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Mateo v. Fischer

February 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Holwell, District Judge


This is one of several actions Cesar Mateo ("Mateo"), a prisoner currently incarcerated at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility ("Great Meadow"), has brought pro se against various prison officials under 41 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Here, Mateo is suing Brian Fischer*fn1 ("Fischer"), the New York State Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Facilities ("DOCS"), and two prison officers at the Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven"), where Mateo was incarcerated prior to Great Meadow. Mateo's amended complaint alleges that these defendants harassed and retaliated against him for filing grievances in 2007 and 2008. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motion.


Mateo first filed this lawsuit in the Northern District of New York, on July 15, 2008, and only against Fischer. (Mateo v. Ficsher, No. 08-0777 (N.D.N.Y. filed July 15, 2008), Compl. ("First Compl.") 1, 8.) He alleged that, while he was incarcerated at Green Haven from 2003 to 2008, various prison officials-none named as defendants- harassed, threatened, and retaliated against him for filing grievances. (See generally First Compl.) Mateo further alleged that he wrote letters to Fischer about the harassment and asked Fischer "to place[] [him] in isolation status with privileges," and that these letters were ignored. (Id. ¶ 29.) Judge Hurd sua sponte dismissed Mateo's complaint for various deficiencies, including failure to adequately plead Fischer's personal involvement, and he granted Mateo leave to amend. (Mateo v. Ficsher, No. 08-0777 (N.D.N.Y. filed July 15, 2008), Order dated July 28, 2008, at 4--6.) On August 8, 2008, Mateo filed an amended complaint based solely on events at Green Haven; the complaint added two defendants, Lieutenant Keith Schmitt ("Schmitt") and Correction Officer Michael Miller ("Miller"). Because Green Haven is in this district, the case was transferred here. (Mateo v. Ficsher, No. 08-0777 (N.D.N.Y. filed July 15, 2008), Dkt. 5-- 6.)

In the amended complaint, Mateo's allegations center on grievances he filed and actions prison officials took or failed to take in response thereto. His first grievance stemmed from an incident in March 2007 when relatives came to visit him at Green Haven and unnamed prison officers "intentionally delayed" his arrival at the visiting room by more than two hours. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) When Mateo complained to a corrections officer about his family's long wait for him, he was ignored. (Id.) He filled out a grievance form about the incident and placed it in a prison grievance box, but Mateo says the grievance "was not process[ed]." (Id.) Mateo sent a letter about the incident to Fischer, attaching a copy of his original grievance; later, he wrote Fischer a second letter detailing "experiences of harassment, retaliation and threats by correction officers" and requested that he be confined permanently to his cell. (Id. ¶¶ 10--11.) Fischer forwarded the complaint to other officials for investigation, and as part of that investigation defendant Schmitt interviewed Mateo about his allegations. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Exactly what kinds of harassment, retaliation, or threats Mateo had experienced prior to the interview, the complaint does not say. Whatever they were, Schmitt doubted that Mateo could prove them, and-in a retaliatory measure, the complaint says-he referred Mateo to the New York Office of Mental Health ("OMH") for a mental health evaluation. (Id. ¶ 12.) Other unnamed staff also evidently referred Mateo for an evaluation. (Id. ¶ 18.) The evaluation that followed was, Mateo says, fabricated in retaliation for his complaints; it diagnosed him as paranoid. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 17.) According to the complaint, the diagnosis was discrediting to the plaintiff and led to discrimination against him by both prison guards and other prisoners. (Id. ¶ 17.) For the most part, the complaint leaves this discrimination undefined. It does describe a few incidents-two with defendant Miller and a few with various prison officers not named as defendants in the complaint.

For example, an Officer Perez called Mateo paranoid (id. ¶ 22), and an Officer Erns searched Mateo's property and confiscated some of it, then forced Mateo to wait for a long period of time to use a toilet (id. ¶ 25). Another incident occurred in November of 2007, after Mateo filed a sexual harassment grievance against defendant Miller. (Id. ¶ 20.) Though the complaint does not say why Mateo filed that grievance, it says that prison officers, including Miller, came to his cell the next day to retaliate. (Id.) The complaint alleges no physical contact during this incident-just that Miller "threatened" the plaintiff and told him to "wait till he put his hands on [Mateo]," and that Miller filed a false misbehavior report about him. (Id.) The same day, Mateo sent a letter to the "Assistant Commissioner and Inspector General" regarding the Miller incident. (Id.) The letter was "not processed and never returned." (Id.)

In December of 2007, Mateo refused to receive visitors because he feared they might suffer retaliation by prison officers. (Id. ¶ 21.) The same month, Mateo sent Fischer yet another letter of complaint; defendant Schmitt again interviewed him; and again prison officials denied his allegations as unfounded. (Id.)

In March of 2008, Mateo had another encounter with Miller. Miller entered his cell, held his fist to Mateo's face, and threatened him. (Id. ¶ 23.) Mateo took this to be another act of retaliation for complaining to the facility superintendent about Miller. (Id.) In a letter to Fischer, Mateo reported the incident, but Miller has continued to harass Mateo in unspecified ways. (Id.)

Mateo has repeatedly requested that Fischer place him "on isolation status" but those requests have all been ignored. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 29.) Mateo is now suing to force Fischer to turn over all documents relating to him and to place him "on permanent isolation status immediately with privileges"; he also seeks damages of at least $500,000 against the defendants. (Id. 8.)


I. Standard of Review

On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the complaint's allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. In re DDAVP Direct Purchaser Antitrust Litigation, 585 F.3d 677, 692 (2d Cir. 2009). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must simply "give the defendants fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation marks and citation omitted); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). Especially "when the plaintiff proceeds pro se, as in this case, a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations." McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). Still, the complaint's allegations "must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Only a "plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." LaFaro v. New York Cardiothoracic Group, PLLC, 570 F.3d 471, 476 (2d Cir. 2009). Thus courts are "not bound to ...

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