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Guy Mceachin v. Leonard Bek

April 2, 2012

GUY MCEACHIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEONARD BEK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Pro se plaintiff Guy McEachin ("McEachin" or "Plaintiff"), an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility ("Attica" or "the Facility") instituted the instant proceeding pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently pending before the Court are Defendants' motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (Dkt. ##55 & 91) on behalf of the parties who have been served in this action: Leonard Bek ("Bek"), Family Reunion Program Coordinator at Attica; Sandra Dolce ("Dolce"), the Deputy Superintendent of Programs at Attica; John Roach ("Roach"), Senior Corrections Counselor and Chairperson of the Program Committee at Attica; Mark J. Leonard ("Leonard"), Director of the Ministerial, Family & Volunteer Services for the New York State Department of Correctional Services and Community Supervision ("NYSDOCCS"); John Whiteford ("Whiteford"), a Corrections Counselor at Attica; James Conway ("Conway"), Superintendent of Attica; Randy James ("James"), Deputy Superintendent of Security at Attica; Vance Hawley ("Hawley"), Darlene Buckley ("Buckley"), and Jennifer Boyce ("Boyce"), all Registered Nurses at Attica; Lisa Trapasso ("Trapasso"), a Mental Health Therapist who oversees clinical health services in Attica's Special Housing Unit ("SHU"); and Tom Edwards ("Edwards"), a Physician's Assistant at Attica.

For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. ##55 & 91) are granted, and the Amended Complaint (Dkt. #34) is dismissed in its entirety.

II. Factual Background

Plaintiff's supporting allegations cover numerous, disparate topics. To avoid unnecessary repetition, the facts pertinent to the alleged constitutional violations will be set forth below in the sections addressing Plaintiff's specific claims.

III. General Legal Principles

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court must assess whether there are any material factual issues to be tried, while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248--49 (1986). A material fact is genuinely in dispute "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Although "pro se litigants are afforded some latitude in meeting the rules governing litigation[.]" Moates v. Barkley, 147 F.3d 207, 209 (2d Cir. 1998), (citations omitted), they, like all litigants, must establish more than a mere "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts[,]" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment.

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege (1) that the challenged conduct was attributable at least in part to a person acting under color of state law, and (2) that such conduct deprived plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. E.g., Dwares v. City of N.Y., 985 F.2d 94, 98 (2d Cir. 1993). The § 1983 plaintiff must adequately demonstrate "personal involvement of defendants in alleged Constitutional deprivations." Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995). Personal involvement "is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.'" Id. (quoting Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 994)).

IV. Plaintiff's Claims

A. Denial of Plaintiff's Family Reunion Program Application (Retaliation)

Plaintiff's due process claims pertaining to the denial of his application to the Family Reunion Program ("FRP") have already been dismissed. See Dkt. #7 at 4-5. The Court (Skretny, D.J.) stated, however, that McEachin might state a cause of action based upon denial of entry into the program to the extent that Defendants' decision was motivated by a retaliatory animus. Id. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims in his amended complaint alleging retaliatory treatment in connection with the denial of the FRP application must be addressed.

1. Background

On November 7, 2005, McEachin submitted an application to the FRP. Recommendations were sought from various entities including the Guidance Counselor; security personnel; the Family Services Counselor; the Superintendent of Attica, and the Central Office. Plaintiff's guidance counselor did not recommend approval because Plaintiff had not completed anti-aggression group therapy and had refused to participate in an Alcohol Substance Abuse Treatment program on October 28, 2005. Attica's security personnel did not recommend approval based upon McEachin's involvement in a disciplinary incident on November 9, 2005. The Family Services Counselor did not recommend approval based upon McEachin's documented disciplinary history and noted that he needed to complete an anti-aggression and substance abuse treatment program. Both the Superintendent of Attica and the Acting Deputy Superintendent of Programs also recommended denial of the application. On or about January 18, 2006, the Central Office in Albany, New York denied the application. Plaintiff was notified on January 27, 2006, that his application had been disapproved and that he could reapply.

On January 30, 2006, McEachin reapplied for the FRP. On February 3, 2006, Plaintiff was notified that applicants must demonstrate satisfactory behavior throughout the duration of application process. Because he had received keep-lock during the application process, he had not maintained satisfactory behavior, and thus his second FRP application was denied in March 2006.

