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Tafari v. Paul

October 8, 2009

INJAH TAFARI #89A4807, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LYNN PAUL, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott

Decision & Order

Before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docket No. 42).

Background

The plaintiff, Injah Tafari ("Tafari"), commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 alleging that his rights were violated by defendants Lynn Paul, Mark Drews and Paul Manno, each of whom are corrections officers at the Wende Correctional Facility ("WCF"). More specifically, Tafari alleges that:(1) he was verbally harassed and abused by the defendants upon his arrival at Wende on May 26, 2003 (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 6); (2) that he was assaulted by the defendants on September 16, 2003 (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 7, 16-21); (3) that he was sexually molested by defendant Drews on July 23, 2003 (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 9-11); and (4) that defendant Drews used excessive force on July 23, 2003 (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 14-15).

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the 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. Ford v. Reynolds, 316 F.3d. 351 (2nd Cir. 2003); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden to demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to, and draw all inferences in favor of, the non-movant. Ford, 316 F.3d. at 354. "A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine 'if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non moving party.' " Lazard Freres & Co. v. Protective Life Ins. Co., 108 F.3d 1531, 1535 (2d Cir.1997) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, (1986)). While the moving party must demonstrate the absence of any genuine factual dispute, (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)), the party against whom summary judgment is sought, however, "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts... . [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87(1986); McCarthy v. American Intern. Group, Inc., 283 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2002); Marvel Characters v. Simon, 310 F.3d 280, 285-86 (2d Cir. 2002).

Verbal Abuse

To the extent the plaintiff attempts to assert a claim under §1983 for verbal harassment or abuse, the claim must be dismissed. Such allegations, without a showing of an actual injury, are insufficient to support a §1983 claim. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349-50 (1996); Johnson v. Eggersdorf, 8 Fed. Appx. 140, 143 (2d Cir.2001) (citing Purcell v. Coughlin, 790 F.2d 263, 265 (2d Cir.1986)("allegations of verbal harassment are insufficient to base a § 1983 claim if no specific injury is alleged.") Hendricks v. Boltja, 20 Fed. Appx. 34, 36 (2d Cir.2001) (holding that "verbal harassment was not actionable" in case where officer, inter alia, told inmate to "get [his] black ass out of the library" and threatened to "smash [his] head open"); La Grande v. Town Of Bethlehem Police Dept., 2009 WL 2868231 (N.D.N.Y. 2009)(plaintiff's claim for verbal harassment in the form of racial slurs and threats is not actionable under § 1983); Gill v. Hoadley, 261 F.Supp.2d 113, 129 (N.D.N.Y.2003) (collecting cases)("verbal harassment or profanity alone, unaccompanied by an injury no matter how inappropriate, unprofessional, or reprehensible it might seem, does not constitute the violation of any federally protected right and therefore is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983."); Shabazz v. Pico, 994 F.Supp. 460, 474 (S.D.N.Y.1998) ("verbal harassment or profanity alone, unaccompanied by an injury no matter how inappropriate, unprofessional, or reprehensible it might seem, does not constitute the violation of any federally protected right and therefore is not actionable under ... § 1983 "); Jermosen v. Coughlin, 878 F.Supp. 444, 449 (N.D.N.Y.1995) ("Although indefensible and unprofessional, verbal threats or abuse are not sufficient to state a constitutional violation cognizable under § 1983 ."); Beckles v. Bennett, 2008 WL 821827 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)(alleged threatening remarks that Plaintiff was "getting no rec, only [defendant's] foot up [plaintiff's] behind" was insufficient to state §1983 claim).

This claim is dismissed.

