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Michael Atkins v. D. Menard

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


September 12, 2012

MICHAEL ATKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D. MENARD, SERGEANT, CLINTON CORR. FACILITY; B. HAYES, CORR. OFFICER, CLINTON CORR. FACILITY; RUSSELL, CORR. OFFICER, CLINTON CORR. FACILITY; L. MARTIN, OFFICER, CLINTON CORR. FACILITY; MOAK, OFFICER, CLINTON CORR. FACILITY; ALLEN, LIEUTENANT, CLINTON CORR. FACILITY; AND JOHN DOES 1-4; DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMROANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this pro se prisoner civil rights action filed by Michael Atkins ("Plaintiff") against the ten above-captioned New York State correctional employees ("Defendants"), are the following: (1) Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's failure-to-protect claim against Defendant Allen due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing that claim (Dkt. No. 34); and (2) United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles' Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motion be granted (Dkt. No. 41). No objections have been filed to the Report-Recommendation, and the deadline by which to do so has expired. For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety, and Defendants' motion is granted.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

Generally, construed with the utmost of special liberality, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, on July 18 and July 21, 2008, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility, Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by (1) using excessive force against him, and (2) failing to protect him from the use of excessive force. (See generally Dkt. No. 1, at ¶ 6.) For a more detailed recitation of the factual allegations giving rise to Plaintiffs' claims, the Court refers the reader to the Complaint in its entirety, and to Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation, which accurately recites those factual allegations. (Dkt. No. 1; Dkt. No. 41, at Part 1.)

Generally, in their motion for partial summary judgment, Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's failure-to-protect claim against Defendant Allen due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing that claim. (Dkt. No. 34.) More specifically, Defendants present evidence that (1) Plaintiff filed no grievance with respect to Defendant Allen's alleged failure to protect him on July 21, 2008, and/or (2) Plaintiff appealed that grievance to the Superintendent and the Central Office Review Committee. (Id.)

Generally, in his response in opposition to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff argues that (on July 22, 2008) he submitted a grievance with respect to incident on July 21, 2008, but that prison officials (other than Defendant Allen) thwarted the processing of that grievance through tampering with Plaintiff's mail. (Dkt. No. 38.)

Generally, in his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Peebles recommends that Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment be granted for the following two reasons: (1) Plaintiff's assertion that he submitted a grievance regarding the incident on July 21, 2008, is neither notarized nor properly sworn pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746; and (2) in any event, even if Plaintiff's assertion had the force and effect of sworn testimony, it would be insufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact due to the exception to the rule against making credibility determinations on motions for summary judgment, set forth in Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549 (2d Cir. 2005). (Dkt. No. 41, at Part III.B.)

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review Governing a Report-Recommendation

When a specific objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to a de novo review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). To be "specific," the objection must, with particularity, "identify [1] the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations, or report to which it has an objection and [2] the basis for the objection." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 72.1(c).*fn1

When performing such a de novo review, "[t]he judge may . . . receive further evidence. . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, a district court will ordinarily refuse to consider evidentiary material that could have been, but was not, presented to the magistrate judge in the first instance.*fn2

When only a general objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2),(3); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition.*fn3 Similarly, when an objection merely reiterates the same arguments made by the objecting party in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation challenged by those arguments to only a clear error review.*fn4 Finally, when no objection is made to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition. When performing such a "clear error" review, "the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Id.*fn5

After conducting the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

B. Standard of Review Governing a Motion for Summary Judgment

In his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Peebles accurately recites the legal standard governing motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 34, at Part III.A.) As a result, this standard is incorporated by reference in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

III. ANALYSIS

Because Plaintiff did not submit an objection to the Report-Recommendation, the Court reviews the Report-Recommendation only for clear error, as described above in Section II.A. of this Decision and Order. After carefully reviewing the relevant filings in this action, the Court can find no clear error in the Report-Recommendation. Magistrate Judge Peebles employed the proper standards, accurately recited the facts, and reasonably applied the law to those facts. (Dkt. No. 34) As a result, Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation recommending dismissal of Plaintiff's failure-to-protect claim against Defendant Allen is accepted and adopted in its entirety for the reasons stated therein. (Id.)Indeed, Magistrate Judge Peebles' thorough and correct Report-Recommendation would survive even a de novo review.

The Court adds six brief points.First, as a threshold basis for adopting the Report-Recommendation, the Court relies on the fact that, despite having received adequate notice of the consequences of failing to properly oppose Defendants' motion (see Dkt. No. 34), Plaintiff failed to file (1) a Response to Defendants' Rule 7.1 Statement of Material Facts, and (2) an opposition memorandum of law. (See generally Dkt. No. 38.)*fn6 As a result, (1) the properly supported factual assertions contained in Defendants' Rule 7.1 Statement are deemed admitted by Plaintiff, and (2) the facially meritorious legal arguments contained in Defendants' memorandum of law are deemed consented to by Plaintiff. Cusamano v. Sobek, 604 F. Supp.2d 416, 452-54 (N.D.N.Y. 2009) (Report-Recommendation of Lowe, M.J., adopted by Suddaby, J.). These factual assertions and legal arguments clearly warrant the granting of partial summary judgment in Defendant Allen's favor.

