DAVID READ, 10-A-5909, Collins Correctional Facility, Collins, NY, Pro Se for Plaintiff.
ROGER W. KINSEY, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, New York State Attorney General, Albany, NY, for Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.
Pro se plaintiff David Read, a New York State prison inmate, has commenced this action pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging deprivation of his civil rights and naming the Marcy Correctional Facility and two corrections workers employed at that prison as defendants. Plaintiff's original complaint was dismissed for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted, with leave to replead. Plaintiff has since filed an amended complaint in which he asserts constitutional claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
In response to plaintiff's amended complaint, defendants have sought its dismissal on a variety of bases. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that defendants' motion to dismiss be granted, in part, but otherwise denied, and that plaintiff be permitted to pursue his due process and retaliation claims against the two individual defendants.
Plaintiff is a prison inmate currently held in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). See generally Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39). At the times relevant to his claims, he was confined in the Marcy Correctional Facility ("Marcy") located in Marcy, New York. Id.
Plaintiff's claims in this case emanate from a written memorandum issued to him by defendant CalaBrese, a corrections counselor at the facility, on January 25, 2011. Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 3, 22. That memorandum advised plaintiff that his wife, Michelle Read, had been placed on a negative correspondence/telephone list, which effectively meant that he would not be permitted to receive visits, telephone calls, or packages from her during his incarceration. Id. The notice communicated that the reason for placing plaintiff's wife on the negative correspondence list was because she was the subject of an order of protection found to be on file against plaintiff. Id. at 22. Plaintiff was warned that any efforts to send correspondence or packages, or to attempt contact by telephone, any person on the prohibited contact list could result in disciplinary action. Id.
Following the issuance of that notice, but prior to January 31, 2011, plaintiff lodged a grievance against defendant CalaBrese as a result of the memorandum she had issued to Read earlier in the week. Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 3. On January 31, 2011, in apparent response to that grievance, defendant CalaBrese sent the plaintiff a second memorandum explaining further that his wife was the victim of the criminal offense that resulted in plaintiff's incarceration, and that a temporary order of protection was issued with respect to her on July 7, 2010, but expired on January 5, 2011, while plaintiff was in DOCCS custody. Id. at 3, 21. The memorandum further stated that defendant CalaBrese had telephoned the Rockland County Sheriff's Department concerning the matter, and was advised that their records revealed an existing order of protection in favor of Michelle Read that was issued by the Haverstraw Court, and would not expire until March 22, 2011. Id. at 21. Defendant CalaBrese advised Read to communicate with the Rockland County Court, the Haverstraw Court, and the Suffern Village Court to request verification that there was no active order of protection in place against him and in favor of Michelle Read. Id.
On February 1, 2011, the Haverstraw Court provided written confirmation that no active order of protection was in place at the time against plaintiff, and in favor of his wife. Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 4 and 23. Upon receipt of that written confirmation, plaintiff requested that his wife be restored to his correspondence list. Id. at 4. In an apparent response to that request, defendant Mark D. Kinderman, Deputy Superintendent of Programs at Marcy, sent plaintiff a memorandum, dated February 3, 2011, informing him that, because his wife was the victim of his crime, and information had been received from the Rockland County Sheriff's Department indicating the existence of an active order of protection against him, his wife would remain on the negative correspondence list. Id. at 4, 24. In that memorandum, defendant Kinderman made the following further observation:
I additionally note that you have been extremely uncooperative with Counseling staff who attempted to work on the issue and explain the situation more fully. I strongly advise you to take a more positive approach to your programming, which includes 1-to-1 interviews with staff.
Id. at 24.
On February 13, 2011, plaintiff wrote two letters, both addressed to defendant Kinderman. Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 5, 25. The second letter included a request to add his wife's telephone number and address, as well as those of plaintiff's mother, to his list of contacts. Id. On February 16, 2011, plaintiff was issued a misbehavior report by defendant CalaBrese that alleged he had violated a direct order, provided false information, and violated the facility's internal telephone programming protocol based upon his inclusion of his mother-in-law's telephone number in his letters to defendant Kinderman. Id. at 5. Following a disciplinary hearing conducted by defendant Kinderman regarding the misbehavior report, plaintiff was subsequently found guilty of violating prison rules, and was sentenced to confinement in the facility's special housing unit ("SHU") for six months, with an additional recommended loss of ninety days of good time credits. Dkt.
No. 42-1 at 3-4.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff commenced this action on April 22, 2011. Dkt. No. 1. Following an initial review of plaintiff's complaint and accompanying in forma pauperis ("IFP") application, Chief District Judge Gary L. Sharpe issued a decision and order, dated October 11, 2011, granting plaintiff's request for IFP status, denying his motion for appointment of counsel, dismissing his false misbehavior claim against defendant CalaBrese, and directing that Read provide a waiver pursuant to Peralta v. Vasquez, 467 F.3d 98 (2d Cir. 2006), cert. denied sub nom., Jones v. Peralta, 551 U.S. 1145 (2007), relinquishing any claims affecting the length of his confinement, including the loss of good time credits associated with the disciplinary sentence at issue in the case. Dkt. No. 13. Plaintiff filed his Peralta waiver on October 26, 2011. Dkt. No. 15.
A second decision and order was subsequently issued by Chief Judge Sharpe on March 7, 2012, in which the court (1) acknowledged and accepted plaintiff's Peralta waiver, and dismissed all claims in the action affecting the duration of his confinement; (2) denied plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction preventing defendant Kinderman from abusing his authority; and (3) denied plaintiff's request to take action concerning interference with his legal mail in other cases. See generally Dkt. No. 20. That decision also directed defendants to respond plaintiff's complaint. Id. Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of that determination, Dkt. No. 22, was denied by decision and order issued by Chief Judge Sharpe on June 21, 2012, Dkt. No. 35.
Defendants responded to the plaintiff's complaint by moving for its dismissal based on a variety of grounds. Dkt. No. 30. By memorandumdecision and order issued by Chief Judge Sharpe on August 2, 2012, that motion was granted, though with leave to amend. Dkt. No. 37.
On August 29, 2012, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, Dkt. No. 30, and has since supplemented that amended complaint with the filing of a series of documents, including a memorandum of law, Dkt. No. 42. Liberally construed, plaintiff's amended complaint alleges that defendants deprived him of procedural due process and unlawfully retaliated against him by the issuance of an allegedly false misbehavior report. Id. Plaintiff's amended complaint does not specify the relief sought.
In response to plaintiff's amended complaint, defendants have once again filed a motion to dismiss based on various grounds. Specifically, defendants argue that plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal because (1) defendants are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, (2) plaintiff cannot recover monetary damages in light of the absence of an allegation of physical harm, (3) plaintiff failed to exhaust the available administrative remedies before commencing suit, (4) the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, (5) plaintiff is precluded from challenging his disciplinary hearing conviction, and (6) defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from suit. See generally Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1). Plaintiff has since responded in opposition to defendants' motion. Dkt. No. 46.
Defendants' motion, which is now fully briefed and ripe for determination, has 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).
A. Dismissal Motion 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 standard which, though unexacting in its requirements, "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed me accusation" in order to withstand scrutiny. Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. at 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." lqbal, 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. lqbal, 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." lqbal, 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. Failure to Exhaust
As an initial procedural matter, defendants argue that plaintiff's claims are precluded based upon his failure to the exhaust available administrative remedies before commencing suit. Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1) at 5-6. Defendants highlight the fact that plaintiff's amended complaint includes no allegations regarding exhaustion, including whether he pursued any grievances concerning the relevant events through to completion under the available inmate grievance program. Id.
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."). "[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 requirement that inmates exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, however, is not a jurisdictional requirement. Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431, 434 (2d Cir. 2003). Instead, failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and "inmates are not required to specifically plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007).
In this case, plaintiff's amended complaint and supplemental submissions provide little information regarding any grievances that he may have filed related to his claims in this case, including whether they were denied, and by whom. See generally Dkt. Nos. 39, 42. Those omissions, however, are not fatal to his claims at this juncture because, as noted above, whether a complaint alleges complete exhaustion is not dispositive on a motion to dismiss. Jones, 549 U.S. at 216. For this reason, the exhaustion defense is one that is not particularly well-suited for resolution for a motion to dismiss, absent the clearest indication in a plaintiff's complaint that a failure to exhaust has occurred. See, e.g., Laporte v. Fisher, No. 11-CV-9458, 2012 WL 5278543, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2012) ("Dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to exhaust is thus appropriate only where nonexhaustion is apparent from the face of the complaint." (citing McCoy v. Goord, 255 F.Supp.2d 233, 251 (S.D.N.Y. 2003)).
Because it is unclear whether the plaintiff fulfilled his obligation to exhaust available administrative remedies before commencing this action, I recommend that defendants' motion to dismiss based on these grounds be denied, without prejudice to renewal at an appropriate procedural juncture.
C. Heck v. Humphrey
In their motion, defendants next assert that plaintiff is precluded from pursuing his claim for damages arising out of the disciplinary proceedings against him under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 1994, in light of his failure to first invalidate the adverse hearing determination. Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1) at 12-13.
In its decision in Heck, the Supreme Court held that a state prisoner's claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is precluded if "a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence" absent proof that the inmate has already secured invalidation of that conviction or sentence. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487. In 1997, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Balisok, which, in essence, extended Heck. The Court in Balisok held that a plaintiff's claim for damages arising from allegations of a violation of procedural due process in the context of a prison disciplinary hearing is not cognizable under section 1983 where the nature of the due process challenge necessarily implies the invalidity of the disciplinary determination issued and/or punishment imposed, unless the disposition has already been reversed through a state administrative or judicial habeas proceeding. Balisok, 520 U.S. at 645. These two cases, however, do not apply to all suits challenging prison disciplinary proceedings. Mohammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 754 (2004).
Since the Court's decision in Balisok was rendered, the Second Circuit has interpreted Balisok and Mohammed to distinguish between those cases involving challenges to disciplinary penalties that only affect the conditions of an inmate's confinement - including disciplinary segregation such as keeplock and solitary confinement - and those resulting in the imposition of sanctions impacting upon an inmate's good-time credits. Jenkins v. Haubert, 179 F.3d 19, 22-23 (2d Cir. 1999). Applying Balisok, the Second Circuit concluded that a plaintiff challenging only the conditions of his confinement, where no good time credits have been lost as a result of the disciplinary hearing at issue, need not show as a threshold matter that the disciplinary hearing decision and sentence were reversed or invalidated. Jenkins, 179 F.3d at 27. Since the plaintiff in Jenkins was not attacking the fact or length of his confinement, either directly or indirectly, it was not necessary for him to invalidate the prison hearing officer's judgment against him prior to bringing a section 1983 claim for damages. Id.
Notwithstanding the rule announced in Balisok and carried over into the Supreme Court's later decision in Mohammad, the Second Circuit has clarified that if, as a prerequisite for maintaining his section 1983 action, a prisoner agrees to abandon, once and for all, the portion of his challenge directed to the duration of incarceration, then success in the section 1983 action will have no affect on the sanctions that relate to the length of time served in prison, and, accordingly, the inmate can proceed with his due process claim. Peralta, 467 F.3d at 105. Under Peralta's limited exception to the rule in Balisok, in order to pursue his section 1983 due process claim in this action, plaintiff must therefore abandon - not just at present, but for all time - any claims he may have with respect to the duration of his confinement that arise out of the proceeding now challenged. Id. at 104.
The plaintiff in this case has made such a commitment. Dkt. No. 15. Plaintiff's Peralta waiver has been acknowledged and accepted by the court, and all claims in this action relating to disciplinary sanctions imposed that affect the duration of his confinement have been dismissed. Decision and Order (Dkt. No. 20) at 3. I therefore recommend a finding that Heck does not provide a basis for dismissal of plaintiff's procedural due process claim under the circumstances of this case.
D. Recovery of Compensatory Damages
In their motion, defendants also challenge plaintiff's request for an award of compensatory damages based upon his failure to allege that he suffered a physical injury as a result of the defendants' alleged unconstitutional conduct. Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1) at 6.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, "[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a... correctional facility for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). The Second Circuit has held that section 1997e(e) applies to all federal civil actions, including those pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thompson v. Carter, 284 F.3d 411, 417-18 (2d Cir. 2002) As such, "[c]laims brought by prisoners pursuant to [section] 1983 for... damages unrelated to any physical injuries are subject to dismissal." Shariff v. Coombe, No. 96-CV-3001, 2002 WL 1392164, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2002). The absence of physical injury does not totally bar civil rights claims by inmates, however, because section 1997e(e) does not preclude claims for nominal damages, punitive damages, or declaratory or injunctive relief. Shariff, 2002 WL 1392164, at *5.
Defendants are correct that plaintiff's complaint is devoid of any indication that he experienced physical injury as a result of their conduct. See generally Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39). Moreover, in his response opposing defendants' motion, plaintiff has failed to controvert that assertion. See generally Plf.'s Resp. (Dkt. No. 46). Although it is not clear from plaintiff's amended complaint whether he seeks monetary damages as relief, his original complaint sought $800, 000 in damages. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 6. Accordingly, to the extent that plaintiff continues to seek compensatory damages in his amended complaint, I recommend dismissal of plaintiff's claim for recovery of compensatory damages on this independent basis.
E. Eleventh Amendment
Defendants next seek dismissal of plaintiff's claims against Marcy Correctional Facility ("Marcy"), and his damage claims against the two individual defendants in their official capacities. Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1) at 4-6. This is an argument that has previously been raised and addressed by the court, specifically in Chief Judge Sharpe's memorandumdecision and order dated August 2, 2012, and plaintiff's amended complaint does not allege any facts that would alter the result of that decision. Memorandum-Decision and Order (Dkt. No. 37) at 7-8. Accordingly, to the extent that plaintiff's amended complaint attempts to reassert damage claims against Marcy and the two individual defendants in their official capacities, I recommend that they be dismissed as precluded under the Eleventh Amendment.
F. Eighth Amendment
In his decision and order dated August 2, 2012, Chief Judge Sharpe also construed plaintiff's original complaint as asserting an Eighth Amendment claim based upon the conditions plaintiff alleged he experienced in SHU confinement. Memorandum-Decision and Order (Dkt. No. 37) at 8-13. Finding a lack of any allegations concerning the conditions which he experienced in SHU, that potential Eighth Amendment claim was dismissed with leave to replead. Id. Having carefully reviewed plaintiff's amended complaint, I am unable to discern any new allegations that would give rise to a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim. Accordingly, to the extent that plaintiff's amended complaint could be construed as asserting such a claim, I recommend that it be dismissed.
G. Procedural Due Process
At the heart of plaintiff's amended complaint is his contention that, during the course of disciplinary proceedings against him, he was denied procedural due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. See generally Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39). Specifically, although the amended complaint is less than clear, it appears that plaintiff alleges that his due process claim arises from his sentence of SHU confinement. Id. Defendants seek dismissal of this claim, arguing both that plaintiff was not deprived of a cognizable liberty interest sufficient to trigger the Fourteenth Amendment's due process protections, and that, in any event, he received all of the process due under that provision. Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1) at 8-9.
