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Edwards v. Horn

February 14, 2012

WILLIAM EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARTIN HORN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James L. Cott, United States Magistrate Judge.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

(Non-ECF Case)

To The Honorable Richard J. Sullivan, United States District Judge:

Plaintiff William Edwards, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments during his incarceration in various facilities on Rikers Island. Edwards also alleges that he was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, I recommend that the motion to dismiss be granted except as to Edwards' retaliatory termination claim against Defendant Rosa.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The following facts are taken from the Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this motion. (See Complaint, dated June 23, 2010 ("Compl.") (Dkt. No. 2)). Edwards brings this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., against 44 current and former New York City employees and two John Doe Defendants: Commissioner Martin Horn, Warden Bailey, Warden J. Davis, Warden E. Duffy, Warden Michael Hourihan, Warden Riordan, Warden Robert Shaw, Correctional Officer ("C.O.") Dinolfo, C.O. Grima, C.O. Hernandez, C.O. Holmes, C.O. Lagos, C.O. Lewis, C.O. Maynard, C.O. Morales, C.O. Noon, C.O. Reyes, C.O. Richardson, C.O. Rosa, C.O. Smalls, C.O. Smith, C.O. Sumpter, Captain Alleyve, Captain Bethacourt, Captain Calle, Captain G. Davis, Captain Polak, Marybeth Campfield, Ms. Carrera, Mrs. M. Cattafesta, Mr. K. Guerrant, Cook Hannah, Deputy Hill, Florence Hunter, Ms. Jenkins, Ms. K. Johnson*fn1 , Ms. G. Lee, Ms. P. Mimms, Mr. R. Mulvena, Ms. B. Musmacher, Ms. R. Padmore, Karen Powell, James Robinson, and Ms. Steven (together, "Defendants"). (See Compl. at 1-5).*fn2

Edwards alleges that Defendants deprived him of his constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments during his incarceration at several facilities on Rikers Island: the Anna M. Kross Center ("AMKC"), the Eric M. Taylor Center ("EMTC"), the George Motchan Detention Center ("GMDC"), the George R. Vierno Center ("GRVC"), and the Robert N. Davoren Complex ("RNDC"). At the time he filed his Complaint, Edwards was an inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility, and he is currently on parole. (See Letter, dated Dec. 11, 2011 (Dkt. No. 135)).

Throughout his roughly 100 paragraph, single-spaced, 25-page Complaint, Edwards does not present his allegations by cause of action, nor does he clearly articulate exactly what causes of action he is asserting, as many allegations appear to overlap and lack clarity.*fn3 Several of Edwards' allegations deal with Defendants' actions in relation to a separate lawsuit Edwards brought in the Northern District of New York, Edwards v. Selsky, No. 04 Civ. 493 (FJS) (DRH), 2008 WL 190385 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 22, 2008) ("Selsky" or the "NDNY action"), which was dismissed for failure to prosecute. The Court has made every effort to identify and address all possible claims asserted in the Complaint.*fn4 The Court is able to identify 12 potential causes of action spanning separate dates from July 25, 2007 to April 5, 2010. Specifically, Edwards asserts the following claims: (1) verbal harassment; (2) deprivation of access to free telephone calls; (3) deprivation of access to legal services; (4) mail tampering; (5) denial of required food portions; (6) unconstitutional strip search; (7) violation of due process rights within the prison's disciplinary and grievance system; (8) excessive force and denial of medical treatment; (9) deprivation of access to the prison's grievance system; (10) retaliation; (11) conspiracy; and (12) disability discrimination under the ADA. Edwards seeks $75,000,000 in damages, attorneys' fees, a reimbursement of penalties incurred due to two allegedly false infractions, injunctive relief in the form of expunging those false infractions, injunctive relief terminating Defendants from their positions in the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC") and permanently enjoining them from city, state, or federal employment, and a permanent restraining order to prevent Defendants from committing any future similar violations. (Compl. ¶ V). Edwards does not present these allegations in a narrative fashion, but instead describes dozens of grievance letters that he has submitted to DOC staff at the various Rikers Island facilities over the course of nearly three years. To avoid repetition, the Court will describe the factual background relating to Edwards' specific allegations in the context of the relevant legal discussion below.

