United States District Court, N.D. New York
ANDRE DOLBERRY, Pro Se, Albany County Correctional Facility, Albany, NY, For Plaintiff,
HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN New York State Attorney General, ADELE TAYLOR-SCOTT, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Albany, New York, For Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.
Pro se plaintiff Andre Dolberry, who is also sometimes known as Andre Duberry and has an extensive litigation history, has commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants deprived him of his civil rights while he was incarcerated in a state prison facility. In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that he was issued false misbehavior reports in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights, he was threatened and harassed by corrections officials, his rights to procedural due process and equal protection were violated, and the superintendent of the facility, though not directly involved, was complicit in all of those violations.
Currently pending before the court in connection with the action are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied, and that plaintiff's complaint in this action be dismissed based upon his material misrepresentation to the court, under oath, that he has not brought any prior actions relating to his imprisonment.
Although plaintiff is currently confined elsewhere, his claims in this action arise from his previous incarceration in the Coxsackie Correctional Facility ("Coxsackie"), a prison operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). See generally Dkt. No. 1.
Plaintiff's complaint asserts claims against defendant Glenn Saltsman, a corrections officer at Coxsackie, based upon two separate incidents. The first involved a complaint by an unnamed inmate who reported to defendant Saltsman, on July 5, 2005, that he was being threatened by the plaintiff. Dkt. No. 45-16 at 1; Dkt. No. 45-21. Following an investigation by the area supervisor, Sargeant Melendez, who is not a named defendant in this action, defendant Saltsman issued a misbehavior report to plaintiff charging him with violating a prison rule prohibiting inmates from making threats. Dkt. No. 45-16 at 2; Dkt. No. 45-17; Dkt. No. 45-21 at 22. Defendant Christopher McDermott, a corrections lieutenant employed by the DOCCS, presided over a Tier II disciplinary hearing, held on July 14, 2009, stemming from that misbehavior report. Dkt. No. 45-19 at 4; Dkt. No. 45-21 at 2. Following the hearing, at which plaintiff was given the opportunity to call witnesses and testify on his behalf, plaintiff was found guilty of threatening another inmate. Dkt. No. 45-19 at 4; Dkt. No. 45-21 at 14, 19. As a result of that finding, defendant McDermott sentenced plaintiff to serve thirty days of keeplock confinement, with a corresponding loss of certain privileges. Dkt. No. 45-19 at 4; Dkt. No. 45-21 at 14, 19.
The second incident involving defendant Saltsman occurred on August 20, 2009, while the corrections officer was making routine rounds at the facility. Dkt. No. 45-16 at 2. According to defendant Saltsman, after observing that plaintiff had placed a towel over his lamp, creating a potential fire hazard, he ordered Dolberry to remove the towel. Id. at 3. Plaintiff responded by stating, "This is my cell, I'll keep it the way I want.'" Id. Defendants maintain plaintiff complied with defendant Saltsman's request only after he was given two additional direct orders. Id. Based upon that incident, defendant Saltsman issued plaintiff a misbehavior report accusing Dolberry of violating three prison rules, including creating a fire hazard, disobeying a direct order, and failing to maintain orderliness of his living quarters. Id.; Dkt. No. 45-18; Dkt. No. 1 at 14. There is no record regarding the results of any disciplinary hearing that may have occurred following the issuance of that misbehavior report.
According to defendant Saltsman, at the time both of those misbehavior reports were written, he was not aware of the fact that plaintiff had filed grievances or complaints against him. Dkt. No. 45-16 at 3.
Plaintiff's claims against defendant John Jakob, another corrections officer at Coxsackie, center around several misbehavior reports issued to Dolberry by that defendant between June and October of 2009. See generally Dkt. No. 1; Dkt. No. 45-11 at 2. The first of those was issued on July 3, 2009, charging plaintiff with violating several facility rules, by disobeying a direct order, being out of place, making a false statement, making threats, and committing a movement violation. Dkt. No. 45-11 at 3; Dkt. No. 45-20 at 2, 3, 13. According to defendant Jakob, that misbehavior report was issued based upon Dolberry's refusal to line up properly following an evening meal on July 3, 2009, and lying about not being in the proper order. Dkt. No. 45-11 at 3; Dkt. No. 45-20 at 13. Plaintiff alleges that the misbehavior report was issued in retaliation for having filed "grievance complaints on staff on 6/3/09." Dkt. No. 1 at 12. Defendant Jakob maintains that, at the time he issued the misbehavior report dated July 3, 2009, he had no knowledge of plaintiff having submitted any written complaints against him. Dkt. No. 45-11 at 3. On July 10, 2009, defendant McDermott conducted a Tier II disciplinary hearing to address the charges contained in the July 3, 2009 misbehavior report. Dkt. No. 45-19 at 2; Dkt. No. 45-20 at 2-7. Defendant McDermott dismissed the charge of making threats immediately upon commencing the hearing. Dkt. No. 45-20 at 3. Plaintiff was permitted to, and did, testify on his behalf, and he was given an opportunity to call witnesses. Id. at 3-6. At the conclusion of the hearing, defendant McDermott found plaintiff not guilty of disobeying a direct order and providing a false statement. Id. at 6, 10. Plaintiff was found guilty, however, of being out of place and a movement violation. Id. Defendant McDermott sentenced plaintiff to twenty days loss of privileges, although the sanction was suspended for sixty days. Id. at 6-7, 10.
A second misbehavior report was issued to plaintiff by defendant Jakob on August 23, 2009, accusing Dolberry of additional prison rule infractions, including disobeying a direct order, failing to maintain orderliness of his living quarters, and harassment. Dkt. No. 45-11 at 3; Dkt. No. 46-2 at 18. That misbehavior report was issued after defendant Jakob ordered plaintiff to remove his locker from the top of plaintiff's desk, and, in response, plaintiff said, "I'll do what I want. I'm suing your white ass.'" Dkt. No. 45-11 at 3; DKt. No. 46-2 at 18; see also Dkt. No. 1 at 17. A Tier II disciplinary hearing was conducted regarding that misbehavior report on September 3, 2009, by Lieutenant Meigs, a DOCCS employee. Dkt. No. 46-2 at 2-12. At the hearing, plaintiff was permitted to testify in his defense, but refused an opportunity to call any witnesses on his behalf. Id. at 5-6. At the conclusion of the hearing, Lieutenant Meigs found plaintiff guilty of disobeying a direct order, but not guilty on the other charges. Id. at 6, 15. As a sanction, plaintiff was sentenced to fifteen days loss of privileges. Id.
A third misbehavior report was issued by defendant Jakob to the plaintiff, on September 1, 2009, charging him with being out of place and failing to comply with the disciplinary sanction, in violation of prison rules. Dkt. No. 45-11 at 4; Dkt. No. 45-15; Dkt. No. 45-22 at 11. That misbehavior report, which plaintiff characterizes as "bogus, " Dkt. No. 1 at 17, was issued based upon defendant Jakob's belief that plaintiff had attended outside recreation despite having been previously issued a disciplinary sanction that included loss of recreation during that period. Dkt. No. 45-11 at 3-4; Dkt. No. 45-15; Dkt. No. 45-22 at 11. On September 11, 2009, defendant McDermott conducted a Tier II disciplinary hearing related to that misbehavior report. Dkt. No. 45-19 at 4; Dkt. No. 45-22 at 2-5. Plaintiff testified in his defense but declined an opportunity to call any witnesses. Dkt. No. 45-22 at 4. Defendant McDermott found plaintiff guilty on both charges, and sentenced him to fourteen days keeplock confinement and a loss of certain privileges. Id. at 4, 8.
