wrongdoing after the hearing officer reviewed video footage from the morning of the incident, and discovered that Plaintiff did in fact return his utensils. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 18; Pl.'s Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 33-34.)

On October 7, 2003, Plaintiff underwent a hearing for the conduct charged in the second misbehavior report. At this hearing, it came to the attention of James Kennedy, the hearing officer, that Plaintiff has a history of mental illness. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 26.) Kennedy did not know the specifics of Plaintiff's mental illness, so he adjourned the hearing and met with Dr. Gungla and Mr. Clair, both from the prison's Mental Health Unit. (Docket No. 53, Bates No. 104.) Dr. Gungla informed Kennedy that Plaintiff has been diagnosed with major depression, but that Plaintiff could distinguish right from wrong. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 26.) Consequently, Kennedy found Plaintiff guilty of the conduct charged in the second misbehavior report, and Plaintiff was sentenced to two months in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). (Defs.' Statement, ¶¶ 19 & 29.) But prior to the date on which Plaintiff was supposed to begin serving his SHU sentence, Donald Selsky, Director of the Special Housing Unit, Inmate Discipline, reversed the sentence. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 29.)

B. Procedural History

Based on these facts, Plaintiff commenced this action pro se by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on March 8, 2005, naming as Defendants James Sennet, Randy James, James Conway, James Kennedy, and Darryl Borawski, all of whom are employees of the Department of Correctional Services. The Complaint alleges that Defendants violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by knowingly filing a false accusation against Plaintiff and placing him on a restricted diet which, in conjunction with his pre-existing mental condition, caused him to suffer a mental breakdown. (See generally, Pl.'s Amend. Compl; Docket No. 16, p. 6.)

On August 9, 2005, the Honorable Richard J. Arcara, Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of New York, found, sua sponte, that Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims were subject to dismissal, but granted Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint. (Docket No. 7.) Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, and on October 25, 2005, the Honorable John T. Elfvin, United States District Judge, dismissed the Amended Complaint in its entirety sua sponte. (Docket No. 10.) Regarding Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim, Judge Elfvin held that Plaintiff failed to allege that Defendants "acted maliciously and sadistically to cause harm," and therefore failed to satisfy the "subjective prong" of an Eighth Amendment claim. (Docket No. 10, p. 1.)

Plaintiff timely appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit affirmed Judge Elfvin's decision as to Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim, and affirmed Judge Elvin's decision to terminate Defendants James, Conway and Kennedy from the case. But the Second Circuit vacated and remanded Judge Elfvin's decision regarding Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against Sennett and Borawski after finding that Judge Elfvin committed two errors. (Docket No. 16.) First, the Court held that Judge Elfvin "applied too stringent a standard... improperly requiring [Plaintiff] to allege that Defendants' actions were malicious and sadistic, rather than conducted with deliberate indifference for his health or safety." (Id., p. 6) (internal citations omitted). Second, the Court held that Judge Elfvin subjected Plaintiff to a higher pleading standard than is required ...

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