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Samms v. Fischer

United States District Court, Second Circuit

September 20, 2013

MICHAEL SAMMS, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, Comm'r of the Dep't of Corr. Servs.; LUCIEN J. LeCLAIRE, JR., Deputy Comm'r of Corr. Facilities; S.B. DUNCAN, Senior Investigator; NORMAN BEZIO, Dir. of Special Housing and Inmate Disciplinary Programs; ESTATE OF CURTIS DROWN, a/k/a Drown; DALE ARTUS, Superintendent of Clinton Corrr. Facility; and S.E. RACETTE, Deputy Superintendent of Sec. and Comm. Chairman, Defendants.

MICHAEL SAMMS, 07-A-4065, Plaintiff, Pro Se, Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York.

CHARLES J. QUACKENBUSH, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, New York, Counsel for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this pro se prisoner civil rights action filed by Michael Samms ("Plaintiff") against the seven above-named New York State correctional employees ("Defendants"), are Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 76), a United States magistrate judge's Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part (Dkt. No. 84), Defendants' Objection to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 88), and Plaintiff's Objection to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 89). For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted in part and rejected in part, and Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this action on March 25, 2010. (Dkt. No. 1.) Generally, construed with the utmost of liberality, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, immediately after he was transferred to Clinton Correctional Facility("Clinton C.F.") on January 11, 2008, Defendants placed him in an especially hot and unsanitary cell in a special housing unit ("SHU") without cause, where he remained for a period of approximately twenty-two months, despite his appeals. ( Id. ) Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (1) a claim that Defendants violated his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by, inter alia, causing him to be placed in administrative segregation, failing to timely schedule an initial administrative segregation hearing, conducting a biased administrative segregation hearing, and failing to remedy the violation after learning of it through a report or appeal; and (2) a claim that Defendants violated his right to be free from inadequate conditions of confinement under the Eighth Amendment by being aware of, but failing to remedy, the hot and unsanitary conditions in his cell in SHU. ( Id. )

Familiarity with these claims and the factual allegations supporting them is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. ( Id. at Parts IV-VI.)

B. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

Generally, in their motion for summary judgment, Defendants assert the following three arguments: (1) Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim should be dismissed because (a) based on the admissible record evidence it is clear that a proper administrative segregation hearing was conducted on January 22, 2008, four days before the expiration of the 14-day deadline imposed by the governing regulations, and (b) in any event, Plaintiff has failed to establish the personal involvement of any of Defendant (other than Defendant Drown, the administrative hearing officer) in the due process violation alleged; (2) Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim should be dismissed because (a) there is no admissible record evidence establishing that Plaintiff has experienced objectively actionable conditions of confinement, (b) in any event, there is no admissible record evidence establishing that any Defendant has engaged in subjective deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's conditions of confinement, and (c) in any event, Plaintiff has failed to establish the personal involvement of any of Defendants in the unsanitary conditions of confinement alleged; and (3) in any event, Defendants are protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 76, at Parts I-III.)

Generally, in his opposition to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff asserts the following three arguments: (1) Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim because (a) they failed to timely administer an initial placement hearing within the seven-day deadline imposed by the regulations that govern cases, such as this one, in which the inmate is not confined to an administrative segregation unit, and (b) all Defendants (not just Defendant Drown) were personally involved in the alleged due process violations by assigning Drown to Plaintiff's case, affirming Drown's determination, and/or failing to remedy his due process violation after learning of it; (2) Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim because they deliberately turned a blind eye to his complaints of unsanitary conditions in SHU; and (3) based on the current record, Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. (Dkt. No. 80, at Points I-III.)

Generally, in their reply, Defendants argue that the deadline for Plaintiff's administrative hearing was not the seven-day deadline imposed by 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 251-5.1 (which controls the timeliness of a disciplinary hearing or superintendent's hearing following confinement on a new misbehavior report) but the 14-day deadline imposed by 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 301.4(a). (Dkt. No. 81.)

C. Magistrate Judge's Report-Recommendation

Generally, in the Report-Recommendation, the magistrate judge recommends that Defendants' motion be granted as to all of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Fisher and Plaintiff's conditions-of-confinement claim against all Defendants, but that Defendants' motion be denied as to Plaintiff's remaining claim (the procedural due process claim against Defendants LeClaire, Duncan, Bezio, Drown, Artus and Racette). (Dkt. No. 84.)