A fourth misbehavior report was authored by defendant Jakob on or about October 9, 2009, accusing plaintiff of threatening Jakob and his family. Dkt. No. 45-11 at 4; Dkt. No. 45-25 at 4. Plaintiff alleges that this misbehavior report was fabricated and retaliatory. Dkt. No. 1 at 18. That misbehavior report resulted in a Tier Ill. disciplinary hearing, conducted by defendant Eric Gutwein, a DOCCS hearing officer, on October 15, 2009. Dkt. No. 45-24 at 2; Dkt. No. 45-25 at 1-3. Following the hearing, defendant Gutwein found the plaintiff guilty of making threats and engaging in violent conduct, and sentenced him to serve a period three months of disciplinary confinement in the facility's special housing unit ("SHU"), to commence on October 23, 2009. Dkt. No. 45-24 at 3; Dkt. No. 45-25 at 1. That determination was subsequently reversed, however, by the DOCCS central office based upon a procedural error, and plaintiff was released from SHU confinement on November 12, 2009, after serving only twenty-one days of disciplinary confinement. Dkt. No. 45-24 at 3; Dkt. No. 45-26 at 2; Dkt. No. 45-27.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff commenced this action on August 25, 2011, in the Western District of New York. Dkt. No. 1. The action was subsequently transferred to this district, and plaintiff was thereafter granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.  Dkt. Nos. 3, 4, and 5. Plaintiff's complaint, as modified by the court's initial order, Dkt. No. 5, names, as defendants, Corrections Officers Jakob, Saltsman, and Silverman; Coxsackie Superintendent Martuscello; Acting Superintendent Gutwein; and Corrections Lieutenant McDermott. See generally Dkt. No. 1. In it, plaintiff asserts causes of action for the deprivation of procedural due process and equal protection, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; unlawful retaliation, in violation of First Amendment; Denial of court access, in violation of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments; and cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id.
On March 25, 2013, following the close of discovery, plaintiff moved for the entry of summary judgment in his favor. Dkt. No. 37. On May 20, 2013, defendants submitted their opposition to that motion, and simultaneously filed a cross-motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiff's complaint on a variety of grounds. Dkt. Nos. 44-47. Plaintiff has since responded in opposition to defendants' cross-motion. Dkt. No. 49. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are now ripe for determination, and have been referred to me for the issuance of a report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Northern District of New York Local Rule 72.3(c). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).
A. Plaintiff's Material Misrepresentation to the Court
In his complaint, which was filed utilizing a pre-printed form from the Western District of New York intended for use in civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff was asked the following question: "Have you begun any other lawsuits in federal court which relate to your imprisonment?" Dkt. No. 1 at 3. In response, defendant answered, "No." Id. That answer is demonstrably false. By the time plaintiff had commenced this action, he had already developed a robust inmate litigation history, having filed at least seven cases in this circuit, six of which were dismissed, upon initial review, as frivolous or for failure to state a cause of action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
In failing to disclose his prior litigation history, plaintiff provided misinformation to the court regarding a material issue. As one of my former colleagues has noted regarding the materiality of an inmate-plaintiff's prior litigation history,
[g]enerally, information about a plaintiff's litigation history is material in prisoner civil rights actions since it enables the Court to determine one or more of the following issues: (1) whether any of the issues in the action have been previously litigated and decided (for purpose of the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel); (2) whether the plaintiff had, prior to being granted in forma pauperis status in this action, earned three strikes' for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g); (3) whether the plaintiff had a record of frivolous litigation sufficient to warrant either (a) what is known as a bar order' (i.e., an order barring him from litigating further in that court without meeting certain preconditions) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), or (b) an order declaring plaintiff to be a vexatious' litigator pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927; and (4) whether the plaintiff's litigation experience was so extraordinary that it effectively dispenses with the need to afford him special solicitude.
Chavis v. Curlee, No. 06-CV-0049, 2008 WL 508694, at *10 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 2008) (Kahn, J., adopting report and recommendation by Lowe, M.J.). While the second of those four articulated rationales does not apply in the case because plaintiff was not a prison inmate when this suit was commenced, the remaining three are valid considerations in this action given plaintiff's history. Plaintiff's failure to truthfully answer the inquiry concerning his prior litigation history represents a fraud upon the court, and a violation of his obligations under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Pro se litigants, like any others, are subject to the strictures of Rule 11, and may properly be sanctioned for making material misrepresentations to the court. See, e.g., Manwani v. Brunelle, No. 95-6080, 1995 WL 732686, at *2 (2d Cir. Dec. 8, 1995) (unpublished) (affirming district court's Rule 11 sanctions issued against a pro se litigant). In view of plaintiff's gross and cavalier misrepresentation concerning his litigation history in this and other actions he has filed in this circuit, the imposition of sanctions is clearly warranted.
In their motion, defendants request that the court sanction plaintiff, due to his misrepresentations, by dismissing the complaint in this action. Dkt. No. 46-8 at 23-25. I note, however, that defendants have failed to provide plaintiff with the twenty-one day safe harbor period called for in Rule 11(c)(2), a failure that would, on its own, warrant denial of the motion. See Fierro v. Gallucci, 423 F.App'x 17, 18-19 (2d Cir. 2011) (finding that the district court "was required to deny plaintiff's motion for sanctions for failure to comply with the 21-day safe harbor, ' which requires Rule 11 motions be served on the opposing party 21 days prior to their filing, in order to afford that party an opportunity to withdraw their allegedly sanctionable claims"). The court, however, is permitted under Rule 11 to impose sanctions sua sponte "after notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond." Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(1); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(3) ("On its own, the court may order a... party to show cause why conduct specifically described in the order has not violated Rule 11(b)."). The Second Circuit has held that, to impose sanctions sua sponte, courts must first find subjective bad-faith on the party to be sanctioned. In re Pennie & Edmonds LLP, 323 F.3d 86, 90 (2d Cir. 2003).
In this case, in light of plaintiff's chronicled history of unabashed misstatements to this and other courts, I find that those misstatements were made in bad faith, and that dismissal of his complaint is warranted. See Elijah Bell v. Lasaceli, No. 08-CV-0278, 2009 WL 1032857, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 15, 2009) ("Because Plaintiff has repeatedly misrepresented his litigation history to the Court..., the Court finds that he has violated Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 and therefore, this action will dismissed, in the alternative, on that basis."); Chavis, 2008 WL 508694, at *11 (adopting recommendation to dismiss the case premised on alternative ground that the plaintiff should be sanctioned for making a material misrepresentation to the court in his complaint); see also Muniz v. Goord, No. 04-CV-0479, 2007 WL 2027912, at *6 n.32 (N.D.N.Y. July 11, 2007) (McAvoy, J., adopting report and recommendation by Lowe, M.J.) (adopting recommendation to dismiss the case premised on alternative ground that the plaintiff should be sanctioned for making a material misrepresentation to the court in his complaint (collecting cases)); see also Hoskins v. Dart, 633 F.3d 541, 543 (7th Cir. 2011) (affirming district court's dismissal of the appellant's case as a sanction for failing to accurately disclose his litigation history); Greer v. Schriro, No. 06-15537, 2007 WL 4163413 (9th Cir. 2007) ("The district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Greer's action, because she failed to adequately explain misrepresentations, made under penalty of perjury, about her previous litigation history."); Mathis v. Smith, 181 F.App'x 808, 810 (11th Cir. 2006) (finding no abuse of discretion by the district court where it dismissed the plaintiff's case in light of his dishonesty); Joiner v. Delo, 905 F.2d 206, 208 (8th Cir. 1990) (affirming district court's rule 11 dismissal of plaintiff's claims in light of the plaintiff's "blatant misrepresentation of the circumstances of his medical treatment").
B. The Parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment
Notwithstanding my recommendation that plaintiff's complaint be dismissed due to his repeated dishonesty with the court, I have analyzed the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment below in the event that recommendation is not adopted.