Sexual Assault

The plaintiff claims that he was sexually assaulted on July 23, 2003. According to the plaintiff, on that date defendants Paul and Drews*fn1 came to his cell*fn2 to bring him out to recreation. In connection with a pat frisk prior to being taken to recreation, Tafari alleges that he was handcuffed behind his back and that defendant Drews began "sexually molesting plaintiff by rubbing his hands between plaintiffs buttock and gently rubbing and squeezing plaintiff's penis and groin area." (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 10). Tafari alleges that he asked defendant Paul to tell Drews to stop, but she allegedly responded by saying: "shut the fuck up nigger and face the wall." (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 11-12).*fn3

The plaintiff admits that the pat frisk by Drews took "seconds, brief seconds." (Docket No. 44, Tafari Deposition at page 20). Drews denies the plaintiff's allegations. The defendants contend that notwithstanding such factual dispute, summary judgment would still be required as a matter of law even if the plaintiff's allegations were believed to be true. "Sexual abuse may violate contemporary standards of decency and can cause severe physical and psychological harm. For this reason, there can be no doubt that severe or repetitive sexual abuse of an inmate by a prison officer can be 'objectively, sufficiently serious' enough to constitute an Eighth Amendment violation." Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 861 (2d. Cir. 1997). However, in Boddie, the Second Circuit made it clear that not every allegation of sexual harassment is sufficient to articulate a claim of constitutional dimension. Indeed, in Boddie, the Second Circuit dismissed as inadequate a prisoner's claim that a female corrections officer made a possible pass at him, squeezed his hand, touched his penis, called him a "sexy black devil," pressed her breasts against his chest, and pushed her vagina against his penis. Boddie, 105 F.3d 857, 859-861("The isolated episodes of harassment and touching alleged by Boddie are despicable and, if true, they may potentially be the basis of state tort actions. But they do not involve a harm of federal constitutional proportions as defined by the Supreme Court."). See also Morales v. Mackalm, 278 F.3d 126 (2d. Cir. 2002)("Because Morales' allegations do not even rise to the level of those made by the plaintiff in Boddie, they do not state a claim for sexual harassment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution."); Wylie v. Bedford Hills Correctional Facility of New York, 2008 WL 2009287 *2 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)(While there can be no doubt that severe or repetitive sexual abuse of an inmate by a prison officer can constitute an Eighth Amendment violation, where the alleged conduct is limited to isolated episodes of harassment, and no single incident is severe, a plaintiff does not state a claim under the Eighth Amendment.); Williams v. Fitch, 2008 WL 1947024 *2 (W.D.N.Y. 2008)(An Eighth Amendment claim under § 1983 will not lie, however, where an inmate alleges only minor, isolated incidents which are neither singly nor "cumulatively egregious in the harm they inflicted."); Davis v. Castleberry, 364 F.Supp.2d 319, 321 (W.D.N.Y.2005) (allegation that corrections officer grabbed inmate's penis during pat frisk is insufficient to state constitutional claim); Morrison v. Cortright, 397 F.Supp.2d 424, 425 (W.D.N.Y.2005) (allegations that a corrections officer touched plaintiff's buttocks, and that another "rubbed up against plaintiff['s] buttocks with [the officer's] private part" during a strip search describe an isolated incident unaccompanied by physical injury, and therefore are not sufficiently serious to establish a constitutional claim); Montero v. Crusie, 153 F.Supp.2d 368, 373, 375 (S.D.N.Y.2001) (allegation that corrections officer squeezed inmate's genitalia during pat-frisks on several occasions does not show sufficiently serious deprivation to establish Eighth Amendment violation, particularly when inmate did not allege that he was physically injured by such conduct); Nelson v. Michalko, 35 F.Supp.2d 289, 293 (W.D.N.Y.1999) (allegation that inmate's anal area was touched by a metal detector during a search does not describe sufficiently serious conduct to raise an Eighth Amendment claim); Williams v. Kane, 1997 WL 527677 at *11 (S.D.N.Y.1997) (allegation that correctional officer put his hand down inmate's pants and fondled inmate's genitals during pat frisk fails to state constitutional claim).

The alleged conduct by Drews, if plaintiff's allegations*fn4 were accepted as true, is no more egregious than the conduct found to be insufficient to rise to the level of a constitutional violation in Boddie and its progeny. Based on the ...


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