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Fifield v. Eaton

October 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge


Plaintiff Darwin J. Fifield ("Fifield") brings this action against Deborah Eaton, a senior counselor at the Gowanda Correctional Facility ("Gowanda"). Fifield alleges that during his incarceration at Gowanda, the defendant insisted that Fifield incriminate himself as to uncharged criminal activity or else face the loss of parole opportunities and "good time" credit, in violation of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and 42 U.S.C. §1983. U.S. CONST. Amend. V, XIV.

The defendant now moves to dismiss Fifield's complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(c), on the grounds that plaintiff has failed to allege a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, cannot demonstrate a liberty interest in good time credit not already earned, and in any event cannot overcome the defendant's affirmative defense of qualified immunity. (Dkt. #21). For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.


I. Motion to Dismiss

In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[courts] apply the same standard as that applicable to a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). Under that test, a court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant." Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994), citing Ad-Hoc Comm. of Baruch Black & Hispanic Alumni Ass'n v. Bernard M. Baruch College, 835 F.2d 980, 982 (2d Cir. 1987). Nonetheless, "a plaintiff's obligation . . . requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). See e.g., Ashcroft v. Dept. of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49079 (W.D.N.Y. 2007) (discussing and applying the Twombly standard).

II. Factual Background

In 2004, Fifield pled guilty to rape in the third degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 130.25 [2]) and attempted use of a child in a sexual performance (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 110.00, 263.05); he was sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment of two-and-one-third to seven years. (Dkt. #16 at 1). Fifield was received into custody on March 23, 2004, and was subsequently transferred to Gowanda by the Department of Correctional Services, in order to participate in the facility's Sex Offender Treatment Program (the "Program"). Enrollment in the Program required Fifield to complete intake forms discussing the conduct that gave rise to his conviction. During the intake process, Fifield consistently disputed the victim's account of forcible rape, contending that the victim's participation in the underlying sexual activity was entirely voluntary and uncoerced, and that in any event, he had only pled guilty to statutory rape, the elements of which do not necessarily require the use of force. Id.

As a result of Fifield's refusal to "admit" to the commission of forcible rape as described in his victim's statement to police, defendant and other correction counselors terminated Fifield's participation in the Program two days after it began, on December 12, 2006. Id. at 2. Defendant referred Fifield to the Sex Offender Review Committee ("Committee"), with the recommendation that Fifield be terminated from the Program, due to his continued assertions that the victim's statement was untrue. The Committee adopted the counselors' recommendation, and terminated Fifield from the Program. Fifield's subsequent appeals of the Review Committee's decision, and grievances against the defendant, were denied.

On or about March 13, 2007, Fifield appeared before the Parole Board and was denied discretionary release because of, inter alia, his failure to complete the Program. Id. at 3. Thereafter, while incarcerated at Wyoming Correctional Facility, Fifield was denied good time credit for the same reason. Id.

Fifield claims that the defendant, through the Program's policy requiring assumption of responsibility for sex offenses, violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by requiring him to falsely state that he coerced or otherwise forced his sixteen-year-old victim to engage in sexual activities against her will, something which was not a necessary element of the crimes for which he was convicted, and which Fifield denies having done. He further claims that his termination from the Program has negatively impacted his potential release date by depriving him of the opportunity to gain parole or good time credit, in violation of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

III. Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Claim

Defendant urges that Fifield's Fourteenth Amendment claim should be dismissed, because Fifield has no liberty interest in the parole or good time credit he alleges he was denied as a result of his termination from the Program.

The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the government from depriving citizens of life, liberty or property without due process of law. See e.g., Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209 (2005). A protected liberty interest may arise from the Due Process Clause itself, or from an expectation or interest ...

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