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Marc Lewis v. Havernack

January 23, 2013

MARC LEWIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HAVERNACK, SERGEANT, MT. MCGREGOR CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David E. Peebles U.S. Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Pro se plaintiff Marc Lewis, a New York State prison inmate with considerable prior litigation experience, has commenced this action against five corrections officers employed at the prison facility in which he was confined at the relevant times, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deprivation of his civil rights.*fn1 In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted by one of the defendants and denied medical attention for his injuries arising from the alleged assault, and that the defendants later conspired to conceal the alleged assault. As relief, plaintiff's complaint seeks recovery of $3 million in damages.

Currently pending before the court is a motion brought by the defendants seeking dismissal of plaintiff's complaint based on his failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and for failure to state a claim as it relates to all of plaintiff's causes of action with the exception of his Eighth Amendment excessive force claim. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust be denied as premature, without prejudice, but that their motion otherwise be granted.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

Plaintiff is a New York State prison inmate currently being held in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). See generally Complaint (Dkt. No. 1). While he is now incarcerated elsewhere, at the times relevant to his claims in this action, plaintiff was confined in the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility ("Mt. McGregor"), located in Wilton, New York. Id.

During the week of February 19, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint with Mt. McGregor Superintendent William T. Hagget, accusing corrections officers of stealing and consuming state food products. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 6. Plaintiff was interviewed by a corrections lieutenant on February 14, 2009, concerning the complaint, and was advised that the matter would be addressed. Id.

On February 15, 2009, plaintiff was subjected to an unauthorized search of his prison cell by several corrections officers, all of whom threatened him. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 7. Plaintiff attributes the search and threats to his complaint to Superintendent Hagget concerning the conduct of corrections officers. Id. In the morning of February 16, 2009, plaintiff mailed another written complaint regarding corrections officers stealing and consuming state food products to Mt. McGregor Superintendent Hagget and DOCCS Commissioner Brian Fischer. Id. at 9.

On February 20, 2009, plaintiff was asked to voluntarily meet with defendant Havernack, a corrections sergeant, to discuss his complaints. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 9. Believing the meeting to be a "set up," plaintiff refused to attend and retreated to his cell. Id. After returning to his cell, defendant Havernack and two other unidentified officers arrived at plaintiff's cell, placed him in handcuffs, and escorted him to the basement of Mt. McGregor's administration building. Id. at 10. Upon arriving, and while still in handcuffs, plaintiff was placed in a chair in front of a desk, behind which defendant Sheridan, a corrections lieutenant, was sitting. Id. At some point during the meeting defendant Sheridan stood up, walked behind plaintiff, and struck plaintiff on the right side of the face with a closed fist, rendering Lewis unconscious and knocking him out of his chair. Id. at 12. As a result of the incident, Lewis experienced injuries to his right upper facial cheek and lower eyelid, as well as his left upper facial cheek. Id. Upon returning to consciousness, plaintiff's several requests for medical attention were denied. Id. at 13-14.

Shortly following the incident, defendants Imfeld and Johnson, together with an unidentified corrections sergeant, escorted plaintiff to a waiting van, where he was transported out of Mt. McGregor. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 15. As the van left the facility, plaintiff continued to complain of his injuries and request medical attention. Id. at ¶ 31. Those requests were denied. Id. Eventually, after plaintiff threatened to cause an accident if he was not provided medical attention, defendants Imfeld and Johnson returned the van to Mt. McGregor, where plaintiff was taken to the prison infirmary, and ultimately seen by medical personnel. Id. at 15-16.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff's complaint in this action was filed on January 9, 2012. Complaint

(Dkt. No. 1). That complaint names Corrections Sergeant Havernack, Corrections Lieutenant Sheridan, and Corrections Officers Chapman, Johnson and Imfeld, all of whom were stationed at Mt. McGregor at the relevant times, as defendants, and sets forth five causes of action, including excessive force and deliberate indifference claims under the Eighth Amendment, a claim for conspiracy to violate his Eighth Amendment rights, and claims that are based upon alleged threats by defendants and the issuance of a false misbehavior report. Id.

In answer to plaintiff's complaint, defendants moved for its dismissal on July 3, 2012, arguing that plaintiff's claims are precluded based upon his failure to exhaust available administrative remedies, and additionally that all of his claims, except the excessive force claim, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Dkt. No. 30. Plaintiff has since responded in opposition to defendants' dismissal motion. Dkt. No. 42. In addition, plaintiff seeks leave, by motion filed on September 21, 2012, to file an amended complaint in the action. Dkt. No. 46. Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend has been opposed by defendants on the basis of futility. Dkt. No. 47.

The parties' cross-motions, which are now fully briefed and ripe for determination, have been referred to me for the issuance of a report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(B) and Northern District of New York Local Rule 72.3(c). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Dismissal Standard

A motion to dismiss a complaint, brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure calls upon a court to gauge the facial sufficiency of that pleading using a pleading standard which, though unexacting in its requirements, "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation" in order to withstand scrutiny. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007)). Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "a pleading must contain a 'short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. 677-78 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). While modest in its requirements, that rule commands that a complaint contain more than mere legal conclusions. See id. at 679 ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.").

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion, the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56); see also Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 546 (1964); Miller v. Wolpoff & Abramson, L.L.P., 321 F.3d 292, 300 (2d Cir. 2003); Burke v. Gregory, 356 F. Supp. 2d 179, 182 (N.D.N.Y. 2005) (Kahn, J.). However, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint does not apply to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

To withstand a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008). As the Second Circuit has observed, "[w]hile Twombly does not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, it does require enough facts to 'nudge plaintiffs' claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" In re Elevator Antitrust Litig., 502 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570) (alterations omitted).

When assessing the sufficiency of a complaint against this backdrop, particular deference should be afforded to a pro se litigant, whose complaint merits a generous construction by the court when determining whether it states a cognizable cause of action. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 ("'[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)) (internal citation omitted)); Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) ("[W]hen a plaintiff proceeds pro se, a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally." (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted)); Kaminski v. Comm'r of Oneida Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 804 F. Supp. 2d 100, 104 (N.D.N.Y. 2011) (Hurd, J.) ("A pro se complaint must be read liberally.").

B. Exhaustion of Remedies

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), which imposes several restrictions on the ability of prisoners to maintain federal civil rights actions, expressly requires that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see also Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006) ("Exhaustion is . . . mandatory. Prisoners must now exhaust all 'available' remedies[.]"); Hargrove v. Riley, No. 04-CV-4587, 2007 WL 389003, at *5-6 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2007) ("The exhaustion requirement is a mandatory condition precedent to any suit challenging prison conditions, including suits brought under Section 1983.").*fn3 "[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002).

The failure of a prisoner to satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is an affirmative defense that must be raised by a defendant in response to an inmate suit. Jones v. Block, 549 U.S. 199, 212 (2007). In the event the defendant establishes that the inmate plaintiff failed "to fully complete[] the administrative review process" prior to commencing the action, the plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal. Pettus v. McCoy, No. 04-CV-0471, 2006 WL 2639369, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2006) (McAvoy, J.); see also Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93 ("[W]e are persuaded that the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion."). "Proper exhaustion" requires a plaintiff to procedurally ...


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