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Brown v. Wagner

United States District Court, Second Circuit

January 19, 2014



WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.

1. Pro se Plaintiff, Gregory Brown, was at all relevant times an inmate in the custody of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Service ("DOCCS") at the Attica Correctional Facility. He brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five correctional officers of that facility, alleging that they violated his constitutional rights.

Defendants move to partially dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

2. Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Federal pleading standards are generally not stringent: Rule 8 requires only a short and plain statement of a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). But the plain statement must "possess enough heft to show that the pleader is entitled to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

When determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court must construe it liberally, accept all factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. ATSI Communications, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd. , 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). Legal conclusions, however, are not afforded the same presumption of truthfulness. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 677, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.").

"To survive 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.'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). Labels, conclusions, or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. Facial plausibility exists when the facts alleged allow for a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct charged. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. The plausibility standard is not, however, a probability requirement: the pleading must show, not merely allege, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 678; Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Well-pleaded allegations must nudge the claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570.

Cognizant of the distinct disadvantage that pro se litigants face, this Court has read Brown's submissions carefully and liberally, and has interpreted them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); Burgos v. Hopkins , 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994). This principle merits particular weight when a civil rights violation is alleged. See McEachin v. McGuinnis , 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). But, "even pro se plaintiffs asserting civil rights claims are not exempt from Twombly's threshold that the pleadings must contain factual allegations sufficient to raise a right of relief above the speculative level." Arias-Mieses v. CSX Transp. Inc. , 630 F.Supp.2d 328, 331 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (internal quotations omitted).

3. Brown alleges that Defendants deprived him of his constitutionally secured rights on three separate, but (according to him) related occasions.

First, according to his complaint, [1] on December 4, 2010, an inmate known only as "Petey, " who was an "inmate porter, " discovered a note composed by Brown and addressed to "supervisory personnel"; it charged inmate porters with stealing Brown's food. (Compl., ¶ 15.) Apparently in response to this discovery, Petey called Brown a "rat, " and told him that he "better get the fuck off this unit." (Compl., ¶ 20.) The next day, according to Brown, Petey set fire to some belongings in Brown's cell while Brown was at lunch in the mess hall. (Compl., ¶ 21; Am. Compl., at 5.) Then, apparently a short time thereafter, while Brown was waiting outside Correction Officer Michael Kalinowski's office, Correction Officer Edward "Hulton and/or [Correction Officer Eric ] Wagner endeavored to provoke Plaintiff by throwing pistachio nut shells and other trash items at his back." (Compl., ¶ 25.) Further, Brown alleges that Hulton then "threatened to break [Plaintiff's] fucking neck if [he] turned around' in response to said taunts." (Compl., ¶ 25) (alterations in original). Later, still in the process of moving to a new cell because of the fire, Hulton again threatened to break Brown's neck. (Compl., ¶ 28.)

4. Brown eventually collected his property from his old cell and was told to wait in the "narrow 31-32 company entranceway in the frisk [] position.'" (Compl., ¶ 29.) While in this position, Brown alleges that Wagner and Hulton "coordinat[ed]" with "Petey, " who "struck [Brown] from behind under the left jawbone, causing his forehead to impact the bars, which lacerated Plaintiff's scalp, causing profuse bleeding and render[ing] him unconscious." (Compl., ¶ 30, Am. Compl, at 5.) Brown was taken to the hospital and given two staples to close his head wound. (Compl., ¶ 31.)

The same day, Brown alleges that Wagner composed an Inmate Misbehavior Report, alleging that Brown had set fire to his own cell. (Compl., ¶ 33.) On December 9, 2010, Brown submitted a grievance, believing at that time that Hulton - not Petey - struck him on December 5, 2010. (Compl., ¶ 34.) He didn't learn that it was Petey who struck him until after this litigation commenced. (Am. Compl., at 5.)

5. The next incident relates to a hearing before the "Time Allowance Committee." At the hearing, citing Brown's need to complete "Aggression Replacement Training, " the committee and Paul Chappius, its chairman, declined to apply Brown's good time credits to his sentence. (Compl., ¶ 37.) As a result, instead of being released early, Brown "was held to the maximum expiration of the 2-4 year sentence." (Compl., ¶¶ 37, 38; Am. Compl., at 6.) But Brown alleges that the proffered need for aggression training was only pretext. According to Brown, Chappius' true motivation was retaliation: Chappius, Brown alleges, was aware of his grievance against Hulton, and he withheld the good time credits because of it. (Compl., ¶ 40.)

6. The last series of incidents began in January of 2011. At that time, Correction Officer Deanna Carhart, without provocation, "loudly threatened to cut Plaintiff's face open from ear-to-ear' if she had to answer one more fucking tab, ' which Plaintiff interpreted to mean grievance." (Compl., ¶ 44). Brown believes that, because he had only one other, neutral encounter with Carhart, she was referring to the grievance he submitted against Hulton. (Compl., ¶ 45.) Brown then filed a separate grievance documenting this threat. (Compl., ¶ 46.)

The next time Carhart encountered Brown was on February 11, 2011, when Carhart was distributing mail to the inmates. Brown did not receive some legal papers that he believed Carhart should have delivered to him. He therefore filed another grievance against ...

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