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Peoples v. Fischer

May 3, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S.D.J.



Leroy Peoples, proceeding pro se, brings this action against, inter alia: Brian Fischer, Commisioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"); Lucien J. Leclaire Jr., Deputy Commissioner of DOCS; Office of Counsel for DOCS; William Lee, Superintendent of the Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven"); Richard Ward, a Green Haven Lieutenant; Sergeant K. O'Connor; Green Haven Correction Officers ("C.O.s") Curtis Drown and Malare, Norman Bezio, Director of the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"); David Rock, Superintendent of the Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate"); and Karen Bellamy, Director of the Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP"), Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") (collectively, the "defendants").*fn1

Peoples seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief pursuant to section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code ("section 1983"). Peoples alleges that defendants deprived him of rights and privileges secured by the First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Specifically, plaintiff brings the following claims: a Fourth Amendment claim resulting from a pat frisk and subsequent search of his prison cell; an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim resulting from his three-year sentence to SHU confinement; an Eighth Amendment claim regarding his altercation with a fellow inmate; a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim arising in connection with his disciplinary hearing; and a right of access to the courts claim under the First and Sixth Amendments.

Defendants now move to dismiss Peoples' remaining claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on the following grounds:

(1) failure to state a claim; (2) failure to exhaust administrative remedies; (3) lack of personal involvement; (4) Eleventh Amendment immunity; and (5) qualified immunity. For the reasons discussed herein, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Peoples is currently an inmate at Upstate and was previously an inmate at Green Haven.*fn3 On October 5, 2009, while Peoples was at Green Haven, Sergeant O'Connor and C.O. Malare approached him while he was at his industry work program and performed a pat and frisk search.*fn4 Peoples was then escorted to his cell, F-Block 150, where O'Connor and Malare searched his cell.*fn5

Peoples alleges that certain papers were seized and that his personal mail, legal mail, family photos, clothing and other miscellaneous property was scattered all over his cell.*fn6

Peoples was immediately taken to the SHU.*fn7 The next day, October 6, 2009, Peoples was served with the Inmate Misbehavior Report (the "Report"), which alleged that he violated rules 107.21*fn8 and 113.30*fn9 of the Standards of Inmate Behavior rule book.*fn10 The Report further states that on October 5, 2009, prior to the search, C.O. O'Connor was given a packet of papers sent from the Queens County District Attorneys Office.*fn11 The cover letter with the materials identified the papers as "U.C.C. [and] other financial claims that are bogus [and] without legal basis."*fn12 The Report states that the subsequent search of Peoples' cell "produced approx[imately] 148 documents which all also appear to violate the above referenced charges."*fn13

On October 13, 2009, a misbehavior report hearing was conducted.*fn14

Peoples alleges that he was walked through the "normal formalities of a hearing."*fn15

At the end of the hearing, Peoples was sentenced to three years confinement in the SHU, a three-year loss of phone, package and commissary privileges, and seventy-two months recommended loss of good time credit.*fn16

Peoples appealed the hearing disposition to SHU Director Bezio who denied his appeal.*fn17 In November of 2009, while still confined in the SHU and under Superintendent Rock's watch, Peoples was involved in a fist fight with fellow inmate Larry Allen and lost a tooth.*fn18 In April 2010, Peoples drafted an Article 78 motion addressing some of the issues raised in the instant Complaint. Upon his return from Court, however, the Article 78 motion was confiscated by corrections officers acting under Rock's orders.*fn19

On March 7, 2011, Peoples filed a grievance in connection with alleged violations of his constitutional rights.*fn20 The grievance referenced violations of various Constitutional amendments including the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.*fn21 Peoples complained about the addition of rules 107.21 and 113.30 of the Standards of Inmate Behavior rule book and complained that he was affected by these rules by being placed in the SHU for three years along with three years of lost phone, package and commissary privileges.*fn22

On March 9, 2011, Peoples received a response from the Inmate Grievance Review Committee ("IGRC") and simultaneously appealed to the

Superintendent of DOCS.*fn23 On March 15, 2011, Superintendent Rock responded to Peoples' appeal.*fn24 Two days later, on March 17, 2011, Peoples appealed to the CORC.*fn25 On April 18, 2011, Peoples commenced the instant action. On June 8, 2011, he received a response from the CORC.*fn26

Peoples generally suffers from "stress, fear . . . depression and other psychological impacts" which are side effects from his confinement in the SHU, which he has described as "psychological torture."*fn27 Peoples alleges that Superintendent Rock was personally involved by continuously and unlawfully confining Peoples in the SHU, upholding the CORC's determination of Peoples' appeal, and being in a supervisory role at the time Peoples was involved in a fist fight with Allen.*fn28 Similarly, Peoples alleges that Bellamy, the Director of the CORC, was personally involved by virtue of upholding the rules that Peoples challenged, suppressing Peoples' "communication, forbidding access to the court and law books, [and] authorizing the seizure" of Peoples and his papers.*fn29 SHU Director Bezio was alleged to be personally involved when he "affirmed and confirmed the disposition of unlawful confinement and revoked privileges" in violation of the aforementioned constitutional amendments.*fn30

Peoples alleges that Lieutenant Ward was personally involved because he authorized the seizure of Peoples and his papers as well as his unlawful confinement in the SHU.*fn31 C.O. Drown's alleged personal involvement arises from sentencing Peoples to three years in the SHU with loss of privileges and loss of good time credit.*fn32

Peoples alleges that Fischer was personally involved because he facilitated the enactment of the rules that Peoples was accused of violating.*fn33

Peoples also claims that after Fischer learned of the violations of Peoples' constitutional rights, he failed to remedy the situation.*fn34 Fischer allegedly created the "policy procedure, or custom which violated the constitutional rights and allowed [it] to continue."*fn35 Similarly, Deputy Commissioner Leclaire's involvement was based on the preparation of the July 24, 2009 memorandum advising Superintendents Lee and Rock of the addition of rules 107.21 and 113.30.*fn36

Superintendent Lee's only involvement seems to be that he received the package of materials from the District Attorneys's office and sent them to C.O. O'Connor, which precipitated the search of Peoples' cell.*fn37 C.O. O'Connor's personal involvement in this action was limited to the search he performed of Peoples' cell and the subsequent preparation of the Report.*fn38


A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court "accept[s] all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor."*fn39 The court then evaluates the sufficiency of the complaint under the "two-pronged approach" suggested by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal.*fn40 First, a court "'can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'"*fn41 "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to withstand a motion to dismiss.*fn42 Second, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief."*fn43 To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the allegations in the complaint must meet a standard of "plausibility."*fn44 A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."*fn45 Plausibility "is not akin to a probability requirement," rather, plausibility requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."*fn46

"In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint."*fn47 However, the court may also consider a document that is not incorporated by reference, "where the complaint 'relies heavily upon its terms and effect,' thereby rendering the document 'integral' to the complaint."*fn48 A court may also take judicial notice of "the status of other lawsuits in other courts and the substance of papers filed in those actions."*fn49

Where the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his pleadings must be considered under a more lenient standard than that accorded to "formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,"*fn50 and must be "interpret[ed] . . . to raise the strongest arguments they suggest."*fn51 These same principles apply to briefs and opposition papers submitted by pro se litigants.*fn52 Notwithstanding liberal treatment of their pleadings, pro ...

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