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Vaughn v. Nichols

February 24, 2010

WESLEY VAUGHN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAMES A. NICHOLS, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT OF PROGRAMS (MID-STATE); GLENN S. GOORD, COMMISSIONER (D.O.C.S.); ROBERT PROSSER, MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR (MID-STATE); MR. ABBIS, VOCATIONAL SUPERVISOR ) (MID-STATE); WILFREDO BATISTA, FIRST DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT (MID-STATE); DONALD SELSKY, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL HOUSING/INMATE DISCIPLINARY PROGRAMS (D.O.C.S.); IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES AS PERSONNEL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES (D.O.C.S), DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on an order from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit remanding the case to this Court for reconsideration of the issue of whether plaintiff Wesley Vaughn ("Vaughn") was afforded adequate due process protection at a prison disciplinary hearing (Filing No. 100). The Court ordered the parties to submit additional materials in support of their respective positions (Filing No. 101). Vaughn submitted an additional brief (Filing No. 102), and the defendants submitted a letter (Filing No. 103) referring the Court to the arguments the defendants made in their brief supporting their original motion for summary judgment (Filing No. 25). Upon reviewing the parties' briefs on remand, the briefs submitted with the original summary judgment motion, the evidentiary submissions, and the relevant law, the Court finds summary judgment in favor of the defendants is appropriate on the due process issue.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Material Facts for the Motion for Summary Judgment

For eight years, Vaughn worked as an inmate law clerk in the law library of five different correctional facilities until his removal in April 2002. In late March 2002, Vaughn provided legal assistance to a fellow inmate, Banks, in preparation for a hearing with defendant James A Nichols ("Nichols"), who was the hearing officer (the "HO"). Afterwards, Nichols approached Vaughn and commented on the quality and quantity of Vaughn's legal assistance to Banks. Nichols told Vaughn that Nichols had distributed copies of materials Vaughn had prepared for the Banks hearing to the Crisis Intervention Unit (the "CIU").*fn1 Nichols also told Vaughn to "watch his back," as penal officers were critical of Vaughn's effective legal assistance to inmates and CIU members were threatening to "set up" Vaughn.

Thereafter, Nichols notified Vaughn that Vaughn was being transferred to the alcohol and substance abuse treatment program, which would result in Vaughn losing his law clerk position. Not wanting to leave his law clerk position, Vaughn began contacting penal officers by letter and filed several grievances expressing his wish to remain in his law clerk position and not be transferred to other programs and jobs.

On May 28, 2002, defendant Daniel Abbis ("Abbis") issued to Vaughn a misbehavior report ("MR") charging Vaughn with violent conduct. The charges were based upon statements from confidential informants and alleged that Vaughn had attacked and injured inmate Deleon. A tier hearing was subsequently held on June 3, 2002. Defendant Robert Prosser ("HO Prosser") served as the HO for the tier hearing. Prior to the tier hearing, Vaughn requested several document he thought would be relevant to the hearing, but HO Prosser determined these requested documents had never existed. Vaughn also complained at the tier hearing that he had not received a copy of the medical report disclosing Deleon's injuries. The prison nurse, however, did testify at the tier hearing regarding Deleon's injuries. The nurse stated Deleon's medical report noted that Deleon said his injuries occurred as a result of his falling in the shower. However, the nurse also disclosed that she questioned whether Deleon's injuries resulted from a fall in the shower and that Deleon's injuries could plausibly have resulted from a fight.

In addition to the prison nurse, HO Prosser heard testimony from five other witnesses, including some witnesses Vaughn called to testify in his defense. HO Prosser allowed Vaughn to call two inmate witnesses at the tier hearing, inmates Mendoza and Dumas, who testified that Vaughn was not present at the time of the incident. Mendoza testified that Deleon had slipped and fallen in the bathroom, which had caused Deleon's injuries.

Abbis also testified at the tier hearing. Abbis stated the confidential informants he had relied upon in issuing Vaughn's MR were "100% reliable in the past." Vaughn inquired of Abbis regarding whether Abbis was a member of the CIU. HO Prosser stated that question was irrelevant, but Abbis answered that he was not a CIU member. Also during Abbis' testimony, Vaughn complained that Abbis was not properly answering questions. In response to this, HO Prosser stated to Vaughn, "we're gonna run the hearing," presumably referring to himself and Abbis.

HO Prosser refused to allow Vaughn to call two other inmate witnesses, Robinson and "The Fag in the Dorm" (a.k.a. "Freeman").*fn2 Robinson and Freeman, Vaughn contended, would have testified about the efforts of penal officers to pressure them into implicating Vaughn in the Deleon incident.

Vaughn also made an argument at the hearing that HO Prosser was biased. HO Prosser stated that he was not biased and that he would make his decision based upon the evidence.

Ultimately, HO Prosser found Vaughn guilty of the attacking Deleon. HO Prosser relied on the following information in making his disposition: the confidential informants' statements to Abbis, Abbis' testimony, dorm sign-out sheets showing the confidential informants were present when the incident occurred, testimony from Nichols stating Vaughn was not in the law library at the time of the incident, law library logs indicating Vaughn was not in the library at the time of the attack, documents from the housing unit where the incident occurred that indicating Vaughn was present in the housing unit at the time of the incident, and medical testimony from the prison nurse regarding Deleon's injuries.

After HO Prosser's determination at the tier hearing, Vaughn submitted an appeal to Donald Selsky ("Selsky"). Selsky affirmed HO Prosser's determination, which resulted in Vaughn ...


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