To establish a procedural due process claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must show that he (1) possessed an actual liberty interest, and (2) was deprived of that interest without being afforded sufficient process. See Tellier v. Fields, 280 F.3d 69, 79-80 (2d Cir. 2000); Hynes v. Squillace, 143 F.3d 653, 658 (2d Cir. 1998); Bedoya v. Coughlin, 91 F.3d 349, 351-52 (2d Cir. 1996).
1. Liberty Interest
In Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995), the Supreme Court determined that, to establish a liberty interest in the context of a prison disciplinary proceeding resulting in removal of an inmate from the general prison population, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) the state actually created a protected liberty interest in being free from segregation, and (2) the segregation would impose an "atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin, 515 U.S. at 483-84; Tellier, 280 F.3d at 79-80; Hynes, 143 F.3d at 658. The prevailing view in this circuit is that, by its regulatory scheme, the State of New York has created a liberty interest in remaining free from disciplinary confinement, thus satisfying the first Sandin factor. See, e.g., LaBounty v. Coombe, No. 95-C2617, 2001 WL 1658245, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 26, 2001); Alvarez v. Coughlin, No. 94-CV-0985, 2001 WL 118598, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2001) (Kahn, J.). Accordingly, to find that plaintiff's amended complaint states a cognizable due process claim, I must inquire whether the allegations related to the conditions of plaintiff's SHU confinement rise to the level of an atypical and significant hardship under Sandin.
Atypicality in a Sandin inquiry is normally a question of law. Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 230-31 (2d Cir. 2000); Sealey v. Giltner, 197 F.3d 578, 585 (2d Cir. 1999). "[W]hether the conditions of a segregation amount to an atypical and significant hardship' turns on the duration of the segregation and a comparison with the conditions in the general population and in other categories of segregation." Arce v. Walker, 139 F.3d 329, 336 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Brooks v. DiFasi, 112 F.3d 46, 48-49 (2d Cir. 1997)). In cases involving shorter periods of segregated confinement where the plaintiff has not alleged any unusual conditions, however, a court may not need to undergo a detailed analysis of these considerations. Arce, 139 F.3d at 336; Hynes, 143 F.3d at 658.
The allegations in this case concerning the length of plaintiff's SHU confinement arising from the disciplinary proceedings against him are nebulous at best. In his original complaint, plaintiff alleges that, as a result of his guilty conviction at the disciplinary proceeding at issue, he was sentenced to ninety days of SHU confinement. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 10, 12, 26. In plaintiff's more recent submission supplementing his amended complaint, however, it is alleged that he spent six months in SHU confinement. Dkt. No. 42-1 at 3. Because I am bound to extend special solicitude to a pro se litigant's proceedings, and because plaintiff's original complaint, which alleges that he was confined in SHU for only ninety days, is no longer operative, I find that the allegation contained in plaintiff's amended complaint and supplemental submissions in this regard are sufficient to plausibly suggest that his confinement was atypical under Sandin. 
2. Procedural Safeguards
Having determined that plaintiff could potentially establish that he was deprived of a constitutionally significant liberty interest, the court must next assess whether he was afforded the requisite due process in connection with that deprivation. The procedural safeguards to which a prison inmate is entitled before being deprived of a constitutionally cognizable liberty interest are well established, the contours of the requisite protections having been articulated in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564-69 (1974). Under Wolff, the constitutionally mandated due process requirements include (1) written notice of the charges to the inmate; (2) the opportunity to appear at a disciplinary hearing and present witnesses and evidence in support of his defense, subject to a prison facility's legitimate safety and penological concerns; (3) a written statement by the hearing officer explaining his decision and the reasons for the action being taken; and (4) in some circumstances, the right to assistance in preparing a defense. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 564-70; see also Eng v. Coughlin, 858 F.2d 889, 897-98 (2d Cir. 1988). To pass muster under the Fourteenth Amendment, a hearing officer's disciplinary determination must garner the support of at least "some evidence." Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst., Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985).
In this case, defendants' motion focuses on whether the timing of the disciplinary hearing comported with both state regulations and due process. This position appears to overlook the primary thrust of plaintiff's procedural due process claim, which is that the hearing officer's determination was not supported by sufficient, competent evidence. Specifically, liberally construing the amended complaint, it is alleged that plaintiff was found guilty at the disciplinary hearing notwithstanding the fact that he had provided evidence to suggest that no order of protection was in place against him and in favor of his wife, and that he had provided prison officials with a phone number belonging to his mother-in-law, rather than his wife. Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 5-6. Although the amended complaint also alleges that defendants CalaBrese and Kinderman told plaintiff that they had found a order of protection in place by the Rockland County Sheriff's Department, and thus raises a question of whether plaintiff's due process claim has merit, I am inclined to deny defendant's motion at this early stage. The parties should have the opportunity to explore, through discovery, whether an order of protection was in place, whether its existence somehow provided support for the disciplinary charges asserted against plaintiff, and whether plaintiff's inclusion of his mother-in-law's phone number in his letter dated February 13, 2011, and addressed to defendant Kinderman, provided support for the guilty finding. Accordingly, I recommend that defendants' motion for dismissal of plaintiff's procedural due process claim be denied as premature at this juncture.
The second of the two claims asserted in plaintiff's amended complaint is based on allegations that he was issued a false misbehavior report by defendant CalaBrese, in retaliation for having filed a grievance regarding the placement of his wife on his restricted communication list. Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 3-6. Defendants seek dismissal of this claim arguing succinctly that, "[w]ith regard to plaintiff's claims against Defendant Cala[B]rese, plaintiff has failed to allege any cognizable claim against her and the complaint should be dismissed." Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1) at 9.
It is well-established that standing alone, the mere allegation that a false misbehavior report has been filed against an inmate does not give rise to a cognizable constitutional claim. Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 862 (2d Cir. 1997); Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir. 1986). A cognizable section 1983 retaliation claim lies, however, when prison officials take adverse action against an inmate, motivated by the inmate's exercise of a constitutional right, including the free speech provisions of the First Amendment. See Friedl v. City of New York, 210 F.3d 79, 85 (2d Cir. 2000) ("In general, a section 1983 claim will lie where the government takes negative action against an individual because of his exercise of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or federal laws."). To state a prima facie claim under section 1983 for retaliatory conduct, a plaintiff must advance non-conclusory allegations establishing that (1) the conduct at issue was protected, (2) the defendants took adverse action against the plaintiff, and (3) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action - in other words, that the protected conduct was a "substantial or motivating factor" in the prison officials' decision to take action against the plaintiff. Mount Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977); Dillon v. Morano, 497 F.3d 247, 251 (2d Cir. 2007); Garrett v. Reynolds, No. 99-CV-2065, 2003 WL 22299359, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 3, 2003) (Sharpe, M.J.). "[P]rison officials' conduct constitutes an adverse action' when it would deter a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness from exercising his or her constitutional rights." Alicea v. Howell, 387 F.Supp.2d 227, 237 (W.D.N.Y. 2005) (quoting Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 492 (2d Cir. 2001)).
In this case, plaintiff's amended complaint states a plausible retaliation claim against defendant CalaBrese. In support of his retaliation claim, plaintiff alleges that he filed a grievance complaining about defendant CalaBrese's actions regarding placement of his wife's name on his restricted communication list. Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 3. It is well-settled that the filing of a grievance constitutes constitutionally protected conduct. Johnson v. Eggersdorf, 8 F.Appx. 140, 144 (2d Cir. 2001); Graham v. R.J. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 80 (2d Cir. 1996). The amended complaint further alleges that shortly thereafter, defendant CalaBrese issued a false misbehavior report against plaintiff, accusing him of violating prison rules, an act that can suffice to establish adverse action. See Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379, 384 (2d Cir. 2004) ("[The plaintiff] sufficiently alleged... adverse action on the part of the defendants - the filing of false misbehavior reports against [him] and his sentence... - that would deter a prisoner of ordinary firmness from vindicating his... constitutional rights through the grievance process[.]"). Plaintiff's complaint has also pleaded sufficient facts to satisfy the third, causation element of a retaliation analysis. In the context of the issuance of disciplinary charges alleged to have been prompted by retaliatory animus, analysis of the third element, causation, is informed by several relevant factors, including "(1) the temporal proximity between the protected activity and the alleged retaliatory act, (2) the inmate's prior good disciplinary record, (3) vindication at a hearing on the matter, and (4) statements by the defendant concerning his... motivation." Jean-Laurent v. Lane, No. 11-C0186, 2013 WL 600213, at *8 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2013) (Dancks, M.J.), report and recommendation adopted by 2013 WL 599893 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2013) (Mordue, J.). Liberally construed, Read's amended complaint alleges that causation is premised upon the close proximity in time between the grievances filed by him, and the allegedly retaliatory false misbehavior report issuance. See Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 3-5 (alleging that he filed a grievance against defendant CalaBrese between January 25-31, 2011, and he was issued the false misbehavior report in or about mid-February 2011 related to the contents of his grievance against defendant CalaBrese). At this early state in the litigation, such allegations are sufficient to satisfy the causation element. See, e.g., Bennett v. Goord, 343 F.3d 133 (2d Cir. 2003) (finding that the plaintiff's complaint satisfied the causation element, where it was alleged that the misbehavior report was issued "just days after [the plaintiff] filed his grievance"). I therefore recommend that defendants' motion with respect to this claim be denied.
I. Qualified Immunity
In their motion, defendants request dismissal of plaintiff's claims against them on the basis of qualified immunity. Defs.' Memo. of Law (Dkt. No. 40-1) at 13-15. "Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages liability unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Reichle v. Howards, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093 (2012); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009); Sudler v. City of New York, 689 F.3d 159, 174 (2d Cir. 2012). The law of qualified immunity seeks to strike a balance between "the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. Government officials are shielded from liability by qualified immunity when making "reasonable mistakes" concerning the lawfulness of their conduct. Sudler, 689 F.3d at 174 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 206 (2001), abrogated on other grounds by Pearson, 555 U.S. 223)).
Because qualified immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability, " Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985), the Supreme Court has "repeatedly... stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in the litigation, " Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231 (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per curiam)).
The determination of whether a government official is immune from suit is informed by two factors. Doninger v. Niehoff, 642 F.3d 334, 345 (2d Cir. 2011). Specifically, the inquiry turns on whether the facts alleged, taken in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, show that the conduct at issue violated a constitutional right, and if so, "whether that right was clearly established' at the time of the events at issue." Nagle v. Marron, 663 F.3d 100, 114 (2d Cir. 2011) (citing Saucier, 533 U.S. at 194, 201, 202); accord, Sira v. Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 68-69 (2d Cir. 2004). The Supreme Court has said that an officer's "conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a right are sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). However, "[e]ven where the law is clearly established' and the scope of an official's permissible conduct is clearly defined, ' the qualified immunity defense also protects an official if it was objectively reasonable' for him at the time of the challenged action to believe his acts were lawful." Higazy v. Templeton, 505 F.3d 161, 169-70 (2d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). This "objective reasonableness" part of the test is met if "officers of reasonable competence could disagree on [the legality of the defendant's actions]." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).
Plaintiff's two remaining claims in the action assert a violation of his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and unlawful retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. Both of these rights were firmly established at the relevant times. Unfortunately, the court is not well positioned at this early juncture, based only on the allegations set forth in plaintiff's amended complaint, to determine whether it was objectively reasonable for the defendants to believe that their conduct did not run afoul of those constitutional provisions. Simply stated, because the qualified immunity analysis is closely intertwined with the merits of the case, and notwithstanding the Second Circuit's admonition that qualified immunity be decided at the earliest possible juncture, Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231, I conclude that it is premature to address the issue based upon the scant record now before the court
J. Whether to Permit Further Amendment
Ordinarily, a court should not dismiss a complaint filed by a pro se litigant without granting leave to amend at least once "when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Branum v. Clark, 927 F.2d 698, 704-05 (2d Cir. 1991); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) ("The court should freely give leave when justice so requires."); Mathon v. Marine Midland Bank, N.A., 875 F.Supp. 986, 1003 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) (permitting leave to replead where the court could "not determine that the plaintiffs would not, under any circumstances, be able to allege a civil RICO conspiracy"). In this instance, given the procedural history of the action, the court must determine whether plaintiff is entitled to the benefit of this general rule.
This action has been pending for more than two years, during which issue has not been joined, and discovery has yet to be commenced. Plaintiff has been given considerable guidance, through the issuance of several decisions from the court, concerning the requirements necessary to support his various claims, most recently in the form of an order dismissing his complaint in its entirety, with leave to replead. Under these circumstances, and having carefully reviewed plaintiff's various submissions, I conclude that plaintiff has been given adequate opportunity to cure the defects identified in his pleadings, and, with respect to some of his claims, he has either been unable to cure them or deliberately ignored the court's guidance. For example, although Chief Judge Sharpe explained the concept of immunity under the Eleventh Amendment in his decision dated August 2, 2012, Dkt. No. 37, plaintiff insists that immunity does not apply. See Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 39) at 1 ("The State therefor[e] is not entitled to absolute immunity."). Accordingly, I find that no useful purpose would be served in permitting a further amendment, that such an opportunity would be an exercise in futility, and that defendants will suffer undue prejudice in further delay. I therefore recommend that plaintiff not be afforded the opportunity to file a second amended complaint in the action to cure the deficiencies discussed above in Parts III.D., E., and F. of this report.
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges that defendant CalaBrese issued a misbehavior report falsely accusing him of violating prison rules, and that during the course of the ensuing disciplinary proceeding, resulting in his disciplinary confinement in a facility SHU, he was denied due process in that the hearing officer, defendant Kinderman, was biased and his determination was not supported by the evidence. While drawing no conclusions as to whether plaintiff will ultimately be able to substantiate these claims, either at trial or in defense of a motion for summary judgment, at this juncture I recommend a finding that those two claims have been plausibly alleged.
Accordingly, it is hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED that defendants' motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 40) be GRANTED in part, and denied in part, as follows:
(1) Plaintiff's claims against the Marcy Correctional Facility and his claim for damages against defendants CalaBrese and Kinderman in their official capacites be DISMISSED;
(2) Plaintiff's compensatory damage claims against all defendants be DISMISSED, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e);
(3) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims be DISMISSED; and
(4) Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process and First Amendment retaliation claims survive defendants' motion to dismiss, and that defendants be directed to respond to the amended complaint to the extent that it asserts those claims.
NOTICE: Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections must be filed with the clerk of the court within FOURTEEN days of service of this report. FAILURE TO SO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a), 6(d), 72; Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993).
It is hereby ORDERED that the clerk of the court serve a copy of this report and recommendation upon the parties in accordance with this court's local rules.
Wayne Hargrove, Ossining, NY, pro se.
Alexander V. Sansone, Troy & Troy, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, Joseph Carney, Mineola, NY, for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
*1 Inmate Wayne Hargrove ("Hargrove" or "plaintiff") brings this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Nassau County Sheriff, Nassau County Correctional Facility ("NCCF") and NCCF's medical staff, (collectively, "defendants"), seeking damages for injuries allegedly caused by defendants while he was incarcerated at NCCF. Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 arguing, inter alia, that Hargrove's claims should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. For the following reasons, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.