1. Legal Standard Governing Motions for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment motions are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that provision, the entry of summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 82-83 (2d Cir. 2004). A fact is "material" for purposes of this inquiry, if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson). A material fact is genuinely in dispute "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
A party moving for summary judgment bears an initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute of material fact to be decided with respect to any essential element of the claim in issue, and the failure to meet this burden warrants denial of the motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 n.4; Sec. Ins. Co., 391 F.3d at 83. In the event this initial burden is met, the opposing party must show, through affidavits or otherwise, that there is a material dispute of fact for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
When deciding a summary judgment motion, a court must resolve any ambiguities, and draw all inferences, in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Jeffreys, 426 F.3d at 553; Wright v. Coughlin, 132 F.3d 133, 137-38 (2d Cir. 1998). The entry of summary judgment is justified only in the event of a finding that no reasonable trier of fact could rule in favor of the non-moving party. Bldg. Trades Employers Educ. Ass'n v. McGowan, 311 F.3d 501, 507-08 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (finding summary judgment appropriate only when "there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict").
2. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment in his favor. Dkt. No. 37. Plaintiff's motion, however, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the law of summary judgment. In his memorandum, Dolberry makes the following statements:
[T]here exists a genuine issue of material facts [sic] to whether C.O. Jakob's false disciplinary tickets for threats against Dolberry was in retaliation, C.O. Saltsman['s] tickets were in retaliation, and Supt. Martuscello ignored Dolberry's complaints for months....
It cannot be argued here the facts are well established and settled[.]
Dkt. No. 37-1 at 2. Because plaintiff does not argue, nor has he established, that no genuine disputes of material fact exists for a factfinder at trial, he has failed to sustain his burden under Rule 56. Accordingly, I recommend that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied.
3. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
i. Plaintiff's Procedural Due Process Claim
Among the claims asserted by the plaintiff is a procedural due process cause of action against defendants McDermott and Gutwein. Dkt. No. 1 at 21-24. That claim appears to stem from five Tier II or Tier III disciplinary hearings conducted by those defendants, the details of which are listed below.
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. 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).
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. 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. Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 64 n.2 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Welch v. Bartlett, 196 F.3d 389, 394 n.4 (2d Cir. 1999)). The issue, then, is whether the allegations related to the conditions of plaintiff's keeplock and SHU confinement rise to the level of an atypical and significant hardship.
Atypicality in a Sandin inquiry is normally a question of law. Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 230-31 (2d Cir. 2000); Seeley 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.
In this case, to the extent that plaintiff's due process claim centers around his confinement in keeplock or the SHU, the lengths of time he spent in either one as a result of a sanction imposed by defendants McDermott and Gutwein are insufficient to give rise to a liberty interest implicating a prisoner's due process rights. The Second Circuit has made clear that disciplinary confinements of fewer than 101 days and not involving extraordinary circumstances do not constitute atypical and significant hardships. Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 65 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Seeley, 197 F.3d at 589). Here, plaintiff's disciplinary confinements, none of which involved anything but "normal" circumstances, endured for no more than thirty days in keeplock and twenty-one days in the SHU confinement beginning on October 23, 2009, and ending on November 12, 2009. Dkt. No. 45-24 at 3; Dkt. No. 45-27. Accordingly, I find that no genuine dispute of material fact exists regarding whether plaintiff's liberty interests were violated, thus implicating his procedural due process rights. See Palmer, 364 F.3d at 65-66 ("In the absence of a detailed factual record, we have affirmed dismissal of due process claims only in cases where the period of time spent in SHU was exceedingly short - less than the 30 days that the Sandin plaintiff spent in SHU - and there was no indication that the plaintiff endured unusual SHU conditions." (citing Arce, 139 F.3d at 335-36; Hynes, 143 F.3d at 658-59; Frazier v. Coughlin, 81 F.3d 313, 317 (2d Cir. 1996)). Accordingly, I recommend that plaintiff's due process claim asserted against defendants McDermott and Gutwiein be dismissed without examining the sufficiency of the procedural safeguards afforded to him.
ii. Plaintiff's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Claims
Throughout plaintiff's complaint are allegations that defendants subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Although this is anything but clear, it appears that the claim is centered around (1) the actions of defendant Jakob, who allegedly subjected plaintiff to threats, abuse, and harassment; (2) the twenty-one day period of SHU confinement imposed by defendant Gutwein; and (3) the denial by defendant Silverman, another corrections officer stationed at Coxsackie, of a food tray on one occasion.
a. Eighth Amendment Principles Generally
The Eighth Amendment prohibits punishment that is "incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society[, ]' or involve[s] the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain[.]'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102-03 (1976) (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 100-01 (1958) and Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 169-73 (1976) (citations omitted)). While the Eighth Amendment "does not mandate comfortable prisons, ' neither does it permit inhumane ones." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981)).
A claim alleging that prison conditions have violated the Eighth Amendment must satisfy both objective and subjective requirements. Jolly v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 468, 480 (2d Cir. 1996). As to the objective prong, "the plaintiff must demonstrate that the conditions of his confinement result in unquestioned and serious deprivations of basic human needs.'" Jolly, 76 F.3d at 480 (quoting Anderson v. Coughlin, 757 F.2d 33, 35 (2d Cir. 2985)); see also Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d. 119, 125 (2d Cir. 2013) ("To meet the objective element, the inmate must show that the conditions, either alone or in combination, pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his health."). To meet the subjective requirement, "the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendants imposed those conditions with deliberate indifference.'" Jolly, 76 F.3d at 480 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991)); see also Waldo v. Goord, No. 97-CV-1385, 1998 WL 713809, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 1, 1998) (Kahn, J., adopting report and recommendation by Homer, M.J.). Deliberate indifference exists if an official "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; [he] must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; see also Waldo, 1998 WL 713809, at *2; Davidson, 920 F.Supp. at 308.
b. Threats and Harassment
Central to the cruel and unusual claims asserted by the plaintiff in this action is his contention that he was subjected to threats and abuse by defendant Jakob. See generally Dkt. No. 1. Defendants seek dismissal of those claims. Dkt. No. 46-8 at 15. Because it is well settled in this circuit that mere verbal threats and harassment not resulting in physical injury do not give rise to an Eighth Amendment violation, I recommend that this claim be dismissed. See Felder v. Fillion, 368 F.App'x 253, 256 (2d Cir. 2010) ("The allegation that [the defendant] threatened [the plaintiff] verbally was not a sufficient basis for a claim of Eighth Amendment violation because [the plaintiff] did not present evidence of any injury resulting from those threats." (citing Purcell v. Coughlin, 790 F.2d 263, 265 (2d Cir. 1986)).
c. SHU Confinement
Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim asserted against defendant Gutwein stems from Gutwein's imposition of a thirty-day disciplinary SHU confinement. As was noted above in connection with plaintiff's due process claim, he has not alleged, nor has he presented evidence suggesting, that the conditions of confinement in the SHU were constitutionally inadequate. In other words, there is nothing in the record to give rise to a dispute of material fact regarding whether the disciplinary confinement was, objectively, sufficiently serious, or that, subjectively, defendant Gutwein exhibited deliberate indifference to plaintiff's health or safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Accordingly, I recommend that plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against defendant Gutwein be dismissed.
d. Denial of Food
Another component of plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim is his contention that he was denied a meal on one isolated occasion by defendant Silverman. Dkt. No. 1 at 27. Courts in this circuit have routinely held, however, that the denial of a single meal is constitutionally de mininis, and insufficient to support an Eighth Amendment claim. Rush v. Fischer, 923 F.Supp.2d 545, 555-56 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (citing Hankerson v. Nassau Cnty. Corr. Facility, No. 12-CV-5282, 2012 WL 6055019, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 4, 2012); Scarbrough v. Evans, No. 11-CV-0131, 2012 WL 4364511, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. May 17, 2012) (Homer, M.J.), report and recommendation adopted by 2012 WL 4350792 (Mordue, J.)). I therefore recommend dismissal of this claim against defendant Silverman.
iii. Plaintiff's Denial of Access to the Courts Claim
In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendant Jakob's issuance of misbehavior reports to him effectively denied him access to the courts. Dkt. No. 1 at 9, 11, 12, 13, 26. Defendants seek dismissal of this claim based on the fact that there is nothing in the record from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that plaintiff suffered any prejudice in his lawsuits due to defendant Jakob's issuance of misbehavior reports. Dkt. No. 46-8 at 17-18.