B.Procedural Background

Edwards filed the Complaint on August 18, 2010. (Dkt. No. 2). On October 29, 2010, the United States Marshals executed service of the Summons and Complaint on 32 of the 44 named defendants.*fn5 Over the course of the next several months, with the assistance of the Office of Corporation Counsel, the United States Marshals, and the Court, Edwards has attempted to serve the remaining 12 named defendants. (See Dkt. Nos. 56, 62, 69, 70, 75, 119, 120, 129). To date, Edwards has successfully served nine additional Defendants and appears to have served a number of Defendants twice.*fn6 Accordingly, there are three named Defendants who have not been served-Bethacourt, Davis, and Johnson-and two John Doe Defendants who have not been identified.*fn7

During the pendency of his lawsuit, Edwards has submitted several requests to the Court. By Order dated November 1, 2010, the Court denied Edwards' request for an order prohibiting certain employees at the Southport Correctional Facility, where Edwards was incarcerated at the time, from tampering with his legal and personal mail. (Dkt. No. 8). By Orders dated November 30, 2010 and April 14, 2011, the Court denied Edwards' motions for default judgment against certain Defendants (Dkt. Nos. 56, 92), and Edwards' interlocutory appeal of the November 30 Order was denied by the Second Circuit on May 26, 2011. (Dkt. No. 118). By Orders dated February 9, 2011, I declined Edwards' request that I disqualify myself from this action and also denied his motion for the appointment of counsel. (Dkt. Nos. 73-74). Lastly, on March 8, 2011, I denied Edwards' request for sanctions in connection with Corporation Counsel's providing Edwards with service addresses for Defendants. (Dkt. No. 81).

On April 4, 2011, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (See Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss, dated Apr. 4, 2011 ("Def. Mem.") (Dkt. No. 89)).*fn8 Defendants assert that Edwards has failed to state a claim as to his verbal harassment, deprivation of telephone access, unconstitutional strip search, mail tampering, denial of food, denial of legal services, due process, grievance processing and protocol, excessive force and medical treatment, conspiracy, and retaliation causes of action. (Def. Mem. at 16-45). In addition, Defendants argue that Edwards' claims against Defendants Bailey, Cattafesta, Davis, Hill, Horn, Hourihan, Powell, and Riordan fail for lack of personal involvement, all defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and Edwards' claims are barred by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (the "PLRA").*fn9 (Id. at 14-16, 45-48). Pursuant to the Court's Order dated March 3, 2011, Edwards' deadline to submit an opposition to Defendants' motion was May 4, 2011. (Dkt. No. 80). However, despite receiving several extensions-first to May 18 (Dkt. No. 90) then to June 8 (Dkt. No. 116) and June 29 (Dkt. No. 122)-Edwards has not submitted any opposition. Accordingly, the Court considers Defendants' motion fully submitted.

II.DISCUSSION

A.Applicable Legal Standards

A plaintiff's failure to oppose a 12(b)(6) motion does not by itself merit dismissal of a complaint. See Goldberg v. Danaher, 599 F.3d 181, 183-84 (2d Cir. 2010); McCall v. Pataki, 232 F.3d 321, 322-23 (2d Cir. 2000). "[T]he sufficiency of a complaint is a matter of law that the court is capable of determining based on its own reading of the pleading and knowledge of the law. If a complaint is sufficient to state a claim on which relief can be granted, the plaintiff's failure to respond to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion does not warrant dismissal." Id. Consequently, as with all Rule 12(b)(6) motions, in deciding an unopposed motion to dismiss, a court is to "assume the truth of a pleading's factual allegations and test only its legal sufficiency" according to the principles below. Id. at 322.

A complaint will not survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Although "a complaint attacked by a 12(b)(6) motion does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted). "To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must set out only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Hollander v. Copacabana Nightclub, 624 F.3d 30, 32 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (citation omitted). A complaint thus may only survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if it has "facial plausibility" and pleads enough facts to allow the court to "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949.

