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Derrick Hamilton v. Brian Fisher

February 29, 2012

DERRICK HAMILTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIAN FISHER, COMMISSIONER OF NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES;*FN1 JOSEPH T. SMITH, SUPERINTENDENT OF SHAWANGUNK CORR.; JOHN MALY, DEPUTY OF SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; KAY KNOTT, DEPUTY OF SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; DENNIS GIGLIO, CAPTAIN OF SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; G. GARDNER, LIEUTENANT OF SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; R.K. WOODS, SUPERINTENDENT OF SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.;*FN2 M. SHEAHAN, DEPUTY SUPT. OF SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.;*FN3 SEARGENT BRAND, UPSTATE CORR. FAC.; CURTIS DROWNS, COMMISSIONER HEARING OFFICER; NORMAN BEZIO, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL HOUSING; H. MOSS, SERGEANT SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; M. SIGNORELLA, CORR. OFFICER, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; D. FORBES, CORR. OFFICER, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; JOE WOLCZYK, COMMISSIONER HEARING OFFICER; NEIL HOCHMAN, PSYCHOLOGIST, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FAC.; SUSAN STRICKLAND, MENTAL HEALTH UNIT CHIEF AUBURN CORR. FAC.; OSMAN YILDIZ, SOCIAL WORKER, SULLIVAN CORR. FAC.; SUE ANN SMITH, UNIT CHIEF, SULLIVAN CORR. FAC.; DOCTOR MAHMUD, PSYCHIATRIST, SULLIVAN CORR. FAC.; DOREEN FABER, SOCIAL WORKER, AUBURN CORR. FAC.; CHRISTOPHER P. MAYER, UNIT CHIEF, AUBURN CORR. FAC. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT-RECOMMENDATION and ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Derrick Hamilton brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against twenty-two Defendants, alleging, inter alia, that they violated his due process rights

in three disciplinary hearings, violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, retaliated against him for filing grievances, and conspired against him. Dkt. No. 1, Compl. Defendants now move for dismissal of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkt. No. 47. Plaintiff opposes the Motion. Dkt. No. 49. For the reasons that follow, we recommend that Defendants' Motion be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are derived from Plaintiff's Complaint, which, in accordance with the standard of review on a motion to dismiss, must be taken as true. See infra Part II.A.

On or about November 30, 2007, while incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility ("Shawangunk"), Defendants Gardner, Giglio, Maly, and Smith sent two non-Defendant officers to Plaintiff's cell in order to confiscate all of Plaintiff's legal and personal documents. See Compl. at ¶ 35. One of the documents confiscated resulted in the dismissal of an unrelated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. Id.

On December 10, 2007, Defendant Giglio presided over a disciplinary hearing on the charges that Plaintiff took nude photos while at a family reunion site, and sentenced Plaintiff to forty-five days of "keeplock" segregation, including the loss of packages, phone, commissary, and programs such as congregate and religious services. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37. Plaintiff began serving the sentence on December 13, 2007. Id. at ¶ 37. In keeplock, Plaintiff was deprived of the "everyday social stimuli afforded [to] the general prison population," group recreation activities, and vocational, academic, and/or social programs. Id. at ¶ 38. On February 8, 2008, Defendant Bezio reversed Defendant Giglio's guilty disposition, but Plaintiff had served the entire penalty by then. Id.

On February 12, 2008, Plaintiff was issued a false misbehavior report charging him with drug use. Id. at ¶ 39a.*fn5 On February 29, 2008, Defendant Knott presided over the disciplinary hearing, found Plaintiff guilty, and sentenced him to eighteen months in the special housing unit ("SHU") with a corresponding loss of phone, packages, and commissary. Id. Plaintiff states that "[d]uring

the hearing[,] [D]efendant Knott violated [his] constitutional and regulatory rights and disregarded clear and convincing evidence that the urine tested was not [Plaintiff]'s." Id. On March 11, 2008, Defendant Bezio reversed Defendant Knott's decision and ordered a new hearing. Id. at ¶ 39b. However, Defendants Smith and Maly "refused to release Hamilton from the special housing unit pending the hearing." Id. On March 18, Defendant Drowns held the rehearing ordered by Defendant Bezio and found Plaintiff guilty, and, like Defendant Knott, imposed a sentence of eighteen months confinement in SHU and loss of phones, packages and commissary; Plaintiff was not in attendance at the hearing. Id. at ¶ 40.