More specifically, with regard to Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Fisher, the magistrate judge concludes that a supervisor's referral of a complaint to a subordinate for investigation (which is the sole personal involvement that Fischer had in this case) does not constitute personal involvement. ( Id. )

With regard to Plaintiff's conditions-of-confinement claim, the magistrate judge concludes that Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence establishing that (1) that the special SHU cell in which he was originally placed was so hot, stuffy and dry as to deny him the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, and (2) that any Defendant was personally involved in the unsanitary conditions in the cell in which Plaintiff was placed after the administrative segregation hearing. ( Id. )

Finally, with regard to Plaintiff's procedural due process claim, the magistrate judge concludes that Plaintiff has presented admissible record evidence establishing both his procedural due process claim and the personal involvement of all Defendants (except Defendant Fischer) in the underlying procedural due process violation. ( Id. at Part III.A.) At the crux of this conclusion is her finding that, while Defendant Drown conducted Plaintiff's administrative segregation hearing in a timely fashion, it appears (based on the only admissible evidence on the subject in the record) that he wrongfully denied Plaintiff an opportunity to present his views at the hearing by persuading Plaintiff not to call any witnesses or make too many objections because he was under a "strict order" to find Plaintiff guilty. ( Id. ) Also at the crux of this conclusion are (1) her finding that Defendants Artus, Duncan and Racette were personally involved in this violation by essentially causing Plaintiff to be issued an unjustified administrative segregation recommendation and confined pending a decision on that recommendation, and (2) her finding that Defendants Bezio and LeClaire were personally involved by essentially denying his appeals and letters of complaint despite being placed on notice of the wrongdoing of Defendant Drown. ( Id. )

Familiarity with the remaining grounds of the magistrate judge's Report-Recommendation is assumed in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

D. Parties' Objections to the Report-Recommendation

1. Defendants' Objection

Generally, in their Objection to the Report-Recommendation, Defendants argue that the Plaintiff's procedural due process claim should be dismissed against Defendants Artus, Bezio, Duncan, LeClaire, Racette and Drown for four reasons. (Dkt. No. 88.)

First, argue Defendants, Plaintiff has not presented admissible record evidence establishing that Defendants Artus, Bezio, Duncan, LeClaire, and Racette were personally involved in an "ongoing" due process violation against Plaintiff following January 22, 2008, because (a) Defendant Drown's administrative-segregation determination lasted only sixty days, after which time Plaintiff's administrative segregation was reviewed, and continued, every sixty days by a committee of three other officials (conduct giving rise to claims that have already been dismissed in this action), and (b) in any event, to the extent Defendants LeClaire and Bezio responded to Plaintiff's correspondence, they did so based on less information than that possessed by the aforementioned committee, and in merely a routine fashion, which is presumed to be regular and not proof of wrongdoing. ( Id. )

Second, argue Defendants, Plaintiff has not presented admissible record evidence establishing that a procedural due process claim against Defendant Drown because (a) the magistrate judge has already concluded that Plaintiff's confinement in administrative segregation cannot support an Eighth Amendment claim, thus narrowing the "significant and atypical hardship" inquiry to one dependent on the duration of Plaintiff's confinement, (b) at the time he rendered his determination, Defendant Drown knew only that Plaintiff would be confined for a duration of sixty days, after which time the confinement would depend on the independent determination of a three-member committee, and (c) a duration of sixty days (without proof of conditions that were atypical as compared to those in other types of prison confinement) will not give rise to a cognizable liberty interest. ( Id. )

Third, argue Defendants, even if Defendants LeClaire and Bezio could fairly be deemed to have been "personally involved" in ratifying Defendant Drown's initial placement decision, there is no basis on which to find that the placement itself was constitutionally infirm, because state action taken on the basis of both valid and invalid motivations is not constitutionally tainted by the invalid motive if the action would in any event have been taken on a constitutionally valid basis, which (here) it would have been, due to the other evidence that was relied on (or could have been relied on) by Defendant Drown. ( Id. )

Fourth, argue Defendants, at the very least, qualified immunity protects them from liability because (a) a qualified immunity analysis rests on the reasonableness of a defendant's conduct based on the information known to him when the challenged conduct occurred, and not based on an unpredictable series of subsequent events, and (b) here, Defendants could not have known that Plaintiff's administrative segregation would have been repeatedly renewed by a committee of three officials. ( Id. )

2. Plaintiff's Objection

Generally, in his Objection to the Report-Recommendation, Plaintiff argues that his conditions-of-confinement claim should not be dismissed for the following four reasons. (Dkt. No. 89.)

First, argues Plaintiff, as stated on pages 8 and 9 of Plaintiff's opposition memorandum of law, and demonstrated in affidavits of witnesses, Defendants (except Duncan, Drown and Bezio) were personally involved in the ongoing Eighth Amendment violation because they failed to remedy it despite having been made aware of it through oral and written complaints. ( Id. )

Second, argues Plaintiff, the seriousness of the conditions of confinement in administrative segregation was not based merely on the atrociousness of those conditions and the duration of that confinement but on the psychological effects of that confinement (specifically, the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting in a prescription of two different psychotropic medications). ( Id. )

Third, argues Plaintiff, he should be afforded the opportunity to have the medical record "produced at trial, " and to call his prison psychologist as a witness, because he believes that Defendants "scared [him] off, " preventing him from treating Plaintiff and intervening in Plaintiff's administrative segregation. ( Id. )

Fourth, argues Plaintiff, the fact that insufficient evidence existed upon which to place Plaintiff in administrative segregation is further supported by the fact that, after being released from administrative segregation, he has had no disciplinary infractions, he has participated in various classes and certificate programs, and he was recommended and recently admitted to the "Honor Block" Committee. ( Id. )

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard Governing the Review of a ...


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