Undoubtedly, prisoners have a constitutional right to meaningfully access the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824 (1977); accord, Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996) ("The right that Bounds acknowledged was the (already well-established) right of access to the courts." (emphasis in original)). This right is implicated when prison officials "actively interfer[e] with inmates' attempts to prepare legal documents, or file them[.]" Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350 (citations omitted). A plaintiff asserting a denial of access to the courts claim must allege that the defendant was "responsible for actions that hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim." Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003) (quotation marks omitted). To establish a denial of access to courts claim, a plaintiff must satisfy two prongs. First, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted deliberately and maliciously. Davis, 320 F.3d at 351. Second, plaintiff must demonstrate that he suffered an actual injury. Id.
In this case, there is insufficient record evidence to give rise to a genuine dispute of fact regarding either element of a court-access claim. One of the two lawsuits referenced in plaintiff's complaint is No. M-75662, which was pending in the New York State courts at the time defendant Jakob issued a misbehavior report to plaintiff on October 9, 2009. Dkt. No. 1 at 13. Publically available records regarding that case reveal that the only defendant named in that case was the State of New York. Do/berry v. State, 71 A.D.3d 948 (2d Dep't 2010). Accordingly, without more, I conclude that there is nothing in the record to support the implicit suggestion by the plaintiff that, at the time defendant Jakob issued that misbehavior ticket to plaintiff, he knew plaintiff had a lawsuit pending. Similarly, plaintiff references a case "02CV6418, " which corresponds to one of plaintiff's civil rights lawsuits filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. Do/berry v. Levine, No. 02-CV-6418 (W. D. N.Y. filed Aug. 6, 2002). Plaintiff has not explained how he suffered any prejudice in connection with that lawsuit, and it is unclear to the court based on publically available records how he suffered prejudice. Indeed, plaintiff settled with the defendants in that case for $3, 300.00. Levine, No. 02-CV-6418, Dkt. No. 368 (W.D.N.Y.). It is also worth noting that there is nothing in the record to suggest that defendant Jakob, who is not a named-defendant in that case, knew about the lawsuit at any time.
In summary, because no reasonable factfinder could conclude, based on the record evidence, that defendant Jakob issued misbehavior reports to plaintiff deliberately and maliciously to interfere with his lawsuits or that plaintiff suffered prejudice as a result of the misbehavior reports, I recommend that his First Amendment court access claim be dismissed.
iv. Plaintiff's Equal Protection Claim
In his complaint plaintiff alleges, without elaboration, that the defendants deprived him of equal protection. Dkt. No. 1 at 26, 27. Defendants now argue that plaintiff's equal protection claim is insufficiently stated and not supported by the record. Dkt. No. 46-8 at 25-26.
The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment directs state actors to treat similarly situated people alike. City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). To establish an equal protection cause of action, a plaintiff must prove that he was treated differently than others similarly situated as a result of intentional or purposeful discrimination directed at an identifiable or suspect class. Giano v. Senkowski, 54 F.3d 1050, 1057 (2d Cir. 1995). The plaintiff must also show "that the disparity in treatment cannot survive the appropriate level of scrutiny which, in the prison setting, means that he must demonstrate that his treatment was not reasonably related to any legitimate penological interests.'" Phillips v. Girdich, 408 F.3d 124, 129 (2d Cir. 2005) (alteration omitted) (quoting Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 225 (2001)).
In this instance, plaintiff has not identified, nor does the record disclose, any basis to conclude that he was treated differently than similarly situated individuals. Rather, plaintiff's two allegations giving rise to his equal protection claim, and the only record evidence surrounding that claim, are as follows:
On several other occasions C.O. Jakob... demonstrated racial, bias, prejudice, animosity while conspiring to deprive him of his Equal Protection of the laws under color of law.
[Defendants Jakob and Silverman] acted with racial or other class-based animus in conspiring to deprive the plaintiff of his equal protection of the laws secured by the law.
Dkt. No. 1 at 26, 27. Even assuming, however, that the record gives rise to a dispute of fact regarding whether plaintiff was treated differently than other, similarly situated persons for purposes of an equal protection analysis, there is nothing in the record suggesting any disparity in the conditions experienced by the two (unidentified) groups as a result of purposeful discrimination directed at an identifiable suspect class. Accordingly, I recommend that plaintiff's equal protection claim be dismissed.
v. Personal Involvement of Defendant Martuscello
Among the defendants named in plaintiff's complaint is Daniel Martuscello, the Superintendent at Coxsackie. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 1 at 8. Plaintiff does not allege that defendant Martuscello was personally involved in the events giving rise to his claims. Id. Instead, he contends that Martuscello knew or should have known of the constitutional deprivations alleged based upon complaints and grievances lodged by the plaintiff, but failed to act to remedy the violations. Id.
It is well-established that, as a supervisor, defendant Martuscello cannot be liable for damages under section 1983 solely by virtue of being a supervisor, "and [liability] cannot rest on respondeat superior." Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431, 435 (2d Cir. 2003); Wright, 21 F.3d at 501. To establish responsibility on the part of a supervisory official for a civil rights violation, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the individual (1) directly participated in the challenged conduct; (2) after learning of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) created or allowed to continue a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred; (4) was grossly negligent in managing the subordinates who caused the unlawful event; or (5) failed to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring. lqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2007), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 554 (2009); see also Richardson, 347 F.3d at 435; Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995); Wright, 21 F.3d at 501.
In this case, plaintiff supports his claims against defendant Martuscello with mere allegations that he sent Martuscello letters and complaints regarding the other defendants' unlawful conduct. Plaintiff has failed to provide any details with respect to those letters. In contrast to plaintiff's threadbare allegations, defendant Martuscello has submitted an affidavit, in support of defendants' pending motion, averring that plaintiff's letters and complaints were investigated by him or his staff, and has included copies of the pertinent investigatory reports. Dkt. No. 45-3 at 2; Dkt. Nos. 45-4-45-10. Those reports reflect that defendant Martuscello responded to plaintiff's concerns, and, in certain instances, accepted plaintiff's grievances. Id. Moreover, it is clear from plaintiff's reply that he has included defendant Martuscello as a defendant in this case based solely upon the acts of Martuscello's subordinates. Dkt. No. 49 at 6. In that reply, plaintiff notes the following:
[W]hatever staff was in charge of the investigation an [sic] withheld data of cons [sic], violations were being violated to Supt. Martuscello should be responsible for not doing his job properly putting Supt. Martuscello in the hot seat making it look like he wasn't doing his job when it was his subordinates, who I would make pay all lawyers fees and possible settlements or payments.
In light of the record now before the court, I conclude that there is an absence of a genuine dispute of fact regarding the personal involvement of defendant Martuscello in any of the allegations giving rise to the claims in this case. Accordingly, I recommend that all of plaintiff's claims against defendant Martuscello be dismissed.
vi. Plaintiff's Retaliation Claims
Plaintiff's complaint contains several allegations regarding retaliatory conduct by defendants Jakob, Saltsman, and Sliverman. See generally Dkt. No. 1. Many of the allegations are vague and conclusory, and others are more specific. Id. Defendants request that plaintiff's retaliation claims be dismissed due to the absence of any record evidence to support the allegations. Dkt. No. 46-8 at 20-23.
