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Kevin Sheils v. R.J. Minogue

January 21, 2011

KEVIN SHEILS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
R.J. MINOGUE, COMMISSIONER'S HEARING OFFICER; P. ANO, TIER HEARING ASSISTANT; D. SELSKY, DIRECTOR, SPECIAL HOUSING, DEFENDANTS.



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

REPORT-RECOMMENDATION and ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Kevin Sheils brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Defendants violated his due process rights when they (collectively and/or individually) (1) intentionally withheld documents he requested in preparing for a Disciplinary Hearing, thereby preventing Plaintiff from framing "appropriate questions to inmate witnesses" and "disput[ing] the evidence against him[;]" and (2) denied him the opportunity to question and call certain witnesses and to view and introduce documentary evidence. Dkt. No. 1, Compl. On February 29, 2008, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), which Plaintiff opposed. Dkt. Nos. 27 & 30. On August 21, 2008, this Court issued a Report-Recommendation and Order in which we noted that Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing resulted in mixed sanctions, namely confinement in a special housing unit (SHU) with corresponding loss of privileges and loss of good time credits. We concluded that by Plaintiff's due process claims, he was inevitably challenging both the conditions and duration of his confinement, the latter of which are barred by the "favorable termination rule" of Heck v.Humphry, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which states that a claim must be dismissed if a judgment in plaintiff's favor "would imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence." Dkt. No. 34 at p. 6 (quoting Heck). Because Plaintiff's due process claims challenged the conditions of his confinement in addition to its duration, we recommended that, pursuant to the Second Circuit's ruling in Peralta v. Vasquez, 467 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2006), Plaintiff's Complaint be conditionally dismissed "until Plaintiff informs the Court that he wishes to proceed with his § 1983 claims concerning the conditions of his confinement and forgo for all time his claims concerning the duration of his confinement." Id. at p. 7. We did not reach the portion of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment concerning the merits of Plaintiff's due process claims.

Prior to the District Court's issuance of a decision on this Court's recommendations, Plaintiff filed a Response indicating his desire to "relinquish all future challenges regarding the [twelve] months loss of good-time credits." Dkt. No. 40 at p. 6. On March 26, 2009, the District Court adopted our recommendations in toto, noting Plaintiff's desire to forgo his barred claims and ordered that Plaintiff's conditions of confinement challenges would proceed. Dkt. No. 42 at p. 2. With that decision in tow, we now address the merits of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. FACTS

In our Report-Recommendation and Order, we summarized the relevant facts as follows:*fn1

During the time period relevant to this action, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility ("CCF"). Dkt. No. 27, Defs.' 7.1 Statement, at ¶ 2.*fn2 On October 31, 2003, Plaintiff was housed in cell #9 of the E-3 housing unit of CCF. On that day, security staff were conducting cell searches on Plaintiff's gallery. Id. at ¶ 3. During the search of his cell, Plaintiff was involved in an altercation with the CCF security staff members, who used physical force to subdue him. Defendants' assert Plaintiff caused the incident when he became verbally abusive and punched a correctional officer in the face; Plaintiff asserts he was wantonly beaten for a half-hour without cause or justification. Id. at ¶ 4; Compl. at 14.

On November 1, 2003, Plaintiff was served with copies of Misbehavior Reports issued by Correctional Officers (C.O.'s) Evens and LaBombard. The Misbehavior Reports stated that while standing outside his cell during the search,*fn3 Plaintiff became angry when Evens began to look through his photos, and attempted to approach Evens in the cell. However, LaBombard interceded and ordered him to step back, at which point Plaintiff punched LaBombard on his left cheek, requiring Evens and LaBombard to force Plaintiff into mechanical restraints. Dkt. No. 30, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Exs., Inmate Misbehavior Reps., dated Oct. 31, 2003, at A1, A-2, A-6, & A-7.

