United States District Court, N.D. New York
AMIN BOOKER, Plaintiff pro se.
DOUGLAS J. GOGLIA, Asst. Attorney General for Defendants
ORDER and REPORT-RECOMMENDATION
ANDREW T. BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.
This matter has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and LOCAL RULES N.D.N.Y. 72.3(c). In his amended civil rights complaint plaintiff alleges that his due process rights were denied in conjunction with a misbehavior report and disciplinary hearing, after which he was sentenced to a term in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). (Amended Complaint "AC") (Dkt. No. 73). Plaintiff also alleges that while he was in SHU, he was housed under conditions which violated his constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, his right to privacy, and his right to practice his religion. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief in addition to a substantial amount of compensatory and punitive damages. (AC at 51-53, ¶¶ A-C).
Several motions are presently pending before this court. Prior to filing his amended complaint, plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Dkt. No. 69). In his amended complaint, plaintiff has included a motion for class certification. ( See Dkt. No. 73, ¶¶ 1-41). After plaintiff filed his amended complaint, the defendants responded in opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and made a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 103). Plaintiff responded in opposition to the defendants' cross-motion. (Dkt. No. 106). Plaintiff also moved for "sanctions" because he was not satisfied with defendants' response to his summary judgment motion. (Dkt. No. 107). Defendants have responded in opposition to plaintiff's motion for sanctions. (Dkt. No. 108). Plaintiff has filed a reply to the defendants' "sanctions" response, and plaintiff has also moved for appointment of counsel. (Dkt. Nos. 109, 110).
For the following reasons, this court agrees with the defendants and will recommend denying plaintiff's motions for class certification and summary judgment and will recommend granting defendants cross-motion for summary judgment. The court will order the denial of plaintiff's motion for sanctions and his motion for appointment of counsel.
The court will briefly review the facts as stated in the amended complaint and as outlined in Judge Mordue's May 22, 2012 Order as a basis for further discussion of the additional evidence presented by the defendants.
Plaintiff alleges that on March 24, 2010, while he was incarcerated at Great Meadow Correctional Facility ("Great Meadow"), he was approved for a "satisfactory behavior preference transfer" to Shawangunk Correctional Facility. ("Shawangunk"). (AC ¶¶ 42-43). Plaintiff states that prior to his transfer our of Great Meadow on March 26, 2010, his "draft bags" were searched by Great Meadow staff and approved for transfer with him. (AC ¶ 42). Plaintiff claims that a corrections officer viewed all of plaintiff's photos for "security clearance, " and determined that none of plaintiff's property was contraband. ( Id. )
Notwithstanding this alleged approval, upon plaintiff's arrival at Shawangunk, his property was searched outside of his presence by defendant Kavanaugh in violation of Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") policy. (AC ¶ 45). Although defendant Kavanaugh was not "trained or certified" by DOCCS in identifying gang insignia, he selected five (5) of plaintiff's personal photographs, and he concluded that they contained "Blood Gang hand signs, " in violation of an "unpublished departmental rule # 105.13 Gangs." ( Id. ) Based upon these photographs, on March 27, 2010, defendant Kavanaugh issued plaintiff a misbehavior report for violating the "unconstitutionally vague prison gang rule." (AC ¶¶ 22, 45-48).
Plaintiff claims that, in furtherance of a conspiracy to violate plaintiff's civil rights, defendant Smith assigned defendant Maly as the hearing officer for plaintiff's disciplinary hearing. (AC ¶ 51). Plaintiff claims that he possessed all of the photographs in question for many years, and the pictures had been viewed by countless officers, during searches at various facilities. (AC ¶¶ 88-93) (description of the photographs). Plaintiff claims that some of the pictures were taken inside DOCCS facilities as part of the "inmate photo program, " which is conducted and monitored by corrections officers, and thus the pictures should not have been found to be "gang" materials. (AC ¶ 88). Plaintiff alleges that defendant Maly denied plaintiff due process at the hearing by denying him witnesses, being biased, and finding plaintiff guilty on insufficient evidence. (AC ¶¶ 52-87).
