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Pilgrim v. Artus

March 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece United States Magistrate Judge


Pro se Plaintiff Prince Pilgrim has filed this civil rights action , pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq., alleging that Defendant Dale Artus, Superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility, violated his constitutional and statutory rights to freely exercise his religious beliefs. Dkt. No. 1, Compl. The crux of Plaintiff's religious expression claim is that he was repeatedly punished for exercising his sincerely held religious beliefs, which require him to wear dreadlocks, because he is a member of the Nation of Islam ("NOI") and Department of Correctional Services' ("DOCS") policy allows only those of the Rastafarian faith to wear dreadlocks. See generally id.

In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Artus failed to protect him from unconstitutional retaliation, his due process rights were violated during the course of several disciplinary hearings, and the penalties imposed as a result of his disciplinary convictions constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id.

Presently before the Court for a Report-Recommendation is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 36. Since the filing of Defendant's Motion, the Court has granted Plaintiff four separate extensions of time to file a response in opposition to the Motion. See Dkt. No. 46, Order, dated Aug. 20, 2009, at p. 1 (cataloguing prior extensions). The final extension granted Plaintiff until September 4, 2009, to file a response, and warned Plaintiff that "failure to oppose Defendant's Motion will result in this Court accepting the facts set forth by Defendant as true." Id. at p. 3 (emphasis in original) (citing N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3)). Despite this Court's leniency and warnings, Plaintiff's Response*fn1 was not received until September 10, 2009, six days after the deadline passed. Dkt. No. 47, Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Notwithstanding Plaintiff's failure to meet the extended deadline, because he is proceeding pro se, we will nonetheless consider his Response and the Exhibits attached thereto in issuing a recommendation on Defendant's Motion.

For the reasons that follow, we recommend that Defendant's Motion be granted in part and denied in part.


The following facts were derived mainly from the Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, submitted in accordance with N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1, which were not, in their entirety, specifically countered nor opposed by Plaintiff. See N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3) ("The Court shall deem admitted any facts set forth in the Statement of Material Facts that the opposing party does not specifically controvert." (emphasis in original)). In any event, most, if not all, of the material facts are not in dispute, but rather, the issue is whether those facts give rise to constitutional and statutory violations.

Plaintiff was received into DOCS' custody on or about November 4, 1992. Dkt. No. 36-2, Def.'s 7.1 Statement, at ¶ 1. At all times relevant to the Complaint, and continuing until the present, Defendant Dale Artus has been the Superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton"), where Plaintiff was confined from April 1, 2005 through February 5, 2009. Id. at ¶ 2. Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Attica Correctional Facility. Id.

On November 18, 2006, Plaintiff was given a direct order by Corrections Officer ("C.O.") A. Appleby to remove his dreadlocks as per DOCS' policy, which allows only inmates of the Rastafarian faith to wear dreadlocks. Id. at ¶ 18; Dkt. No. 47-1, Prince Pilgrim Decl., dated Aug. 31, 2009 (hereinafter "Pl.'s Decl."), at ¶ 14. DOCS' hair policy is based on DOCS Directive #4914, entitled "Inmate Grooming Standards," and relevant decisions from the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), which is the final appellate body for inmate grievances and whose decisions have the same effect as directives. Dkt. No. 36-6, Mark Leonard Decl., dated Apr. 30, 2009, at ¶ 59. DOCS Directive #4914 allows inmates to wear long hair*fn2 provided they tie it back in a ponytail at all times, but does not specifically permit nor disallow dreadlocks. Id., Ex. B, DOCS Directive #4914(III)(B)(2)(a)-(d). However, relevant CORC decisions have made clear that "[o]nly inmates of the Rastafarian faith may have dreadlocks." Id., Ex. C, CORC Decision, dated May 8, 2003.

On December 19, 2006, C.O. C. Strong observed Plaintiff, who was on his way to an NOI meeting, with his hair in dreadlocks that extended down to the middle of his back. Id. at ¶ 17; Pilgrim Decl. at ¶¶ 17-18. C.O. Strong issued Plaintiff a Misbehavior Report (hereinafter "First MR"), charging him with Refusal to Obey a Direct Order (Rule 106.10). Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶ 19. At a Tier II Hearing that concluded on December 27, 2006, Lieutenant ("Lt.") Boyle found Plaintiff guilty of the charge and assessed him a penalty of thirty (30) days keeplock,*fn3 with loss of commissary, package and phone privileges. Id. at ¶ 20. During that hearing, Boyle refused Plaintiff's request to call Defendant Superintendent Artus as a witness, reasoning that because Artus was not present nor otherwise involved in the incident, his testimony would not be germane to the charge at issue. Id. at ¶¶ 40-41. However, Plaintiff was allowed to call other witnesses including two C.O.'s and another inmate. Id. at ¶ 42. Plaintiff's appeal, dated December 27, 2006, was delegated by Defendant Artus to Captain J. Bell, who affirmed Boyle's decision. Id. at ¶ 21.

