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Chris Applewhite v. Captain Micheal Sheahan

January 10, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge



Siragusa, J. Plaintiff Chris Applewhite filed this pro se action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged civil rights violations occurring at Southport Correctional Facility. There are now five motions before the Court: (1) Defendants' motion to dismiss some or all allegations against thirteen defendants, filed August 20, 2009, ECF No. 12;

(2) Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to three defendants, filed September 21, 2009, ECF No. 20; (3) Defendants' motion to set aside a clerk's entry of default, filed September 25, 2009, ECF No. 26; (4) Plaintiff's motion for default judgment, filed March 2, 2010, ECF No. 39; and (5) Plaintiff's motion to strike Defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, ECF No. 42. For the reasons stated, Plaintiff's motion for default judgment is denied; Defendants' motion to set aside a clerk's entry of default is granted; Plaintiff's motion to deny or strike Defendants' motions is granted in part, and denied in part; Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted in part, and denied in part; and Defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied without prejudice.


Procedural History

Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a sixty-nine page complaint on January 27, 2008.*fn1 He sets out three claims for relief based on alleged wrongdoing, from 2003 forward, by a total of nineteen Defendants: Anthony Annucci, DOCCS*fn2 deputy commissioner; Donald Selsky, former DOCCS SHU director; Michael McGinnis ("McGinnis"), Southport's superintendent; Paul Chappius ("Chappius"), deputy superintendent for security services; Michael Sheahan ("Sheahan"), senior captain, Joseph Cieslak ("Cieslak"), inmate grievance program advisor, Betty Kennedy ("Kennedy"), institution steward; Jimmie Irizarry ("Irizarry"), food service administrator, Kent E. Cassler ("Sergeant Cassler"), supervising sergeant; Stanley Sepiol ("Sepiol"), senior supervising sergeant; Herbert Williams ("Williams"), senior supervising sergeant; John Alves ("Alves"), medical doctor; Bradley S. Sullivan ("C.O. Sullivan"), corrections officer; Larry G. Gleason ("Gleason"), corrections officer; Richard A. Donohue ("Donohue"), lieutenant and tier II disciplinary hearing officer; Michael Furman ("Furman"), lieutenant and day-shift supervisor for C-block; Daniel Sullivan ("Captain Sullivan"), captain and tier II disciplinary appeals review officer; Scott D. Waters ("Waters"), corrections officer; and Dale L. Hillard ("Hillard"), corrections officer.

The Court issued a Decision and Order, dated May 30, 2008, in which it noted that several of Plaintiff's allegations appeared to pre-date the three-year statute of limitations applicable to civil rights actions, and provided him an opportunity to raise arguments relative to tolling. ECF No. 5. Plaintiff filed a response in which he argued that his first claim for relief alleges a continuing course of retaliatory conduct stemming from grievances and litigation he pursued in an attempt to obtain property to which he was entitled-specifically, a pair of Bermuda shorts. ECF No. 6. He argued that the initial "casual" deprivation "snowballed into the ultimate destruction . . . of the [B]ermuda shorts[] without due process," and that other incidents occurring during that same time period are relevant to show a pattern of harassment. Id. at 4-5. In an Order dated March 10, 2009, the Court determined that alleged retaliatory acts pre-dating January 27, 2005, which Plaintiff claims relate to his attempts to retrieve his Bermuda shorts, could go forward under a continuing violation theory, but dismissed as time-barred all other allegations pre-dating January 27, 2005.*fn3

The Court did not previously specify which claims and/or Defendants were then dismissed. In the interests of clarity and efficiency, it will do so now. All claims against Sergeant Cassler, who is alleged to have "harassed" Plaintiff in February 2004, Compl. ¶ 46, and manipulated a corrections officer to file a false misbehavior report against Plaintiff on January 24, 2005, id. ¶¶ 110-117, are dismissed as time-barred.*fn4 All claims against C.O. Gleason and Sergeant Sepiol, who are alleged to have acted in concert with Sergeant Cassler, id. ¶¶ 108, 176, 146, are dismissed as time-barred. All claims against C.O. Bradley Sullivan, the officer allegedly manipulated by Cassler, Gleason, and Sepiol, id. ¶¶113, 115-17, 146, are time-barred. Discrete allegations against other Defendants are dismissed as time-barred as well, including: (1) alleged conduct by C.O. Waters on January 24, 2005, id. ¶¶ 110-111, 150; (2) Lt. Donahoe's service as a hearing officer in connection with a February 21, 2004, misbehavior report unrelated to the Bermuda shorts, id. ¶ 44; (3) Lt. Donahoe's and Daniel Sullivan's alleged "bias" and "arbitrary and capricious" disposition of disciplinary charges brought against Plaintiff on June 3, 2004, and June 7, 2004; (4) allegations relative to the participation of Sullivan, Selsky, and Kennedy in the disposition of a misbehavior report issued to Plaintiff on October 13, 2004, id. ¶ 54; and (5) the issuance of cell shield and deprivation orders by Sheahan and McGinnis, on January 25, 2005, in connection with the misbehavior report written by C.O. Bradley Sullivan the previous day, id. ¶¶ 100, 115-116. Accordingly, Defendants Cassler, Gleason, Sepiol, and Captain Sullivan are dismissed from this action. Only timely allegations against the remaining Defendants are addressed hereafter.

Factual Background

The following facts are taken from the complaint and, at this juncture, are construed broadly in a light most favorable to Plaintiff. At all relevant times, Plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of DOCCS, and housed at Southport Correctional Facility.

