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Khalid Barnes v. Comissioner Pozzi

August 3, 2012

KHALID BARNES,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMISSIONER POZZI, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, Khalid Barnes, a prisoner who was previously incarcerated by the Westchester County Department of Corrections in the Westchester County Jail, brings this pro se action against Commissioner of Corrections Rocco Pozzi, Captain Vincent Camera, Warden Anthony Amicucci, Associate Warden Orlando, and Associate Warden Cheverko*fn1 (collectively, the "defendants") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Rules 8, 10, 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

I.

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the allegations in the complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the plaintiff's favor.*fn2

McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). The Court's function on a motion to dismiss is "not to weigh the evidence that might be presented at a trial but merely to determine whether the complaint itself is legally sufficient." Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059, 1067 (2d Cir. 1985). The Court should not dismiss the complaint if the plaintiff has stated "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the Court should construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id.

When faced with a pro se complaint, the Court must "construe [the] complaint liberally and interpret it to raise the strongest arguments that it suggests." Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). "Even in a pro se case, however, . . . threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, although the Court is "obligated to draw the most favorable inferences" that the complaint supports, it "cannot invent factual allegations that [the plaintiff] has not pled." Id.; see also Benavides v. Grier, No. 09 Civ. 8600, 2011 WL 43521, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 6, 2011).

II.

The following factual allegations set forth in the Amended Complaint are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion to dismiss unless otherwise noted.

A.

On March 1, 2004, the plaintiff was arrested and charged with committing numerous federal crimes. He was subsequently committed to the custody of the Westchester County Department of Corrections ("DOC") and housed in the Westchester County Jail. (Am. Compl. ¶ 3.) The defendants were employees of the DOC. In March 2005, the plaintiff began filing grievances about the prison's "substandard" conditions. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) The plaintiff asserts that in retaliation for his grievance filings, the defendants subjected him to consistent "acts of reprisal and discrimination." (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) He further contends that these acts were part of a larger policy designed by the defendants to suppress the plaintiff's rights. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14.)

One of the alleged acts of reprisal arose after the plaintiff filed a grievance against prison officials for privacy intrusion. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 22.) The plaintiff contends that, immediately after submitting his grievance, he was transferred from the prison's general population to the "Old Jail," a more restrictive area of the prison. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22, 24, 50.) The plaintiff claims that the conditions in the Old Jail were "inhumane." (Am. Compl. ¶ 28.) The plaintiff alleges that he attempted to file a grievance about the conditions and was told by supervisors that "housing conditions are not grievable." (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.) The plaintiff further alleges that this result was common when prisoners attempted to use the facility's grievance procedure.*fn3 (Am. Compl. ¶ 30.)

Another alleged act of reprisal occurred after the plaintiff filed a grievance about the facility's policy of providing Halal meals to Jewish detainees but not to Muslim detainees. (Am. Compl. ¶ 38.) This grievance was allegedly denied by Defendant Orlando, the Facility Grievance Coordinator. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 35, 37.) On April 26, 2005, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit challenging the facility's refusal to provide Halal meals to Muslim detainees as discriminatory. (Am. Compl. ¶ 49.) The plaintiff also organized a food strike among the other detainees to protest this policy. (Am. Compl. ¶ 56.) After this incident, defendant Camera allegedly told the plaintiff he was "gonna pay for this." (Am. Compl. ¶ 59.) On May 5, 2006 the plaintiff was transferred to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"), the most restrictive area of the jail. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 50.) The defendants maintain that this was the result of an order by the Commissioner of Corrections that all detainees facing the death penalty be housed in the SHU. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14.) Alternatively, the plaintiff maintains that this was a "guise" to cover up "illegal acts of reprisal," because the defendants were aware that the plaintiff was facing the death penalty as early as June 2004 and yet only transferred him after he began his advocacy concerning the food policy. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10, 14.)

In June 2006, the plaintiff was transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City ("MCC"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 75.)

B

On February 8, 2008, 19 months later, the plaintiff was transferred back to the Westchester County Jail for his trial in the White Plains Courthouse of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 80, 94.); United States v. Barnes, 532 F. Supp. 2d 625 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). At trial, the government sought the death penalty for the plaintiff, who was charged with racketeering, narcotics distribution, and murder. Id. The plaintiff remained at the Westchester County Jail until the conclusion of his trial in June 2008, when he was transferred back to the MCC (Am. Compl. ¶ 94). The plaintiff alleges that two significant violations occurred during this four-month window.

First, the plaintiff asserts that he was wrongfully confined in the SHU during his 2008 confinement at the Westchester County Jail.*fn4 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 81, 82, 94.) He lists a number of "restrictive and punitive conditions" that were imposed on him during his SHU confinement, such as cold food and showers, restraints, strip searches, and delayed personal and legal visits. (Am. Compl. ¶ 71.) The plaintiff further alleges that he witnessed several detainees attempt to commit suicide in the SHU and was subjected to a constant "cacophony of sounds." (Am. Compl. ¶ 72.) As a result, the plaintiff claims that he became "severely depressed" and "suffered severe anxiety and physiological issues." (Am. Compl. ¶ 73.) The plaintiff contends that he "relayed this information to the defendants" and that "they did nothing to redress plaintiffs concerns but sit on their hands." (Am. Compl. ¶ 73.) He also asserts that these conditions were "exacerbated" while he was housed in the Westchester County Jail for his 2008 trial in White Plains, New York. (Am. Compl. ¶ 82.)

Second, the plaintiff alleges that he was wrongfully placed on suicide watch. In 2008 at the Westchester County Jail, the plaintiff refused breakfast and lunch, and jail officials sent for a physician's assistant. (Am. Compl. ¶ 89.) The physician's assistant placed the plaintiff on suicide watch, despite the plaintiff having no history of suicidal behavior and stating that he did not intend to harm himself. (Am. Compl. ¶ 89.) The plaintiff was then ordered to take off his clothes and had all his personal property removed from his cell. (Am. Compl. ¶ 90.) This caused the plaintiff "severe humiliation."

(Am. Compl. ¶ 91.) The plaintiff asserts that he attempted to file a grievance about his placement on suicide watch and was told "suicide watch is not grievable." (Am. Compl. ¶ 92.)

On March 22, 2010, the plaintiff filed his original complaint in this case. He later filed an Amended Complaint on September 29, 2011 against Pozzi, Amicucci, Orlando, Cheverko, and Camera. Pozzi is the Commissioner of Corrections at the Westchester County Jail. (Am. Compl. ¶ 4.) Amicucci is the Warden at the Westchester County Jail and is responsible for the general welfare of the inmates. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) Orlando and Cheverko are Associate Wardens at the Westchester County Jail. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 7.) Camera is a Supervisor at the Westchester County Jail. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.) The Amended Complaint alleges that the defendants violated the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, after they subjected the plaintiff to: unsafe housing conditions, ...


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