A cognizable section 1983 retaliation claim lies when prison officials take adverse action against an inmate that is 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."). The Second Circuit has cautioned, however, that, because of "the ease with which claims of retaliation may be fabricated, " courts should "examine prisoners' claims of retaliation with skepticism and particular care." Colon, 58 F.3d at 872; accord, Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 352 (2d Cir. 2003).
To establish a claim under section 1983 for unlawful retaliation, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the conduct prompting the retaliatory acts 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)).
Liberally construed, plaintiff's retaliation claims are based on allegations that, in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights by writing and filing grievances and civil lawsuits, defendants Jakob, Saltsman, and Silverman issued misbehavior reports to him. See generally Dkt. No. 1. According to plaintiff, some of the misbehavior reports issued were false, while others were simply intended to harass plaintiff. Id. at 12-18.
As an initial matter, I recommend that the retaliation claim asserted against defendant Silverman be dismissed because there is no record evidence to support that claim aside from the following allegation contained in plaintiff's complaint:
Here Duberry asserts [First Amendment] violations of retaliation claims advancing non conclusory allegations where he was protected by certain rights and C.O. Jakob, Saltsman, Silverman and some un[n]amed other C.O.s took adverse action against Duberry where a causal connection between the protected conduct and the adverse action.
Dkt. No. 1 at 16. Although there are other allegations giving rise to the retaliation claims against defendants Jakob and Saltsman, the foregoing is the only one involving defendant Silverman. Because that allegation does nothing more than advance conclusory and vague factual assertions, and there is no other evidence in the record supporting it, I recommend that the retaliation cause of action asserted against defendant Silverman be dismissed.
With respect to the record evidence that supports plaintiff's retaliation claim against defendants Jakob and Saltsman, defendants have produced evidence that Jakob issued four misbehavior reports against plaintiff during the times relevant to this action, and defendant Saltsman issued two. Dkt. Nos. 45-12-45-13, 45-15, 45-17-45-18, 45-25 at 4. Specifically, misbehavior reports were issued to Dolberry by defendant Jakob on July 3, August 23, September 1, and October 9, 2009, Dkt. Nos. 45-13, 45-15, 45-21 at 22, 45-25 at 4, and by Defendant Saltsman on July 5, and August 20, 2009. Dkt. No. 45-17, 45-18. There is conflicting evidence in the record, however, regarding the motivation behind the defendants' issuance of each of the tickets. Plaintiff alleges that they were issued in retaliation for his filing of grievances or lawsuits against defendants Jakob and Saltsman. Dkt. No. 1 at 12-18. Indeed, the record reflects that plaintiff filed at least six grievances or letters with prison officials regarding harassment by defendants Jakob and Saltsman. Dkt. Nos. 45-4 at 3, 45-5 at 5, 45-6 at 4-5, 45-7 at 8, 45-9 at 8, 45-10 at 6. Those defendants, on the other hand, purport that they issued each of the misbehavior reports to plaintiff based on plaintiff's failure to obey prison facility rules and regulations. See generally Dkt. Nos. 45-11, 45-16.
It is well settled that the filing of grievances and lawsuits constitutes protected activity for purposes of a First Amendment retaliation analysis. See Johnson v. Eggersdorf, 8 F.App'x 140, 144 (2d Cir. 2001) ("It is undisputed that retaliation by prison officials against an inmate for the filing of a grievance can act as a deprivation of a constitutionally protected right."); Colon, 58 F.3d at 872 ("Prisoners, like non-prisoners, have a constitutional right of access to the courts and to petition the government for the redress of grievances."). Moreover, the Second Circuit has determined that a prison official's filing of a false misbehavior report against an inmate out of retaliatory animus constitutes adverse action. Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379, 381 (2d Cir. 2004) ("[The plaintiff] has sufficiently alleged... adverse action on the part of the defendants - the filing of false misbehavior reports against [him] and his sentence of three weeks in keeplock - that would deter a prisoner of ordinary firmness from vindicating his... constitutional rights through the grievance process and the courts[.]").
The unanswered question in this case, then, is whether the grievances and lawsuits filed by plaintiff against defendants Jakob and Saltsman were the "motivating factor" behind their issuance of the misbehavior reports. In light of the conflicting evidence between the parties regarding the motivation behind the misbehavior reports, I cannot recommend dismissal of the retaliation claims against defendants Jakob and Saltsman at this juncture. To do otherwise would require the court to make credibility determinations between the conflicting evidence, which is the task of a factfinder at trial. The temporal proximity between the grievances and letters authored by plaintiff, which are in the record before the court, and the misbehavior reports issued by defendants Jakob and Saltsman, raise an inference that the misbehavior reports were motivated by plaintiff's filing of grievances. Plaintiff's letters and grievances are dated between June 27, 2009 and October 9, 2009. Dkt. Nos. 45-4 at 3, 45-5 at 5, 45-6 at 4-5, 45-7 at 8, 45-8 at 3, 45-9 at 8, 45-10 at 6. Defendants Jakob and Saltsman, on the other hand, issued misbehavior reports to plaintiff on July 3, 5, August 20, 23, September 1, and October 9, 2009. Dkt. Nos. 45-17, 45-20, 45-18, 46-2 at 18, 45-15, 45-25 at 4. Those circumstances, when considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate triable issues of material fact that must be resolved before plaintiff's retaliation claims can be adjudicated. Accordingly, I recommend that defendants' motion for summary judgment be denied with respect to the retaliation claims asserted against defendants Jakob and Saltsman.
vii. Plaintiff's Conspiracy Claims
Sprinkled throughout plaintiff's complaint are allegations that defendant Jakob and others, including defendant Saltsman, conspired to violate his constitutional rights. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 1 at 9, 10, 26, 27. In their motion, defendants seek dismissal of this claim. Dkt. No. 46-8 at 19-20.
"To prove a [section] 1983 conspiracy, a plaintiff must show: (1) an agreement between two or more state actors or between a state actor and a private entity; (2) to act in concert to inflict an unconstitutional injury; and (3) an overt act done in furtherance of that goal causing damages." Pangburn v. Culbertson, 200 F.3d 65, 72 (2d Cir. 1999). Conclusory, vague or general allegations of a conspiracy to deprive a person of constitutional rights are not sufficient to support a cognizable claim under section 1983. Sommer v. Dixon, 709 F.2d 173, 175 (2d Cir. 1983).
Plaintiff's conspiracy claims are ripe for dismissal in light of the vague and conclusory allegations supporting them, and the fact that some of them relate to claims that are not cognizable under the United States Constitution. Two examples are illustrative. First, plaintiff alleges that, after plaintiff was released from one of his keeplock confinements, a fellow inmate, who had previously complained to defendant Jakob alleging that plaintiff threatened him, "laughed and joked in Duberry's face...[, ] which exhibited conspiracy by C.O. Jakob to keeplock Duberry[.]" Dkt. No. 1 at 9. This conclusory allegation, which is not supported by any record evidence, is insufficient to give rise to a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether defendant Jakob conspired with anyone to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights. See, e.g., Hilson v. Maltese, No. 09-CV-1373, 2012 WL 6965105, at *6 n.10 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 14, 2012) (Baxter, M.J.), report and recommendation adopted by 2013 WL 375489 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2013) (Mordue, J.) ("Plaintiff's conclusory assertion... is not sufficient to establish a material issue of fact[.]" (listing cases)). Second, plaintiff alleges that, on or about July 5, 2009, defendants Jakob and Saltsman conspired "to commence the on-going harassment." Dkt. No. 1 at 13. Because prisoners do not have a constitutional right to be free from general harassment, plaintiff's conspiracy claim in that regard must fail. See O'Bradovich v. Vill. of Tuckahoe, 325 F.Supp.2d 413, 426 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) ("In the absence of any claim establishing a violation of civil rights, the court must also dismiss claims of conspiracy[.]"); Singer v. Fulton Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, No. 92-CV-1561, 1994 WL 549741, at *5 (N. D. N.Y. Oct. 4, 1994) (Hurd, M.J.), aff'd 63 F.3d 110 (2d Cir. 1995) ("Without a [constitutional] violation, there can be no actionable conspiracy.").
