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Crawford v. Cuomo

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 6, 2014

James Crawford and Thaddeus Corley, Plaintiffs,
v.
Andrew Cuomo, as Governor of the State of New York, in his official capacity; Brian Fischer, Commissioner of Department Of Corrections and Community Supervision, in his official capacity; Superintendent William P. Brown, in his personal and official capacities; Superintendent William Larkin, in his official capacity; Corrections Officer Simon Prindle; and John Doe Corrections Officers 1-8, Defendants.

Office of Adam D. Perlmutter, PC Adam D. Perlmutter, Esq., of counsel New York, New York, and Office of Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma Zachary A. Margulis-Ohnuma, Esq., of counsel New York, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of the State of New York Richard Lombardo, Esq., Assistant New York State Attorney Albany, New York, Attorney for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

NORMAN A. MORDUE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, each of the two plaintiffs claims that, while an inmate at Eastern Correctional Facility ("ECF") in the custody of New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), he was sexually abused on a single occasion by a corrections officer. Defendants move (Dkt. No. 9) to dismiss the complaint (Dkt. No. 1). As set forth below, the Court grants the motion and dismisses the complaint.

COMPLAINT

At the time of the events alleged in the complaint (Dkt. No. 1), plaintiffs were inmates at ECF.[1] The complaint alleges that on March 12, 2011, defendant Simon Prindle, a corrections officer at ECF, sexually abused plaintiff Thaddeus Corley, and that on March 16, 2011, Prindle sexually abused plaintiff James Crawford. Specifically, the complaint alleges that, on March 12, 2011, while Thaddeus Corley was engaged in a visit with his wife, Prindle ordered him to stop the visit and escorted him out of the visiting room. Prindle stated he was "going to make sure Mr. Corley did not have an erection"; ordered Corley to "put his hands against the wall held high with his feet spread apart"; and pat frisked him. According to the complaint, "[d]uring the pat frisk, Officer Prindle paused to fondle and squeeze Mr. Corley's penis." In response, Corley "jumped off the wall and asked Officer Prindle what he was doing." Prindle responded "by threatening Mr. Corley and telling him to get back on the wall." Corley adds that, upon information and belief, John Doe Officers 2, 3 and 4 personally witnessed the incident but did nothing to intervene.

The complaint further alleges that on March 16, 2011, as James Crawford was exiting the dining mess hall, Prindle stopped him and told him to place his hands on the wall. Prindle began to search Crawford; "ran his hands down Mr. Crawford's chest area and paused around Crawford's crotch"; and "grabbed Crawford's penis, held it, and asked what's that?'" When Crawford flinched, Prindle grabbed him tightly around his neck and warned him to remain against the wall. Crawford responded, "That's my penis, man. What the hell are you doing?" Then Prindle "tightened his grip around the hood of the sweatshirt Mr. Crawford was wearing"; "pinned Mr. Crawford to the wall with Officer Prindle's knee in Mr. Crawford's back area"; "reached around Mr. Crawford and grabbed Mr. Crawford's crotch area"; "squeezed and roamed with his hands around Mr. Crawford's penis and down his thigh, stating, stay on the fucking wall before I ram your head into the concrete'"; and, when Crawford flinched again, stated: "That doesn't feel like a penis to me." Prindle then "pulled Mr. Crawford's pants tightly up past Mr. Crawford's waist." Crawford asked, "What are you doing?" and Prindle responded, "Stay on the fucking wall. You wanna go to the box?" Crawford understood this as a threat to place him in solitary confinement. Prindle asked Crawford whether he had on sweat pants. When Crawford responded in the affirmative, Prindle asked, "What are you hiding in there?" According to the complaint, "[d]uring this time, Officer Prindle continued to squeeze and fondle the area around Mr. Crawford's penis." Crawford responded, "I'm not hiding nothing. That's my dick you're holding." Crawford then told Prindle that his search and frisk were not in accordance with the procedures; Prindle responded, "You don't have any rights in here. Any search I conduct is in accordance with the directive's search and frisk policies, now shut the fuck up and face the wall. I'll run my hands up the crack of your ass if I want to." Prindle "then proceeded to run his hands down Mr. Crawford's legs, around the area of Mr. Crawford's ankles, and on the inside of the back of Crawford's boots." Then an unknown officer, John Doe #3, approached and asked, "What's the problem?" Prindle responded, "Nothing. These bastards are always complaining about being searched around here." When Crawford attempted to look at the unknown officer, Prindle screamed, "Face the fucking wall, " and told Crawford that if he moved again Prindle would have him "in the box' quicker than [he] could blink.'" Prindle ordered Crawford to continue on to his destination and advised him, "Better not look back." Crawford then left the area.

The complaint sets forth the following causes of action: first, a claim against Prindle under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983") asserting that his conduct towards both plaintiffs violated their Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment; second, a section 1983 Eighth Amendment claim for supervisory liability against defendant Superintendent William P. Brown; third, a section 1983 Eighth Amendment claim against the John Doe defendants for deliberate indifference and failure to intervene in the two incidents alleged; fourth, a section 1983 claim for injunctive relief against all defendants; fifth, a New York common law assault claim against Prindle; sixth, a claim of violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 130.52 against Prindle; seventh, a claim of violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 130.55 against Prindle; and eighth, an aiding and abetting claim against the John Doe defendants. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, reasonable attorneys fees, and an injunction enjoining defendants "from permitting Officer Prindle from having any contact with inmates."

DISCUSSION

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion, "a complaint must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ruotolo v. City of N.Y., 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plaintiff "must provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. See ATSI, 493 F.3d at 98. The court is not, however, required to accept a complaint's legal conclusions as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Rather, the court must determine whether the factual allegations plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. See id.

Plaintiffs' first four causes of action are federal claims based on section 1983. "Recovery under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is premised upon a showing, first, that the defendant has denied the plaintiff a federal constitutional or statutory right and, second, that such denial was effected under color of state law." Patterson v. Coughlin, 761 F.2d 886, 890 (2d Cir. 1985). The section 1983 causes of action are based on the contention that defendants violated plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Defendants' primary argument is that, even accepting plaintiffs' allegations as true, the complaint fails to state Eighth Amendment claims. In addressing the Eighth Amendment in the context of an inmate's allegations of sexual abuse by a corrections officer, the Second Circuit explains:

The Eighth Amendment sets constitutional boundaries on the conditions of imprisonment. The "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" on a prisoner constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. First, the alleged punishment must be, objectively, sufficiently serious. Under the objective standard, conditions that ...

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