On August 27, 2004, FN1 Hargrove filed a complaint, alleging that defendants violated his civil rights when they forcibly administered purified protein derivative skin tests ("PPD test") to test for latent tuberculosis ("TB") in April 2002, 2003 and 2004 while he was incarcerated at NCCF. Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. in Opp. at 1-4, Ex. A. Hargrove named Nassau County Sheriff Edward Reilly ("Reilly"), NCCF and Nassau County University Medical StaffFN2 as defendants.3 On November 22, 2004, after discovery, County Defendants and NHCC Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Both defendants properly filed a Local Rule 56.1 Statement and served Hargrove a Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.2.
FN1. Hargrove signed the complaint August 27, 2004. The pro se clerk's office received and filed the complaint on September 20, 2004. Under the prison mail-box rule, a pro se prisoner's complaint is deemed filed when it is delivered to prison authorities. See, e.g., Walker v. Jastremski, 430 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir.2005)(deeming pro se prisoner's § 1983 action filed on date complaint was handed to prison officials). There is no evidence in the record as to when Hargrove handed the complaint to prison officials. However, it is clear the operative date is between August 27, 2004 and September 20, 2004. As discussed, infra, both of these dates occur before Hargrove properly exhausted the administrative remedies available to him at NCCF.
FN2. The Nassau County University Medical Staff are employed by the Nassau Health Care Corporation ("NHCC"). Pursuant to the Correctional Center Health Services Agreement between the County of Nassau and NHCC, dated September 24, 1999, NHCC provides medical services for inmates at NCCF. County Defs.'s
Not. of Motion, Decl., at 1.
FN3. Reilly and NCCF are represented separately from NHCC. Accordingly, when a distinction is necessary, Reilly and NCCF will be referred to as "County Defendants" and Nassau County University Medical Staff and NHCC will be referred to as "NHCC Defendants."
Tuberculosis Testing at NCCF
Upon entering NCCF, new prisoners must first go through medical intake. Aff. of Kim Edwards, ("Edwards Aff.") ¶ 3. This standard process usually takes seventy-two hours. Edwards Aff. ¶ 4. During medical intake, NCCF tests inmates for TB. Aff. of Getachew Feleke ("Feleke Aff.") ¶ 3. NCCF generally uses a PPD test to detect latent TB. Feleke Aff. ¶ 3. However, if an inmate has previously tested positive for TB, it is NCCF's policy to test for TB using an x-ray instead.4 Feleke Aff. ¶ 3. As part of its Infectious Disease Program, NCCF re-tests inmates for TB each year, beginning after they have been housed in that facility for one year. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5.
FN4. According to WebMD, "[a] tuberculin skin test should not be done for people who have a(1) Known TB infection [or a] (2) Positive tuberculin skin test in the past. A second test may cause a more severe reaction to the TB antigens." Jan Nissl, RN, BS, Tuberculin Skin Tests, WEBMD, http://www.webmd.com/hw/lab tests/hw203560.asp (last visited Jan. 31, 2007).
Hargrove's Tuberculosis Testing at NCCF
On March 15, 2002, Hargrove was incarcerated at NCCF. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 1. Before entering the general population, Hargrove was processed through medical intake. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2. The NCCF Medical Intake Chart for Hargrove, dated March 15, 2002 ("3/15/02 Chart"), shows that Hargrove informed medical staff that he had previously been exposed to tuberculosis. NHCC Defs.' Notice of Mot., Ex. C, at 1; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement 2. The 3/15/02 Chart also shows that Hargrove reported testing positive to a prior PPD test and that he had been treated for TB in 2000. NHCC Defs.' Notice of Mot., Ex. C, at 1. Hargrove alleges that he was exposed to and treated for TB in 1997. Hargrove's Aff. in Opp. to Mot. for Summary Judgment, ("Aff. in Opp."), Ex. A at 1-2. Defendants contend that Hargrove was given an x-ray during the medical intake process because of his reported positive PPD test, and that the x-ray was negative, showing no active TB infection. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2; Edwards Aff. ¶ 3. Without specifying a date, Hargrove generally states that his "request to be x-rayed was denied." Aff. in Opp. at 3.
*2 Pursuant to NCCF's Infectious Disease Program, after being incarcerated in NCCF for a year, Hargrove was scheduled to be re-tested for TB. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 4. On May 24, 2003, Hargrove was given a PPD skin test. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement 4. This test was negative. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 4. According to Hargrove, he requested an x-ray instead of a PPD test because of his previous exposure to TB, but was forced to submit to the PPD test. He also alleges that defendants threatened to put him in "keep lock" or "lock up" unless he submitted to the PPD test.5 Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. in Opp. at 1-4, Ex. A.
FN5. Hargrove has made contradictory statements about being placed in "keep lock" or "lock up". It is unclear whether he is alleging that defendants threatened to place him in "lock up" unless he submitted to the PPD test or whether he was actually placed in "lock up" until such time that he agreed to submit to the PPD tests. For example, in his complaint, Hargrove states that when he "refused to submit to another [PPD] test, the Correctional Authorities were brought in and placed [him] in lock up." Complaint 114. In a hearing before Magistrate Judge Bloom on January 31, 2005, Hargrove stated that he took the PPD tests because he was told that he would be placed in "lock up" until he submitted to the test. Hr'g Tr. 6:1-18; 9:5-10:10. In Exhibit B to his complaint, Hargrove alleges both that he was given an unwarranted TB shot and that when he refused the same shot he was placed in "keep lock." Complaint, Ex. B. There is no evidence in the record that Hargrove was ever segregated from the general population while housed at NCCF, outside of the seventy-two hour initial medical intake period. Aff. of Sgt. Neumann ("Neumann Aff.") at 1-2 (referring to prison records showing Hargrove's holding locations which demonstrate that he was never placed in "lock up"); NCCF 56.1 Statement ¶ E. Whether or not Hargrove was actually placed in "lock up" is not a material fact for purposes of this motion; as explained in detail, infra, Hargrove's failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA precludes a consideration of the merits of his Section 1983 claim.
The following year, in June of 2004, Hargrove was scheduled to be retested. Edwards Aff. 6; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 5. Because of the contradiction between the negative May 2003 PPD test and his reported positive history, NCCF contacted the Infectious Disease Department of the Nassau County Medical Center. Edwards Aff. ¶ 6. It was suggested that Hargrove be given a two-step PPD test, administered fifteen days apart. Feleke Aff. ¶ 4; Edwards Aff. 6. Hargrove was given these two PPD skin tests in June 2004. Edwards Aff. 6; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 5. Again, Hargrove alleges that these tests were administered against his will and under threat of being placed in quarantine. Complaint, Exs. A, B; Aff. in Opp., Ex. A.
On December 3, 2004, Hargrove was seen by a physician's assistant. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6. During this meeting, Hargrove complained of a dry cough and that the site on his forearm where the June 2004 PPD tests had been administered was red and swollen. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6; 11/28/04 Sick Call Request.
Hargrove's December 18, 2004 chart notes a positive PPD test and an order was placed in the chart that Hargrove not be submitted for future PPD tests. Edwards Aff. ¶ 7; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 8. See also 11/19/2004 Grievance.
Hargrove alleges that the following physical ailments were caused by the PPD tests: chronic coughing, high blood pressure, chronic back pain, lung infection, dizzy spells, blurred vision and a permanent scar on both his forearms. Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. in Opp. at 3-4.
NCCF's Inmate Grievance Procedure
NCCF has had an inmate grievance program ("IGP") in place since 2001. Aff. of Kenneth Williams, ("Williams Aff."), at 2. NCCF's IGP is carried out in conformance with the New York State Commission of Corrections Minimum Standards and Regulations for Management of County Jails and Penitentiaries ("Minimum Standards"). Id.
The IGP is designed to resolve complaints and grievances that an inmate may have regarding the inmate's care and treatment while incarcerated at NCCF. Williams Aff. at 2. Upon entering NCCF, all inmates receive a copy of the NCCF inmate handbook, which outlines the IGP. Id.
*3 The record does not include an actual copy of NCCF's IGP, but the NCCF's IGP is detailed in the affidavit of NCCF Investigator Kenneth Williams.FN6 The IGP encourages inmates to resolve their grievances informally with the staff member assigned to the inmate housing unit first. Id. If an acceptable resolution cannot be reached, inmates must then proceed through the formal three-step process set out in the IGP. Id. at 3.
FN6. Hargrove does dispute any statements made by Investigator Williams regarding the inmate grievance procedure, time limits or its availability to him. Furthermore, Hargrove does not dispute that he received a handbook outlining the IGP.
The first step requires an inmate to submit his grievance formFN7 to the Inmate Grievance Unit by placing it in a locked box located in each housing area, "within five days of the date of the act or occurrence giving rise to the grievance."FN8 Id. at 2-3. NCCF indexes all grievance forms filed by inmates in a log book and in a computer system. Id. at 1, 3. Once a grievance form is received by the Inmate Grievance Unit, the grievance is investigated and the inmate will receive a written determination of the outcome from the Inmate Grievance Coordinator in Section II of the grievance form.FN9 Id. at 3. The inmate is then given a choice to accept or appeal the decision by checking the desired selection and signing his name in Section III of the grievance form. See, e.g., 11/19/2004 Grievance form. If the inmate is not satisfied with the decision of the Inmate Grievance Coordinator, the inmate may appeal the determination to the Chief Administrative Officer. Williams Aff. at 3. Finally, if the inmate is not satisfied with the Chief Administrative Officer's determination, the inmate may appeal to the New York State Commission of Correction Citizen's Policy and Complaint Review Council ("Council"). Id. at 3. The Council will then render a final determination. Id. at 3.
FN7. The grievance forms contain four sections to be utilized throughout all three steps of the IGP. Section I provides space for the inmate to explain his complaint and the actions he requests as relief. Section II is for the decision of the Inmate Grievance Coordinator. Section III is titled "Acceptance/Appeal of Grievance Coordinator's decision" and contains two mutually exclusive options in which the inmate must choose one or the other: "I have read and accept the Grievance Coordinator's decision, " or "I have read and appeal the Grievance Coordinator's decision." Section IV provides space for the decision of the Chief Administrative Officer.
FN8. Hargrove has not argued that he was unaware of this five-day deadline.
FN9. There is no evidence in the record specifying the how long an inmate has to appeal inaction by the Inmate Grievance Unit.
Authenticity of the Grievance Forms and Other Documents Submitted by Hargrove
In support of his allegations that he continuously informed defendants that he had been exposed to TB and, therefore, should not have been given PPD tests, Hargrove submitted three letters with his complaint, two of which were addressed to the Inmate Grievance Committee and one of which was addressed to "To whom this may concern." Complaint, Exs. A-C. He also submitted five complaint letters written to Sheriff Reilly, seventeen sick call requests and nine grievance forms during discovery and with his Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, explaining that some of the medical records and notarized letters were "missing." Aff. in Opp, Ex. A at 2. Defendants call the authenticity of most of these documents into question, contending that Hargrove never submitted any grievance form or complaint letter before he filed his complaint. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 16-21; County Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶¶ B2, C3, D3.
Kenneth Williams, an investigator at NCCF in the Inmate Grievance Unit, testified that he reviewed all of the grievance forms, complaint letters and sick call requests annexed to Hargrove's Complaint and to Hargrove's Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Williams Aff. at 2. Williams testified that he examined the grievance records at NCCF and searched "for any grievances by plaintiff/inmate Hargrove" and found "only two."FN10 Williams Aff. at 1. The first grievance, dated November 19, 2004, complained that the medical staff continued "forcing [Hargrove] to take a T.B. shot while [he] keep[s] telling them that [he] has been exposed to T.B." 11/19/2004 Grievance; Williams Aff. at 1. In response to this grievance, Hargrove's "positive" TB status was noted in his medical records and an order was placed in Hargrove's medical chart, stating that Hargrove not be subjected to future PPD tests. 11/19/2004 Grievance, Section II; Williams Aff. at 1; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 8; Edwards Aff. ¶ 7. In Section III of the 11/19/2004 Grievance, Hargrove acknowledged that he had read the Grievance Coordinator's decision, and that he chose to accept the decision instead of appealing it. 11/19/2004 Grievance. The other grievance received by the Grievance Unit, dated May 11, 2005, complained of an unrelated matter. 5/11/2005 Grievance (complaining of back problems and requesting the return of his medical shoes); Williams Aff. at 1. Thus, Williams concluded that, beside the 11/19/2004 and 5/11/2005 Grievance Forms, none of the other documents were "received by the grievance unit, and, given the locked box system, the grievance-forms were never submitted by plaintiff/inmate." Williams Aff. at 2.
FN10. It is NCCF's procedure to forward to the attention of the Grievance Unit all official grievance forms and complaint letters-even ones not specifically addressed to the Grievance Unit. Williams Aff. at 3.
*4 A visual examination of the grievance forms Hargrove submitted in support of his claims suggests forgery. Five of the nine grievance forms were requests to stop PPD testing. See April 19, 2002 grievance; April 28, 2002 grievance; April 20, 2003 grievance; April 28, 2003 grievance; November 19, 2004 grievance. The remaining grievance forms concerned Hargrove's requests for medical shoes. See March 18, 2002 grievance; July 6, 2002 grievance; February 20, 2003 grievance; May 11, 2005 grievance. Of the grievance forms complaining of unwanted PPD tests, the April 28, 2002 grievance form is a patent photocopy of the April 19, 2002 grievance form, and the April 28, 2003 grievance form is a patent photocopy copy of the April 20, 2003 grievance form, with only the handwritten dates changed. The only potentially authentic grievance forms relating to Hargrove's complaint about the PPD testing are dated April 19, 2002, April 20, 2003, and November 19, 2004. Of these grievance forms, only the November 19, 2004 has been authenticated by NCCF personnel. See generally Williams Aff. at 1-4.
Turning to the complaint letters addressed to Reilly, many contain notary stamps cut from the bottom of unrelated documents and photocopied onto the bottom of the complaint letters. See County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 18-21. C.O. Thomas McDevitt and C.O. Paul Klein, both of whom perform notary services for prisoners at NCCF, have submitted sworn affidavits, stating that they kept individual Notary Log Books covering all dates relevant to this litigation. Aff. of C.O. Klein, ("Klein Aff."), at 1; Aff. of C.O. McDevitt, ("McDevitt Aff."), at 1. McDevitt's Notary Log Book shows that he notarized only one document for Hargrove. This document, dated May 13, 2002, was a motion related to Hargrove's criminal trial. McDevitt Aff. at 1-2. Hargrove signed the Notary Log Book acknowledging receipt of that notarized motion. McDevitt Aff. at 2. McDevitt states that he never notarized any other documents for Hargrove. McDevitt Aff. at 2. However, McDevitt's stamp and signature dated May 13, 2002 (the date of the legitimate notarization) appear on Hargrove's letter to Sheriff Reilly dated May 10, 2002. County Defs.' Not. of Motion, Ex. A.
These facts repeat themselves in regard to the documents bearing the notary stamp and signature of Klein. Klein had performed several legitimate notarizations for Hargrove in connection to Hargrove's criminal trial. Klein Aff. at 1-2. Hargrove signed Klein's Notary Log Book acknowledging receipt of those notarized documents. Klein Aff. at 2. However, Klein states that he never notarized any of Hargrove's letters addressed to Sheriff Reilly that bear Klein's stamp and signature. Klein Aff. at 2. On all of the documents that Hargrove submitted bearing Klein's stamp and signature, the dates and signatures of Klein match identically to the dates on which he had performed legitimate notarizations for Hargrove in connection with his criminal trial. Defendants argue it is clear that the documents bearing the stamps and signatures of McDevitt and Klein were not actually notarized by these notaries. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 17-22.