Finally, because plaintiff's remaining conspiracy claims stem from constitutional claims that I recommended be dismissed earlier in this report, I recommend the accompanying conspiracy causes of action be dismissed, as well. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 1 at 9, 26 (alleging conspiracy to deny plaintiff access to the courts and equal protection).
For all of these reasons, I recommend that all of plaintiff's conspiracy claims be dismissed.
viii. Qualified Immunity
In their motion, defendants claim entitlement to qualified immunity from suit even in the event that plaintiff's claims are not dismissed on their merits at this procedural juncture. Dkt. No. 46-8 at 26-27.
"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." Reichie 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) (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).
The legal principles applicable to First Amendment retaliation claims were well-developed at the relevant times, including when defendants Jakob and Saltsman issued the misbehavior reports that form the basis for plaintiff's retaliation claims. I am unable to conclude that reasonable persons in their positions would not have understood that the issuance of misbehavior reports, prompted by the filing of complaints and grievances against them, would not violate plaintiff's clearly established, First Amendment rights. Accordingly, I recommend that defendants Jakob and Saltsman not be granted qualified immunity from suit at this juncture with regard to plaintiff's retaliation claims.
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
Now that discovery in this case is complete, both the plaintiff and defendants have moved for summary judgment in their favor. Plaintiff's motion is clearly deficient in that, by his own account, there are genuine issues of material fact that must be determined at trial before a finding in his favor can be made on any of his claims. Turning to defendants' motion, I first note that, based upon plaintiff's misuse of the litigation process, including his material misrepresentations in a sworn document filed with the court and his submission of an improper response to defendants' statement of undisputed material facts, pursuant to local rule 7.1(a)(3), dismissal of his complaint is warranted on that basis. Turning to the merits, I conclude that, with the exception of his retaliation claim against defendants Jakob and Saltsman, no reasonable factfinder could find in plaintiff's favor on his various causes of action. Accordingly, it is hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED that the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 37) be DENIED; and it is further
RECOMMENDED that plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED in its entirety based upon his material misrepresentations to the court and abuse of the litigation process; and it is further hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED that, if the portion of the court's report recommending dismissal based on plaintiff's misrepresentation to the court is not adopted, then defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 45) be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and that all of plaintiff's claims, with the exception of his cause of action for retaliation against defendants Jakob and Saltsman, be DISMISSED on the merits.
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.
George M. Chavis, Dannemora, NY, pro se.
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General for the State of New York, Adele M. Taylor-Scott, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, of Counsel, Albany, NY.
DECISION AND ORDER
LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.
*1 This matter comes before the Court following a Report-Recommendation filed on January 28, 2008 by the Honorable George H. Lowe, United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and L.R. 72.3 of the Northern District of New York. Report-Rec. (Dkt. No. 36). After ten days from the service thereof, the Clerk has sent the entire file to the undersigned, including the objections by Plaintiff George M. Chavis, which were filed on February 13, 2008. Objections (Dkt. No. 37).
It is the duty of this Court to "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). "A [district] judge... may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." Id. This Court has considered the objections and has undertaken a de novo review of the record and has determined that the Report-Recommendation should be approved for the reasons stated therein.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED, that the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 36) is APPROVED and ADOPTED in its ENTIRETY; and it is further
ORDERED, that Plaintiffs in forma pauperis status is revoked as having been improvidently granted and that Plaintiff is given TEN (10) DAYS from the date of this Order to pay the Court's filing fee of $250. Should Plaintiff fail to make that payment, his Complaint will be dismissed without further order of this Court; and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk serve a copy of this Order on all parties.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
GEORGE H. LOWE, United States Magistrate Judge.
This prisoner civil rights action, commenced pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation by the Honorable Lawrence E. Kahn, Senior United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c). Generally, Plaintiffs Amended Complaint alleges that, between July of 2005, and July of 2006, at Auburn C.F., and Great Meadow C.F., fourteen employees of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("Defendants") violated his constitutional rights by retaliating against him or subjecting him to cruel and unusual prison conditions. ( See generally Dkt. No. 6 [Plf.'s Am. Compl.].) Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint on the ground that the action is barred by the "three strikes" rule established by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). (Dkt. No. 31.) For the reasons that follow, I recommend that Defendants' motion be granted or, in the alternative, that Plaintiffs Amended Complaint be sua sponte dismissed as a sanction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 for making a material misrepresentation to the Court in his sworn pleadings about his prior litigation history.
I. ANALYSIS OF DEFENDANTS' MOTION
A. Acquisition of "Three Strikes" Warranting Dismissal
*2 Under the so-called "Three Strikes Rule" set forth in the federal statute governing in forma pauperis proceedings,
In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) [emphasis added]. Defendants are correct when they argue that the power of a federal district court to invoke this rule is not limited to the outset of a litigation but extends all throughout the pendency of the proceeding. (Dkt. No. 31, Part 13, at 2-3.) In other words, a federal district court has the authority to rescind or revoke the in forma pauperis status that it has previously bestowed upon a plaintiff, if the court discovers that the status had been improvidently granted.FN1
FN1. See, e.g., Eady v. Lappin, 05-CV-0824, 2007 WL 1531879, at *1 & n. 1 (N.D.N.Y. May 22, 2007) (Mordue, C.J., adopting Report-Recommendation by Lowe, M.J.); Gill v. Pidlypchak, 02-CV-1460, 2006 WL 3751340, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2006) (Scullin, J.); Polanco v. Burge, 05-CV-0651, 2006 WL 2806574, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2006) (Kahn, J., adopting Report-Recommendation by Homer, M.J.); Demos v. John Doe, 118 F.Supp.2d 172, 174 (D.Conn.2000); McFadden v. Parpan, 16 F.Supp.2d 246, 247 (E.D.N.Y.1998); see also Rolle v. Garcia , 04-CV-0312, Report-Recommendation (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 29, 2007) (Lowe, M.J.), adopted on other grounds, 04-CV-0312, 2007 WL 672679 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2007) (Kahn, J.).
The first thing we must do is determine the date when Plaintiff "brought" this action for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The Complaint in this action was signed by Plaintiff on September 12, 2005, postmarked on January 12, 2006, and received (and docketed) by the Clerk's Office on January 13, 2006. (Dkt. No. 1.) Ordinarily, under the "prison mailbox rule, " the date of filing is deemed to be the date that the prisoner-plaintiff is presumed to have handed his complaint to a prison guard for mailing, which is the date that the complaint was signed. FN2 The problem here is that there appears to have been a four-month delay between the date of signing of the Complaint and the date of mailing (or post-marking) of the Complaint. As a result, the question arises: was Plaintiffs Complaint "filed" on the date of signing (i.e., September 12, 2005) or on the date of mailing (i.e., January 12, 2006)? Fortunately, the Court need not decide whether Plaintiffs action was "brought, " for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)-on September 12, 2005, or on January 12, 2006-because an analysis under either finding would yield the same conclusion.
FN2. See Shaw v. Superint., Attica Corr. Facility, 03-CV-0610, 2007 WL 951459, at *3 n. 3 (N.D.N.Y. March 28, 2007) (McCurn, J.) (habeas corpus proceeding) [citations omitted]; Garraway v. Broome County, N.Y., 03-CV-0681, 2006 WL 931729, at *3-4 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 7, 2006) (McAvoy, J.) (prisoner civil rights action) [citation omitted].