Plaintiff alleges that defendant Kober, a Counselor at Shawangunk and a witness, called by hearing officer Maly, testified that the people in the photographs were making "gang signs." Plaintiff claims that, after the hearing, defendant Kober admitted to plaintiff that he lied at the hearing and "confirm[ed the] conspiracy." (AC ¶¶ 94-100). Kober allegedly implied to plaintiff that he lied because there was a "recession, " and officers were getting laid off, so the "higher ups" needed SHU cells filled. He told plaintiff not to worry because he could try to get his disciplinary sentence reduced for good behavior. (AC ¶¶ 95, 97). Plaintiff claims that while he was housed in the SHU at Shawangunk, he witnessed three other African-American inmates "get falsely charged with this same prison gang rule." (AC ¶ 100). Although plaintiff wrote to Superintendent Smith complaining of the denial of due process and of defendant Kober's "confession, " plaintiff's administrative appeals were denied at both the facility and the Commissioner's level. (AC ¶ 101-103).
On April 23, 2010, plaintiff was transferred to Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate") to serve his SHU sentence. The amended complaint states that plaintiff was taken to Downstate Correctional Facility prior to his transfer to Upstate. (AC ¶ 105). Plaintiff complains that the bus ride from Downstate to Upstate was unreasonably slow and that the inmates' meals were unsatisfactory. (AC ¶ 106). He complaints about the guards stopping at too many rest areas. Although plaintiff does not make any claims regarding the trip itself, it appears that this transportation issue is part of plaintiff's claim that defendants are conspiring to find inmates guilty of misbehavior to keep the SHU facilities open, and the guards are getting overtime pay for the transportation. (AC ¶39). The longer it takes to bring the inmates to the SHU facility, the more money spent in overtime.
As part of the class action argument, plaintiff also alleges that the defendants are trying to keep their Aggression Replacement Therapy ("ART") program funded by increasing the number of inmates who are assigned to the program. The increase in inmate participants is allegedly accomplished by falsely charging inmates with misbehavior that is associated with violence, such as gang activity and then forcing those inmates to participate in ART at the risk of having "a negative effect on his conditional release date, his good time credits, his family reunion participation, and other department privileges and work options." (AC ¶¶ 33-35). Plaintiff adds defendant Cook to the list of defendants who are responsible for forcing inmates to participate in ART. (AC Twelfth Cause of Action ¶ 1(a), (2)(f)).
While at Upstate, plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to "atypical and significant" as well as cruel and unusual conditions of confinement. Plaintiff claims that he was forced to share a small cell with another inmate, and that his right to privacy was denied while showering, using the toilet, and dressing. (AC ¶¶ 120-24). Plaintiff also alleges that the lights were left on continuously, making it very difficult for him to sleep (AC ¶¶ 114-19); the showers were dirty and he was given insufficient cleaning materials (AC ¶¶ 125-30); he was denied proper winter garments (AC ¶¶ 131-36); he was handcuffed when outside of his cell; was only allowed one visit per week in unsatisfactory conditions; had to request his "necessities;" had no contact with other human beings outside of his cell mate; was served extremely small portions of food; was deprived of 97% of his personal property; and was denied the opportunity to work. (AC ¶ 137(a)-(f)). Plaintiff outlined various other restrictions to which he was subjected in SHU. (AC ¶¶ 138(a)-(f)).
Plaintiff states that while he was confined in SHU, his First Amendment right to practice his religion was violated. Plaintiff is Muslim, and he was not allowed to attend any congregate religious services (for which there is no substitute), he was not allowed to perform fithra (hair removal); he was not afforded access to an Imam; and was "daily" subjected to viewing another individual's nudity, as well as others viewing his nudity, in direct violation of the tenets of Islam. (AC ¶¶ 139-47). Plaintiff claims that defendants Rock and Fischer condoned and controlled a policy which forced plaintiff to share a cell with another individual without providing a partition to shield the inmates from "indecent exposure." (AC ¶ 148).
