UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
March 7, 2012
DEREK WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
A. ROBERTS, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT OF ADMIN., WASHINGTON C.F.; J. JOHNSON, CORR. OFFICER; WASHINGTON C.F.; M YAW, CORR. OFFICER, WASHINGTON C.F. A/K/A M. YAHW; LT. EDWARDS, WASHINGTON C.F.; AND YAKI, IMAN, WASHINGTON C.F., 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 pro se prisonercivil rights action filed by Derek Williams ("Plaintiff") against the above-named Defendants ("Defendants"), are the following: Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); United States Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece's Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motion be granted, and Plaintiff's Objections to Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 18, 19.) For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety; Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted; and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Plaintiff's Complaint
On January 8, 2011, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this action. (Dkt. No. 1.)*fn1
Generally, construed with the utmost of liberality, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts the following six claims: (1) Defendants Johnson and Yaw wrongfully enforced the prison's count procedures so as to interfere with Plaintiff's engaging in Islamic prayer in his cell on or before October 23, 2007, and November 6, 2007, in violation of the First Amendment; (2) Defendants Johnson and Yaw filed false misbehavior reports against Plaintiff on October 23, 2007, and November 6, 2007, in retaliation against him for filing a grievance on October 22, 2007, regarding the first above-described interference, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) Defendant Roberts wrongfully affirmed Defendant Edwards' wrongful disciplinary hearing conviction of Plaintiff with regard to the first above-described false misbehavior report, on October 31, 2007, causing Plaintiff to experience three days of pre-hearing confinement and 30 days of confinement under Keeplock Status, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; (4) Defendant Edwards denied Plaintiff his due process rights during each of his two disciplinary hearings on October 25, 2007, and November 14, 2007, causing Plaintiff to experience (a) three days of pre-hearing confinement and 30 days of confinement under Keeplock Status (resulting from the first disciplinary hearing), and (b) eight days of confinement under Keeplock Status (resulting from the second disciplinary hearing), in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; (5) Defendant Yaki wrongfully advised Defendant Roberts and the Washington C.F. Superintendent, at some point between October 25, 2007, and November 15, 2007, that Plaintiff was not obligated to pray during count times, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"); and (6) all of the other Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under RLUIPA as well, through their above-described acts. (Id. at ¶¶ 4, 6, 7 & Exhibits.)
For a more detailed recitation of Plaintiff's claims and supporting factual allegations, the Court refers the reader to the Complaint in its entirety and to Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation, which accurately summarizes those factual allegations. (Dkt. Nos. 1, 18.)
B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
On June 21, 2011, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (Dkt. No. 11.) Generally, on support of their motion, Defendants assert the following three arguments: (1) Plaintiff's due process claims are barred by the three-year statute of limitations governing such claims; (2) Plaintiff's monetary claims under RLIUPA are barred by the Eleventh Amendment given the capacity in which Defendants were allegedly acting during the times in question, and his injunctive claims under RLUIPA are moot given his release from prison; (3) based on the factual allegations of Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendants are protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity with respect to Plaintiff's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims. (Dkt. No. 11, Attach. 1, at 4-10.)
C. Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation
On December 15, 2011, Magistrate Judge Treece issued a Report-Recommendation recommending Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed for the following reasons: (1) Plaintiff's due process claims under the Fourteenth Amendment are barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations; (2) Plaintiff's monetary claims under RLUIPA are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and his injunctive claims under RLUIPA are moot, given that he was released on parole in November 2011; (3) in the alternative, based on the factual allegations of Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendants are protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity with respect to Plaintiff's claims under the First Amendment; and (4) Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting a claim under either the Eighth or Eleventh Amendments. (Dkt. No. 18, at Part II.B.)
D. Plaintiff's Objection to the Report-Recommendation
The last paragraph of Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation specifically advised Plaintiff of the deadline for filing written objections to the Report-Recommendation, and the consequences of failing to do so. (Dkt. No. 18, at 17.) Moreover, page 31 of the District's Pro Se Handbook and Local Rule 72.1(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court (copies of which was available to Plaintiff at his prison law library during the time in question) repeated this information.
Nonetheless, Plaintiff elected not to file an Objection to the Report-Recommendation. Instead, on January 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed a documented addressed to the Second Circuit and entitled "Notice of Motion for Appeal." (Dkt. No. 19.) Because this document contains challenges to the Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation, the Court will liberally construe it as effectively constituting an Objection to that Report-Recommendation.*fn2
Liberally construed, Plaintiff's Objection presents the following three arguments: (1) Plaintiff has stated viable First and Eighth Amendment claims; (2) Plaintiff's due process claims and RLUIPA claims are not time-barred; and (3) qualified immunity does not apply to employees of a governmental agency when the issue involves basic constitutional rights. (Dkt. No. 19.)
