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Nathaniel Green v. G. Niles

March 23, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul A. Engelmayer, District Judge:


Defendants Superintendent Gene Niles, Joanne Comeau, and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision move to dismiss the second amended complaint (the "Complaint") of pro se plaintiff Nathaniel Green ("Green"), which seeks $2 million in damages for claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of the alleged mishandling of his prison mail as retaliation for a complaint he had made about mail handling. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted and Green's Complaint is dismissed.


Green is an inmate at Otisville Correctional Facility. His Complaint describes an episode in which defendant Comeau, a mailroom clerk at Otisville during the period at issue, allegedly mishandled two related pieces of his mail.*fn2

As background, Green alleges that he had filed a grievance against Comeau on October 22, 2010, complaining of delay in sending his mail. Thereafter, on October 31, 2010, Green submitted a disbursement form for $100, to be deducted from his inmate account and sent to Green's home. A check was issued by non-party Ms. House,*fn3 an employee at Otisville's business office, to be mailed to an address supplied by Green. However, on or about November 7, 2010, Green spoke with the intended recipient of the check and learned that the check had not been received. On November 8, 2010, Green attempted to resolve this issue with an inmate counselor, and visited the inmate grievance office in an attempt to get answers. After a grievance officer spoke informally with House and Comeau, Green completed a written "stop payment" form to cancel the $100 check, and submitted a new disbursement form, this time for a $150 check, to be sent to the intended recipient of the first check.

On November 12, 2010, the $150 was deducted from Green's inmate account, along with $5.10 to cover mailing and processing fees. Some two weeks thereafter, having not received confirmation of receipt of the $150 check, Green again visited the grievance office to inquire. Green learned that the "stop payment" order had not been processed as to the original $100 check, and that the $150 check had not yet been mailed. Green then requested that the $150 check be forwarded immediately to its intended recipient. Two weeks later, however, he spoke to the addressee, who had still not received either check.*fn4

Green continued to inquire as to what had become of his mail. From a grievance officer who inquired on his behalf, Green learned that Comeau had, allegedly, admitted that she had mistakenly misplaced the $150 check; Green does not state whether that check was ever mailed or received. In fact, Green alleges, Comeau's "mistake" was a deliberate attempt to sabotage his mail, in retaliation for his earlier complaint against her.

Green alleges that the delay in sending out his checks has damaged relations between himself and his children, the checks' intended recipients. The resulting distress, Green claims, has left him unable to sleep or function normally.

Green asserts that the mishandling of his mail violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and was cruel and unusual punishment, and thus violates his Eighth Amendment rights. He also claims violations of unspecified rights under the Ninth Amendment. For these constitutional violations, Green claims $1 million damages. Green alleges that the mishandling of his mail evinces a degree of incompetence and malice such that he is entitled to punitive damages against Comeau.*fn5

Courts in this Circuit have an obligation to construe pro se complaints to raise "the strongest arguments they suggest." See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474-- 75 (2d Cir. 2006). Here, Green's Complaint clearly denotes an intent to sue under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Complaint, liberally construed, raises claims that: (1) Green was retaliated against by defendant Comeau for complaining about the handling of his mail; (2) Green was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; and (3) Green was deprived of property without due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment, insofar as checks were drawn from his inmate account and then allegedly mishandled.*fn6

On November 29, 2011, defendants moved to dismiss. They argue that: (1) Green has not plausibly pled any constitutional violation, because the conduct complained of does not implicate Green's constitutional rights; (2) Green has not plausibly alleged a claim of retaliation against defendant Comeau; (3) Green has not plausibly alleged the personal involvement of defendant Niles; (4) defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (5) to the extent the state official defendants are sued in their official capacities, such claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; and (6) Green did not exhaust his administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act before filing suit.

On or about February 10, 2012, Green submitted an opposition to defendants' motion. On March 2, 2012, defendants submitted a reply.


A.Applicable Legal Standards -- Rule 12(b)(6) ...

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