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Clyde v. Schoellkopf

June 1, 2010

RAYMOND CLYDE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOM SCHOELLKOPF HEARING OFFICER, DONALD SELSKY, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL HOUSING, M. MALDONADO, CORRECTION OFFICER, DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Raymond Clyde, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated in a number of respects in connection with certain incidents that occurred in 2006, while plaintiff was confined at Auburn, and later Attica, Correctional Facilities. Plaintiff has sued three individual defendants, each of whom was a DOCS employee at the time of the relevant events. Defendants have moved for summary judgment dismissing the claims against them, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

In July 2006, plaintiff was issued two misbehavior reports charging him with assaulting staff and other violations arising out of an alleged assault on a female DOCS employee. A Tier III hearing began on July 14, 2006, before Hearing Officer Thomas Schoellkopf. The hearing was held at Attica Correctional Facility, to which plaintiff had been transferred.*fn1

After a ten-day adjournment to give plaintiff a chance to review certain material that he had requested, the hearing was concluded on August 2, 2006. Schoellkopf found plaintiff guilty of most of the charges against him, and imposed a penalty of twelve years' confinement to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") and a correponding loss of good time and privileges. In support of his decision to impose such a stiff penalty, Schoellkopf stated that plaintiff's act of grabbing, punching, and threatening to kill the victim "constitutes one of the worst forms of misbehavior in a facility ... ." Dkt. #10 at 167.

Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal from Schoellkopf's decision, which was affirmed by SHU Director Donald Selsky. Plaintiff also filed an Article 78 petition in state court challenging the results of the disciplinary proceedings. The petition was dismissed by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, on March 14, 2008. Clyde v. Fischer, 49 A.D.3d 1310.*fn2

In his § 1983 action, plaintiff asserts three claims. The first of these alleges that the officer who was assigned to act as plaintiff's assistant during the disciplinary proceedings, defendant Correction Officer Maldonado, failed to assist him at all. Plaintiff's second claim alleges that defendant Schoellkopf imposed an excessive penalty on plaintiff, and that he failed to ensure that plaintiff was provided with adequate assistance. Plaintiff's third claim is asserted against defendant Selsky, based on Selsky's affirmance of Schoellkopf's determination. Plaintiff states in the complaint that he "is not seeking and will never seek to have his good time restored," but that he is only seeking monetary damages in this action. Dkt. #1 ¶¶ 43-46.

DISCUSSION

I. Res Judicata, Collateral Estoppel, and Rooker-Feldman

Defendants contend that plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. "Res judicata, also known as claim preclusion, requires that a final judgment on the merits of an action be given preclusive effect, barring the parties as well as those in privity with them from relitigating in a subsequent action a claim which was or could have been raised in the prior suit. Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Simon, 310 F.3d 280, 286-87 (2d Cir. 2002).

Courts in this circuit have generally held, however, that because money damages are not available in Article 78 proceedings, an unsuccessful Article 78 petitioner is not barred from bringing a subsequent claim for damages under § 1983. See, e.g., Vargas v. City of New York, 377 F.3d 200, 205 (2d Cir. 2004); Davidson v. Capuano, 792 F.2d 275, 278 (2d Cir. 1986); Farid v. Bouey, 554 F.Supp.2d 301, 316 (N.D.N.Y. 2008); Watkins v. Annucci, No. 02 CIV. 4475, 2006 WL 722005, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 22, 2006). Cf. Johns v. Rampe, 333 Fed.Appx. 644, 646 (2d Cir. 2009) ("because Johns does not seek damages[ in his federal civil rights action], the Article 78 proceedings could have provided all the relief that he seeks. Thus, Johns's constitutional claims are barred by claim preclusion"). Res judicata, then, does not act as a bar to plaintiff's claims here.

I agree with defendants, however, that plaintiff's claims are subject to dismissal on the ground of collateral estoppel. "'Collateral estoppel bars a party from raising an issue of law or fact in a second suit that the party had a 'full and fair opportunity to litigate ... in [a] prior proceeding' and where 'the decision of the issue was necessary to support a valid and final judgment on the merits' in the first action." Irish Lesbian and Gay Org. v. Giuliani 143 F.3d 638, 644 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Metromedia Co. v. Fugazy, 983 F.2d 350, 365 (2d Cir. 1992)).

In the case at bar, plaintiff contends that the doctrine does not apply because "[t]he issues raised in Plaintiff's Article 78 petition are not the same issues raised in this action." Plaintiff's Mem. of Law (Dkt. #14) at 5. A review of plaintiff's Article 78 petition, however, shows that the claims that he advances in this action were expressly raised in his Article 78 proceeding. See Def. Ex. A (Dkt. #10).

Plaintiff alleged in his Article 78 petition that he "received no assistance from M. Maldonado what so ever ... ." Id. at 8, ¶ 16. He also alleged that Schoellkopf failed to take steps to ensure that plaintiff received adequate assistance, id. ¶ 17, and that plaintiff "was not provided with relevant documentary evidence to enable him to prepare a defense." Id. at 11, ¶ 34. In a brief prepared on plaintiff's behalf by the Wyoming County-Attica Legal Aid Bureau, it was also alleged that plaintiff's sentence was harsh and excessive. See Dkt. #10 at 264. Because those allegations encompass plaintiff's claims in this case, plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. See, e.g., Giakoumelos v. Coughlin, 88 F.3d ...


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