II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Standard of Review Governing a Report-Recommendation
When a specific objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to a de novo review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). To be "specific," the objection must, with particularity, "identify  the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations, or report to which it has an objection and  the basis for the objection." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 72.1(c).*fn3 When performing such a de novo review,
"[t]he judge may . . . receive further evidence. . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, a district court will ordinarily refuse to consider evidentiary material that could have been, but was not, presented to the magistrate judge in the first instance.*fn4
When only a general objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2),(3); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition.*fn5 Similarly, when an objection merely reiterates the same arguments made by the objecting party in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation challenged by those arguments to only a clear error review.*fn6 Finally, when no objection is made to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition. When performing such a "clear error" review, "the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Id.*fn7
After conducting the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
B. Legal Standard Governing a Motion to Dismiss
Magistrate Judge Treece correctly recited the legal standard governing motions to dismiss in his Report-Recommendation and Order. (Dkt. No. 18, at Part II.A.) As a result, these standards are incorporated by reference in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties.
The Court would add only that, given that Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis in this prisoner civil rights action, both Magistrate Judge Treece and the undersigned possess the authority, and indeed the duty, to address the pleading sufficiency of those portions of his Complaint not specifically challenged by Defendants. This is because Section 1915(e)(2)(B) directs that, when a plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, "(2) . . . the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that--. . . (B) the action . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Similarly, Section 1915A(b) directs that a court must review any "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity" and must "identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint . . . is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or . . . seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief."
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) (stating that both Sections 1915 and 1915A are available to evaluate prisoner pro se complaints).
Even when construed with the utmost of special liberality, Plaintiff's Objection to Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation raises the same arguments as did his opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Compare Dkt. No. 17, at 4-7 with Dkt. No. 19, at 4-7.) As explained above in Part II.A. of this Decision and Order, when an objection merely reiterates the same arguments made by the objecting party in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation challenged by those arguments to only a clear error review.
After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation, the Court concludes that the Report-Recommendation is thorough, well-reasoned and correct. Magistrate Judge Treece employed the proper legal standards, accurately recited the facts, and reasonably applied the law to those facts. As a result, the Court adopts the Report-Recommendation for the reasons stated therein.
The Court would add only the following six points. First, Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation would survive even a de novo review.
Second, Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claims are dismissed on the alternative ground that, even when construed with the utmost special liberality, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege facts plausibly suggesting 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 Defendants Johnson and Yaw's decisions to file misbehavior reports against 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]). It is important to note that 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) [citations omitted]. Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant Johnson even knew about his grievance of October 22, 2007, when he filed his misbehavior report of October 23, 2007, much less that Defendant Johnson would not have issued the report anyway. The same is true with respect to Defendant Yaw who was not even the subject of Plaintiff's grievance. (Dkt. No. 1, at 15.)
Third, Plaintiff's due process claims regarding the issuance of false misbehavior reports against him are dismissed on the alternative ground that "a prison inmate has no general constitutional right to be free from being falsely accused in a misbehavior report." Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 862 (2d Cir. 1997) (citing Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 [2d Cir. 1986]); accord, Pittman v. Forte, 01-CV-0100, 2002 WL 31309183, *5 (N.D.N.Y. July 11, 2002) (Sharpe, M.J.); cf. Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 324 (2d Cir. 1986) ("The filing of a false report does not, of itself, implicate the guard who filed it in constitutional violations which occur at a subsequent disciplinary hearing.").
Fourth, Plaintiff's due process claims regarding his disciplinary hearings are dismissed on the alternative ground that, even when construed with the utmost special liberality, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege facts plausibly suggesting that, with regard to his two disciplinary hearings, he enjoyed a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. This is because the Complaint fails to allege facts plausibly suggesting that, following those hearings, he was subjected to a "freedom from restraint which . . . imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 483-484 (1995).*fn8 Even if it had allege such facts, it does not allege facts plausibly suggesting what due process right(s) Plaintiff was denied at those disciplinary hearings. Wolf v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-570 (1974) (describing the fundamental due process rights inmates must be accorded in disciplinary hearings).
Fifth, Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief are dismissed on the alternative ground that he has pled facts that can only be liberally construed as plausibly suggesting that those claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, given that he alleges that, on approximately September 30, 2008, he incurred the dismissal of an unsuccessful Article 78 proceeding that he had filed in New York State Court against the same defendants as in this action, arising from the same events as in this action: Williams v. Roberts, Index No. 2520-08 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Albany Cnty.) (Donohue, J.). (Dkt. No. 1, at 2-4, 8.)*fn9
Sixth and finally, under the circumstances, no leave to amend need be granted to Plaintiff because the numerous defects in his claims are substantive rather than merely formal, such that any amendment would be futile.*fn10
ACCORDINGLY, it is
ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 18) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED in its entirety.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendants and close this case.
The Court certifies, for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that any appeal taken from this Decision and Order would not be taken in good faith.