It is unclear from Plaintiff's Complaint exactly what happened next, but from what this Court can discern, on May 22, 2008, Defendant Bezio again reversed this disposition. Id. at ¶ 41. At an unstated time, Defendant Smith "signed his signature to confirm that the hearings held on December [10], 2007,*fn6 February 29, 2008[,] and March 18, 2008[,] were conducted in accordance with constitutional and regulatory rights." Id. at ¶ 42.

Meanwhile, on May 1, 2008, Defendants Fischer and Bezio approved Defendant Smith's request to transfer Plaintiff to Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate"). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Smith's transfer request was in retaliation to the grievances Plaintiff made about Defendants Smith and Knott; specifically, that Defendant Smith was liable for the wrongful death of "Larry Davis," that Defendant Knott denied Plaintiff unspecified rights at the February 29, 2008 administrative hearing, and that Defendant Knott "deliberately destroy[ed] evidence to hide . . . due process violations captured on the audio tape." Id. at ¶ 59. While at Upstate, Plaintiff was deprived of headphones, lotion, television, daily access to the law library, family day events, and was subjected to loud banging and yelling from other inmates, among other things. See id. at ¶ 60. At some point, Defendants Woods, Sheahan, and Brand destroyed five bags of Plaintiff's personal property, which contained chiefly clothes, hygienic products, and approximately one thousand photographs. Id. at ¶ 61.

On June 3, 2008, Plaintiff was transferred back to the Shawangunk general population by Defendants Fischer and Bezio after reports of Plaintiff's misbehavior. Id. at ¶ 43. Plaintiff served an aggregate total of 135 days of "segregation time" on the incidents described above. Id. at ¶ 42. Plaintiff claims that he was returned to "atypical and significant hardships" when he reentered Shawangunk, and that Defendants Fischer and Bezio "failed to correct the policies, and practices, [of] [D]efendants Smith, Maly, Drowns, Knott, Gardner, Giglio, and all others named above who participated in the unconstitutional activity." Id. at ¶¶ 62-63.

On March 2, 2009, Plaintiff became an inmate liaison committee clerk. Id. at ¶ 44. On or about March 10, Defendant Gardner threatened Plaintiff to stop making complaints about the correctional facility staff or that Plaintiff would lose his liaison job and be placed in SHU. Id. at ¶ 45. Then on March 13, 2009, Defendant Gardner "placed Hamilton in the special housing unit under involuntary protective custody status[,] [i]n a cell without any desk, chair, lockers or humane conditions." Id. Defendant Drowns held an administrative hearing on March 19, affirming the involuntary protective custody placement. Id. at ¶ 46. Defendants Drowns and Gardner lied at the hearing when they claimed that "the Blood gang wanted to harm" Plaintiff; Plaintiff was also denied the opportunity to present documentary evidence. Id.

From March 13, 2009 until November 2, 2009, Plaintiff was kept in SHU under involuntary protective custody status, while he "complained constantly" to Defendants Fischer, Smith, Maly, Giglio, Knott, and Hochman that this placement was causing "sever[e] depression[,] [e]specially since [D]efendants . . . continually informed Hamilton that his life was[] in jeopardy[,] [c]ausing Hamilton to become paranoid, unable to sleep and delusional[.]" Id. at ¶ 48. Defendant Maly "conducted sham reviews of Hamilton's involuntary protective custody placement [without] meaningful effort . . . to return Hamilton to the general population or transfer Hamilton." Id. at ¶ 47. Additionally, Defendants "Fischer, Smith, Maly, Giglio, Knott, Hochman, Bezio, and others" refused to provide Plaintiff with "mental health treatment or transfer him out of the conditions that caused the depression[,] [but rather] continued the sham mental health interviews." Id. at ¶ 49.