*5 Hargrove does not deny these allegations. Instead, he resubmits the documents that McDevitt and Klein testify they did not notarize with his Affidavit in Opposition and insists that the documents "refute[ the assertions put forth by the defendants." Aff. in Opp. at 2.
Summary Judgment Standard
A motion for summary judgment is granted when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A court ruling on a summary judgment motion must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Williams v. Metropolitan Detention Center, 418 F.Supp.2d 96, 100 (E.D.N.Y.2005). Defendants, the moving party in this action, bear the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Baisch v. Gallina, 346 F.3d 366, 371 (2d Cir.2003).
As Hargrove is proceeding pro se, his complaint must be reviewed carefully and liberally, and be interpreted to "raise the strongest argument it suggests, " Green v. United States, 260 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir.2001), particularly when civil rights violations are alleged, see, e.g., McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir.2004). Plaintiffs complaint does not specify the legal theories upon which it relies, but, in construing his complaint to raise its strongest arguments, it will be interpreted to raise claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Dufort v. Burgos , No. 04-CV-4940, 2005 WL 2660384, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2005) (liberally construing plaintiffs complaint, which failed to specify the legal theory or theories upon which it rested, as, inter alia, a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 100 (same).
Prison Litigation Reform Act
a. Purpose of the Prison Litigation Reform Act
The PLRA was intended to "reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits." Woodford v. Argo, ___ U.S. ____, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2387 (2006) (quoting Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002)). It seeks to eliminate unwarranted interference with the administration of prisons by federal courts, and thus "affor[d] corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.' " Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2387 (quoting Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). See also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001). Formal grievance procedures allow prison officials to reconsider their policies, implement the necessary corrections and discipline prison officials who fail to follow existing policy. See Ruggiero v. County of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 177-78 (2d Cir.2006).
b. The Exhaustion Requirement
The PLRA's "invigorated" exhaustion provision, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a), provides the mechanism to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoners' suits by requiring that prison officials have the opportunity to address prisoner complaints through internal processes before allowing a case to proceed in federal court. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382 (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 524).Section 1997e(a) provides that:
*6 [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, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).
The exhaustion requirement is a mandatory condition precedent to any suit challenging prison conditions, including suits brought under Section 1983. Woodford , 126 S.Ct. at 2383; Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 174; Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 100-01. The exhaustion provision is applicable to suits seeking relief, such as money damages, that may not be available in prison administrative proceedings, as long as other forms of relief are obtainable through administrative channels. Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 675 (2d Cir.2004); see also Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382-83 ("[A] prisoner must now exhaust administrative remedies even where the relief sought-monetary damages-cannot be granted by the administrative process.") (citing Booth, 532 U.S. at 734).
In June 2006, the Supreme Court held that the PLRA requires "proper exhaustion" before a case may proceed in federal court. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2387. "Proper exhaustion" requires a prisoner to use "all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).'" Ruggiero , 467 F.3d at 176 (citing Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2385 (emphasis in original)). Although the level of detail necessary to properly exhaust a prison's grievance process will vary from system to system, Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910, 2007 WL 135890, at *12 (Jan. 22, 2007), "proper exhaustion" under the PLRA "demands compliance with [that] agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules.'" Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (quoting Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2386). Thus, the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is not satisfied by "untimely or otherwise procedurally defective attempts to secure administrative remedies." Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (citing Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382).
Exhaustion Analysis: Hargrove did not Exhaust the Administrative Remedies Made Available by NCCF prior to Bringing Suit
Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA applies to Hargrove's complaint; Hargrove was and continues to be confined in a correctional facility, see Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 87 (2d Cir.2004), and Hargrove's claim is about a "prison condition" within the meaning of the PLRA, see Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101. See also Sloane v. W. Mazzuca, No. 04-CV-8266, 2006 WL 3096031, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 31, 2006) (recognizing PLRA's application to complaint alleging retaliation by prison officials for plaintiffs refusal to consent to a PPD test). Accordingly, the merits of Hargrove's Section 1983 claims can only be addressed if it is first determined that Hargrove properly exhausted each claim under Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA before filing his complaint in federal court.
*7 Hargrove has submitted both forgedFN11 and authentic grievance forms in opposing defendants' motions for summary judgment. Excluding, for the moment, the forged documents, NCCF's records reflect that Hargrove did not submit his first grievance until after he filed the instant complaint. Williams Aff. at 1. Hargrove's first grievance complaining of unwanted PPD testing is dated November 19, 2004, Williams Aff. at 1, two to three months after Hargrove filed his complaint. Additionally, this first grievance, dated November 19, 2004, was submitted five months after the last PPD test was administered to him in June 2004. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 5, 6. This five-month period far exceeds the five-day window provided by NCCF's IGP. Since Hargrove failed to comply with the IGP's deadlines, he did not properly exhaust the available administrative remedies. Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 ("untimely or otherwise procedurally defective attempts to secure administrative remedies do not satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.'") (quoting Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382).
FN11. Based on an examination of the documents themselves, as well as the uncontradicted testimony of the notaries performing services for prisoners at NCCF, see generally Klein Aff.; McDevitt Aff., and of the investigator in the Inmate Grievance Unit, see generally Williams Aff., it appears that many of the documents submitted by Hargrove are forgeries. However, in order to view the facts in the light most favorable to Hargrove, and so as to avoid making findings of fact in a summary judgment motion, for the purposes of the exhaustion analysis, all of the documents will be considered to be authentic. However, for purposes of the sanctions analysis, the documents will be explored and the consequences of Hargrove's misrepresentations will be addressed.
Furthermore, even if the falsified grievance forms Hargrove submitted in support of his claim are considered authentic, they are still untimely. The diagnostic TB tests (whether x-ray or PPD tests) were given to Hargrove on March 15, 2002, May 24, 2003 and in June of 2004, but the grievance forms Hargrove submitted complaining of unwanted PPD tests are dated April 19, 2002, April 28, 2002, April 20, 2003, April 28, 2003 and November 19, 2004. None of these grievances were filed "within five days of the of the date of the act or occurrence giving rise to the grievance." Williams Aff. at 3. There is no evidence in the record suggesting that NCCF's IGP allows for a tolling of the five-day time limit in which to file a grievance.12
FN12. Even if the submitted grievances had been filed within the proscribed time period, they only show that Hargrove's grievances reached an Inmate Grievance Coordinator, the first formal step of NCCF's three-step administrative grievance process; Hargrove never appealed to the Chief Administrative Officer. By failing to take the next available step in NCCF's IGP, Hargrove failed to satisfy the mandatory exhaustion requirement. See, e.g., Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101, 102 (dismissing pro se complaint where plaintiff could only show he exhausted two of the four-step process mandated by prison's administrative process).
While the letters to Reilly and sick call requests show that Hargrove attempted to bring his complaints about the PPD testing to the attention of the prison staff, see, e.g., Aff. in Opp., Exs. A-D, NCCF's IGP requires use of formal grievance forms. Thus, writing complaint letters and submitting sick call requests did not properly exhaust NCCF's available administrative remedies. See, e.g., Hernandez v. Coffey, No. 99-CV-11615, 2006 WL 2109465, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2006) (holding letters did not satisfy plaintiffs exhaustion obligation); Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101 (holding that because plaintiffs efforts to convey his medical condition through letters and conversations with the warden and medical staff did "not include the required steps of the PLRA's administrative remedy process, " plaintiff failed to exhaust); Mills v. Garvin, No. 99-CV-6032, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3333, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2001) ("letter writing is not the equivalent of an exhaustion of administrative remedies under the PLRA").
As Hargrove failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies, this action is precluded by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) unless Hargrove can establish excuse for his failure to exhaust.
No Grounds to Excuse Plaintiffs Failure to Exhaust
*8 Exhaustion is an affirmative defense that defendants have the duty to raise. Jones, 2007 WL 135890, at * 8-11; Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *4; Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101. Once argued by the defendants, a plaintiff has an opportunity to show why the exhaustion requirement should be excused or why his failure to exhaust is justified. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175; Collins v. Goord, 438 F.Supp.2d 399, 411 (S.D.N.Y.2006) ("[T]he Second Circuit has cautioned that while the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is mandatory, ' certain caveats apply.'")(internal citations omitted). Thus, before concluding that a prisoner failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as required by Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA, the following three factors must be considered: (1) whether administrative remedies were actually available to the prisoner; (2) whether defendants have either waived the defense of failure to exhaust or acted in such a way as to estop them from raising the defense; and (3) whether special circumstances, such as a reasonable misunderstanding of the grievance procedures, exist justifying the prisoner's failure to comply with the exhaustion requirement. Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175 (citing Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004)).FN13
FN13. Courts in the Second Circuit have questioned what effect, if any, the Supreme Court's recent decision in Woodford requiring "proper exhaustion" may have on the three-step Hemphill inquiry. The Second Circuit has yet to address this issue. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175-76 (declining to "determine what effect Woodford has on our case law in this area... because [plaintiff] could not have prevailed even under our pre- Woodford case law). To date, district courts have acknowledged the tension, but resolved to apply Hemphill to exhaustion claims until instructed otherwise by the Second Circuit. See, e.g., Larkins v. Selsky, 04-CV-5900, 2006 WL 3548959, at *9, n. 4 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 6, 2006) (applying the current law of the Second Circuit to exhaustion claims); Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *5 ("Until such time as the Court of Appeals considers the impact of Woodford, if any, on its prior rulings, this Court must follow the law of the Second Circuit. The Court will therefore apply the current law of this circuit to the exhaustion claims."); Collins v. Goord, 438 F.Supp.2d at 411 n. 13 (acknowledging that Woodford and Hemphill may be in tension, but deciding exhaustion claims under Hemphill inquiry); Hernandez v. Coffey, No. 99-CV11615, 2006 WL 2109465, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2006) (same). Here, Hargrove does not prevail under Hemphill: therefore, there is no occasion to address the potential effect Woodford may have had in his case.
a. Whether administrative remedies were "available" to Hargrove
The first step in the Hemphill inquiry requires a court to determine whether administrative remedies were available to the prisoner. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. The test for assessing availability is an "objective one: that is, would a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness have deemed them available." Id. at 688 (internal quotation marks omitted). In making this determination, "courts should be careful to look at the applicable set of grievance procedures." Abney v. McGinnis, 380 F.3d 663, 668 (2d Cir.2004). Exhaustion may be considered unavailable in situations where plaintiff is unaware of the grievance procedures or did not understand it, Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 179, or where defendants' behavior prevents plaintiff from seeking administrative remedies, FN14 Hemphill v. State of New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004).
FN14. Case law does not clearly distinguish between situations in which defendants' behavior renders administrative remedies "unavailable" to the plaintiff and cases in which defendants are estopped from asserting non-exhaustion as an affirmative defense because of their behavior. As such, there will be some overlap in the analyses. Here, Hargrove has not claimed that NCCF's administrative grievance procedure was unavailable to him. In fact, Hargrove demonstrated his access to and knowledge of NCCF's IGP by filing proper grievances on November 19, 2004 and on May 10, 2005. Hargrove did not dispute any part of Investigator Williams's affidavit detailing the IGP and its availability to inmates since 2001. Specifically, Hargrove did not dispute, upon entering the facility, that he received a copy of the inmate handbook outlining the IGP. He has not claimed that he is unfamiliar with or unaware of NCCF's IGP. Hargrove has not alleged that prison officials failed to advance his grievancesFN15. or that they threatened him or took any other action which effectively rendered the administrative process unavailable.
FN15. Although not specifically alleged, interpreting the evidence to "raise the strongest argument, " Hargrove may be arguing that NCCF's IGP was not available to him because the Grievance Coordinator failed to respond to his grievances. In the single grievance regarding PPD tests that defendants concede is authentic, Hargrove writes, "[n]ow for the third time your office refused to answer my grievances so please look into this matter because the T.B. shot is [sic] effecting my health." 11/19/04 Grievance. This language implies that Hargrove filed grievances in the past and received no response from the Inmate Grievance Coordinator. Furthermore, Hargrove wrote on one of the submitted copies of the November 19, 2004 grievance that "[t]his is the only accepte[sic] that Plaintiff got back from all grievances and letters that the Plaintiff sent to Sheriff Riley and his medical staffs about his staff making [sic] take T.B. test for 3 year[s]." County Defs.' Not. of Motion, Ex. A, 11/19/2004 grievance.
First, it must be reiterated that filing of the initial grievances was untimely. However, even assuming arguendo that the original grievances had been timely filed, district courts in the Second Circuit have held that the "lack of a response from the [Inmate Grievance Review Committee] does not excuse an inmate's obligation to exhaust his remedies through available appeals." Hernandez v. Coffey, 2006 WL 2109465, at *3-5. See also Hemphill, 380 F.3d. at 686 ("Threats or other intimidation by prison officials may well deter a prisoner of ordinary firmness' from filing an internal grievance, but not from appealing directly to individuals in positions of greater authority within the prison system"); Acosta v. Corr. Officer Dawkins, No. 04-CV-6678, 2005 WL 1668627, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. July 14, 2005) (inmate required to appeal lack of response to exhaust administrative remedies); Mendoza v. Goord, No. 00-CV-0146, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22573, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 21, 2002) ("If, as a result of a negligent error by prison officials-or even their deliberate attempt to sabotage a prisoner's grievance-the prisoner [does not receive a response] on his complaint, he is not thereby forestalled from appealing"). Hargrove did not assert or offer evidence suggesting that he appealed the unresponsiveness or that those appeals were not advanced.
*9 Additionally, Hargrove's transfer from NCCF to Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing") in July 2005 did not excuse his previous failure to properly exhaust. See, e.g., Sims v. Blot, No. 00-CV-2524, 2003 WL 21738766, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 25, 2003) (determining that failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not excused by transfer to another facility); Santiago v. Meinsen, 89 F.Supp.2d 435, 440-41 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (determining that plaintiff should not be "rewarded" for failing to participate in grievance procedure before being transferred). Hargrove had ample opportunity to properly file his grievances and to appeal their results as required by NCCF's procedures while he was imprisoned at NCCF. The last PPD test Hargrove complains of was given in 2004; therefore, Hargrove had until June or July of 2004 to timely file his grievance in accordance with NCCF's IG P. Hargrove was not transferred to Sing Sing until July 2005. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 2. Thus, Hargrove's transfer cannot excuse his previous failure to properly exhaust.
The second step of the inquiry asks whether defendants are estopped from raising exhaustion as a defense. Specifically, "whether the defendants may have forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it, or whether the defendants' own actions inhibiting the inmate's exhaustion of remedies may estop one or more of the defendants from raising the plaintiffs failure to exhaust as a defense." Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686 (internal citations omitted).
Here, Hargrove has not made any statements that would permit a finding that defendants should be estopped from raising the affirmative defense of exhaustion or that defendants waived the right to raise the defense. Defendants first raised the PLRA's exhaustion requirement as an affirmative defense in their respective answers. See County Defs.' Am. Answer at 3; NHCC Defs.' Answer at 1. County Defendants raised it again in their motion for summary judgment. See County Defs.' Mem of Law at 15-23. Thus, defendants are not estopped from raising the affirmative defense now. See, e.g., Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8 (exhaustion defense not waived where defendants first raised it in their motion to dismiss).
