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Anthony Washington v. Tammi Chaboty

January 10, 2011

ANTHONY WASHINGTON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
TAMMI CHABOTY, PAUL GONYEA, AND KEITH GRANGER,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul G. Gardephe, U.S.D.J.:

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

This is a Section 1983 action brought by pro se plantiff Anthony Washington against defendant officers of Woodbourne Correctional Facility ("Woodbourne") who were involved in the decision to discipline him for communicating messages of a personal nature to a corrections officer. Washington alleges that Defendants' actions violated his right to due process, constituted retaliation against him for the exercise of his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of his religion, and violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq..

Defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that Washington has failed to set forth a due process or other constitutional violation, or a statutory claim, and that, in any event, they are entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The disciplinary charges against Washington stem from an incident that took place on the evening of August 6, 2006, while Washington was working as a clerk in the Muslim chaplain's office located in the "F-Wing" at Woodbourne. (Cmplt. ¶ 1) Defendant Corrections Officer Tammi Chaboty was on duty in the F-Wing. (Cmplt. ¶ 2) Washington had a good relationship with Chaboty and occasionally discussed his Muslim beliefs with her. (Cmplt. ¶ 3-4; Ex. C 19-21)*fn1

At about 9:00 p.m., Washington called Chaboty into the chaplain's office and asked if he could give her a present. (Cmplt. ¶ 7) Washington then gave Chaboty a copy of the Quran and two sheets of notes that "informed [her] about the Holy Quran and the methodology followed in understanding its verses." (Cmplt. ¶ 10) Washington later left the chaplain's office and returned to his cell for the night. (Cmplt. ¶ 11)

The following morning, Sergeant Keith Granger, Chaboty's supervisor, told Washington that he would be placed in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") as a result of the Quran incident. (Cmplt. ¶ 13-14) According to the Complaint, Defendant Granger informed Washington that he intended to prepare a misbehavior report concerning the incident and that "Chaboty had a life of her own and she did not need [Washington] telling her how to live it." (Cmplt. ¶ 18, 20)

That same day, Chaboty prepared an Inmate Misbehavior Report in which she recounted the evening's events. (Harben Decl., Ex. B) Although her account of the incident is similar to Washington's, Chaboty's report states that Washington approached her twice, first to indicate that he wanted to speak with her and then to make clear that he was inviting her to speak with him in the chaplain's office. (Id.) Chaboty's report emphasizes that "there were no other inmates or staff in the immediate area" when Washington approached her, and she accuses him of violating prison rules concerning "soliciting," "stalking," and "communicating messages of a personal nature to an employee." (Id.) *fn2

Between August 11 and August 21, 2006, Defendant Gonyea, Woodbourne's deputy superintendent, conducted a hearing to determine whether Washington was guilty of these rule infractions. At the hearing, Chaboty recounted the events of August 6, adding that Washington was wearing "an eerie type of smile" when he summoned her to give her the Quran, and that she found his expression "very unnerving." (Harben Decl., Ex. C, at 28) Chaboty described the incident as "nothing like I've ever experienced either working as an officer or a civilian in this department." (Id. at 29) Deputy Superintendent Gonyea reviewed the notes Washington had inserted into the Quran, however, and found that they contained "nothing of a personal nature" and merely addressed " interpretation of the [Quran]." (Id. at 35) Chaboty also confirmed that in the past Washington had "always addressed [her] in a professional, respectful manner," and that she and Washington had "briefly" conversed about religion before the Quran incident. (Id. at 19)

During the hearing, Gonyea noted that "misbehavior report[s] should be written as soon as practical" after alleged misbehavior (id. at 45), and that Chaboty had not prepared her report until the day after the incident. (Harben Decl., Ex. B) Chaboty explained her delay by stating that she knew that "something was not correct" about the incident, but that she wanted to seek "[Granger's] opinion or advice" before writing a misbehavior report. (Id. at 23)

At the conclusion of the hearing, Deputy Superintendent Gonyea found Washington not guilty of the stalking and soliciting charges, but found him guilty of violating "Rule 107.11, harassment verbal by gesture, also . . . comments of [a] personal nature to employees":

I found your conduct in this incident was harassing [in] that you asked to speak to the officer but you did not go to her desk. You called her and gestured for her to go into the office you were at. No one else was in the area at that time. You presented to the officer that you had a present for her. That was a message of a personal nature. (Id. at 50-51)

Gonyea summarized the evidence on which he based his findings as follows:

The evidence I relied upon is the following: the written report of Officer Chaboty and her verbal testimony that you asked to talk to her, that you remained in the Muslim office and . . . nodded for her to go into the office. . . . Officer Chaboty testifies she felt intimidated and uncomfortable with you trying to get her to go into the office to speak to you, and you stating that you had a present for her. (Id.)

Washington alleges that Gonyea "stopped the recording [at the conclusion of the hearing] and told [Washington that] he only found [Washington] guilty . . . in order to separate him from staff and transfer him." (Cmplt. ¶ 38)

After the hearing, Gonyea completed a Superintendent Hearing Disposition Form, in which he reiterated the basis for his findings and sentenced Washington to 65 days in the SHU and loss of privileges, including access to religious services, packages from home, and phone and commissary privileges. (Harben Decl., Ex. F) Washington's Complaint alleges that he was "forced to be in an unfurnished cell for at least 23 hours a day," that he was "given smaller rations of mess hall food and denied group meals," and that he was "limited to three (3) five-minute showers a week, and escorted everywhere (even to showers and recreation) shackled." (Cmplt. ¶ 42) Washington alleges that "[t]hese punitive conditions do not exist in the general population," and that he found the "the conditions in Woodbourne's S.H.U. . . . extremely harsh." (Cmplt. ¶ 42-43) Washington appealed his conviction to the State Department of Correctional Services, but the conviction was affirmed by summary order on October 11, 2006. (Cmplt. ¶ 42)

According to the Complaint, Washington was transferred six times while serving his SHU sentence. He experienced "filthy" cell conditions and was not permitted to atttend Ramadan religious services. (Cmplt. ¶ 47-49)

In October 2006, Washington was assigned to Franklin Correctional Facility, where he alleges he was "denied a job working in the facility's library due to advers[e] reports in his prison file relating to the Woodbourne incident." (Cmplt. ¶ 56) Washington was also denied parole in May 2007, and he claims that the parole panel "considered the . . . disposition by Gonyea of August 21, 2006, in making its determination." (Cmplt. ¶ 61) After another transfer in July 2007 to Southport Correctional Facility, Washington alleges that he was "denied a job working as a clerk for the Muslim chaplain . . . due to adverse reports relating to the Woodbourne incident that were placed in his prison files." (Cmplt. ¶ 63)

In January 2007, Washington brought an Article 78 proceeding challenging the determination finding him guilty of harassment. The Third Department concluded that the harassment determination was not supported by substantial evidence:

Upon reviewing this record, we do not find that substantial evidence supports the determination at issue. The female officer admitted that she had had conversations with petitioner in the past concerning religion, and petitioner testified that, based upon their conversations, he decided to give her the book as a gift. Although the officer testified that petitioner exhibited an "eerie" smile which she found "very unnerving," she did not indicate that he engaged in any inappropriate or disrespectful behavior and she confirmed that he had always addressed her ...


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