In his first claim, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants McGinnis, Sheahan, Chappius, Cieslak, and Kennedy conspired to retaliate against him for pursuing a grievance and state court proceeding relative to his right to possess a pair of Bermuda shorts. On November 17, 2003, Plaintiff ordered a pair of khaki Bermuda shorts with green pin stripes from an outside vendor. According to Plaintiff, he was entitled to receive the shorts as a PIMS Level III prisoner.*fn5 The shorts arrived at Southport on January 27, 2004, but were not delivered to Plaintiff. On that same day and the following day, Plaintiff sent letters to the package room officer demanding the immediate delivery of his shorts. On January 30, 2004, he filed a formal grievance. The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee denied the grievance on February 9, 2004. While it confirmed that Plaintiff could receive a pair of Bermuda shorts, it found he was not entitled to the particular pair he had ordered because they were multi-colored, not solid-colored. Upon receiving the denial, on February 12, 2004, Plaintiff appealed the decision to Defendant McGinnis, who concurred with the Committee's ruling in a decision dated February 24, 2004. Plaintiff appealed the Superintendent's decision to the Central Office Review Committee on February 26, 2012. After this appeal was denied, Plaintiff commenced an Article 78 proceeding in state court, on June 1, 2004, seeking delivery of his shorts.

Plaintiff alleges that, two days after filing his Article 78 petition, on June 3, 2004, he was "suddenly discriminatively [sic] targeted for retaliatory harassment" and issued a false misbehavior report for which Defendant McGinnis designated a biased hearing officer, Defendant Donahoe. Compl. ¶ 51. When Plaintiff appealed Donahoe's determination of guilt, the disposition was affirmed by another McGinnis designee, Defendant Daniel Sullivan. On June 9, 2004, Plaintiff was targeted for further retaliation and issued another false misbehavior report, on which he was again found guilty by Donahoe, and the determination later affirmed by Daniel Sullivan. Plaintiff was demoted to a PIMS Level I classification.

On November 30, 2004, Plaintiff received a favorable decision in his Article 78 proceeding, with the state court concluding that Directive 4911 did not prohibit the possession of multi-colored shorts. When Plaintiff sought to obtain his shorts, however, he was told he was not then eligible to receive them because he was not at a PIMS Level III.

Plaintiff was promoted from PIMS Level I to Level II on December 14, 2004. Though he had not been returned to Level III, he renewed his efforts to obtain the shorts. According to Plaintiff, Defendants McGinnis and Sheahan refused his requests, improperly ignoring the court order. When he prepared a further grievance, it is alleged that McGinnis and Sheahan conspired with Defendant Cieslak to obstruct the grievance process, Sheahan attempted to coerce Plaintiff into voluntarily giving up the shorts, Sheahan and Defendant Chappius improperly removed the shorts from the package room, Sheahan refused to let Plaintiff examine the shorts, and Sheahan gave Plaintiff a deadline-January 28, 2005-by which to submit a "#2068 Authorization for disposal of personal property form" to avoid destruction of the shorts.

Plaintiff alleges that he filled out the form on January 27, requesting that the shorts be mailed to his home, and that the request was received in the package room on January

28. However, Defendant Chappius also filled out a form on January 27, directing that the shorts be destroyed, and that is what occurred. Plaintiff grieved the destruction of his shorts. It is alleged that Cieslak again obstructed the grievance process, McGinnis denied the grievance, Defendant Kennedy denied his further claim to be reimbursed the value of the shorts, and McGinnis denied the appeal of that determination.

Plaintiff's second claim is against Defendants Alves, Irizarry, Selsky, and Williams. It involves conduct that relates to a disturbance on Plaintiff's gallery on January 24, 2005, for which Plaintiff received a misbehavior report and was placed on cell shield and deprivation orders. He alleges that Defendant Alves did not act on his request to be taken off a restricted diet; Defendant Williams, who was to act as Plaintiff's hearing assistance officer, displayed a conflict of interest and conspired to frustrate and undermine Plaintiff's defense; Defendant Irizarry, the assigned hearing officer, had no authority to conduct the hearing, was biased, violated Plaintiff's due process rights, ejected him from the hearing, denied him discovery, declined to call all his witnesses, made a determination of guilt without sufficient evidence, and improperly imposed six months' SHU confinement; and Defendant Selsky, who rendered a decision on Plaintiff's appeal, merely reduced SHU confinement to three months, instead of reversing and expunging the disciplinary determination.

The third claim, against Defendants Annucci, Donahue, Furman, Hillard, and Waters, relates to the alleged wrongful confiscation of Plaintiff's legal books by Waters, an action that Annucci was informed of, but failed to remedy. Plaintiff further alleges that Waters filed a false misbehavior report against Plaintiff regarding the legal books taken from his cell, and that Furman, Hillard, and Donahue denied him due process when they prevented Plaintiff from attending the subsequent hearing on the matter.


Standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to Dismiss When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and make all reasonable inferences in a plaintiff's favor. ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). In order to survive such a motion, a complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft

v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)); ATSI Commc'ns, Inc., 493 F.3d at 98. This assumption of truth applies only to factual allegations and is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "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." Id.

Inasmuch as Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, this Court must, of course, follow the directive of the Second Circuit, that:

When considering motions to dismiss a pro se complaint such as this, "courts must construe [the complaint] broadly, and interpret [it] to raise the strongest arguments that [it] suggests." Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 597 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). This is especially true when dealing with pro se complaints alleging civil rights violations. See Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127, 132 (2d Cir. 2001). Accordingly, the plaintiff's allegations in this case must be read so as to "raise the ...

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