Second, in the alternative, even if the Court were to proceed to a sua sponte scouring of the record in search for a genuine dispute of material fact, the Court would find no such genuine dispute.The Court notes that Plaintiff's insertion of the note "28 U.S.C. 1746" beside his signature on various documents is not sufficient to transform those document into sworn declarations for purposes of a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 38, at 3; Dkt. No. 38, Part 1, at 1, 3.) See also 28 U.S.C. § 1746 (requiring that the certification state, in sum and substance, that "I declare (or certify, verify, or state) under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on (date)."). Moreover, although Plaintiff's form Complaint is sufficient sworn to pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746, that Complaint makes no mention of having exhausted his administrative remedies with regard to his failure-to-protect claim against Defendant Allen. (Dkt. No. 1.) Moreover, even if the Complaint did make mention of such a fact, the Court would reject that assertion as patently incredible, for the same reasons that Magistrate Judge Peebles recommends such an assertion in Plaintiff's response papers, under Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549 (2d Cir. 2005).

Third, even if Plaintiff had adduced admissible record evidence establishing that he submitted a grievance regarding Defendant Allen, Plaintiff has not adduced admissible record evidence that it was Defendant Allen (as opposed to some other correction officer) who interfered with the processing of that grievance. The Court notes that the second step of the Second Circuit's three-part exhaustion standard regards, in pertinent part, whether a defendant should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust as a defense due to his or her own actions in preventing the exhaustion of plaintiff's remedies. "Generally, a defendant in an action may not be estopped from asserting the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies based on the actions (or inactions) of other individuals." Murray v. Palmer, 03-CV-1010, 2010 WL 1235591, at *5 & n.26 (N.D.N.Y. March 31, 2010) (Suddaby, J.) (collecting cases).*fn7

Fourth, even if Plaintiff had adduced admissible record evidence that Defendant Allen had interfered with the initial processing of his grievance, Plaintiff had the ability, and indeed the duty, to appeal the IGRC's nonresponse (to his grievance) to the next level, including CORC, to complete the grievance process. 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.6(g) ("[M]atters not decided within the time limits may be appealed to the next step."); see also Murray, 2010 WL 1235591, at *2 & n.4 [collecting cases].*fn8 Here, there is no admissible record evidence establishing that he did so.

Fifth, the Court rejects Plaintiff's attempt to raise the specter of a retaliation claim in his opposition to Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment as unduly prejudicial to Defendants, a gross waste of judicial resources, and a violation of both Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a) and the Court's Pretrial Scheduling Order. See Brown v. Raimondo, 06-CV-0773, 2009 WL 799970, at *2, n.2 (N.D.N.Y. March 25, 2009) (Report-Recommendation of Treece, M.J., adopted by Suddaby, J.) ("The Court notes that opposition papers [on summary judgment motions] are not the proper vehicle to instill new causes of action or add new defendants."), aff'd, 373 F. App'x 93 (2d Cir. 2010).*fn9

Sixth, and finally, in future such motions, defense counsel is respectfully advised to (1) cite and apply Second Circuit's the Second Circuit's three-part exhaustion standard (see Dkt. No. 41, at Part III.B.), and (2) serve the plaintiff with a copy of the Northern District's "Notification fo the Consequence of Failing to Respond to a Summary Judgment Motion" (see http://www.nynd.uscourts.gov/documents/Notification_Consequences_Failure_to_Respond_to_ Summary_Judgment_Motion_FINAL_000.pdf) rather than defendants' version of that notice.

ACCORDINGLY, it is ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 41) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further

ORDERED that Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 34) is GRANTED, such that Plaintiff's failure-to-protect claim against Defendant Allen is DISMISSED, and the clerk is directed to terminate Defendant Allen from this action and that at the conclusion of this case that judgment be entered in Defendant Allen's favor; and it is further

ORDERED that Pro Bono Counsel be appointed for the Plaintiff for purposes of trial only; any appeal shall remain the responsibility of the plaintiff alone unless a motion for appointment of counsel for an appeal is granted; and it is further

ORDERED that upon assignment of Pro Bono Counsel, a final pretrial conference with counsel will be scheduled in this action, at which time the Court will schedule for trial Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Defendants Menard, Hayes, Russell, Martin and Moak. The parties are directed to appear at the final pretrial conference with settlement authority.


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