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Stewart v. Howard

April 26, 2010

JESSE L. STEWART, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY HOWARD, D. MONELL, N. MARSH, D. SPANGENBURG, D. SWARTS, E. HOLLENBECK, J. EDWARDS, D. RUSSELL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: George H. Lowe, United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT-RECOMMENDATION

This pro se prisoner civil rights action, commenced pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation by the Honorable Gary L. Sharpe, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c). Plaintiff Jesse L. Stewart alleges that Defendants, all employees of the Tioga County Jail, violated his constitutional rights by limiting his ability to send legal mail, depriving him of his mattress and bedding during daytime hours, subjecting him to excessive force, denying him medical care after the alleged use of excessive force, and conducting biased disciplinary hearings. Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Dkt. No. 30.) Plaintiff has opposed the motion. (Dkt. No. 32.) For the reasons that follow, I recommend that Defendants' motion be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

This action involves Plaintiff's experiences at Tioga County Jail, where he was incarcerated from August 19, 2008, to January 13, 2009. (Dkt. No. 30-4 at 14:2-11.) The complaint consists almost entirely of copies of grievances and letters that Plaintiff submitted to other individuals and organizations. The "facts" section of the civil complaint form merely directs the reader to "see attached." As such, the precise contours of Plaintiff's claims are difficult to discern. The documents attached to the complaint show that:

On September 22, 2008, Plaintiff requested a grievance form so that he could complain about the facility's legal mail procedures. (Dkt. No. 1 at 41.) A grievance form was issued. Id.

On October 27, 2008, Plaintiff requested a grievance form so that he could complain about being denied access to the courts. (Dkt. No. 1 at 44.) Sgt. William "spoke with [Plaintiff] but he refuses to sign off. He states he needs these letters to go out to these courts because he's fighting extradition." Id.

On October 30, 2008, Defendant Officer Earl Hollenbeck issued an Inmate Rule Infraction Notice to Plaintiff accusing him of sending mail using another inmate's account. (Dkt. No. 1 at 31.)

In a "notice of intention" dated November 30 2008, Plaintiff alleged that, pending disciplinary action against him, staff at the Tioga County Jail deprived him of his mattress, sheets, and blanket when temperatures were as low as fifteen degrees at night and forced him to sit directly on his steel bed for periods up to seventeen hours. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) In support of Defendants' summary judgment motion, Defendant Lt. David Monell declares that when inmates are accused of violating a disciplinary rule, they are placed in administrative segregation pending a hearing. During that time, the inmate's bedding is removed during the day. If this was not done, "inmates may intentionally violate rules in order to be assigned to administrative segregation so they could sleep in the cell all day instead of having to adhere to the normal inmate routine." (Dkt. No. 30-11 at 6 ¶ 12.) The parties agree that inmates' mattresses and bedding are returned at night. (Dkt. No. 1 at 10; Dkt. No. 30-11 at 6 ¶¶ 13-15.)

In his "notice of intention," Plaintiff alleged that on November 3, 2008, he asked for a grievance form. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) Defendant Officer Douglas Swarts told him "if you don't shut the fuck up I'll have a few people shut you up." Id. Two or three minutes later, several other officers, including Defendant Sergeant Dennis Spangenburg, arrived and stood in front of Plaintiff's locked cell. Id. Plaintiff asked Defendant Spangenburg why he was denying Plaintiff the right to file a grievance. Id. at 8-9. Defendant Spangenburg replied "I can deny you anything I want." Id. at 9. Defendant Officers Jonathan Edwards and David Russell then entered Plaintiff's cell and handcuffed Plaintiff so tightly that the handcuffs "stopp[ed] the flow of blood to [Plaintiff's] hands." Id. Defendants Edwards and Russell then escorted Plaintiff to the intake area of the facility. Along the way, they used Plaintiff's "head and body as a ram to open the electronically control[l]ed doors," which cut Plaintiff's lip and caused his nose to bleed. Id. Attached to Plaintiff's complaint are affidavits from inmates who state that they witnessed this incident. Id. at 14-15.

Plaintiff alleged in his "notice of intention" that upon arrival at the intake area, he was placed in a strip isolation cell. (Dkt. No. 1 at 9.) Several officers "entered in behind me, at what time I was hit with closed fist[s] and what felt like kicks from all directions to my head, back, ribs, and groin area several times." Id. Plaintiff was punched in the right eye. Id. After that, Plaintiff's handcuffs were removed and Defendant Sergeant Nathaniel Marsh entered the cell, grasped Plaintiff around the neck with one hand, held his mace an arm's length away from Plaintiff's face, and repeated "get the fuck up you little asshole" over and over. Id.

Defendants Marsh, Spangenburg, Swarts, Edwards, and Russell have submitted notarized affidavits in support of Defendants' motion for summary judgment stating that they did not assault Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 30-11 at 10, 12, 18, 22, 24.)

At 10:50 a.m., Defendant Swarts issued two Inmate Rule Infraction Notices. The first stated that Plaintiff "refused to lock in his cell after numerous orders to do so. Duress alarm was activated." (Dkt. No. 1 at 32.) The second stated that Plaintiff "disrupted the pod by yelling threats to jail personnel." Id. at 33.

In his "notice of intention," Plaintiff alleged that he needed medical attention but was locked in the cell alone without such attention for approximately fourteen hours. (Dkt. No. 1 at 9.) At 11:30 p.m., Plaintiff was escorted back to his usual cell. Id. All of his personal property had been removed and he was given only a mattress and a blanket. Id. The next morning, officers removed the mattress. Id. Plaintiff was told that he could only shower if he remained handcuffed and shackled. Id. He was given only two sheets of toilet paper. Id. at 9-10. This pattern of being given a mattress at night and having it removed in the morning continued for ten days. Id. at 10.