Defendant Captain Robert Minogue was designated to serve as the Superintendent's representative and conduct a Tier III Disciplinary Hearing on the charges filed by C.O.'s Evens and LaBombard. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 6. Defendant Correctional Counselor Roy Ano was assigned to assist Plaintiff in his defense against the disciplinary charges. Id. at ¶ 7. At some point before the Hearing, Plaintiff met with Ano,*fn4 and advised him of the witnesses he wanted to have called and documentary evidence he wished to procure. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶¶ 8-9.

Defendant Captain Minogue convened the Disciplinary Hearing on November 13, 2003. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 10. The Hearing spanned several days, and on November 19, 2003, Defendant Ano met with Plaintiff and discussed his requests for additional inmate witnesses and facility personnel. Id. at ¶ 12; Compl. at ¶ 20. Ano contacted the inmates, recorded their responses, and advised Plaintiff accordingly. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 12. Over the course of the proceedings Plaintiff argued with Defendant Minogue over a range of issues including his requests to have security staff subjected to polygraph examinations, to have over a dozen inmates called to testify, and to have access to the medical records of security staff. Id. at ¶ 13; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 13. On November 25th, Defendant Minogue ejected Plaintiff from the Hearing after Plaintiff repeatedly failed to control his outbursts. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 14. Minogue continued to receive testimony from witnesses in Plaintiff's absence. Id. at ¶ 15.

On November 26th, Minogue completed the Hearing and found Plaintiff guilty of Interference with an Employee, Assault on Staff, and several related charges. Id. at ¶ 16. Minogue sentenced Plaintiff to twelve (12) months confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) with concomitant loss of packages, commissary, and telephone privileges; he also recommended a twelve (12) month reduction in good-time credits. Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff appealed the decision to Donald Selsky on December 21, 2003, who affirmed the decision. Dkt. No. 27, Donald Selsky Decl., dated Feb. 21, 2008, Ex. A, Rev. of Supt. Hr'g, dated Feb. 12, 2004.

On March 8, 2004, Plaintiff filed another appeal with Selsky, asking him to reconsider his denial of Plaintiff's appeal on the grounds that he was wrongly denied the opportunity to bring in certain witnesses and that Minogue was impartial. Selsky Decl., Ex. A, Pl.'s Lt. Appeal, dated Mar. 8, 2004. In a letter written on Plaintiff's behalf, the Prisoners' Legal Services of New York asked Selsky to reconsider his denial of Plaintiff's appeals on the grounds of improper denial of witnesses and preclusion of relevant documentary evidence at Plaintiff's Hearing. Selsky Decl., Ex. A, Lt. from Theresa Wells to Donald Selsky, dated Apr. 9, 2004.

Although the record does not contain a formal response to these petitions, both parties assert that they were denied by Selsky. See Selsky Decl. at ¶ 9; Compl. at ¶ 43. Plaintiff filed the instant federal action on April 18, 2006.

Dkt. No. 34, Rep.-Recommendation and Order at pp. 2-4.

We add the following facts that are relevant to our consideration of the merits of Defendants' Motion. In September 2004, Plaintiff received copies of documents related to the October 31, 2003 Incident from Prisoners' Legal Services, who had received the documents from the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) in connection with their effort to appeal Plaintiff's disciplinary sanctions. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 18; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 18; Compl. at ¶ 25. In addition to copies of the Misbehavior Reports issued by C.O.s Evens and LaBombard, which Plaintiff received before the Disciplinary Hearing, Plaintiff received hand-edited versions of those same Misbehavior Reports. LaBombard's original Misbehavior Report stated the following: "I then grabbed Sheils around the waist area in a bear hug type hold and placed him on the wire fencing of 3 company." Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex., Inmate Misbehavior Rep., dated Oct. 31, 2003, at A-2. Evens's original Misbehavior Report stated: "I came out of the cell and forced Sheils into the wire fencing[.]" Id. at A-7. Both edited versions simply added the words "face first", so as to read: "I then grabbed Sheils around the waist area in a bear hug type hold and placed him face first on the wire fencing of 3 company," and "I came out of the cell and forced Sheils face first into the wire fencing[,]" respectively. Id., Edited Inmate Misbehavior Reps.,* ...


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