Additionally, defendants have not threatened Hargrove or engaged in other conduct preventing him from exhausting the available administrative remedies. Cf: Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 162 (2d Cir.2004) (holding defendants were estopped from asserting non-exhaustion because of prison officials' beatings, threats and other conduct inhibiting the inmate from filing proper grievances); Feliciano v. Goord, No. 97-CV-263, 1998 WL 436358, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 1998) (holding defendants were estopped from asserting non-exhaustion where prison officials refused to provide inmate with grievance forms, assured him that the incidents would be investigated by staff as a prerequisite to filing a grievance, and provided prisoner with no information about results of investigation). Hargrove has not argued otherwise. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 178 (holding defendants were not estopped from asserting a failure to exhaust defense where plaintiff pointed to no affirmative act by prison officials that would have prevented him from pursing administrative remedies); Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8 (finding no estoppel where plaintiff did not argue that defendants prevented him from pursuing the available administrative remedies); Hernandez, 2006 WL 2109465, at *4 (finding no estoppel where plaintiff did not argue that any threats or intimidation prevented him from pursuing his appeals). Thus, for the same reasons that administrative remedies were not deemed unavailable to Hargrove, defendants are not estopped from raising a failure to exhaust defense.
c. Special circumstances
*10 Even where administrative remedies are available and the defendants are not estopped from arguing exhaustion, the court must "consider whether special circumstances' have been plausibly alleged that justify the prisoner's failure to comply with administrative procedural requirements.'" Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 688 (quoting Giano, 380 F.3d at 676). For example, plaintiffs reasonable interpretation of regulations differing from prison official's interpretation has been held to constitute a "special circumstance." Giano, 380 F.3d at 676-77. No special circumstances have been alleged that would excuse Hargrove from availing himself of administrative remedies. See Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8; Freeman v. Goord, No. 02-CV-9033, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23873, at * 9-10 (S.D.N.Y.2004) (granting motion to dismiss where "there is no evidence in the record... of any special circumstances' in this action.")
Hargrove's Failure to Exhaust, in Addition to his Fraud on the Court, Warrants Dismissal with Prejudice
Hargrove has not sufficiently rebutted the defendants' assertion of failure to exhaust, and a liberal reading of his submissions does not reveal any grounds to excuse that failure.
Because Hargrove filed a complaint in federal court before filing a grievance, permitting his unexhausted and unexcused claim to proceed would undercut one of the goals of the exhaustion doctrine by allowing NCCF to be haled into federal court without the "opportunity to correct its own mistakes with respect to the programs it administers." Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2385. See also Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 178 (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). Thus, his complaint must be dismissed.
In general, dismissal without prejudice is appropriate where plaintiff has failed to exhaust but the time permitted for pursuing administrative remedies has not expired. Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 87 (2d Cir.2004). Dismissal with prejudice is appropriate where "administrative remedies have become unavailable after the prisoner had ample opportunity to use them and no special circumstances justified failure to exhaust." Berry, 366 F.3d at 88. Here, Hargrove's administrative remedies were available to him during his entire period of confinement at NCCF. He remained incarcerated in NCCF throughout the time period in which he alleges the PPD tests were given. He could have exhausted remedies for his grievances at any time. Therefore, Hargrove had ample opportunity to seek administrative remedies but failed to do so. Because there is no evidence in the record that administrative remedies are still available to Hargrove, as the five-day time period had run, and because Hargrove has alleged no special circumstances justifying his failure to exhaust, his complaint is accordingly dismissed with prejudice. Berry, 366 F.3d at 88 (upholding dismissal with prejudice where plaintiff had no justification for his failure to pursue administrative remedies while they were available.)
*11 Additionally, defendants' have moved for sanctions based on Hargrove's alleged submission of falsified evidence. If a party commits a fraud on the court, the court has the inherent power to do whatever is reasonably necessary to deter abuse of the judicial process. Shangold v. The Walt Disney Co., No. 03-CV-9522, 2006 WL 71672, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. January 12, 2006) (citing Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44 (1991)). Fraud upon the court has been defined as "fraud which seriously affects the integrity of the normal process of adjudication." Gleason v. Jandrucko, 860 F.2d 556, 559 (2d Cir.1988); McMunn v. Mem? Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 191 F.Supp.2d 440, 445 (S.D.N.Y.2002). In order for a court to grant sanctions based upon fraud, it must be established by clear and convincing evidence that a party has "sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system's ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by... unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party's claim or defense." McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 455 (quoting Aoude v. Mobil Oil Corp., 892 F.2d 1115, 1119 (1st Cir.1989).
After carefully reviewing the allegedly fraudulent documents, it must be concluded that Hargrove consciously falsified these documents. See, e.g., Shangold, 2006 WL 71672, at *1, *3 (finding clear and convincing evidence of fraud where plaintiffs fabricated a timeline and plot outlines to advance their claims); McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 446 (finding clear and convincing evidence of fraud where plaintiff edited audio tapes and represented that they were unedited during discovery). The notaries performing services for prisoners at NCCF testify that they never notarized many of the documents supplied by Hargrove. See Klein Aff.; McDevitt Aff. Furthermore, a visual examination of the documents themselves makes it clear that many of the documents submitted by Hargrove are forgeries.
In considering what sanction to impose, courts consider the following five factors: (i) whether the misconduct was the product of intentional bad faith; (ii) whether and to what extent the misconduct prejudiced the plaintiffs; (iii) whether there was a pattern of misbehavior rather than an isolated instance; (iv) whether and when the misconduct was corrected; and (v) whether further misconduct is likely to occur in the future. Scholastic, Inc. v. Stouffer, 221 F.Supp.2d 425, 444 (S.D.N.Y.2002) (citing McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 461).
Here, Hargrove's deception was not an isolated instance; he fabricated the dates on many grievance forms, in addition to improperly duplicating notary stamps on complaint letters to make them look authentic. Klein Aff. at 2; McDevitt Aff. at 2; County Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ C3, D3. He submitted these forgeries to defendants during discovery and again as exhibits to his Affidavit in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. A severe sanction is warranted as Hargrove's forgeries were intentional, he never corrected them once their authenticity was challenged and he continues to insist on their veracity. Aff. in Opp. at 1-4. Given that there is clear and convincing evidence that Hargrove has continuously and consciously perpetrated a fraud on the court through his submission of fraudulent documents and sworn affirmations of those documents' authenticity, dismissal with prejudice is especially appropriate. See, e.g., Shangold, 2006 WL 71672, at *5 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiffs fabricated evidence to advance their claims); Scholastic, 221 F.Supp.2d at 439-444 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiff produced seven pieces of falsified evidence); McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 445 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiff "lie[d] to the court and his adversary intentionally, repeatedly, and about issues that are central to the truth-finding process").
*12 Because Hargrove did not satisfy the exhaustion requirement under the PLRA, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted. Further, considering the fraud Hargrove perpetrated on the court, the claims are dismissed against all defendants with prejudice. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close the case.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
P. KEVIN CASTEL, District Judge.
*1 Plaintiff Hector Laporte, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1983 against Correction Sergeant Fisher and Correction Officer Banks in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff asserts that defendants used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Defendants Fisher and Banks move to dismiss the claims against them to the extent they are sued in their official capacities, as these claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Defendant Banks further moves to dismiss all claims against him on the grounds of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, qualified immunity, and failure to comply with the administrative exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (the "PLRA"). For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion to dismiss all claims against them in their official capacities on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity is granted. Defendant Banks' motion to dismiss on the grounds of failure to state a claim and qualified immunity is denied, and his motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust is converted into a motion for summary judgment, and denied.
Plaintiff is an inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"). (Compl. ¶ I-A.) Plaintiff alleges that while incarcerated at Sing Sing, he was assaulted on April 24, 2011 by defendant Banks, and on July 4, 2011 by defendant Fisher. ( Id. ¶ II-D.)
According to the Complaint, on April 24, 2011 plaintiff was attempting to go to the chapel when he was stopped by defendant Banks. ( Id. ¶ II-D, Ex. B "Banks Grievance.") Defendant Banks allegedly accused plaintiff of "playing games with [defendant Banks] and the facility" by "using the chapel as a way just to come out of [plaintiffs] cell." ( Id. Ex. B.) Defendant Banks then asked plaintiff for his identification card. Upon production of the identification card, plaintiff alleges that defendant Banks "became aggressive, and started pushing, shoving, and eventually punched [plaintiff] in the stomach." (Id.) The impact of the punch allegedly caused plaintiff to lose his breath. ( Id. ) Plaintiff asserts that defendant Banks continued to threaten and harass him for a period of time following this incident, such that plaintiff has been afraid to come out of his cell "for fear that CO. Banks will assault [plaintiff], set [plaintiff] up, or have [plaintiff] beaten by other officers." ( Id. )
Plaintiff further alleges that he was assaulted by defendant Fisher on July 4, 2011. ( Id. ¶ II-D, Ex. A "Fisher Grievance.") According to the Complaint, plaintiff approached defendant Fisher in his office regarding a problem with a disbursement form for plaintiffs legal mail. Upon bringing the problem to defendant Fisher's attention, plaintiff asserts that defendant Fisher became "very aggressive" and shouted expletives at plaintiff. ( Id. Ex. A) As plaintiff attempted to leave defendant Fisher's office, Fisher allegedly pulled plaintiff back into the office and "repeatedly punched [plaintiffs] face until [plaintiff] was unconscious." ( Id. ) Plaintiff allegedly regained consciousness later in his cell "with swollend [sic] and bruised [sic] on [plaintiffs] face and body." ( Id. ) Plaintiff asserts that when he awoke, "Sergeant Fisher was shaking me awake and he spit on my face." ( Id. ) Defendant Fisher then allegedly handcuffed plaintiff and told plaintiff he was going to take him to the hospital. ( Id. ) Because plaintiff "couldn't barely walk at this point, " plaintiff asserts that he "was literally dragged out the gallery, " "thrown down the stairs, " then dragged "down 32 flights of stairs on [plaintiffs] back, " at which point defendant Fisher took plaintiff to the hospital. ( Id. ¶ II-D, Ex. A.) In addition to a swollen and bruised face, plaintiff claims he suffered "cervical and lumbar spinal injuries" and "was hospitalized for one month." ( Id. ¶ III.)
*2 Plaintiff filed this Complaint on December 21, 2011, alleging that defendants' assaults violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. (Docket # 1.) Plaintiff seeks $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages. (Compl ¶ V.)
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P., "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 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, '" rather, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, all non-conclusory factual allegations are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See In re Elevator Antitrust Litig., 502 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir.2007) (per curiam). Moreover, plaintiff's pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir.2008) (internal quotations omitted). The plaintiffs pleadings are thus given a liberal and generous construction and are read "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed-Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir.2006) (internal citation omitted).
In assessing the complaint, a court may consider documents incorporated by reference or attached to the complaint as exhibits, documents the plaintiff knew of or possessed and relied upon in framing the complaint, and items of which judicial notice maybe taken. Samuels v. Air Transp. Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir.1993). Here, plaintiff has attached relevant documents to the complaint, and these materials are properly considered on the motion.
I. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss All Claims Against Them in Their Official Capacities is Granted.
Plaintiff sues the defendants in both their official and individual capacities. Absent a waiver or valid congressional override, the Eleventh Amendment has been construed to bar an action for damages by a private plaintiff against the state. Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996). This immunity extends to state officials acting in their official capacity. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985). Section 1983 does not abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 675-77 (1974). Damages are thus not recoverable in a section 1983 action against state officials acting in their official capacities. See, e.g., Davis v. New York, 316 F.3d 93, 101-02 (2d Cir.2002).
*3 Since plaintiff exclusively seeks monetary damages, not prospective injunctive relief, see Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), defendants' motion to dismiss all claims against them in their official capacities is granted. Eleventh Amendment immunity has no bearing on claims asserted against defendants in their individual capacities.
II. Defendant Banks' Motion to Dismiss For Failure to State a Claim is Denied.
Defendant Banks asserts that plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief. There is no dispute that Banks was acting under color of state law at all times alleged in the complaint. Nor is it contested that the right to be free from excessive force is protected under the Eighth Amendment. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n. 10 (1989) ("After conviction, the Eighth Amendment serves as the primary source of substantive protection... in cases... where the deliberate use of force is challenged as excessive and unjustified.'") (quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 327 (1986)). Defendant Banks argues that plaintiff has failed to allege any injuries as a result of Banks' alleged conduct, and that plaintiffs allegations are thus insufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim. Defendant Banks relies on Johnson v. Glick 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d. Cir.1973), for the proposition that "[n]ot every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers..., " violates the Constitution, and Wilkins v. Gaddy, 130 S.Ct. 1175, 1178 (2010), for the proposition that "not every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action."
Defendant Banks' reliance on these cases is misplaced. Plaintiff does not assert that defendant Banks "pushed" or "shoved" him. Rather, plaintiff alleges that defendant Banks "punched [plaintiff] in the stomach, " causing plaintiff to "los[e][his] breath." (Compl. ¶ II-D, Ex. B.) More significantly, the Supreme Court was clear in Wilkins that in assessing an Eighth Amendment claim, the "core judicial inquiry'... was not whether a certain quantum of injury was sustained, but rather whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.' " Wilkins, 130 S.Ct. at 1178 (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992)). As plaintiff alleges that the punch was not the result of "a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, " but rather a "willfully malicious" action, (Compl. ¶ V), which resulted from defendant Banks "harrassing (sic)" him, ( Id. ¶ II-D), the Court concludes that plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to state a claim of use of excessive force, for which Section 1983 provides a remedy. Defendant Banks' motion to dismiss on these grounds is therefore denied.
III. Defendant Banks' Motion to Dismiss on the Ground of Qualified Immunity is Denied.
Defendant Banks asserts that he is protected by qualified immunity against any Section 1983 claims, because the alleged punch did not violate any clearly established federal law. Defendant Banks does not cite any relevant Eighth Amendment case law in support of this argument. Rather, he merely states that the alleged punch "caused no injuries and [was] de minimus, " and thus "did not violate any clearly established federal law." (Def.Mem.7.)
*4 "The right of an individual not to be subjected to excessive force has long been clearly established." Calamia v. City of New York, 879 F.2d 1025, 1036 (2d Cir.1989). As discussed in the preceding section, plaintiff does not allege de minimus use of force, and there is no indication from the pleadings that force was necessary to maintain or restore discipline. An objectively reasonable corrections officer would have understood that punching an inmate in the stomach, for no purpose other than to harass him, would constitute excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Wilkins, 130 S.Ct. at 1178. Plaintiff has thus sufficiently pled a violation of a clearly established federal right, and defendant Banks is not entitled to qualified immunity.
IV. Defendant Banks' Motion to Dismiss For Failure to Exhaust Under the PLRA is Converted to a Motion for Summary Judgment, and Denied.
