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Jonathan Henry v. James F. Dinelle

November 29, 2011

JONATHAN HENRY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAMES F. DINELLE, CORRECTIONS OFFICER; RUSSELL E. DUCKETT, CORRECTIONS OFFICER; ALFRED J. DELUCA, CORRECTIONS OFFICER; DONALD L. BROEKEMA, SERGEANT; AND JEAN NORTON, NURSE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this prisoner civil rights action filed by Jonathan Henry ("Plaintiff") against the five above-captioned employees of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("Defendants"), is Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 24.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, between approximately January 29, 2009, and January 31, 2009, at Ulster Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York, Defendants violated Plaintiff's following rights in the following manner: (1) Defendants Nurse Jean Norton, Corrections Officer James F. Dinelle, Corrections Officer Russell E. Duckett and Corrections Officer Alfred J. DeLuca violated Plaintiff's rights under the First Amendment by filing retaliatory false misbehavior reports against him, and subsequently providing false testimony against him at administrative disciplinary hearings, which resulted in his spending time in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"); (2) Defendant Dinelle violated Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment by assaulting him on two occasions, and Defendants DeLuca and Duckett violated Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment by assaulting him once; (3) Defendant Sergeant Donald L. Broekema violated Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment by failing to intervene to prevent one of these assaults from occurring; (4) Defendant Norton violated Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment by harassing him almost immediately before he was subjected to the above-described assaults; and (5) Defendants Norton, Dinelle, Duckett and DeLuca violated Plaintiff's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by performing the aforementioned acts, which constituted atypical and significant hardships in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. (See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].) Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

B. Undisputed Material Facts

At all times relevant to Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff was an inmate and Defendants were employees of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision at Ulster Correctional Facility. On January 30, 2009, Defendant Dinelle took Plaintiff to the medical ward, because Plaintiff was experiencing a foul odor and oozing from a wound on his leg. After Defendant Norton treated Plaintiff, she filed an inmate misbehavior report against Plaintiff based on (1) Plaintiff's harassing behavior toward Defendant Norton and Defendant Dinelle, and (2) Plaintiff's disobedience of a direct order to be quiet. The misbehavior report was signed by Defendant Dinelle as an employee witness.

At his deposition, Plaintiff testified, while leaving the infirmary, he was punched and kicked by Defendant Dinelle and two unknown prison officials. Plaintiff was then taken to the SHU, where he waited with Defendants Dinelle and Duckett, and up to three more individuals, for a sergeant to arrive. When Defendant Broekema (a sergeant) arrived at the SHU, Plaintiff was taken to a frisk room, where a frisk was conducted. During the frisk, Defendants Dinelle, Duckett and (Plaintiff suspected) DeLuca used force to bring Plaintiff to the ground. Plaintiff testified that, during the use of force, he was simultaneously punched in the nose by two officers while their supervisor watched.

After the use of force, Plaintiff stated to Defendants Dinelle, Broekema and Duckette, "I will be contacting my attorney," or "I will be calling a lawyer."*fn1 Plaintiff never used the term "grievance" when addressing Defendants Dinelle, Broekema and Duckette (or Defendant Norton).*fn2 Subsequently, Defendant Duckett filed an inmate misbehavior report against Plaintiff based on his disobedience of frisk procedures and a direct order. Defendant DeLuca signed this report as a witness to the events.

Familiarity with the remaining undisputed material facts of this action, as well as the disputed material facts, as set forth in the parties' Rule 7.1 Statement and Rule 7.1 Response, is assumed in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

C. Defendants' Motion

Generally, in support of their motion for partial summary judgment, Defendants argue as follows: (1) Plaintiff's claim that Defendants issued false misbehavior reports should be dismissed because Plaintiff has no constitutional right to be free of false misbehavior reports; (2) Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim should be dismissed because he has failed to adduce admissible record evidence from which a rational factfinder could conclude that he (a) engaged in protected activity, or (b) suffered adverse action as a result of engaging in protected activity; (3) Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim should be dismissed because he has failed to adduce admissible record evidence from which a rational factfinder could conclude that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his liberty rights; (4) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment excessive-force claim against Defendant Norton should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence from which a rational factfinder could conclude that she (a) used force against Plaintiff, or (b) was in a position to prevent the use of force from occurring, yet failed to do so; (5) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment excessive-force claim against Defendant DeLuca should be dismissed because Plaintiff's identification of Defendant DeLuca is "very tentative"; (6) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment failure-to-intervene claim against Defendant Broekema should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence from which a rational factfinder could conclude that Defendant Broekema had a realistic opportunity to intervene to prevent or stop the assault, yet failed to do so; and (7) Defendants are protected from liability, as a matter of law, by the doctrine of qualified immunity, under the circumstances. (See generally Dkt. No. 24, Attach. 10 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].).*fn3

