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Antonio Brown v. Officer Pritchard

July 6, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott


Before the Court is the pro se plaintiff's third (cf. Docket Nos. 17, 108) motion for leave to amend the Complaint to add new defendants (Docket No. 116), now certain officials (known and unknown) in the New York State Department of Correctional Services' office of Inspector General. This Court issued a briefing schedule in which, pursuant to this Court's Local Civil Rule 15(a) (effective Jan. 1, 2011), plaintiff was to file an unsigned copy of the proposed Amended Complaint by May 27, 2011, defendants were to respond by June 8, 2011, and any reply was due by June 23, 2011, with this motion deemed submitted (without oral argument) on June 23, 2011 (Docket No. 117). Plaintiff eventually filed his proposed amended pleading (Docket No. 126). Defendants filed their objections through the declaration of counsel (Docket No. 121), to which plaintiff later replied (Docket No. 127).

BACKGROUND This is a civil rights action commenced by an inmate, alleging that defendant corrections officer Pritchard used excessive force against him during a pat down frisk conducted on May 4, 2008, at the Attica Correctional Facility ("Attica") (Docket No. 1, Compl.). Plaintiff then filed a grievance against Officer Pritchard. On June 3, 2008, Pritchard allegedly denied plaintiff access to the showers. Plaintiff complained about this to defendant Sergeant Marinaccio, but the sergeant ignored the complaint, instead telling Pritchard about it. Plaintiff then alleges that Pritchard and defendants Officers Swack, Schuessler, and Sergeant Hodge were waiting for plaintiff in his cell where he was pat frisked, smacked in the head and asked by Pritchard whether plaintiff liked making complaints. The officers then allegedly assaulted, kicked, and punched the prone plaintiff. (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiff filed another grievance from the June 3 incident (id. at 4). Plaintiff claims that Pritchard made the grievance from the May 4 incident "disappear" but it was later found as filed (id. at 4-5). Plaintiff then was placed in the Special Housing Unit for nine months (id. at 5). Plaintiff alleges "abusive" use of force and retaliation in violation of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments rights (id. at 5-6).

Plaintiff then amended this Complaint to allege claims against Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") Commissioner Brian Fischer and Attica Superintendent James Conway (Docket No. 17). The new claim alleges that Pritchard was feared by inmates and civilians and was well known for abusing inmates (including raping inmates and stealing from them) (id. ¶ 20; see Docket No. 19, Pl. Motion ¶ 3). Plaintiff contends that Fischer and Conway knew about Pritchard and nevertheless allowed him to work at Attica Correctional Facility in deliberate disregard for the safety of inmates (Docket No. 17, Am. Compl. ¶ 21), including plaintiff. This motion was granted (Docket No. 20).

After an initial round of discovery, including discovery related to a then-pending defense summary judgment motion by defendants Conway and Fischer (see also Docket Nos. 81 (motion), 97 (Report & Recommendation recommending denying motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d)), plaintiff moved to add "S. Khaharf" as a defendant, alleging that he had supervisory liability as acting Superintendent at the time several grievances were lodged against Pritchard (Docket No. 108). In response, defendants corrected the name of the proposed defendant (Sibatu Khahifa), and stated that they have no objection to plaintiff amended the Complaint to assert claims against "Sibatu Khahifa," but reserving the right to move dismiss this claim at a later time" (Docket No. 119, letter of Assistant Attorney General Kim Murphy to Chambers, May 3, 2011, filed by Court May 26, 2011). Absent objection from defendants, this motion was granted (Docket No. 117) and plaintiff timely filed his second Amended Complaint (Docket No. 120)*fn1 .

Plaintiff's Latest Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint

Plaintiff now seeks to add the following DOCS employees and officials as new defendants: Vernon Fonda, the chief of investigations/director of operations of the Inspector General's office of DOCS; Richard Roy, former Inspector General; and three John Doe defendants, the director of the Bureau of Labor Relations, the chief investigator of the Bureau of Labor Relations, and the deputy commissioner of DOCS (Docket No. 116), collectively herein the "Inspector General defendants." Fonda, as chief investigator, was responsible for operations of the office (id. Pl. Motion ¶ 2; Docket No. 106, Fonda Decl. ¶ 1). Plaintiff does not allege the roles of the other potential defendants.