Defendant Banks asserts that plaintiff has failed to administratively exhaust his claim, as is required by the PLRA. Under the PLRA, "[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... correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). "[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." Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 124 (2d Cir.2011) (quoting Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002)). "There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007).
In order to properly exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA, inmates must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the rules of the particular institution in which they are confined. Jones, 549 U.S. at 218. In New York state prisons, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") has established a three-step inmate grievance procedure. This procedure is set forth in N.Y. Comp.Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, § 701.5(2010).
First, an inmate must submit a grievance complaint to the clerk within twenty-one calendar days of an alleged occurrence. Id at (a). The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") then has up to sixteen calendar days to resolve the issue informally. Id. at (b)(1). If there is no informal resolution, the IGRC shall conduct a hearing within sixteen calendar days of receipt of the grievance, and issue a written decision within two working days of the close of the hearing. Id. at (b)(2). Next, an inmate must appeal an adverse decision to the facility superintendent within seven calendar days after receipt of the IGRC's written decision. Id. at (c)(1). The superintendent then has twenty days to render a decision. Id. at (c)(3). Finally, the inmate must appeal to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") within seven calendar days after receipt of the superintendent's written response, id. at (d)(1), and the CORC must render its final decision on the grievance within thirty calendar days from the time the appeal was received, id. at (d)(2). Only after an inmate has exhausted all three steps of this grievance process may he commence suit in federal court. See Porter, 534 U.S. at 524.
a. Defendant Banks' Motion to Dismiss on Rule 12(b)(1) Grounds is Denied.
*5 Defendant Banks seeks dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and (6), but fails to specify the precise Rule 12(b) grounds under which he seeks dismissal for failure to exhaust. As the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is not jurisdictional in nature, Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431, 434 (2d Cir.2003), the Court cannot dismiss plaintiffs action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Thus, to the extent that the motion at bar is brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), it is denied.
b. Defendant Banks' Motion to Dismiss on Rule 12(b)(6) Grounds is Converted To a Motion for Summary Judgment.
Defendant Banks also seeks dismissal for failure to exhaust pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA and "inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints." Jones, 549 U.S. at 216. Dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to exhaust is thus appropriate only where nonexhaustion is apparent from the face of the complaint. See McCoy v. Goord, 255 F.Supp.2d 233, 251 (S.D.N.Y.2003) (Chin, J.).
Here, plaintiff states in the Complaint that he filed a grievance with Sing Sing's grievance office, and that his claims were denied. (Compl. ¶ IV.) Plaintiff further states he appealed to the superintendent Philip D. Heath and [his] appeal was denied. [He] then appealed to Albany N.Y. CORC and received a letter from them dated November 2nd 2011 claiming they would look into the matter. However as of today [he] ha[sn't] heard back from CORC.
(Compl. ¶ IV-E(3).) Nonexhaustion is thus not apparent from the face of the complaint, and dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is inappropriate.
However, as then-District Court Judge Chin has noted,
If nonexhaustion is not clear from the face of the complaint, a defendant's motion to dismiss should be converted, pursuant to Rule 12(b) [now codified in relevant part as Rule 12(d) ], to one for summary judgment limited to the narrow issue of exhaustion and the relatively straightforward questions about the plaintiffs efforts to exhaust, whether remedies were available, or whether exhaustion might be, in very limited circumstances, excused.
McCoy, 255 F.Supp.2d at 251. Under Rule 12(d), Fed.R.Civ.P., if "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court" on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Moreover, "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Id. Accordingly, "a district court acts properly in converting a motion for judgment on the pleadings into a motion for summary judgment when the motion presents matters outside the pleadings, " so long as "the court give [s] sufficient notice to an opposing party and an opportunity for that party to respond.' " Hernandez v. Coffey, 582 F.3d 303, 307 (2d Cir.2009) (quoting Groden v. Random House, Inc., 61 F.3d 1045, 1052 (2d Cir.1995)).
*6 In Hernandez v. Coffey, the Second Circuit expounded on the notice requirement with regards to pro se parties. Hernandez, 582 F.3d at 307-09. The court began by noting that formal notice is not ordinarily required "where a party should reasonably have recognized the possibility that the motion might be converted into one for summary judgment [and] was [neither] taken by surprise [nor] deprived of a reasonable opportunity to meet facts outside the pleadings.'" Id. at 307 (alteration in original) (quoting Villante v. Dep't of Corrections of City of New York, 786 F.2d 516, 521 (2d Cir.1986)). However, in the case of a pro se party, "[n]otice is particularly important' because the pro se litigant may be unaware of the consequences of his failure to offer evidence bearing on triable issues.'" Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Beacon Enters., Inc. v. Menzies, 715 F.2d 757, 767 (2d Cir.1983)). Accordingly, the court ruled that "absent a clear indication that the pro se litigant understands the nature and consequences of Rule 56... he or she must be so informed by the movant in the notice of motion or, failing that, by the district court." Id at 308 (citing McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276 (2d Cir.1999)).
Here, defendant Banks provided to plaintiff precisely the kind of notice required by Hernandez. In accordance with S.D.N.Y. Civil Rules 12.1 and 56.2, defendant Banks served plaintiff with notice that the motion to dismiss might be converted to a summary judgment motion, explaining to plaintiff what he had to do to oppose summary judgment. ("Notice to Pro Se Litigants Opposing Motion to Dismiss or Motion for Summary Judgment, " dated March 26, 2012, Docket # 19.) See Hernandez, 582 F.3d at 309 n. 2 (in reversing the district court, noting that two cases relied upon by the district court were "inapposite because the defendants in each case provided notice pursuant to S.D.N.Y. Civil Rule 12.1 explaining that their motions to dismiss might be converted into motions for summary judgment for purposes of determining exhaustion, and, further, explaining what the plaintiff had to do to oppose summary judgment"). Accordingly, the Court concludes that converting the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment is appropriate.
c. Defenant Banks' Motion for Summary Judgment is Denied.
Summary judgment "shall" be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fcd.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and an issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Ramos v. Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc., 687 F.3d 554, 558 (2d Cir.2012).
"[T]he burden is upon the moving party to demonstrate that no genuine issue respecting any material fact exists." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Svcs., Ltd. Partnership, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d. Cir.1994). In response, the nonmovant bears only a "limited burden of production, " Powell v Nat'l Bd. of Medical Examiners, 364 F.3d 79, 84 (2d Cir.2004), and "all ambiguities must be resolved and all inferences drawn in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, " Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Moreover, the Second Circuit has "long recognized that summary judgment is a drastic device, " Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Bankers Leasing Ass'n. Inc., 182 F.3d 157, 160 (2d Cir.1999), and "should not be granted when there are major factual contentions in dispute, " National Life Ins. Co. v. Solomon, 529 F.2d 59, 61 (2d Cir.1975). "This is particularly so when, as here, one party has yet to exercise its opportunities for pretrial discovery." Id.
*7 Nonetheless, the nonmovant "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). If the evidence produced by the nonmovant "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).
Here, there is a disputed issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff administratively exhausted his remedies. Defendant Banks has submitted evidence concerning the CORC computer database, which allegedly "contains a great deal of historical data with respect to appeals to CORC." (Bellamy Decl. ¶ 4, annexed to Harben Decl.) Defendant Banks submits that this database reveals that CORC never received any grievance appeals from plaintiff with respect to the incident at issue. However, plaintiff has declared under penalty of perjury: that he filed a grievance against defendant Banks, and that Sing Sing's Inmate Grievance Committee failed to respond; that he then appealed his grievance to the superintendant, and that the superintendant similarly failed to respond; and that he appealed to CORC, and was told that there was no record of his grievance. ("Opposition in Response to Defendants Motion to Dismiss" ¶ 1, Docket # 24; "Affidavit of Hector Laporte, " Docket # 27.) This evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, raises a genuine dispute of material fact. Therefore, and particularly in light of the fact that plaintiff has "yet to exercise [his] opportunit[y] for pretrial discovery, " Solomon, 529 F.2d at 61, summary judgment is denied. Defendant Banks is free to renew his motion for summary judgment at the close of discovery. If after a full and fair opportunity to conduct discovery, all that plaintiff is able to present is a conclusory assertion, unsupported by documentary evidence (where one would expect documentary support to exist), the defense of lack of exhaustion may look quite different.
For the foregoing reasons and to the extent stated above, the defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. All claims against defendants Banks and Fisher in their official capacities are dismissed. All other claims, including all claims against the defendants in their individual capacities, remain pending.
The defendants shall provide to the plaintiff copies of all unreported cases cited herein. The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that any appeal from this Order would not be taken in good faith, and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for the purpose of an appeal. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).
James Murray, Malone, NY, pro se.
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General of the State of New York, James Seaman, Esq., Asst. Attorney General, of Counsel, Albany, NY, for Defendants.
DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.
*1 Plaintiff, James Murray, brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In a 51 page Report Recommendation dated February 11, 2008, the Honorable George H. Lowe, United States Magistrate Judge, recommended that defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in part (i.e., to the extent that it requests the dismissal with prejudice of plaintiffs claims against defendant Paolano and Nesmith); and denied in part (i.e., to the extent that it requests dismissal of plaintiffs claims against the remaining defendants on the grounds of plaintiffs failure to exhaust available administrative remedies) for the reasons stated in the Report Recommendation. Lengthy objections to the Report Recommendation have been filed by the plaintiff.
Based upon a de novo review of the portions of the Report-Recommendation to which the plaintiff has objected, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted. See 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1).
Accordingly, it is
1. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part;
2. Plaintiffs complaint against defendants Paolano and Nesmith is DISMISSED with prejudice;
3. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED, to the extent that their request for dismissal of plaintiffs assault claims under the Eighth Amendment against the remaining defendants on the grounds of plaintiffs failure to exhaust available administrative remedies as stated in the Report-Recommendation.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
JAMES MURRAY, Plaintiff,
R. PALMER, Corrections Officer, Great Meadow C.F.; S. GRIFFIN, Corrections Officer, Great Meadow C.F.; M. TERRY, Corrections Officer, Great Meadow C.F.; F. ENGLESE, Corrections Officer, Great Meadow C.F.; P. EDWARDS, Sergeant, Great Meadow C.F.; K. BUMP, Sergeant, Great Meadow C.F.; K.H. SMITH, Sergeant, Great Meadow C.F.; A. PAOLANO, Health Director, Great Meadows C.F.; TED NESMITH, Physicians Assistant, Great Meadows C.F., Defendants.
R. PALMER, Corrections Officer, Great Meadow C.F.; S. GRIFFIN, Corrections Officer, Great Meadow C.F.; M. TERRY, Corrections Officer, Great Meadow C.F.; Counter Claimants,
JAMES MURRAY, Counter Defendant.
ORDER and REPORT-RECOMMENDATION
GEORGE H. LOWE, United States Magistrate Judge.
This pro se prisoner civil rights action, commenced pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation by the Honorable David N. Hurd, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c). Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 78.) For the reasons that follow, I recommend that Defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part.
A. Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint
In his Second Amended Complaint, James Murray ("Plaintiff") alleges that nine correctional officials and health care providers employed by the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") at Great Meadow Correctional Facility ("Great Meadow C.F.") violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment on August 17, 2000, when (1) Defendants Palmers, Griffin, Terry, and Englese assaulted him without provocation while he was incapacitated by mechanical restraints, (2) Defendants Edwards, Bump, and Smith witnessed, but did not stop, the assault, and (3) Defendants Paolano and Nesmith failed to examine and treat him following the assault despite his complaints of having a broken wrist. (Dkt. No. 10, 6-7 [Plf.'s Second Am. Compl.].)
B. Defendants' Counterclaim
*2 In their Answer to Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint, three of the nine Defendants (Palmer, Griffin and Terry) assert a counterclaim against Defendant for personal injuries they sustained as a result of Plaintiffs assault and battery upon them during the physical struggle that ensued between them and Plaintiff due to his threatening and violent behavior on August 17, 2000, at Great Meadow C.F. (Dkt. No. 35, Part 1, ¶¶ 23-30 [Defs.' Answer & Counterclaim].)
I note that the docket in this action inaccurately indicates that this Counterclaim is asserted also on behalf of Defendants Englese, Edwards, Bump, Smith, Paolano, and "Nejwith" (later identified as "Nesmith"). ( See Caption of Docket Sheet.) As a result, at the end of this Report-Recommendation, I direct the Clerk's Office to correct the docket sheet to remove the names of those individuals as "counter claimants" on the docket.
I note also that, while such counterclaims are unusual in prisoner civil rights cases (due to the fact that prisoners are often "judgment proof' since they are without funds), Plaintiff paid the $150 filing fee in this action (Dkt. No. 1), and, in his Second Amended Complaint, he alleges that he received a settlement payment in another prisoner civil rights actions in 2002. (Dkt. No. 10, ¶ 10 [Plf.'s Second Am. Compl.].) Further investigation reveals that the settlement resulted in a payment of $20, 000 to Plaintiff. See Murray v. Westchester County Jail, 98-CV-0959 (S.D.N.Y.) (settled for $20, 000 in 2002).
II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION AND PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSE
A. Defendants' Motion
In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint should be dismissed for four reasons: (1) Plaintiff has failed to adduce any evidence establishing that Defendant Paolano, a supervisor, was personally involved in any of the constitutional violations alleged; (2) Plaintiff has failed to adduce any evidence establishing that Defendant Nesmith was deliberately indifferent to any of Plaintiffs serious medical needs; (3) at the very least, Defendant Nesmith is protected from liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity, as a matter of law; and (4) Plaintiff has failed to adduce any evidence establishing that he exhausted his available administrative remedies with respect to his assault claim, before filing that claim in federal court. (Dkt. No. 78, Part 13, at 2, 4-13 [Defs.' Mem. of Law].)
In addition, Defendants argue that, during his deposition in this action, Plaintiff asserted, for the first time, a claim that the medical staff at Great Meadow C.F. violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by failing to honor non-life-sustaining medical prescriptions written at a former facility. ( Id. at 3.) As a threshold matter, Defendants argue, this claim should be dismissed since Plaintiff never included the claim in his Second Amended Complaint, nor did Plaintiff ever file a motion for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint. ( Id. ) In any event, Defendants argue, even if the Court were to reach the merits of this claim, the Court should dismiss the claim because Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting, or adduce evidence establishing, that Defendants were personally involved in the creation or implementation of DOCS' prescription-review policy, nor has Plaintiff provided such allegations or evidence indicating the policy is even unconstitutional. ( Id. )
*3 Defendants' motion is accompanied by a Statement of Material Facts, submitted in accordance with Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) ("Rule 7.1 Statement"). (Dkt. No. 78, Part 12.) Each of the 40 paragraphs contained in Defendants' Rule 7.1 Statement is supported by an accurate citation to the record evidence. ( Id. ) It is worth mentioning that the record evidence consists of (1) the affirmations of Defendants Nesmith and Paolano, and exhibits thereto, (2) the affirmation of the Inmate Grievance Program Director for DOCS, and exhibits thereto, (3) affirmation of the Legal Liaison between Great Meadow C.F. and the New York State Attorney General's Office during the time in question, and exhibits thereto, and (4) a 155-page excerpt from Plaintiffs deposition transcript. (Dkt. No. 78.)