Given that Edwards is proceeding pro se, the Court must "construe [his Amended Complaint] broadly and interpret it to raise the strongest arguments it suggests." Sharpe v. Conole, 386 F.3d 482, 484 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Furthermore, "when the plaintiff proceeds pro se . . . a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations." McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Nevertheless, "a pro se litigant [is] bound by the same rules of law . . . as those [litigants] represented by counsel." Fertig v. HRA Med. Assistance Program, No. 10 Civ. 8191 (RPP), 2011 WL 1795235, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. May 6, 2011) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

B.Verbal Harassment

Edwards asserts that several Defendants, in violation of Section 1983, used harassing, threatening, and profane language towards him on 17 separate occasions taking place between July 25, 2007 and September 1, 2008. (Compl. ¶¶ III, 2, 6, 8, 17, 19, 22, 24, 30, 33, 37, 38, 53, 55, 61, 83, 91(b)). In separate allegations, he claims that Defendants Campfield, Dinolfo, Grima, Hannah, Hernandez, Holmes, Lewis, Maynard, Morales, Noon, Reyes, Richardson, Smalls, and Smith, called him a "snitch" in front of other inmates, mocked his disability, falsely informed him that he had a visitor when in fact he did not have a visitor, and directed racial slurs and profane language toward him. (Id.). These claims should be dismissed. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976), but its protection does not extend to verbal harassment of an inmate by correction officers without any resulting "appreciable injury." Roseboro v. Gillespie, 791 F. Supp. 2d 353, 373 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Purcell v. Coughlin, 790 F.2d 263, 265 (2d Cir. 1986)).

Verbal harassment, by itself, is not a constitutional violation. See, e.g., Tafari v. McCarthy, 714 F. Supp. 2d 317, 364 (N.D.N.Y. 2010) ("[v]erbal harassment itself does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation[,]" and "[v]erbal abuse, vulgarity, and even threats are insufficient to rise to the level of constitutional violations") (quotation marks and citation omitted); Davidson v. Bartholome, 460 F. Supp. 2d 436, 446 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (no relief to inmate "simply because [an officer] made a hostile or derogatory comment"); Lunney v. Brureton, No. 04 Civ. 2438 (LAK) (GWG), 2005 WL 121720, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 21, 2005) (no claim because merely "insulting" or "disrespectful" comments "do not give rise to a constitutional violation") (quotation marks and citations omitted) (Report and Recommendation), adopted, 2005 WL 433285 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2005). Absent any appreciable injury, courts routinely dismiss claims of verbal harassment brought under Section 1983. See, e.g., Felder v. Filion, 368 F. App'x 253, 256 (2d Cir. 2010) (verbal harassment did not violate Eighth Amendment where plaintiff did not present evidence of resulting injury); Johnson v. Eggersdorf, 8 F. App'x 140, 143 (2d Cir. 2001) ("allegations of verbal harassment are insufficient to base a [Section] 1983 claim if no specific injury is alleged"). Because Edwards does not allege any injury whatsoever, let alone one that could be considered "appreciable," Defendants' alleged threats, verbal harassment, or profane language do not give rise to constitutional violations and should therefore be dismissed.

C.Denial of Required Telephone Calls

Edwards alleges that since his incarceration began on January 23, 2008, he has not been provided with a free telephone call as required by the "DOC Telephone System." (Compl. ¶ 46).*fn10 Edwards further alleges that he submitted a grievance on June 3, 2008 regarding his deprivation of free telephone calls. (Id.). However, "[p]hone restrictions do not impinge on a prisoner's constitutional rights where an inmate has alternate means of communicating with the outside world." Henry v. Davis, No. 10 Civ. 7575 (PAC) (JLC), 2011 WL 3295986, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2011) (citing cases) (Report and Recommendation), adopted, 2011 WL 5006831 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 20, 2011). Because inmates "have no right to unlimited telephone calls[,]" Bellamy v. McMickens, 692 F. Supp. 205, 214 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (citation omitted), Edwards must, but fails to, allege that he was stripped of alternate methods of communication to state a violation of his constitutional rights. See, e.g., Paulino v. Menifee, No. 00 Civ. 5719 (RCC) (KNF), 2001 WL 243207, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 9, 2001) (refusing to issue injunction restoring phone privileges where inmate did not allege that alternate means of communication were inadequate). Edwards' claim regarding the denial of free telephone calls should therefore be dismissed.