After carefully reviewing Plaintiffs litigation history on the Federal Judiciary's Public Access to Court Electronic Records ("PACER") Service, I have determined that, as of September 12, 2005 (the earlier of the two aforementioned dates), he had acquired at least three "strikes" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)
Plaintiffs "first strike" came in the case of Chavis v. Charnes, 99-CV-5072 (S.D.N.Y.). In Charnes, Plaintiffs pro se prisoner rights complaint was dismissed by the Southern District of New York sua sponte, on July 14, 1999. See Chavis v. Charnes, 99-CV-5072, Docket Sheet (S.D.N.Y.) (attached as Exhibit 1 to this Report-Recommendation). The Docket Sheet does not expressly state whether the dismissal was for frivolousness, maliciousness or merely failure to state a claim. Id. However, clearly the dismissal was for one of those three reasons since the Order of Dismissal expressly cited 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and was issued sua sponte immediately after filing. Id. The only authority under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 to issue such an order sua sponte immediately after filing is if the dismissal is frivolousness, maliciousness or failure to state a claim. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(a), (b). Furthermore, the Chief District Judge issuing the Order (Thomas P. Griesa) certified that any appeal from his Order of Dismissal would not be taken in good faith for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). See Chavis v. Charnes, 99-CV-5072, Docket Sheet (S.D.N.Y.) (attached as Exhibit 1 to this Report-Recommendation). Such a certification, which occurs when a district judge finds the lack of an arguable basis in law or fact in the losing party's claims or arguments, indicates a F finding of frivolousness with regard to Plaintiffs claims.FN3 Thus, there was clearly at least one "strike" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) before he "brought" this action on September 12, 2005.
FN3. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445, 82 S.Ct. 917, 8 L.Ed.2d 21 (1962) ("We consider a Posing party's] good faith... demonstrated when he seeks appellate review of any issue not frivolous. In so doing, we note that if in forma pauperis litigation is attempted for reasons that may genuinely be characterized as the litigant's bad faith, ' express authority exists in 28 U.S.C. 1915(d) for dismissal of the cause as frivolous."); accord, Pytel v. U.S., 378 F.Supp. 294, 296-97 (N.D.N.Y.1974) (MacMahon, J.) ("This Court will not authorize an appeal in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and hereby certifies that any appeal is not taken in good faith. In this context, good faith is judged by an objective standard, and where, as here, an appeal would be frivolous, it is not taken in good faith.") [citations omitted]; S.E.C. v. Broadwell Securities, Inc., 64-CV-3995, 1981 WL 1655, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 8, 1981) ("An appeal may not be taken in forma pauperis if the trial court certifies in writing that it is not taken in good faith. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Good faith, in this context, is an objective standard that measures whether the issues on appeal are frivolous.") [internal quotation marks and citations omitted].
*3 Plaintiffs "second strike" came during his appeal from the aforementioned order of dismissal. Despite Chief Judge Griesa's certification that any appeal from his Order of Dismissal would not be taken in good faith for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), Plaintiff took an appeal anyway, on August 12, 1999. See Chavis v. Charnes, 99-CV-5072, Docket Sheet (S.D.N.Y.) (attached as Exhibit 1 to this Report-Recommendation). The appeal, which was to the Second Circuit, was assigned docket number 99-265. Id; see also Chavis v. Charnes, No. 99-265, Docket Sheet (2d Cir.) (attached as Exhibit 2 to this Report-Recommendation). On February 25, 2000, the Second Circuit issued an Order denying Plaintiffs request to proceed in forma pauperis during the appeal, and dismissed Plaintiffs appeal. ( Id. ) Although the copy of the Order of Dismissal is not available on-line, the Second Circuit Docket Sheet expressly quotes the Order. See Chavis v. Charnes, No. 99-265, Docket Sheet (2d Cir.) (attached as Exhibit 2 to this Report-Recommendation). According to the Docket Sheet, the Order stated:
Motions having been made by appellant pro se for in forma pauperis status and for damages, upon due consideration it is ordered that said motions be and hereby are denied, and the appeal is dismissed as frivolous. See 28 U.S.C. 1915(e); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989).
( Id. )FN4 I can find no record of any appeal pending (or having been actually filed) with the Supreme Court. Thus, there was clearly a "second strike" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) before Plaintiff "brought" this action on September 12, 2005. I note that a second strike may result from the dismissal of a federal appeal, even though the appellant had already incurred a strike during the dismissal of the federal district court action underlying the appeal.FN5
FN4. I note that this express finding of "frivolousness" is also reflected in the district court docket sheet's identification of the Second Circuit's Order of Dismissal. See Chavis v. Chames, 99-CV-5072, Docket Sheet (S.D.N.Y.) (attached as Exhibit 1 to this Report-Recommendation).
FN5. See Cait v. Beto I Unit, 04-CV-40848, 126 Fed.App'x 645, 646 (5th Cir. Feb. 23, 2005) ("The magistrate judge's dismissal of Cain's complaint as frivolous and for failure to state a claim and our dismissal of Cain's appeal both count as strikes for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)."); Smith v. Bruce, No. 04-3043, 103 Fed.App'x 324, 344 (10th Cir. June 29, 2004) ("Dismissal of Smith's appeal as frivolous counts as a strike against him, as does the district court's dismissal of his complaint.") [citations omitted]; Mains v. Washington, 131 F.3d 1248, 1250 (7th Cir.1997) ("A frivolous complaint (or as in this case a complaint that is dismissed under § 1915 A for failure to state a claim) followed by a frivolous appeal leads to two strikes' under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)."); cf. Bea v. Doe, 401 F.Supp.2d 538, 540 & n. 5 (E.D.Va.2005) (because district court proceeding and appellate proceeding arising out of district court proceedings were "distinct" for purposes of PLRA's "three strikes" rule, the plaintiffs voluntary withdrawal of his appeal did not effect the fact that the dismissal of the district court action constituted a "strike").
Plaintiffs "third strike" came in the case of Chavis v. Streubel, No. 04-2814 (2d Cir.). In Streubel, Plaintiffs pro se prisoner rights complaint was dismissed by the Western District of New York on March 29, 2004, for failure to state claim and failure to adduce evidence pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Chavis v. Struebel, 317 F.Supp.2d 232, 236-39 (W.D.N.Y. March 29, 2004). As a result, no strike resulted from that dismissal. However, during the dismissal, the United States Magistrate Judge (assignment to whom the parties had consented) certified that any appeal from his order of dismissal would not be taken in good faith, for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). Struebel, 317 F.Supp.2d at 239. Plaintiff took an appeal anyway. On June 2, 2005, the Second Circuit dismissed the appeal because it "lack[ed] an arguable basis in law or fact" pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(1), expressly citing that statute and Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). Chavis v. Struebel , No. 04-2814, Mandate (2d Cir. filed March 11, 2005) (attached as Exhibit 3 to this Report-Recommendation). Neitzke v. Williams , and its progeny, explain that use of such language is an unequivocal finding of frivolousness for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915.FN6 I can find no record of any appeal pending (or having been filed) with the Supreme Court. Thus, there was clearly a "third strike" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) before he "brought" this action on September 12, 2005.
FN6. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989) ("[A]n appeal on a matter of law is frivolous where none of the legal points are arguable on their merits.... By logical extension, a complaint, containing as it does both factual allegations and legal conclusions, is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact.") [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; Tavarez v. Reno, 54 F.3d 109, 109 (2d Cir.1995) ("An appeal is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact.") (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 ).
