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William Figueroa v. Correctional Officer P. Storm

April 26, 2011

WILLIAM FIGUEROA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORRECTIONAL OFFICER P. STORM, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER BOCZAR, CORRECTIONAL HEARING OFFICER KEARNEY, CORRECTIONAL HEARING OFFICER SCHOELLOPF, AND CORRECTIONAL SERGEANT SINDONI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, pro se Plaintiff William Figueroa alleges, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and Eighth Amendment rights to be free from excessive force while he was an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"). Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1 Despite being warned about the consequences of his failure to do so, Plaintiff has not responded to Defendants' motion. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted in its entirety.

II. BACKGROUND

Because Plaintiff failed to respond to Defendants' motion, all facts set forth in Defendants' Rule 56 Statement are deemed admitted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (e)(2); Local Rule 56 (a)(2).

A. May 6, 2005 Incident and Subsequent Disciplinary Hearing Plaintiff is a deaf inmate who was housed at the Wende Correctional Facility during the time period relevant to the Complaint.

On May 6, 2005, Plaintiff threw a bucket of urine and feces on a prison staff member. (Defendants' Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Defendants' Statement"), ¶ 9.) This resulted in the issuance of a pre-hearing restricted-diet order for May 6-12, 2005, and a cell-shield order, which was repeatedly renewed through June 7, 2005. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 12.)

On May 17, 2005, Defendant Schoellkopf conducted a Tier III disciplinary hearing regarding two Misbehavior Reports that arose out of this incident. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 1.) Before the hearing, a sign language interpreter assisted Plaintiff to ensure that he understood the charges against him, could interview potential witnesses, and could obtain relevant documents. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 1.) Plaintiff completed a form attesting that the interpreter meaningfully assisted him. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 1.)

Defendant Schoellkopf began the hearing by advising Plaintiff of his rights, and Plaintiff acknowledged through the interpreter that he understood. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 2.) Plaintiff complained that he could not effectively sign while handcuffed, but in response to Defendant Schoellkopf's inquiry, the interpreter confirmed that she could understand Plaintiff's signs. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 2.) At some point during the hearing, Plaintiff became agitated and pulled down his pants, exposing himself to Defendant Schoellkopf and the female interpreter. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 2.) Plaintiff was therefore removed from the hearing. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 2.)

B. May 16, 2005 Incident and Subsequent Disciplinary Hearing

On May 16, 2005 - one day before the hearing described above - Plaintiff was housed in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 3.) After receiving a restricted diet meal, Plaintiff refused to return his tray, cup, and spork, despite Defendant Boczar's directive to do so. (Defendants' Statement, ¶¶ 3, 11.) Plaintiff ignored several more orders to surrender his utensils, and instead held the cup and threatened to throw its unknown liquid contents on staff. (Defendants' Statement, ¶¶ 3, 4.) Members of the Crisis Intervention and Mental Health units were subsequently brought in, but they too were unable to make Plaintiff comply. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 4.) Finally, after obtaining authorization from the Superintendent and clearance from the medical unit, officers administered two doses of a chemical agent to gain Plaintiff's compliance. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 5.) After the second dose, Plaintiff surrendered his hands for cuffing and was removed from his cell. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 5.) Officers escorted Plaintiff to the decontamination shower, where officers frisked him and a nurse cleaned out his eyes. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 5.)

A sign language interpreter was present during the entire extraction process to communicate with Plaintiff. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 5.) Pursuant to DOCS policy, the use of the chemical agent and cell extraction were videotaped, and those tapes are part of the record. (Docket No. 40.) As a result of this incident, Plaintiff was again placed on a pre-hearing restricted diet for refusing to return his tray and utensils and for threatening staff with the cup of unknown liquid. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 10.)

On May 24, 2005, Defendant Kearney conducted a single Tier III hearing regarding a Misbehavior Report arising out of the May 16, 2005 incident, as well as in regard to two other misbehavior reports that were eventually expunged from Plaintiff's record. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 6.) Two sign language interpreters were present at the hearing. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 7.) Soon after Defendant Kearney explained that the hearing would involve three misbehavior reports, Plaintiff became uncooperative and refused to look at or acknowledge the interpreters. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 8.) Because he refused to cooperate or participate in the hearing, Plaintiff was removed, and the hearing continued in his absence. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 8.)

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff has not responded to Defendants' motion, nor has he at anytime submitted evidentiary support for his claims.In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his due process rights by (1) serving him a restricted diet meal on May 16, 2005, which was beyond the expiration of the order (Complaint, Docket No. 1, p. 2), (2) shielding his cell beyond May 10, 2005 (Complaint, p. 2), (3) failing to provide a sign language interpreter for his hearings and interactions with staff in May 2005 (Complaint, p. 3), and (4) removing him from his Tier III hearings without cause (Complaint, p. 3). He further alleges that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by using excessive force against him on May 16, 2005, when the chemical agent was administered, and May 17, 2005, when he was allegedly placed in restraints. (Complaint, p. 3.)

Defendants do not deny that these events generally took place (other than failing to provide a sign language interpreter), but rather, maintain that there is a legitimate reason for each action taken, and that none of Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated. Moreover, Defendants maintain that even if a constitutional violation occurred, they are entitled to the protections of qualified immunity.

As discussed below, Plaintiff's claims are factually and legally flawed.

A. Dismissal For Failure to Prosecute

As an initial matter, this case warrants dismissal based on Plaintiff's failure to prosecute, pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that:

If the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it. Unless the dismissal order states otherwise, a dismissal under this subdivision (b) and any dismissal not under this rule - except one for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or ...


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