On November 6, 2008, Plaintiff submitted an Inmate Request Form asking to "be released from... restraint and receive my property back today." (Dkt. No. 1 at 45.) His request was denied. Id.

In his "notice of intention," Plaintiff alleged that when his property was finally returned to him, he "became submissive" and "did not file any more grievances as I was told not to or the next time it may be worse." Id. at 10.

In his "notice of intention," Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Marsh conducted a biased disciplinary hearing and found him guilty "on all of the infractions." (Dkt. No. 1 at 10.) Another attachment to the complaint shows that on November 12, 2008, Defendant Marsh found Plaintiff guilty and sentenced him to twenty-eight days of keeplock with no programs, no commissary, twenty minute hygiene, and legal phone calls only. Id. at 34.

In his "notice of intention," Plaintiff alleged that there is no "inhouse mail, or legal outgoing mail system" at Tioga County Jail and that Defendants refused to mail any item that would cost more than eighty-four cents. (Dkt. No. 1 at 10.)

On December 1, 2008, Officer Sean Shollenberger issued an Inmate Rule Infraction Notice stating that Plaintiff used stamps from another inmate to send personal mail. (Dkt. No. 1 at 35.) A hearing was scheduled for December 17, 2008. Plaintiff filed a written request stating that he had been informed of the hearing and requesting "that any decision to be determined may be done so without my participation or presence... I do not wish to participate in such hearing." (Dkt. No. 1 at 36.) Plaintiff's request was approved. Id. At the hearing, Defendant Marsh found Plaintiff guilty and sentenced him to fourteen days of keeplock, no programs, no commissary, twenty minute hygiene, and legal calls only. Id. at 37. Defendant Marsh noted that "this is not the first infraction hearing due to [Plaintiff's] abusing the US Postal Service." Id. On December 18, 2008, Plaintiff appealed the decision. Id. at 38. Plaintiff stated that he had refused to attend the hearing because of Defendant Marsh's previous use of force against him and because the hearing was not recorded. Id. at 39. The Chief Administrative Officer denied the appeal on December 23, 2008, because the "sanctions imposed are appropriate." Id. at 38.

On December 17, 2008, Plaintiff requested two grievance forms so that he could complain about the lack of bedding and facility disciplinary and hearing procedures. Grievance forms were issued. (Dkt. No. 1 at 46-47.)

On December 18, 2008, Plaintiff submitted a grievance complaining about the lack of bedding, visits, food, medical care, access to courts, and water. (Dkt. No. 1 at 20.) The grievance coordinator denied the grievance because "[d]iscipline is not grievable. There is an appeal process which the inmate can follow." Id. at 22. Plaintiff appealed to the Chief Administrative Officer. Id.

On December 18, 2008, Plaintiff submitted a grievance complaining about Defendant Marsh's conduct during the disciplinary hearing*fn1 and requesting that disciplinary hearings be recorded or monitored by another hearing officer. (Dkt. No. 1 at 23-24.) The Grievance Coordinator denied the grievance because "NYS Minimum Standards requires that records be kept of infraction hearings. Records are kept of the infraction hearing. The TCJ does not have more than one officer available to do infraction hearings." Id. at 25. Plaintiff appealed to the Chief Administrative Officer. Id. On December 22, 2008, Defendant Marsh completed a Grievance Investigation Form stating that he interviewed Plaintiff. Defendant Marsh found that "this facility keeps all hearing records as well as provide a copy of the hearing record to the inmate. This facility has more than one hearing officer available." Id. at 26.

On December 18, 2008, Plaintiff submitted an Inmate Request Form asking to speak with the Undersheriff or Captain. (Dkt. No. 1 at 48.)

On December 22, 2008, Plaintiff wrote a letter to the Chairman of the New York Commission of Corrections; the Hon. Thomas J. McAvoy, Senior United States District Judge, and the New York State Attorney General regarding conditions at Tioga County Jail. (Dkt. No. 1 at 16-17.) Specifically, Plaintiff complained about the bedding issue, the grievance and appeal system, and the legal mail system. Id.

On December 28, 2008, Plaintiff submitted a grievance complaining about the facility's legal mail procedure. (Dkt. No. 1 at 27.) The Grievance Coordinator denied the grievance because "[t]his facility is not denying you access to the courts. Minimum standards ha[ve] been and will be controlled by the State of NY, therefore this issue is not grievable. NYSCOC was contacted regarding your reference to a 'new' state directive regarding legal mail. No such directive exists." Id. at 28. Plaintiff checked the box indicating that he wanted to appeal to the Chief Administrative Officer and wrote a note that he "was told that Lt. D. Monell is the Chief Officer and that I could not appeal this decision any higher." Id.

In his "notice of intention," Plaintiff alleged that on December 31, 2008, he was summoned to the front of the jail for an interview with Defendant Lt. D. Monell. (Dkt. No. 1 at 11.) Defendant Monell questioned Plaintiff about his December 22, 2008, letter to the Commission of Corrections. Id. Defendant Monell said that he did not give a damn about federal standards regarding bedding. Id. Defendant Monell told Plaintiff he should save his weekly postage allowance until he had enough to send a large document and did not respond when Plaintiff informed him that he was not allowed to do. Id. Regarding Plaintiff's complaint that he had received only two sheets of toilet paper, Defendant Monell replied that this was facility policy. (Dkt. No. 1 at 12.) Defendant Monell stated that he had reviewed the videotape of the alleged excessive ...


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