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James P. Colliton v. Fidel Gonzalez

March 23, 2011

JAMES P. COLLITON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIDEL GONZALEZ, MATTHEW T. BOYD, MARTIN F. HORN, PATRICK WALSH, CAROLYN THOMAS, & EMMANUEL BAILEY, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff James P. Colliton, appearing pro se, moves for reconsideration of portions of this Court's September 16, 2009 decision, which granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's § 1983 claims for alleged violations of his constitutional rights while plaintiff was incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee. He also moves to amend his complaint to assert claims against defendants for alleged violations of his religious rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. For the reasons stated below, Colliton's motion for reconsideration is granted in part and denied in part; on reconsideration defendants are granted summary judgment on Colliton's deliberate indifference to safety claim and that claim is dismissed; and Colliton's motion to amend his complaint is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

In March 2006, Colliton, a former attorney at one of New York City's most prestigious law firms, was arrested on charges of raping thirteen- and fifteen-year-old girls, patronizing a prostitute, tampering with a witness, and bribing a witness. (Def.'s 56.1 Statement ¶ 5.) Colliton's arrest garnered significant media attention. In the wake of his arrest, Colliton was incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee at Rikers Island. (Id. ¶ 6.) Colliton was initially housed in the Close Custody Housing Unit ("CCHU")-the highest level of protective custody-but was transferred to a General Population Escort ("GPE") housing unit on June 29, 2006. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 37.) GPE is a lesser form of protective custody in which inmates are housed with the general prison population, but are monitored by at least one Correction Officer at all times and are kept separate from other category inmates at meals and during recreation sessions. (Walsh Decl. ¶¶ 13-15.)

In March 2007, Colliton filed a complaint in this district seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for various alleged violations of his constitutional rights during his incarceration at Rikers Island.*fn1 Colliton alleged, inter alia, that his constitutional right to the free exercise of his religion was violated by a rule that prevented him from attending congregate Catholic mass while he was housed in CCHU; that he was denied law library access; that he was assaulted by a corrections officer at the direction of defendant Officer Matthew T. Boyd; that he did not receive adequate medical treatment; and that various prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his safety by transferring him over his vehement objections from CCHU to GPE where he was allegedly terrorized and attacked by other inmates, and by refusing to transfer him back upon his request. In connection with his last claim, Colliton alleges that in May and June 2007, while he was housed in GPE, he was involved in three incidents in which he was assaulted by other inmates.

In October 2007, Colliton was released from prison after pleading guilty to one charge of rape in the third degree, one charge of rape in the second degree, and one charge of patronizing a prostitute. (See Def.'s 56.1 Statement. ¶ 93; Colliton Dep. at 52.) On or about May 6, 2008, Colliton filed an Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint repeats the same allegations as the initial complaint, but includes additional allegations regarding the three inmate incidents in May and June of 2007. Colliton seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged constitutional violations.

After the close of discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment on all of Colliton's claims. In an oral decision on September 16, 2009, the Court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment in part and granted it in part. The Court held that there was a triable issue of fact with respect to whether defendant Boyd engaged in excessive force against Colliton by directing an unnamed corrections officer to assault him, but dismissed all the other claims. The Court, however, granted Colliton leave to move to amend his complaint to assert claims under RLUIPA. Thereafter, Colliton submitted a fax requesting reconsideration of (1) the Court's denial of his law library access claim; (2) the Court's denial of his Free Exercise of religion claim; and (3) the Court's denial of his failure to protect claim arising out of his retention in GPE after being transferred there from CCHU.*fn2 Colliton also separately moved to amend his pleadings to assert claims against defendants under RLUIPA.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Reconsideration

"Reconsideration of a court's previous order is an extraordinary remedy to be employed sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of scarce judicial resources." Finkelstein v. Mardkha, 518 F. Supp. 2d 609, 611 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under Local Civil Rule 6.3, reconsideration is appropriate if the court overlooked controlling decisions or factual matters which, had they been considered, might reasonably have altered the result of the underlying decision. See Levine v. AtriCure, Inc., 594 F. Supp. 2d 471, 474 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). To that end, "[a]ny controlling decisions or factual matters presented by a litigant for reconsideration must have been put before the Court in the underlying motion." Padilla v. Maersk Line, Ltd., 636 F. Supp. 2d 256, 258 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). Alternatively, a court may grant such a motion to correct a clear error or prevent a manifest injustice. Beljakovic v. Melohn Properties, Inc., 542 F. Supp. 2d 238, 244 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). Finally, "[a] motion for reconsideration is not a motion to reargue those issues already considered when a party does not like the way the original motion was resolved." Finkelstein, 518 F. Supp. 2d at 611 (internal quotation marks omitted).

1. Law Library Access Claim

Colliton asks this Court to reconsider its dismissal of his law library access claim on the ground that there was insufficient evidence in the record regarding the purpose of the restrictions on law library access to support dismissal of that claim. (See Pl.'s Letter Mot. for Reconsideration at 1-2.) Colliton argues that "the Court indicated at oral argument that it was granting defendants' motion relative to . . . law library access based upon the case law allowing deprivations when there are 'reasons related to legitimate penological interests.'" Id. However, Colliton appears to have misunderstood the Court's oral decision on his law library access claim. In its decision, the Court dismissed Colliton's law library access claim on the ground that Colliton had not met his burden of showing that he was denied meaningful access to the courts. (Tr. of Hr'g of Sept. 16, 2009 ("Tr.") at 27-28.) The Court's dismissal of Colliton's law library access claim was not grounded in any conclusion regarding the legitimacy of the penological interests underlying the restrictions on law library access. (Id. at 26-28.) Because this part of Colliton's motion for is based on a misunderstanding of the Court's ruling, and because Colliton has not provided any other basis for this Court to reconsider its ruling on his law library access claim, the Court reaffirms its dismissal of Colliton's law library access claim.

2. Free Exercise Claim

Colliton also seeks reconsideration of the Court's dismissal of his Free Exercise claim against defendants Horn, Thomas, Gonzales and Bailey. Because Colliton misunderstands the respective burdens on this question and his motion is merely one of disappointment with the Court's prior ruling, the Court reaffirms its dismissal of that claim.

Colliton, a practicing Catholic, was denied access to congregate religious services during the months that he was housed in CCHU at Rikers Island.*fn3 Colliton alleges that this violated his right to the Free Exercise of his religion under the First Amendment. Because the challenged restrictions are penological in nature and because Colliton was an inmate, Colliton's Free Exercise challenge "is judged 'under a reasonableness test less restrictive than that ordinarily applied': a regulation that burdens a right passes constitutional muster 'if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'" Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 274 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987)). Accordingly, to determine whether Colliton's Free Exercise rights have been violated, the Court must answer two questions: (1) ...


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