On February 20, 2007, Plaintiff was issued another Misbehavior Report (hereinafter "Second MR") by C.O. Appleby for again failing to cut his dreadlocks and thereby refusing to comply with both a direct order and a prior hearing disposition. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23; Pl.'s Decl. at ¶ 21. A Tier II Hearing was conducted by Lt. Lucia, who found Plaintiff guilty of Refusal to Obey a Direct Order (Rule 106.10) and Noncompliance with a Hearing Disposition (Rule 181.10), and assessed Plaintiff thirty (30) days keeplock, with corresponding loss of recreation, commissary, package and phone privileges, and an additional fifteen (15) days keeplock and loss of privileges invoked from a previous disciplinary hearing determination. Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶¶ 23-24; Pl.'s Decl. at ¶ 25. Artus referred Plaintiff's appeal of those convictions to Captain Bell, who reviewed and affirmed the hearing officer's decision on March 5, 2007. Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶ 25; Pl.'s Decl. at ¶ 26. By letters dated March 14, 2007, and March 21, 2007, Plaintiff requested a discretionary review of the March 1, 2007 Tier II Hearing disposition, raising issues as to whether or not he should have been credited for time spent in pre-hearing confinement. Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶ 26. Artus delegated that petition to G. Haponik, First Deputy Superintendent, who denied the requested relief. Id. at ¶ 27.

Also on February 20, 2007, Plaintiff filed a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP") at Clinton, alleging harassment and unlawful discrimination on the part of C.O. Appleby, and taking issue with DOCS' policy regarding dreadlocks. Id. at ¶¶ 43-44; Pl.'s Decl. at ¶ 22. The Inmate Grievance Review Committee ("IGRC") dismissed the grievance on the grounds that there was a pending misbehavior report against Plaintiff, making the issue non-grievable. Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶ 45. Plaintiff's appeal to the Superintendent was referred to the IGP Supervisor, who agreed with the IGRC's determination and issued a memorandum to Plaintiff denying his appeal. Id. at ¶¶ 46-47.

On August 1, 2007, Plaintiff was issued another Misbehavior Report (hereinafter "Third MR") by C.O. J. Way for failure to comply with a prior direct order to cut his hair. Id. at ¶ 28. Along with Refusal to Obey a Direct Order (Rule 106.10), Plaintiff was charged with Harassment (Rule 107.11) for using obscene language during his confrontation with C.O. Way, and Inmate Grooming (Rule 110.33) for failure to tie back his long hair. Id. at ¶ 31. Lt. Miller conducted a Tier II Hearing on August 1, 2007, at which time Plaintiff was found guilty of refusing a direct order and having unfastened long hair, but not guilty of harassment. Id. at ¶ 32. Plaintiff was penalized with thirty (30) days keeplock and loss of commissary, package, and phone privileges for the same amount of time. Id. at ¶ 33. Artus referred Plaintiff's appeal of those convictions to Captain Bell, who reviewed and affirmed the hearing officer's decision. Id. at ¶ 34.

On September 12, 2007, C.O. Edwards issued Plaintiff a fourth Misbehavior Report (hereinafter "Fourth MR") concerning his dreadlocks. Id. at ¶¶ 35-36. The Fourth MR charged Plaintiff with Refusal to Obey a Direct Order (Rule 106.10) and making a False Statement (Rule 107.20), the latter charge owing to Plaintiff's alleged statement that he was a Rastafarian when, in fact, he was registered as an NOI member. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37; Pl.'s Decl. at ¶ 34. A Tier II Hearing was held on September 17, 2007, before Lt. Miller, who found Plaintiff guilty on both charges and sentenced him to thirty (30) days keeplock with concurrent loss of commissary, package, and phone privileges. Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶ 38.