B. Plaintiff's Response
After being specifically notified of the consequences of failing to properly respond to Defendants' motion (see Dkt. No. 78, Part 1), and after being granted three extensions of the deadline by which to do so ( see Dkt. Nos. 79, 80, 83), Plaintiff submitted a barrage of documents: (1) 49 pages of exhibits, which are attached to neither an affidavit nor a memorandum of law (Dkt. No. 84); (2) 113 pages of exhibits, attached to a 25-page affidavit (Dkt. No. 85); (3) 21 pages of exhibits, attached to a 12-page supplemental affidavit (Dkt. No. 86); and (4) a 29-page memorandum of law (Dkt. No. 86); and a 13-page supplemental memorandum of law (Dkt. No. 88).
Generally in his Memorandum of Law and Supplemental Memorandum of Law, Plaintiff responds to the legal arguments advanced by Defendants. ( See Dkt. No. 86, Plf.'s Memo. of Law [responding to Defs.' exhaustion argument]; Dkt. No. 88, at 7-13 [Plf.'s Supp. Memo. of Law, responding to Defs.' arguments regarding the personal involvement of Defendant Paolano, the lack of evidence supporting a deliberate indifference claim against Defendant Nesmith, the applicability of the qualified immunity defense with regard to Plaintiffs claim against Defendant Nesmith, and the sufficiency and timing of Plaintiffs prescription-review claim against Defendant Paolano].) Those responses are described below in Part IV of this Report-Recommendation.
However, unfortunately, not among the numerous documents that Plaintiff has provided is a proper response to Defendants' Rule 7.1 Statement. ( See Dkt. No. 85, Part 2, at 45-52 [Ex. N to Plf.'s Affid.].) Specifically, Plaintiffs Rule 7.1 Response (which is buried in a pile of exhibits) fails, with very few exceptions, to "set forth... specific citation[s] to the record, " as required by Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). (Id.) I note that the notary's "sworn to" stamp at the end of the Rule 7.1. Statement does not transform Plaintiffs Rule 7.1 Response into record evidence so as to render that Response compliant with Local Rule 7.1. First, Local Rule 7.1 expressly states, "The record for purposes of the Statement of Material Facts includes the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions and affidavits." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3). In this way, the District's Local Rule, like similar local rules of other districts, contemplates citations to a record that is independent of a Rule 7.1 Response. See, e.g., Vaden v. GAP, Inc., 06-CV-0142, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22736, at *3-5, 2007 WL 954256 (M.D.Tenn. March 26, 2007) (finding non-movant's verified response to movant's statement of material facts to be deficient because it did cite to affidavit or declaration, nor did it establish that non-movant had actual knowledge of matters to which he attested); Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 124 F.Supp.2d 1, 4-5 (D.D.C.2000) (criticizing party's "Verified Statement of Material Facts, " as being deficient in citations to independent record evidence, lacking "firsthand knowledge, " and being purely "self-serving" in nature). Moreover, many of Plaintiffs statements in his Rule 7.1 Response are either argumentative in nature or lacking in specificity and personal knowledge, so as to disqualify those statements from having the effect of sworn testimony for purposes of a summary judgment motion. See, infra, notes 10-12 of this Report-Recommendation.
III. GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARD
*4 Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, summary judgment is warranted if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, FN1 the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party.FN2
FN1. A fact is "material" only if it would have some effect on the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
FN2. Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir.1997) [citation omitted]; Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir.1990) [citation omitted].
However, when the moving party has met its initial burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."FN3 The nonmoving party must do more than "rest upon the mere allegations... of the [plaintiff's] pleading" or "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts."FN4 Rather, "[a] dispute regarding a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."FN5
FN3. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) ("When a motion for summary judgment is made [by a defendant] and supported as provided in this rule, the [plaintiff] may not rest upon the mere allegations... of the [plaintiffs] pleading, but the [plaintiffs] response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the [plaintiff] does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the [plaintiff]."); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).
FN4. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) ("When a motion for summary judgment is made [by a defendant] and supported as provided in this rule, the [plaintiff] may not rest upon the mere allegations... of the [plaintiffs] pleading...."); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 585-86; see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
FN5. Ross v. McGinnis, 00-CV-0275, 2004 WL 1125177, at *8 (W.D.N.Y. Mar.29, 2004) [internal quotations omitted] [emphasis added].
What this burden-shifting standard means when a plaintiff has failed to properly respond to a defendant's Rule 7.1 Statement of Material Facts is that the facts as set forth in that Rule 7.1 Statement will be accepted as true FN6 to the extent that (1) those facts are supported by the evidence in the record, FN7 and (2) the non-moving party, if he is proceeding pro se, has been specifically advised of the potential consequences of failing to respond to the movant's motion for summary judgment.FN8
FN6. See N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3) ("Any facts set forth in the Statement of Material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by the opposing party.") [emphasis in original].
FN7. See Vermont Teddy Bear Co., Inc. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 243 (2d Cir.2004) ("[I]n determining whether the moving party has met [its] burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue for trial, the district court may not rely solely on the statement of undisputed facts contained in the moving party's Rule 56.1 Statement. It must be satisfied that the citation to evidence in the record supports the assertion.") [internal quotation marks and citations omitted].
FN8. See Champion v. Artuz, 76 F.3d 483, 486 (2d Cir.1996); cf. N.D.N.Y. L.R. 56.2 (imposing on movant duty to provide such notice to pro se opponent).
Implied in the above-stated standard is the fact that a district court has no duty to perform an independent review of the record to find proof of a factual dispute, even if the non-movant is proceeding pro se. FN9 In the event the district court chooses to conduct such an independent review of the record, any affidavit submitted by the non-movant, in order to be sufficient to create a factual issue for purposes of a summary judgment motion, must, among other things, not be conclusory.FN10 (An affidavit is conclusory if, for example, its assertions lack any supporting evidence or are too general.)FN11 Finally, even where an affidavit is nonconclusory, it may be insufficient to create a factual issue where it is (1) "largely unsubstantiated by any other direct evidence" and (2) "so replete with inconsistencies and improbabilities that no reasonable juror would undertake the suspension of disbelief necessary to credit the allegations made in the complaint."FN12
FN9. See Amnesty Am. v. Town of W. Hartford, 288 F.3d 467, 470 (2d Cir.2002) ("We agree with those circuits that have held that Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 does not impose an obligation on a district court to perform an independent review of the record to find proof of a factual dispute.") [citations omitted]; accord, Lee v. Alfonso, No. 04-1921, 2004 U.S.App. LEXIS 21432, 2004 WL 2309715 (2d Cir. Oct. 14, 2004), aff'g, 97-CV-1741 , 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20746, at *12-13 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 10, 2004) (Scullin, J.) (granting motion for summary judgment); Fox v. Amtrak, 04-CV-1144, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9147, at *1-4, 2006 WL 395269 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 16, 2006) (McAvoy, J.) (granting motion for summary judgment); Govan v. Campbell, 289 F.Supp.2d 289, 295 (N.D.N.Y. Oct.29, 2003) (Sharpe, M.J.) (granting motion for summary judgment); Prestopnik v. Whelan, 253 F.Supp.2d 369, 371-372 (N.D.N.Y.2003) (Hurd, J.).
FN10. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (requiring that non-movant "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial"); Patterson, 375 F.3d at 219 (2d. Cir.2004) ("Nor is a genuine issue created merely by the presentation of assertions [in an affidavit] that are conclusory.") [citations omitted]; Applegate v. Top Assoc., 425 F.2d 92, 97 (2d Cir.1970) (stating that the purpose of Rule 56[e] is to "prevent the exchange of affidavits on a motion for summary judgment from degenerating into mere elaboration of conclusory pleadings").
FN11. See, e.g., Bickerstaff v. Vassar Oil, 196 F.3d 435, 452 (2d Cir.1998) (McAvoy, C.J., sitting by designation) ("Statements [for example, those made in affidavits, deposition testimony or trial testimony] that are devoid of any specifics, but replete with conclusions, are insufficient to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.") [citations omitted]; West-Fair Elec. Contractors v. Aetna Cas. & Sur., 78 F.3d 61, 63 (2d Cir.1996) (rejecting affidavit's conclusory statements that, in essence, asserted merely that there was a dispute between the parties over the amount owed to the plaintiff under a contract); Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 997 (2d Cir.1985) (plaintiffs allegation that she "heard disparaging remarks about Jews, but, of course, don't ask me to pinpoint people, times or places.... It's all around us" was conclusory and thus insufficient to satisfy the requirements of Rule 56[e]); Applegate, 425 F.2d at 97 ("[Plaintiff] has provided the court [through his affidavit] with the characters and plot line for a novel of intrigue rather than the concrete particulars which would entitle him to a trial.").
FN12. See, e.g., Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 554-55 (2d Cir.2005) (affirming grant of summary judgment to defendants in part because plaintiffs testimony about an alleged assault by police officers was "largely unsubstantiated by any other direct evidence" and was "so replete with inconsistencies and improbabilities that no reasonable juror would undertake the suspension of disbelief necessary to credit the allegations made in the complaint") [citations and internal quotations omitted]; Argus, Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 801 F.2d 38, 45 (2d Cir.1986) (affirming grant of summary judgment to defendants in part because plaintiffs' deposition testimony regarding an alleged defect in a camera product line was, although specific, "unsupported by documentary or other concrete evidence" and thus "simply not enough to create a genuine issue of fact in light of the evidence to the contrary"); Allah v. Greiner, 03-CV-3789, 2006 WL 357824, at *3-4 & n. 7, 14, 16, 21 (S.D.N.Y. Feb.15, 2006) (prisoner's verified complaint, which recounted specific statements by defendants that they were violating his rights, was conclusory and discredited by the evidence, and therefore insufficient to create issue of fact with regard to all but one of prisoner's claims, although verified complaint was sufficient to create issue of fact with regard to prisoner's claim of retaliation against one defendant because retaliatory act occurred on same day as plaintiffs grievance against that defendant, whose testimony was internally inconsistent and in conflict with other evidence); Olle v. Columbia Univ., 332 F.Supp.2d 599, 612 (S.D.N.Y.2004) (plaintiffs deposition testimony was insufficient evidence to oppose defendants' motion for summary judgment where that testimony recounted specific allegedly sexist remarks that "were either unsupported by admissible evidence or benign"), aff'd, 136 F.Appx. 383 (2d Cir.2005) (unreported decision, cited not as precedential authority but merely to show the case's subsequent history, in accordance with Second Circuit Local Rule § 0.23).
A. Whether Plaintiff Has Adduced Evidence Establishing that Defendant Paolano Was Personally Involved in the Constitutional Violations Alleged
"[P]ersonal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.'" Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.1994) (quoting Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d 880, 885 [2d Cir.1991]).FN13 In order to prevail on a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against an individual, a plaintiff must show some tangible connection between the alleged unlawful conduct and the defendant.FN14 If the defendant is a supervisory official, such as a correctional facility superintendent or a facility health services director, a mere "linkage" to the unlawful conduct through "the prison chain of command" (i.e., under the doctrine of respondeat superior) is insufficient to show his or her personal involvement in that unlawful conduct.FN15 In other words, supervisory officials may not be held liable merely because they held a position of authority.FN16 Rather, supervisory personnel may be considered "personally involved" only if they (1) directly participated in the violation, (2) failed to remedy that violation after learning of it through a report or appeal, (3) created, or allowed to continue, a policy or custom under which the violation occurred, (4) had been grossly negligent in managing subordinates who caused the violation, or (5) exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information indicating that the violation was occurring.FN17
FN13. Accord, McKinnon v. Patterson, 568 F.2d 930, 934 (2d Cir.1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1087 , 98 S.Ct. 1282, 55 L.Ed.2d 792 (1978); Gill v. Mooney, 824 F.2d 192, 196 (2d C ir.1987).
FN14. Bass v. Jackson, 790 F.2d 260, 263 (2d Cir.1986).
FN15. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325, 102 S.Ct. 445, 70 L.Ed.2d 509 (1981); Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431, 435 (2d Cir.2003); Wright, 21 F.3d at 501; Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir.1985).
FN16. Black v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 72, 74 (2d Cir.1996).
FN17. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir.1995) (adding fifth prong); Wright, 21 F.3d at 501 (adding fifth prong); Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323-324 (2d Cir.1986) (setting forth four prongs).
*5 Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not adduced evidence establishing that Defendant Paolano, the Great Meadow C.F. Health Services Director during the time in question, was personally involved in the constitutional violations alleged. (Dkt. No. 78, Part 13, at 2 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].) In support of this argument, Defendants point to the record evidence establishing that, during the time in which Plaintiff was incarcerated at Great Meadow C.F. (i.e., from early August of 2000 to late November of 2000), Defendant Paolano never treated Plaintiff for any medical condition, much less a broken wrist on August 17, 2000. ( Id .; see also Dkt. No. 78, Part 4, ¶¶ 7-8 [Paolano Affid.]; Dkt. No. 78, Part 5 [Ex. A to Paolano Affid.]; Dkt. No. 78, Part 11, at 32-33 [Plf.'s Depo.].)
Plaintiff responds that (1) Defendant Paolano was personally involved since he "treated" Plaintiff on August 17, 2000, by virtue of his supervisory position as the Great Meadow C.F.'s Health Services Director, and (2) Defendant Paolano has the "final say" regarding what medications inmates shall be permitted to retain when they transfer into Great Meadow C.F. (Dkt. No. 88, at 7-8 [Plf.'s Supp. Memo. of Law].) In support of this argument, Plaintiff cites a paragraph of his Supplemental Affidavit, and an administrative decision, for the proposition that Defendant Paolano, as the Great Meadow C.F. Health Services Director, had the "sole responsibility for providing treatment to the inmates under [the Facility's] care." ( Id .; see also Dkt. No. 86, Suppl. Affid., ¶ 5 & Ex. 14.)
1. Whether Defendant Paolano Was Personally Involved in Plaintiff's Treatment on August 17, 2000
With respect to Plaintiffs first point (regarding Defendant Paolano's asserted "treatment" of Plaintiff on August 17, 2000), the problem with Plaintiffs argument is that the uncontrovered record evidence establishes that, as Defendants' assert, Defendant Paolano did not, in fact, treat Plaintiff on August 17, 2000 (or at any time when Plaintiff was incarcerated at Great Meadow C.F.). This was the fact asserted by Defendants in Paragraphs 38 of their Rule 7.1 Statement. ( See Dkt. No. 78, Part 12, ¶ 38 [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement].) Defendants supported this factual assertion with record evidence. ( Id. [providing accurate record citations]; see also Dkt. No. 78, Part 12, ¶¶ 37-38 [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement, indicating that it was Defendant Nesmith, not Defendant Paolano, who treated Plaintiff on 8/17/00].) Plaintiff has failed to specifically controvert this factual assertion, despite having been given an adequate opportunity to conduct discovery, and having been specifically notified of the consequences of failing to properly respond to Defendants' motion ( see Dkt. No. 78, Part 1), and having been granted three extensions of the deadline by which to do so (see Dkt. Nos. 79, 80, 83). Specifically, Plaintiff fails to cite any record evidence in support of his denial of Defendants' referenced factual assertion. ( See Dkt. No. 85, Part 2, at 50 [Ex. N to Plf.'s Affid.].) As a result, under the Local Rules of Practice for this Court, Plaintiff has effectively "admitted" Defendants' referenced factual assertions. N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3).