On November 2, 2009, Plaintiff told Defendant Moss that he wanted to be removed from SHU and be placed in a "one on one strip cell," and that Plaintiff had medication in his possession he "was thinking of taking unless he was removed." Id. at ¶ 50. Defendant Moss did not immediately move Plaintiff, and Plaintiff "swallowed a handful of pills [in an] attempt[] to commit suicide." Id. He was taken to Cornwall St. Luke's Hospital and treated. Id. at ¶ 51. While at St. Luke's, Defendants Signorella and Forbes repeatedly punched Plaintiff in the ribs, stomach, and chest while he was shackled in the bed, causing him "tremendous[]" pain; they also threatened to

kill him. Id. at ¶ 52. Because Plaintiff refused to leave the hospital, Defendants Signorella and Forbes falsified a report stating that Plaintiff caused a disturbance. Id.

Plaintiff was transferred to the mental health unit at the Sullivan Correctional Facility where he remained until November 13, 2009. Id. at ¶ 51. There, Plaintiff saw Defendants Osman Yildiz, a mental health clinician, and Doctor Mahmud, to whom Plaintiff explained that he would attempt suicide again if returned to Shawangunk's SHU. Id. at ¶ 53. These Defendants were "informed by security at [S]hawangunk that Hamilton only took the pills as a ploy to be removed from special housing[,]" but Plaintiff told them that "he took the pills because [D]efendants Moss, Hochman, Fischer, Bezio, and others did not take his depression seriously." Id. at ¶ 54. Plaintiff was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, but despite the diagnosis, Defendants Yildiz and Mahmud tried to persuade Plaintiff to return to Shawangunk. Id. at ¶ 55.

Plaintiff claims that on or about November 5, 2009, Defendents Yildiz, Mahmud, and Sue Ann Smith conspired with Defendants Moss when they stated that Plaintiff was "attempting to manipulate the mental health unit to be removed from involuntary protective custody." Defendant Moss also wrote a false misbehavior report charging Plaintiff with faking a suicide attempt in order to be removed from Shawangunk's SHU. Id. at ¶¶ 56-58.

On November 13, 2009, Defendants Fischer and Bezio transferred Plaintiff to Auburn Correctional Facility ("Auburn") and assigned him to the SHU. On November 14, 2009, Plaintiff was issued two misbehavior reports, which Plaintiff attests were issued "in retaliation for the November 2, 2009, mental anxiety and depression Hamilton suffered while at Shawangunk." Id. at ¶ 64. Defendant Wolczyk presided over Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing, and on December 10, 2009, found Plaintiff guilty and assigned him twelve months confinement in SHU, loss of phones, commissary, packages, and good time credits; at this hearing, Plaintiff was "deprived from calling relevant witnesses or [from] produc[ing] documentary evidence (mental health records)." Id. at ¶ 66.

Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Fischer has refused to let Plaintiff practice Judaism or provide Plaintiff with a kosher diet, and that Defendants Fischer, Strickland, Faber, and Mayer deprived Plaintiff from seeing a psychiatrist, a therapeutic counselor, or receive any mental health treatment. Id. at ¶¶ 72-75. Instead, these Defendants "filed false documents to make it seem as if Hamilton was being screened by staff [] and was found to be in good mental health." Id. at ¶ 75.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

On a motion to dismiss, the allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). The trial court's function "is merely to assess the legal feasability of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof." Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 1980). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984)).

"Generally, in determining a 12(b)(6) motion, the court may only consider those matters alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint, and matters to which the court may take judicial notice." Spence v. Senkowski, 1997 WL 394667, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. July 3, 1997) (citing Kramer v. Time Warner Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 773 (2d Cir. 1991)). Moreover, "even if not attached or incorporated by reference, a document 'upon which [the complaint] solely relies and which is integral to the complaint' may be considered by the court in ruling on such a motion." Roth v. Jennings, 489 F.3d 499, 509 (2d Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original) (quoting Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991)).

The court is bound to give the plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the "well-pleaded" allegations of the complaint. See Retail Clerks Intern. Ass'n, Local 1625, AFL-CIO v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 754 n. 6 (1963); see also Arar v. Ashcroft, 532 F.3d 157, 168 (2d Cir. 2008). Nevertheless, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Therefore, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citation omitted).