On or about November 26, 2007, Plaintiff filed another grievance with the IGP, dated November 17, 2007, complaining that DOCS' policy regarding dreadlocks did not comply with DOCS Directive # 4914 and violated his First Amendment rights. Id. at ¶ 48. That grievance was consolidated with similar grievances filed by other inmates at Clinton who were given similar orders and/or warnings regarding their hair. Id. at ¶ 49; Pl.'s Decl. at ¶ 36. After conducting an investigation, First Deputy Superintendent W.F. Hulihan issued a determination, dated December 19, 2007, stating that "DOCS policy is that registered Rastafarian religion inmates are the only inmates allowed to have dreadlock hairstyles . . . . This issue has been addressed in numerous CORC decisions . . . . Based on DOCS established policy and CORC decisions, no compelling evidence has been submitted to support a change in policy." Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶ 52. Plaintiff and the other grievants appealed Hulihan's determination to CORC, which upheld the decision. Id. at ¶ 53.

Plaintiff wrote Defendant Artus many times during his incarceration at Clinton, the issue of his sanctions for wearing dreadlocks being the predominant topic of such correspondences. Id. at ¶ 54; Compl. at ¶ 4. On each occasion that he received a letter of complaint, request for an investigation, appeal, etc., from Plaintiff, Artus referred the matter to a deputy superintendent or other staff member for review, response, or other necessary action. Def.'s 7.1 Statement at ¶ 56.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [the moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The moving party bears the burden to demonstrate through "'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with [] affidavits, if any,'" that there is no genuine issue of material fact. F.D.I.C. v. Giammettei, 34 F.3d 51, 54 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). "When a party has moved for summary judgment on the basis of asserted facts supported as required by [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)] and has, in accordance with local court rules, served a concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends there exist no genuine issues to be tried, those facts will be deemed admitted unless properly controverted by the nonmoving party." Glazer v. Formica Corp., 964 F.2d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 1992).

To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must "set out specific facts showing [that there is ]a genuine issue for trial," and cannot rest "merely on allegations or denials" of the facts submitted by the movant. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d 282, 287 (2d Cir. 2003) ("Conclusory allegations or denials are ordinarily not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment when the moving party has set out a documentary case."); Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 525-26 (2d Cir. 1994). To that end, sworn statements are "more than mere conclusory allegations subject to disregard . . . they are specific and detailed allegations of fact, made under penalty of perjury, and should be treated as evidence in deciding a summary judgment motion" and the credibility of such statements is better left to a trier of fact. Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d at 289 (citing Flaherty v. Coughlin, 713 F.2d 10, 13 (2d Cir. 1983) and Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995)).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Group of Am., Inc., 164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). Furthermore, where a party is proceeding pro se, the court must "read [his or her] supporting papers liberally, and . . . interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994), accord, Soto v. Walker, 44 F.3d 169, 173 (2d Cir. 1995). Nonetheless, mere conclusory allegations, unsupported by the record, are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991).

B. Personal Involvement

1. Due Process, Retaliation, and Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Artus violated his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to overturn disciplinary sanctions, thereby subjecting him to punishments that were cruel and unusual, and by allowing others to retaliate against him. Defendant asserts he was not personally involved in any of those alleged constitutional violations.

The Second Circuit has held that "personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983." Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Moreover, "the doctrine of respondeat superior cannot be applied to section 1983 actions to satisfy the prerequisite of personal involvement." Kinch v. Artuz, 1997 WL 576038, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 1997) (citing Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 874 (2d Cir. 1995) & Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d at 501) (further citations omitted). Thus, "a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the constitution." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __U.S.__, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009).

Nonetheless, if a plaintiff seeks to bring a § 1983 action for supervisory liability, liability on the part of the supervisor may exist in one or more of the following ways: 1) actual direct participation in the constitutional violation, 2) failure to remedy a wrong after being informed through a report or appeal, 3) creation of a policy or custom that sanctioned conduct amounting to a constitutional violation, or allowing such a policy or custom to continue, 4) grossly negligent supervision of subordinates who committed a violation, or 5) failure to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.

Hernandez v. Keane, 341 F.3d 137, 145 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d at 873) (further citations omitted).

In this case, Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant Artus directly participated in any of the alleged harassment, retaliation, due process violations, nor disciplinary actions that were taken against him. Rather, Plaintiff hangs his hat on the second of the five aforementioned ways in which supervisory liability may attach: "failure to remedy a wrong after being informed through a report or appeal." Id. at 145. Plaintiff asserts that he sent several grievances, complaint letters, and appeals of his disciplinary convictions to Artus, who was thereby made aware of the allegedly unconstitutional policy regarding dreadlocks and the harassments and retaliatory misbehavior reports that were being filed against Plaintiff, but that Artus nonetheless failed to intervene on Plaintiff's behalf. The record establishes that Plaintiff appealed to Artus at least three of the four Tier II Hearing dispositions ...

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