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Shawn Green v. Central Office Review Committee

April 9, 2012


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


I. Introduction

Pro se plaintiff Shawn Green ("Green" or "Plaintff"), an inmate at Southport Correctional Facility ("Southport" or "the Facility") instituted the above-captioned civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants are individuals or entities employed by or associated with New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("NYSDOCCS"). Discovery has been completed, and Defendants have filed two Motions to Dismiss (Dkt. ##76 & 78). For the reasons set forth below, the Motions to Dismiss are granted, and Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Dkt. #53) is dismissed with prejudice.

II. Background

Plaintiff groups his claims into the following categories: "Discrimination"; "Retaliation"; "Conspiracy"; "First Amendment"; and "Eighth Amendment". The supporting allegations, which do not lend themselves to recitation in a narrative or chronological fashion, are set forth below in the sections discussing the individual claims.

III. General Legal Principles

A. Standards of Review Applicable With Regard to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and 12(c) Motions to Dismiss

Dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim is improper "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); accord, e.g., Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 184 (2d Cir. 2002). "The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion [for judgment on the pleadings]. . . is identical to that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F .3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

When considering a motion to dismiss, "a court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant." Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994). However, this "tenet . . . is inapplicable to legal conclusions[; thus, t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (holding that "entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . . [as] courts are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.")).

Accordingly, to defeat a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's allegations must have a "facial plausibility . . . that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (explaining that the plausibility test "does not impose a probability requirement . . . it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].")); see also Arar v. Ashcroft, 585 F.3d 559, 569 (2d Cir. 2009) (holding that, "[o]n a motion to dismiss, courts require enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible . . . .") (citations omitted). Determining whether plausibility exists is "a content specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950-51.

When, as here, judgment is sought against a pro se litigant, the court must afford the non-movant special solicitude. See Triestman v. Federal Bur. of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2006). A pro se litigant's submissions must be construed liberally, reading his submissions to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. Id. At the same time, the Court has no responsibility to read into pro se submissions claims that are not consistent with the litigant's allegations, to imply arguments that the submissions themselves do not suggest, or to "excuse frivolous or vexatious filings." Id. A party's pro se status "does not exempt [him] . . . from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law. . . ." Id. (citations and footnote omitted).

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

It is well settled that in order to state a cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant engaged in conduct under color of state law that deprives him of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. E.g., Katz v. Klehammer, 902 F.2d 204, 206 (2d Cir. 1987). To that end, a plaintiff's complaint "must contain specific allegations of fact which indicate a deprivation of Constitutional rights; allegations which are nothing more than broad, simple and conclusory statements are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983." Alfaro Motors, Inc. v. Ward, 814 F.2d 883, 887 (2d Cir. 1987). The § 1983 plaintiff must adequately demonstrate "personal involvement of defendants in alleged Constitutional deprivations," which "is a prerequisite to an award of damages under [that section].'" Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994)).

C. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. CONST., amend. XI. Notwithstanding the text of the Eleventh Amendment, the Supreme Court has declared a general principle of state immunity from private suit in federal court-whether by "Citizens of another State," "Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State," or a state's own citizens-unless the state has consented to suit or Congress has explicitly and constitutionally abrogated the state's immunity. See, e.g., Lapides v. Board of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, ___, 122 S. Ct. 1640, 1643, 152 L.Ed.2d 806 (2002); McGinty v. New York, 251 F.3d 84, 90--91 (2d Cir. 2001). "An official arm of the state," such as NYSDOCCS, "enjoys the same Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court as is enjoyed by the state itself." Posr v. Court Officer Shield No. 207, 180 F.3d 409, 414 (2d Cir. 1999).

IV. Analysis

A. The "Discrimination" Claims

In this section, see Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl."), ¶¶6-12 (Dkt. #53), Plaintiff complains that Special Housing Unit ("SHU") inmates arriving at Southport are being "denied personal cosmetics upon the issuance of property that are permitted to SHU inmates" and do not have a variety of soaps and deodorants from which to choose. Id., ¶7. He asserts that diabetic inmates, such as himself, are not being "served foods healthy, beneficial and recommended by American Diabetes Association". Id., ¶8. Plaintiff asserts that he suffers from "Pseudofolliculitis barbae" which necessitates the issuance of a clipper rather than a razor, and that Southport officials discriminated against him by not providing him one. Id., ¶9. He contends that SHU inmates at Southport are not provided with raincoats and galoshes during inclement weather, while SHU inmates at other facilities are provided with such supplies. Id., ¶10. He also states that the law library administrator at Southport "would not propose/implement provisions to law-library coordinator that will permit" eligible SHU inmates "some form of special access to the library. . . ." Id., ¶11. Finally, Plaintiff complains that Southport discriminates against SHU inmates by precluding them "from mailing or sending out publications with visitors, which is not standard protocol at other facilities. . . ." Id., ¶12.

Plaintiff alleges that all of the Defendants are liable in their "individual and/official capacities". Id., ¶¶4-5. The relief he seeks is as follows: "injunctive relief and compensatory damages in the amount of [$]5,000.00 from each Defendant mentioned and involved in claims as well as [$]10,000.00 each from Defendants D. Sullivan, McGinnis, D. Napoli, T.G. Eagen, K. Bellamy, CORC, Jane/John Does regarding every violation separately." Id., ¶16.

Defendants counter by asserting that "[o]fficial capacity lawsuits against employees of New York State are barred under the Eleventh Amendment." Defendants' Memorandum of Law("Defts. Mem.") at 3 (Dkt. #76-2).

1. Claims for Compensatory or Punitive Damages Against Defendants in their Official Capacities

Green cannot maintain any constitutional claims under 42 U.S. ยง 1983 for compensatory or punitive damages--i.e., damages that are retrospective in natures--against any of the named defendants in their official capacities. E.g., Posr, 180 F.3d at 414 ("The Eleventh Amendment also bars Posr's claims against the various named defendants in their official capacities as state officers. The Eleventh Amendment does not, ...

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