The proposed third Amended Complaint alleges that "for decades, correction officers have been accused of abusing prisoners" (Docket No. 126, Proposed [Third] Amend. Compl. ¶ 18) and are allowed to do so because supervisors were "not reprehending the officer who are abusing the prisoners [sic]" (id.). Plaintiff alleges that "every time an officer is accused of abusing a prisoner, the officer only [has, sic] to deny the accusations, then the investigation always determines that the officer did not abuse the prisoner " (id. ¶ 19), despite the number of accusations of various wrongs corrections officers may have committed against an inmate (id. ¶ 20). He contends that the new Inspector General defendants received many complaints of abuse by officers Pritchard, Swack, and Schuessler but none of them have been "reprehended" so as to prevent future incidents (id. ¶ 21). He then repeats the allegations of the 2008 incidents involving him (id. ¶¶ 22-31, 15-17), but not alleging any connection between the inaction of the Inspector General defendants and these 2008 incidents. Plaintiff, for the first time, asserts previous complaints against some of the corrections officers other than Pritchard, but without the specificity asserted against Pritchard.

Separately, defendants moved for a Protective Order regarding production of documents from the Inspector General's office (Docket No. 106) and that motion was granted in relevant part, with interrogatories posed rather than the document production sought by plaintiff (Docket No. 128*fn2 ). Plaintiff then moved to compel discovery of certain grievances, this time involving defendants other than Pritchard (Docket No. 122); this motion is pending (see Docket No. 128*fn3 ).

Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend this time is based, in part, upon information he learned from defendants' motion for a Protective Order (see Docket No. 116). Plaintiff claims that the admissions made by defendant Fischer and his subordinates identify

"others who are responsible for addressing complaints that are filed against corrections officers. There appears to be a coordinated effort by employees of the New York State Department of Correctional Services to be deliberately indifferent to inmates' complaints that are filed against officer Pritchard (and very likely other officers). Plaintiff is claiming that additional defendants were made aware of the long time abuse that was committed against inmates by officer Pritchard; however, the defendants failed to do anything to prevent officer Pritchard from abusing other inmates." (Docket No. 116, Pl. Motion ¶ 4.)

As explained in the Order granting defendants a Protective Order against producing Inspector General complaints and grievances from other inmates against Pritchard (Docket No. 128, Order at 5), the Inspector General investigates allegations of violations of DOCS's rules and regulations, employee rules, and violations of New York Penal Law by inmates and employees, referring substantiated incidents for review and possible disciplinary action and/or criminal prosecution (Docket No. 106, Fonda Decl. ¶ 4, emphasis added). Substantiated instances of employee misconduct are referred to the DOCS's Bureau of Labor Relations for consideration of administrative disciplinary action*fn4 ; potential violations of criminal law by either employees or inmates would be referred to the District Attorney and to Labor Relations (for employees) for further action (id.). No action is taken upon unsubstantiated grievances (see id. ¶ 3).

Defendants now oppose (but cf. Docket No. 119) plaintiff's latest amendment, arguing that plaintiff does not allege that these new Inspector General defendants had a duty to protect plaintiff from excessive force used by defendant Pritchard (Docket No. 121, Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 6). Noting that plaintiff had not filed a proposed third Amended Complaint when they responded to this motion, defendants assumed that plaintiff was claiming that the Inspector General defendants "had personal involvement in the alleged excessive force by defendant Pritchard merely because they supervised or investigated other claims against defendant Pritchard in their capacities as employees of the DOCS Inspector General's and Labor Relations Offices" (id. ¶ 5). Defendants conclude that the latest amendment would be futile (id. ¶ 6).

In his reply, plaintiff, after noting that he filed the proposed amendment (see Docket No. 126), reasserts that he clearly stated his claim in his motion for leave to amend (Docket No. 127, Pl. Reply at 1), namely that the new defendants are involved in a "coordinated effort" by DOCS employees to be deliberately indifferent to inmates' complaints filed against Officer Pritchard and others, that the new defendants were aware of the "long time abuse that was committed against inmates by officer Pritchard; however, the defendants failed to do anything to prevent officer Pritchard from abusing other inmates" (Docket No. 116, Pl. Motion ΒΆ 4; Docket No. 127, Pl. Reply at 1). Whenever allegations are made against Pritchard, plaintiff alleges that the new defendants "always declare that the officer never committed abuse." Plaintiff thus questions the validity of the process of these potential defendants declaring every grievance filed against Pritchard as being unsubstantiated. (Docket No. 127, Pl. Reply at 1-2.) By allowing the ...

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