In Plaintiff's response to Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, he argues as follows: (1) his retaliation claims should not be dismissed because there are triable issues of fact as to whether Defendants retaliated against him for stating that he would be contacting an attorney; (2) his failure-to-intervene claim against Defendant Broekema should not be dismissed because there are triable issues of fact as to whether Defendant Broekema failed to prevent excessive force from being used against him; (3) his excessive-force claim against Defendant DeLuca should not be dismissed because there are triable issues of fact as to whether Defendant DeLuca used excessive force against him; and (4) Defendants are not protected from liability, as a matter of law, by the doctrine of qualified immunity, under the circumstances. (See generally Dkt. No. 27, Attach. 5 [Plf.'s Response Memo. of Law].)*fn4

In their reply, Defendants essentially reiterate their previously advanced arguments. (See generally Dkt. No. 29, Attach. 1 [Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

II. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Legal Standard Governing Motions for Summary Judgment

Because the parties to this action have demonstrated, in their memoranda of law, an accurate understanding of the legal standard governing motions for summary judgment, the Court will not recite that well-known legal standard in this Decision and Order, but will direct the reader to the Court's decision in Pitts v. Onondaga Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 04-CV-0828, 2009 WL 3165551, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2009) (Suddaby, J.), which accurately recites that legal standard.

B. Legal Standards Governing Plaintiff's Claims

1. First Amendment Retaliation Claim

Claims of retaliation like those asserted by Plaintiff find their roots in the First Amendment. See Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379, 380-81 (2d Cir. 2004). Central to such claims is the notion that, in a prison setting, corrections officials may not take actions which would have a chilling effect upon an inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights. See Gill, 389 F.3d at 381-383. Because of the relative ease with which claims of retaliation can be incanted, however, courts have scrutinized such retaliation claims with particular care.

See Flaherty v. Coughlin, 713 F.2d 10, 13 (2d Cir. 1983). As the Second Circuit has noted, [t]his is true for several reasons. First, claims of retaliation are difficult to dispose of on the pleadings because they involve questions of intent and are therefore easily fabricated. Second, prisoners' claims of retaliation pose a substantial risk of unwarranted judicial intrusion into matters of general prison administration. This is so because virtually any adverse action taken against a prisoner by a prison official--even those otherwise not rising to the level of a constitutional violation--can be characterized as a constitutionally proscribed retaliatory act.

Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds, Swierkewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002).

To prevail on a First Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must prove by the preponderance of the evidence that (1) the speech or conduct at issue was "protected", (2) the defendants took "adverse action" against the plaintiff--namely, action that would deter a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness from exercising his or her constitutional rights, and (3) there was a causal connection between the protected speech and the adverse action--in other words, that the protected conduct was a "substantial or motivating factor" in the defendants' decision to take action against the plaintiff. Mount Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977); Gill, 389 F.3d at 380 (citing Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 492 [2d Cir. 2001]). Under this analysis, adverse action taken for both proper and improper reasons may be upheld if the action would have been taken based on the proper reasons alone. Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996).

In determining whether an inmate has established a prima facie case of a causal connection between his protected activity and a prison official's adverse action, a number of factors may be considered, including the following: (1) the temporal proximity between the protected activity and the alleged retaliatory act; (2) the inmate's prior good disciplinary record; (3) vindication at a hearing on the matter; and (4) statements by the defendant concerning his motivation. Reed v. A.W. Lawrence & Co., 95 F.3d 1170, 1178 (2d Cir. 1996); Baskerville v. Blot, 224 F. Supp. 2d 723, 732 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Even where the inmate has established such a prima facie case, the prison official may be entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the inmate's retaliation claim where the prison official has satisfied his burden of ...


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