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) may not be granted so long as the plaintiff's complaint includes "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. at 1960 (citing Twombly).*fn7 "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This plausibility standard "is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Thus, in spite of the deference the court is bound to give to the plaintiff's allegations, it is not proper for the court to assume that "the [plaintiff] can prove facts [which he or she] has not alleged, or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged." Assoc. Gen. Contractors of California, Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). The process of determining whether a plaintiff has "nudged [his] claims . . . across the line from conceivable to plausible," entails a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. at 1950-51.

B. Plaintiff's Claims

In his often-conclusory and always-confusing Complaint, Plaintiff makes a variety of allegations against the myriad Defendants in this action. This Court will address those claims seriatim.

1. Eighth Amendment

Reading his Complaint liberally, Plaintiff states three distinct Eighth Amendment claims: deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, excessive force, and inhumane conditions of confinement.

i. Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Need

To state an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of adequate medical care, a prisoner must demonstrate that prison officials acted with "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). "[T]he plaintiff must allege conduct that is 'repugnant to the conscience of mankind' or 'incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.'" Ross v. Kelly, 784 F. Supp. 35, 44 (W.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 970 F.2d 896 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 102, 105-06).

The "deliberate indifference standard embodies both an objective and a subjective prong," both of which the plaintiff must establish. Hathaway v. Coughlin ("Hathaway I"), 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994). Under the objective prong, the alleged medical need must be "sufficiently serious." Id.; Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998). The Second Circuit has stated that a medical need is serious if it presents "a condition of urgency that may result in degeneration or extreme pain." Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d at 702 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Among the relevant factors to consider are "[t]he existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individuals daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain." Id. (quoting McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059-60 (9th Cir. 1992)). Under the subjective component, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant acted with "a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Hathaway I, 37 F.3d at 66. The requisite culpable mental state is similar to that of criminal recklessness. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 301-03 (1991).

Plaintiff claims that he suffers from mental health ailments, particularly, adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. See Compl. at ¶ 55. According to his Complaint, the "involuntary protective custody status caused him overt depression," and this, in turn, either manifested itself "to the extent of being suicidal," or "he took the pills because Defendants Moss, Hochman, Fischer, Bezio, and others did not take his depression seriously." Id. at ¶¶ 53-54. Regardless of whether the Plaintiff states a "serious medical condition," he fails to allege that the Defendants objectively deprived him of adequate medical care such that they would be constitutionally liable. See Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 280 (2d Cir. 2006); see also Mercado v. City of New York, 2011 WL 6057839, at *5 n.6 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 5, 2011) ("Regardless whether he was suicidal, that condition is not dispositive of the seriousness inquiry: 'although we sometimes speak of a serious medical condition as the basis for an Eighth Amendment claim, such a condition is only one factor in determining whether a deprivation of adequate medical care . . . establish[es] constitutional liability.'") (quoting Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 280).

Plaintiff alleges that after he "swallowed a handful of pills," he was taken to St. Luke's Hospital and treated for the overdose, and then transferred to the mental health unit at Sullivan Correctional Facility, where he stayed for eleven days. Compl. at ¶¶ 50-51. His only complaint about the medical care he received was that the medical personnel, Defendants Sue Ann Smith, Yildiz, and Mahmud, believed "Hamilton was attempting to manipulate the mental health unit to be removed from involuntary protective custody." Id. at ¶ 56. Thus, Plaintiff does not allege any facts by which this Court could find that Defendants denied him adequate medical care.

Further, Plaintiff does not allege that the Defendants acted with the requisite culpable state of mind for a finding of deliberate indifference. Plaintiff states that he "informed [D]efendant Moss that he wanted to be removed from [SHU] and placed in a one on one strip cell. As he (Hamilton) had in his possession medication he was thinking of taking unless he was removed. Defendant Moss

refused to move Hamilton from the cell in an expedient manner and Hamilton swallowed a handful of pills and attempted to commit suicide." Id. at ¶ 50. Plaintiff was then transported to Auburn, issued a misbehavior report by Defendant Moss for faking a suicide attempt, and subsequently removed from the mental health treatment program by Defendants Strickland, Fischer, Faber, and Mayer. Id. at ¶¶ 58 & 72-75.

A plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant acted with reckless disregard to a known substantial risk of harm. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 836-37 (1994). This requires "something more than mere negligence . . . [but] something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result." Id. at 835; see also Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 856 (2d Cir.1996) (citing Farmer). "[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be ...


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