D.Deprivation of Access to Legal Services

Edwards alleges numerous deprivations of access to legal services by Defendants Campfield, Musmacher, and Smalls. As to Campfield, Edwards alleges that in March 2008 she denied him a legal manila envelope, lost his legal documents pertaining to the NDNY action, and denied him legal services. (Compl. ¶¶ 31, 36). As to Musmacher, Edwards asserts that she denied him legal services for more than a month around August 2008 and discriminated against him by providing legal services to Latino detainees when Edwards was "next . . . on line" to receive such services. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57). As to Smalls, Edwards claims that she denied him extra time in the prison facility's law library in August 2008. (Id. ¶ 61). Each of these claims should be dismissed.

The Supreme Court has recognized that an inmate does not have "an abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). Rather, a prison facility must ensure that its inmates have "'a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts.'" Id. (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 825 (1977)). Accordingly, for a defendant's conduct to provide a basis for an inmate to invoke his right of access to the courts, it must cause "actual injury" or "materially prejudice[]" the inmate. Salvatierra v. Connolly, No. 09 Civ. 3722 (SHS) (DF), 2010 WL 5480756, at *21 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 1, 2010) (citations and quotation marks omitted) (Report and Recommendation), adopted, 2011 WL 9398 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 3, 2011).

Here, Edwards does not state sufficient facts to constitute any injury or material prejudice. He does not claim any injury suffered because of Defendants' alleged denials of legal services, legal supplies, extra time in the law library, or alleged discrimination in favor of Latino detainees. While he asserts that Campfield's losing his legal documents in connection with the NDNY action prevented him from "prosecuting" that action (Compl. ¶ 36), he fails to provide any specifics as to his purported inability to prosecute. He does not elaborate on, for example, what documents he believes were lost and what actions he was prevented from taking in his litigation, which is especially relevant since Edwards appears to have participated in the NDNY lawsuit in some capacity, but failed to keep the court apprised of his mailing address. See Selsky, 2008 WL 190385, at *1-3. Accordingly, because Edwards has not identified any injury or material prejudice as a result of his alleged deprivation of access to legal services, these claims should be dismissed.

E.Mail Tampering

Edwards' mail tampering claims are based on allegations of interference with his outgoing non-legal mail and his incoming and outgoing legal mail at the EMTC and AMKC. Specifically, Edwards first alleges that on November 1, 2007 he wrote a letter to Michael Caruso at the DOC that was never sent from the EMTC. (Compl. ¶ 16). Second, Edwards alleges that his "legal mail" addressed to Caruso never left the EMTC and was returned to him on November 27, 2007. (Id. ¶ 27). Next, Edwards submitted a grievance on September 8, 2008 alleging that his "personal and legal mail" addressed to a co-defendant never left the AMKC because it was returned for insufficient postage despite being marked with a postage stamp. (Id. ¶ 70). Edwards' fourth claim of mail tampering relates to the NDNY action. He asserts that Defendant Davis failed to forward his incoming legal mail to the correct address, despite Edwards' instruction for him to do so, and that as a result, his NDNY lawsuit was dismissed. (Id. ¶ 47). Lastly, Edwards alludes to an allegation of tampering with his outgoing "legal and personal mail" against unnamed AMKC staff, which he documented in a November 18, 2008 grievance letter. (Id. ¶ 94). None of these claims should withstand a motion to dismiss.