On September 27, 2006, Leonard notified Plaintiff that he had completed his review of Plaintiff's appeal of the denial of his application to participate in the FRP. Leonard explained that he was not inclined to render a favorable decision, in light of the eight-week sanction in effect due to the period of keep-lock McEachin had received.

2. Analysis

"[A] claim for relief may be stated under section 1983 if otherwise routine administrative decisions are made in retaliation for the exercise of constitutionally protected rights." Gill v. Mooney, 824 F.2d 192, 194 (2d Cir. 1987) (citing Purcell v. Coughlin, 790 F.2d 263, 265 (2d Cir. 1986) (per curiam)). "Prisoners, like non-prisoners, have a constitutional right of access to the courts and to petition the government for the redress of grievances, and prison officials may not retaliate against prisoners for the exercise of that right." Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Franco v. Kelly, 854 F.2d 584, 589 (2d Cir. 1988)).

The plaintiff "bears the burden of showing that the conduct at issue was constitutionally protected and that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating fact in the prison officials' decision to discipline plaintiff." Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Mount Healthy Sch. Dist. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977)). The plaintiff must establish that, but for his exercise of a protected right, the alleged wrongful action would not have been taken. Haymes v. Montanye, 547 F.2d 188, 191 (2d Cir. 1976).

With regard to the denial of his first FRP request, it appears that McEachin filed two grievances shortly before he submitted the application--one on September 22, 2005, regarding the Facility's refusal to allow McEachin's son to visit; and one on October 26, 2005, for being denied recreation time. The Second Circuit has held "that such temporal proximity between an inmate's lawsuit and disciplinary action may serve as circumstantial evidence of retaliation." Colon, 58 F.3d at 872 (citing, inter alia, Flaherty v. Coughlin, 713 F.2d 10, 13 (2d Cir. 1983)). Here, however, Defendants have come forward with evidence showing that they would have denied McEachin's FRP applications even if he had not filed grievances. See Graham, 89 F.3d at 79 ("[I]f taken for both proper and improper reasons, state action may be upheld if the action would have been taken based on the proper reasons alone.") (citing Lowrance v. Achtyl, 20 F.3d 529, 535 (2d Cir. 1994)).

As noted above, McEachin had failed to participate in required ASAT programming, which was sufficient reason to deny him entry to FRP. Although Plaintiff contends that the Defendants have falsely accused him of refusing to participate in the ASAT program, he failed to substantiate this allegation during discovery.

With regard to the second FRP application, there is no evidence that Defendants had a retaliatory motive. Even if the decision was partially motivated by improper reasons, which the Court does not find to be the case, Defendants would have made the same decision based on a proper reason alone--that McEachin had been sentenced to periods of keep-lock during the application-processing period.

B. Plaintiff's Other Claims of Retaliatory Treatment

1. Background

Besides denying his FRP application, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants retaliated against him for filing administrative grievances in other ways. Essentially, his position is that after he files a grievance, something happens that he believes is negative and is an act of retaliation that is related to the filing of the grievance. See Deposition of Guy McEachin ("McEachin Dep.") at p. 25, lns 17-23 (Question: "You're basically saying that after you file grievances, something odd happens. . .something that you think is related to the grievance, the filing of the grievance. Answer: Right."), attached as Exhibit ("Ex.") A to the Declaration of David J. State, Esq. ("State Decl."). He identified two incidents of alleged retaliation. The first is that medical staff ordered that his medication be "crushed for no reason." Id. at p. 31, lns 21-24. He claimed, "It was usually given to me whole, and then after I came out of the observation room it started being crushed." Id. at p. 32, lns 13-16.

The second instance involved his wife allegedly being "harassed" when going through the metal detector three weeks after he had received a felonious ticket for an incident in the visiting room. McEachin Dep. at p. 29, lns 13-25. Plaintiff states that as his wife entered the facility, she went through the metal detector and the metal detector sounded repeatedly. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to pass through, she was provided a robe and then was able to clear the metal detector. Id. at p. 30, lns 1-25. She entered the facility and visited Plaintiff without further incident. Id.

As discussed further below, the proffered incidents of alleged retaliation are entirely de minimis, and evidence of a causal connection between the retaliatory treatment and the protected speech is completely lacking.

2. Analysis

Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the pill-crushing, and the matter was investigated. See Bates #0087-0091, attached to State Decl. The investigation revealed that the Plaintiff's medication dosage had been changed on October 5, 2006. There was an entry on his medical records dated November 7, 2006, from his physician indicating that McEachin's medication should be crushed before it was administered to him. Bates #0089, ...


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