*6 The Court has no duty to perform an independent review of the record to find proof disputing this established fact. See, supra, Part III and note 9 of this Report-Recommendation. Moreover, I decline to exercise my discretion, and I recommend that the Court decline to exercise its discretion, to perform an independent review of the record to find such proof for several reasons, any one of which is sufficient reason to make such a decision: (1) as an exercise of discretion, in order to preserve judicial resources in light of the Court's heavy caseload; (2) the fact that Plaintiff has already been afforded considerable leniency in this action, including numerous deadline extensions and liberal constructions; and (3) the fact that Plaintiff is fully knowledgeable about the requirements of a non-movant on a summary judgment motion, due to Defendants' notification of those requirements, and due to Plaintiffs extraordinary litigation experience.
With regard to this last reason, I note that federal courts normally treat the papers filed by pro se civil rights litigants with special solicitude. This is because, generally, pro se litigants are unfamiliar with legal terminology and the litigation process, and because the civil rights claims they assert are of a very serious nature. However, "[t]here are circumstances where an overly litigious inmate, who is quite familiar with the legal system and with pleading requirements, may not be afforded [the] special solicitude" that is normally afforded pro se litigants.FN18 Generally, the rationale for diminishing special solicitude (at least in the Second Circuit) is that the pro se litigant's extreme litigiousness demonstrates his experience, the lack of which is the reason for extending special solicitude to a pro se litigant in the first place.F19 The Second Circuit has diminished this special solicitude, and/or indicated the acceptability of such a diminishment, on several occasions.FN20 Similarly, I decide to do so, here, and I recommend the Court do the same.
FN18. Koehl v. Greene, 06-CV-0478, 2007 WL 2846905, at *3 & n. 17 (N.D.N.Y. Sept.26, 2007) (Kahn, J., adopting Report-Recommendation) [citations omitted].
FN19. Koehl, 2007 WL 2846905, at *3 & n. 18 [citations omitted].
FN20. See, e.g., Johnson v. Eggersdorf, 8 F.Appx. 140, 143 (2d Cir.2001) (unpublished opinion), aff'g, 97-CV-0938, Decision and Order (N.D.N.Y. filed May 28, 1999) (Kahn, J.), adopting, Report-Recommendation, at 1, n. 1 (N.D.N.Y. filed Apr. 28, 1999) (Smith, M.J.); Johnson v. C. Gummerson, 201 F.3d 431, at *2 (2d Cir.1999) (unpublished opinion), aff'g, 97-CV-1727, Decision and Order (N.D.N.Y. filed June 11, 1999) (McAvoy, J.), adopting, Report-Recommendation (N.D.N.Y. filed April 28, 1999) (Smith, M.J.); Davidson v. Flynn, 32 F.3d 27, 31 (2d Cir.1994); see also Raitport v. Chem. Bank, 74 F.R.D. 128, 133 (S.D.N.Y.1977)[citing Ackert v. Bryan, No. 27240 (2d Cir. June 21, 1963) (Kaufman, J., concurring).
Plaintiff is no stranger to the court system. A review of the Federal Judiciary's Public Access to Court Electronic Records ("PACER") System reveals that Plaintiff has filed at least 15 other federal district court actions, FN21 and at least three federal court appeals.FN22 Furthermore, a review of the New York State Unified Court System's website reveals that he has filed at least 20 state court actions, FN23 and at least two state court appeals.FN24 Among these many actions he has had at least one victory, resulting in the payment of $20, 000 to him in settlement proceeds.FN25
FN21. See Murray v. New York, 96-CV-3413 (S.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Westchester County Jail, 98-CV-0959 (S.D.N.Y.); Murray v. McGinnis, 99-CV-1908 (W.D.N.Y.); Murray v. McGinnis, 99-CV-2945 (S.D.N.Y.); Murray v. McGinnis, 00-CV-3510 (S.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Jacobs, 04-CV-6231 (W.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Bushey, 04-CV-0805 (N.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Goord, 05-CV-1113 (N.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Wissman, 05-CV-1186 (N.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Goord, 05-CV-1579 (N.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Doe, 06-CV-0205 (S.D.N.Y.); Murray v. O'Herron, 06-CV-0793 (W.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Goord, 06-CV-1445 (N.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Fisher, 07-CV-0306 (W.D.N.Y.); Murray v. Escrow, 07-CV-0353 (W.D.N.Y.).
FN22. See Murray v. McGinnis, No. 01-2533 (2d Cir.); Murray v. McGinnis, No. 01-2536 (2d Cir.); Murray v. McGinnis, No. 01-2632 (2d Cir.).
FN23. See Murray v. Goord, Index No. 011568/1996 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Westchester County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002383/1997 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002131/1998 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002307/1998 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002879/1998 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002683/2004 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002044/2006 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. McGinnis, Index No. 002099/2006 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Sullivan, Index No. 002217/2006 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002421/2006 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002495/2006 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002496/2006 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Goord, Index No. 002888/2006 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. LeClaire, Index No. 002008/2007 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. LeClaire, Index No. 002009/2007 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. LeClaire, Index No. 002010/2007 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. LeClaire, Index No. 002011/2007 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. Fisher, Index No. 002762/2007 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., Chemung County); Murray v. New York, Claim No. Claim No. 108304, Motion No. 67679 (N.Y.Ct.Cl.); Murray v. New York, Motion No. M-67997 (N.Y.Ct.Cl.).
FN24. See Murray v. Goord, No. 84875, 709 N.Y. S.2d 662 (N.Y.S.App.Div., 3d Dept.2000); Murray v. Goord, No. 83252, 694 N.Y.S.2d 797 (N.Y.S.App.Div., 3d Dept.1999).
FN25. See Murray v. Westchester County Jail, 98-CV-0959 (S.D.N.Y.) (settled for $20, 000 in 2002).
I will add only that, even if I were inclined to conduct such an independent review of the record, the record evidence that Plaintiff cites regarding this issue in his Supplemental Memorandum of Law does not create such a question of fact. ( See Dkt. No. 88, at 7-8 [Plf.'s Supp. Memo. of Law, citing Dkt. No. 86, Suppl. Affid., ¶ 5 & Ex. 14].) It appears entirely likely that Defendant Paolano had the ultimate responsibility for providing medical treatment to the inmates at Great Meadow C.F.FN26 However, this duty arose solely because of his supervisory position, i.e., as the Facility Health Services Director. It is precisely this sort of supervisory duty that does not result in liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as explained above.
FN26. To the extent that Plaintiff relies on this evidence to support the proposition that Defendant Paolano had the "sole" responsibility for such health care, that reliance is misplaced. Setting aside the loose nature of the administrative decision's use of the word "sole, " and the different context in which that word was used (regarding the review of Plaintiffs grievance about having had his prescription discontinued), the administrative decision's rationale for its decision holds no preclusive effect in this Court. I note that this argument by Plaintiff, which is creative and which implicitly relies on principles of estoppel, demonstrates his facility with the law due to his extraordinary litigation experience.
*7 As for the other ways through which a supervisory official may be deemed "personally involved" in a constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff does not even argue (or allege facts plausibly suggesting) FN27 that Defendant Paolano failed to remedy the alleged deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs serious medical needs on August 17, 2000, after learning of that deliberate indifference through a report or appeal. Nor does Plaintiff argue (or allege facts plausibly suggesting) that Defendant Paolano created, or allowed to continue, a policy or custom under which the alleged deliberate indifference on August 17, 2000, occurred. Nor does Plaintiff argue (or allege facts plausibly suggesting) that Defendant Paolano had been grossly negligent in managing subordinates (such as Defendant Nesmith) who caused the alleged deliberate indifference. Nor does Plaintiff argue (or allege facts plausibly suggesting) that Defendant Paolano exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of Plaintiff by failing to act on information indicating that Defendant Nesmith was violating Plaintiffs constitutional rights.
FN27. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (holding that, for a plaintiffs complaint to state a claim upon which relief might be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 and 12, his "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level [to a plausible level], " or, in other words, there must be "plausible grounds to infer [actionable conduct]"), accord, Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 157-58 (2d Cir.2007) ("[W]e believe the [Supreme] Court [in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly ] is... requiring a flexible plausibility standard, ' which obliges a pleader to amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification is needed to render the claim plausible. ") [emphasis in original].
In the alternative, I reach the same conclusion (that Plaintiffs claim against Defendant Paolano arising from the events of August 17, 2000, lacks merit) on the ground that there was no constitutional violation committed by Defendant Nesmith on August 17, 2000, in which Defendant Paolano could have been personally involved, for the reasons discussed below in Part IV.B. of this Report-Recommendation.
2. Whether Defendant Paolano Was Personally Involved in the Review of Plaintiff's Prescriptions in Early August of 2000
With respect to Plaintiffs second point (regarding Defendant Paolano's asserted "final say" regarding what medications inmates shall be permitted to retain when they transfer into Great Meadow C.F.), there are three problems with this argument.
First, the argument regards a claim that is not properly before this Court for the reasons explained below in Part IV.E. of this Report-Recommendation.
Second, as Defendants argue, even if the Court were to reach the merits of this claim, it should rule that Plaintiff has failed to adduce evidence establishing that Defendant Paolano was personally involved in the creation or implementation of DOCS' prescription-review policy. It is an uncontrovered fact, for purposes of Defendants' motion, that (1) the decision to temporarily deprive Plaintiff of his previously prescribed pain medication (i.e., pending the review of that medication by a physician at Great Meadow C.F.) upon his arrival at Great Meadow C.F. was made by an "intake nurse, " not by Defendant Paolano, (2) the nurse's decision was made pursuant to a policy instituted by DOCS, not by Defendant Paolano, and (3) Defendant Paolano did not have the authority to alter that policy. These were the facts asserted by Defendants in Paragraphs 6 through 9 of their Rule 7.1 Statement. ( See Dkt. No. 78, Part 12, ¶¶ 6-9 [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement].) Defendants supported these factual assertions with record evidence. ( Id. [providing accurate record citations].) Plaintiff expressly admits two of these factual assertions, and fails to support his denial of the remaining factual assertions with citations to record evidence that actually controverts the facts asserted. (Dkt. No. 85, Part 2, at 46-47 [Ex. N to Plf.'s Affid.].)
*8 For example, in support of his denial of Defendants' factual assertion that "[t]his policy is not unique to Great Meadow, but applies to DOCS facilities generally, " Plaintiff says that, at an unidentified point in time, "Downstate CF honored doctors proscribed [sic] treatment and filled by prescriptions from Southport Correctional Facility.... Also I've been transferred to other prisons such as Auburn [C.F.] in which they honored doctors prescribe [d] orders." ( Id. ) I will set aside the fact that Defendants' factual assertion is not that the policy applies to every single DOCS facility but that it applies to them as a general matter. I will also set aside the fact that Plaintiffs assertion is not supported by a citation to independent record evidence. The main problem with this assertion is that it is not specific as to what year or years he had these experiences, nor does it even say that his prescriptions were immediately honored without a review by a physician at the new facility.
The other piece of "evidence" Plaintiff cites in support of this denial is "Superintendent George B. Duncan's 9/22/00 decision of Appeal to him regarding [Plaintiffs Grievance No.] GM-30651-00." ( Id. ) The problem is that the referenced determination states merely that Defendant Paolano, as the Great Meadow C.F. Health Services Director, had the "sole responsibility for providing treatment to the inmates under [the Facility's] care, and has the final say regarding all medical prescriptions." (Dkt. No. 86, at 14 [Ex. 14 to Plf.'s Suppl. Affid.].) For the sake of much-needed brevity, I will set aside the issue of whether an IGP Program Director's broadly stated rationale for an appellate determination with respect to a prisoner's grievance can ever constitute evidence sufficient to create proof of a genuine issue of fact for purposes of a summary judgment motion. The main problem with this "evidence" is that there is absolutely nothing inconsistent between (1) a DOCS policy to temporarily deprive prisoners of non-life-sustaining prescription medications upon their arrival at a correctional facility, pending the review of those medical prescriptions by a physician at the facility, and (2) a DOCS policy to give Facility Health Service Directors the "final say" regarding the review of those medical prescriptions.
Because Plaintiff has failed to support his denial of these factual assertions with citations to record evidence that actually controverts the facts asserted, I will consider the facts asserted by Defendants as true. N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3). Under the circumstances, I decline, and I recommend the Court decline, to perform an independent review of the record to find proof disputing this established fact for the several reasons described above in Part IV.A.1. of this Report-Recommendation.
Third, Plaintiff has failed to adduce evidence establishing that the policy in question is even unconstitutional. I note that, in his Supplemental Memorandum of Law, Plaintiff argues that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs is... shown by the fact that prisoners are denied access to a doctor and physical examination upon arrival at [Great Meadow] C.F. to determine the need for pain medications which aren't life sustaining...." (Dkt. No. 88, at 10 [Plf.'s Supp. Memo. of Law].) As a threshold matter, Plaintiffs argument is misplaced to the extent he is arguing about the medical care other prisoners may not have received upon their arrival at Great Meadow C.F. since this is not a class-action. More importantly, to the extent he is arguing about any medical care that he (allegedly) did not receive upon his arrival at Great Meadow C.F., he cites no record evidence in support of such an assertion. ( Id. ) Indeed, he does not even cite any record evidence establishing that, upon his arrival at Great Meadow C.F. in early 2000, either (1) he asked a Defendant in this action for such medical care, or (2) he was suffering from a serious medical need for purposes of the Eighth Amendment. ( Id. )
*9 If Plaintiff is complaining that Defendant Paolano is liable for recklessly causing a physician at Great Meadow C.F. to excessively delay a review Plaintiffs pain medication upon his arrival at Great Meadow C.F., then Plaintiff should have asserted that allegation (and some basic facts supporting it) in a pleading in this action so that Defendants could have taken adequate discovery on it, and so that the Court could squarely review the merits of it. (Dkt. No. 78, Part 11, at 53 [Plf.'s Depo.].)
For all of these reasons, I recommend that Plaintiffs claims against Defendant Paolano be dismissed with prejudice.
B. Whether Plaintiff Has Adduced Evidence Establishing that Defendant Nesmith Was Deliberately Indifferent to Plaintiff's Serious Medical Needs
Generally, to state a claim for inadequate medical care, a plaintiff must allege facts plausibly suggesting two things: (1) that he had a sufficiently serious medical need; and (2) that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to that serious medical need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976); Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir.1998).
Defendants argue that, even assuming that Plaintiffs broken wrist constituted a sufficiently serious medical condition for purposes of the Eighth Amendment, Plaintiff has not adduced evidence establishing that, on August 17, 2000, Defendant Nesmith acted with deliberate indifference to that medical condition. (Dkt. No. 78, Part 13, at 4-9 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].) In support of this argument, Defendants point to the record evidence establishing that Defendant Nesmith sutured lacerations in Plaintiffs forehead, ordered an x-ray examination of Plaintiffs wrist, and placed that wrist in a splint (with an intention to replace that splint with a cast once the swelling in Plaintiffs wrist subsided) within 24 hours of the onset of Plaintiffs injuries. ( Id. at 7-9 [providing accurate record citations].) Moreover, ...