Both legal and non-legal mail are protected by the First Amendment's "right to the free flow of incoming and outgoing mail." Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003). "[A] prison official's interference with an inmate's mail may violate his First Amendment right to free speech, which includes the 'right to be free from unjustified governmental interference with communication.'" Cancel v. Goord, No. 00 Civ. 2042 (LMM), 2001 WL 303713, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2001) (citation omitted). In addition, "the Supreme Court has recognized that 'the implications of outgoing correspondence for prison security are of a categorically lesser magnitude than the implications of incoming materials.'" Id. (quoting Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413 (1989)).

With these principles in mind, Edwards' allegations as to outgoing non-legal mail-non-legal mail being afforded less protection than legal mail, Davis, 320 F.3d at 351-fail to state a claim because he does not assert that Defendants actually tampered with his mail, only that his mail never left the facility. Moreover, instead of establishing plausible mail tampering claims for his outgoing non-legal mail, Edwards' alleged facts make mail tampering an unlikely possibility. For example, Edwards' allegation that his November 1, 2007 letter to Michael Caruso never left the EMTC is based solely on the fact that Caruso never answered the letter. (Compl. ¶ 16). Caruso's failure to respond to Edwards' letter, of course, does not necessarily suggest that it was never sent by EMTC staff. Absent any allegations that Defendants opened the letter, withheld it from being sent, or otherwise took any adverse action to make it plausible that EMTC staff tampered with Edwards' outgoing mail, Edwards' claim is merely speculative. Similarly, Edwards' allegation in his September 8, 2008 grievance that a letter to a co-defendant was returned to him for insufficient postage despite having a postage stamp does not suggest mail tampering, but rather that Edwards had failed to affix sufficient postage. (Id. ¶ 70). In any event, an isolated failure to mail an inmate's letter does not state a constitutional violation. See, e.g., Battice v. Phillip, No. 04 Civ. 669 (FB) (LB), 2006 WL 2190565, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 2, 2006) (defendant's failure to deliver plaintiff's mail, even if intentional, is "simply de minimis and therefore outside the ambit of constitutional protection") (citation and quotation marks omitted). Finally, Edwards' claim regarding mail tampering in November 2008 is devoid of any facts that could state a cause of action. (Compl. ¶ 94).

As to Edwards' claims regarding interference with his incoming and outgoing legal mail, the Court notes that such interference "implicates a prison inmate's rights to access to the courts and free speech as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution." Davis, 320 F.3d at 351. To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege that correction officers "regularly and unjustifiably" interfered with his mail, depriving him of his constitutional rights. Shepherd v. Fisher, No. 08 Civ. 9297 (LTS) (RLE), 2011 WL 3278966, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 2011) (citations and quotation marks omitted). To assert such a claim, a prisoner must allege that the defendant's actions (1) were "deliberate and malicious" and (2) "resulted in actual injury" to the plaintiff. Cancel, 2001 WL 303713, at *4 (quoted in Davis, 320 F.3d at 351). Actual injury exists where interference with legal mail results in "the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious legal claim." Id. However, "[m]ere delay in being able to work on one's legal action or communicate with the courts does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation." Id. at 352 (citations and quotation marks omitted).

None of Edwards' claims of interference with his legal mail-both those related to incoming and outgoing mail-sufficiently states an actual injury. Edwards fails to allege that he suffered any injury in connection with DOC staff's alleged failure to send his outgoing legal mail on November 27, 2007, September 8, 2008, or November 18, 2008, assuming that Edwards' "legal mail" is in fact legal mail. (Compl. ¶¶ 27, 70, 94). For the same reason, Edwards' claim pertaining to incoming mail from the NDNY does not state a constitutional violation. This claim is based on Defendant Davis' alleged failure to adhere to Edwards' request to have his mail sent to a forwarding address. For support, Edwards appears to rely on language in Judge Scullin's order that the magistrate judge's report and recommendation was returned to the Court marked "unable to forward." (Compl. ¶ 47). The NDNY action, however, was not dismissed solely because certain documents were returned to the Court. Rather, the case was dismissed for Edwards' failure, for more than one year, to prosecute the action, which included his failure to keep the court and defendants apprised of his address, appear for a ...


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