*4 Even if one of the above dismissals did not constitute a "strike" for some reason, Plaintiff incurred yet another strike before he filed the current action. Plaintiffs "fourth strike" came in the case of Chavis v. New York, UID XXXX-XXX-XXX (N.Y.Ct.Cl.). In Chavis v. New York, Plaintiff, as a prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a claim against New York State for the "loss of travel expenses [incurred] by [his] family members" as a result of "false information given them over the phone by [his] vindictive SHU-Counselor" regarding the authorized time during which they could visit Plaintiff at Lakeview Prison. Chavis v. New York, UID XXXX-XXX-XXX, Decision (N.Y. Ct. CI. filed Sept. 19, 2001) (Patti, J.) (attached as Exhibit 4 to this Report-Recommendation). The defendant moved to dismiss on the ground that the claim was inappropriately brought in that (1) Plaintiff was not the one who incurred the property loss and (2) he was not authorized to represent them in court (as a practicing attorney). Id. The Court of Claims judge assigned to the case, Judge Philip J. Patti, agreed with defendant and dismissed Plaintiffs claim on September 19, 2001. Id. Notably missing from the decision is any mention of evidence. This is because the decision was based solely on the allegations of Plaintiffs complaint. As a result, the dismissal was much like one for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).FN7 I can find no record of any appeal from this decision anywhere pending (or having been filed). Thus, there appears to have been a "fourth strike" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) before he "brought" this action on September 12, 2005.
FN7. I note that, even if the dismissal of Plaintiffs claim in Chavis v. New York was not simply caused by a failure to state a claim but was also caused partially by a lack of standing, case law exist holding that such a dismissal would still constitute a "strike" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). See Jones v. Edgar, 3 F.Supp.2d 979, 981-82 (C.D.Ill.1998) (dismissal of prisoner's claim relating to alleged Fifteenth Amendment violation for failure to state claim, coupled with dismissal of prisoner's judicial-voting-districts claim for lack of standing, counted as a "strike" for purposes of PLRA), cited with approval in Eady v. Lappin, 05-CV-0824, 2007 WL 1531879, at *2, n. 4 (N.D.N.Y. May 22, 2007) (Mordue, C.J., adopting Report-Recommendation by Lowe, M.J.) [collecting cases]; cf. Comeaux v. Cockrell, 72 F.App'x 54, 55 (5th Cir.2003) ("The district court could dismiss part of [the plaintiff s] complaint as malicious, which counted as a strike under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), even though the case was ultimately dismissed for failure to comply with court orders."); Cross v. Harris, 06-CV-0236, 2006 WL 3834270, at *3 & n. 1 (E.D.Ark. Dec. 29, 2006) (counting as a strike a prior partial dismissal on ground of frivolousness, even though rest of action was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies); President v. Duplichan, 05-CV-1178, 2006 WL 2540362, at *5 (W.D.La. June 14, 2006) (considering fact that "Plaintiff has had at least three previous civil actions filed in this Court dismissed in whole or in part as frivolous, malicious, or for failing to state a claim" in determining whether he had acquired "three strikes" pursuant to Section 1915[g]) [emphasis added]; Townsend v. Walker, 06-CV-0361, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37723, at *3-4, 2006 WL 1663713 (S.D. Ill. June 8, 2006) (rejecting plaintiffs argument that "[b]ecause [his] entire case was not dismissed for failure to state a claim, ... the... [partial dismissal] should not count as a strike."); Shaw v. Weaks, 06-CV-2024, 2006 WL 1049307, at *6 n. 13 (W.D.Tenn. Apr. 20, 2006) (counting as a strike a prior partial dismissal on ground of frivolousness or failure to state claim, even though rest of action was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies); demons v. Young, 240 F.Supp.2d 639, 640-641 (E.D.Mich.2003) (ruling that "a complaint dismissed in part as frivolous and in part without prejudice because of the failure to exhaust administrative remedies is... a strike' for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)").
Having said all of this, I note that, for the most part, I am not persuaded by Defendants' argument that various of Plaintiffs actions or appeals resulted in "strikes" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). (Dkt. No. 31, Part 13, at 4-5.) Generally, either the particular dismissals cited by Defendants occurred after the "bringing" of Plaintiffs action (on September 12, 2005, or perhaps January 12, 2006), or those dismissals simply did not occur on the ground that the action was "frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). I note that I do not read 42 U.S.C. § 1915(g), or the cases applying it, as suggesting that a dismissal solely because of discovery abuses pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37, or a failure to serve pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41, constitutes a dismissal for frivolousness, maliciousness or failure to state a claim.FN8 Failures during discovery and failures to serve are failures based on something other than the four corners of a plaintiffs complaint - which is essentially the only thing looked at when determining frivolousness, maliciousness and failure to state a claim. Finally, I read 42 U.S.C. § 1915(g) as not encompassing a dismissal that is based partially upon the absence of genuine issues of material fact determined after a review of record evidence pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Apart from the fact that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), which is very specific, does not speak of such dismissals, such a review of record evidence generally only occurs when a litigant has survived any argument that his claim is frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim.
FN8. See, e.g., Marjorie A. Shields, "Validity and Construction of Three Strikes' Rule Under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915(g) Barring Prisoners from In Pauperis Filing of Civil Suit After Three Dismissals for Frivolity, " 168 A.L.R. Fed. 433, §§ 111.5. 111.6 (2001 & Cumulative Supplement) (discussing cases addressing what constitutes a "frivolous" or "malicious" action for purposes of 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915[g]).
*5 For all of these reasons, I find that Plaintiff had earned at least three "strikes" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) before he "brought" this action on September 12, 2005. However, that does not end our inquiry, because the "Three Strikes Rule" contains an exception for prisoners who are "in imminent danger of serious physical injury" when they bring their action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
B. Non-Applicability of Imminent Danger Exception
As stated earlier, the "Three Strikes Rule, " set forth in the federal statute governing in forma pauperis proceedings, reads,
In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) [emphasis added].
Because 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) creates an exception for prisoners who are under imminent danger of serious physical injury when they "bring a civil action, " the imminent-danger exception applies only when such danger exists at the time the action is brought. See Malik v. McGinnis, 293 F.3d 559, 562-63 (2d Cir.2002). As the Second Circuit explained in Malik,
We agree with our sister circuits that § 1915(g) allows prisoners to escape the three strikes rule only if "the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." (emphasis added). Because § 1915(g) uses the present tense in setting forth the imminent danger exception, it is clear from the face of the statute that the danger must exist at the time the complaint is filed. Further, "[b]y using the term imminent, ' Congress indicated that it wanted to include a safety valve for the three strikes' rule to prevent impending harms, not those harms that had already occurred." Abdul-Akbar [v. McKelvie], 239 F.3d  at 315 [3d Cir.2001]. Accordingly, the language of § 1915(g) makes clear that the "imminent danger" exception only applies to danger existing at the time the complaint is filed.
Malik v. McGinnis, 293 F.3d 559, 562-63 (2d Cir.2002), accord, Polanco v. Hopkins, No. 07-1739, 2007 WL 4258724, at *2-3 (2d Cir. Dec. 6, 2007) (declining to overturn the Second Circuit's time-of-filing interpretation set forth in Malik ).
As a result, as in the Court's analysis of the assessment-of-strikes issue, the first thing the Court must do when analyzing the imminent-danger issue is to determine the date when Plaintiff "brought" this action for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). As explained above in Part LA. of this Report-Recommendation, because of the "prison mailbox rule, " an issue exists regarding precisely when Plaintiff "brought" this action for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). He signed his original Complaint on September 12, 2005. However, he apparently did not mail that Complaint until on January 12, 2006. What further complicates matters is the fact that Plaintiff signed what he characterized as an "Amended" Complaint in this action on July 24, 2006. (Dkt. No. 6.) Ordinarily, this fact would not present a real problem, since an amended complaint contains allegations arising out of the same events as the events giving rise to the allegations contained in the original complaint. However, here, the "Amended" Complaint was, in actuality, an Amended and Supplemental Complaint, asserting, for the first time, allegations arising out of events occurring after the date he originally "brought" the action, specifically events occurring between May and July of 2006, at Auburn C.F. ( Compare Dkt. No. 1 with Dkt. No. 6.) As a result, a sort of paradox arises: If a court considers the new allegations presented in a ...