Plaintiff claims that defendants Maly, Smith, Kavanaugh, Kober, Fischer,  Prack,  Rock,  and Cook entered into a civil conspiracy to violate plaintiff's (and other inmates') First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff claims that these defendants have conspired to charge African-American and Latino-American inmates with gang activity under an unconstitutionally vague rule, find them guilty,  and sentence them to serve time in SHU and requiring their participation in the federally funded Aggression Replacement Training program ("ART").
Plaintiff alleges that defendants have intentionally failed to publish the rule in the DOCCS rule book, "although they received the funding to print the rule inside the rule book...." (AC ¶ 24). Plaintiff claims that the defendants have conspired to withhold adequate notice of the prohibited conduct so that they may continue to write false misbehavior reports. (AC ¶ 25). Plaintiff alleges that the hearings are conducted in isolated locations so that inmates may be intimidated into pleading guilty. (AC ¶ 29). Plaintiff alleges that there are no criteria used to distinguish between gang materials and non-gang materials. (AC ¶ 27).
Plaintiff states that as a result of this conspiracy, (1) DOCCS receives additional money from the government because the defendants have inflated the number of inmates who "need" the ART program; (2) the need for SHU facilities has been manipulated by increasing the capacity/occupancy of SHU cells unnecessarily through the "prison gang rule scam, " and (3) more overtime, and consequently more money, is generated for DOCCS staff who must transport the inmates to SHU facilities. (AC ¶¶ 22-41).
Plaintiff has again asked for class action status. (AC ¶¶ 1-7). In this request, plaintiff alleges that he wishes to bring this action "on behalf of himself and other identified and unidentified inmates incarcerated in the New York State [DOCCS]." (AC ¶ 1). Plaintiff alleges that his claims are typical of the "class, " and that he will fairly represent the members of the class because he is a "direct victim, " but he also asks the court to appoint a class counsel. (AC ¶¶ 3-6).
Plaintiff alleges that for years, plaintiff and other inmates have complained about the lack of procedural safeguards at disciplinary hearings wherein violations of the "vague" prison gang rule are charged. (AC ¶ 7). Plaintiff alleges that the rule unfairly characterizes their "cultural expressions" as amounting to "gang activity." ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that the injunctive relief that he has requested will affect all the class members, and therefore, class certification should be granted.
The amended complaint contains twelve causes of action. As Judge Mordue found, construed liberally, in addition to the civil conspiracy noted above by defendants Maly, Smith, Kavanaugh Kober, Fischer, Prack, Rock, and Cook (Twelfth Cause of Action), plaintiff also alleges that (1) defendants Maly, Smith, Prack, and Fischer denied plaintiff due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (First and Second Causes of Action); (2) defendants Maly, Smith, Prack, Fischer, and Rock subjected plaintiff to cruel and unusual conditions of confinement in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment (Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Causes of Action); (3) defendant Rock caused a violation of plaintiff's right to privacy in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Seventh Cause of Action); and (4) defendants Maly, Smith, Prack, Fischer, Rock, Rokace, Taylor and Dumas interfered with plaintiff's ability to freely practice his religion in violation of his First Amendment rights and his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") (Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Causes of Action).
II. Class Action
Plaintiff has simply repeated the paragraphs of his original complaint that request the court to grant class actions status under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. ( Compare Compl. ¶¶ 1-7, 18-41 with AC ¶¶ 1-7, 18-41). Judge Mordue has already denied plaintiff's motion for class certification based upon the same facts. Although Judge Mordue denied plaintiff's motion "without prejudice, " plaintiff has cited nothing that would change Judge Mordue's analysis. Thus, to the extent that plaintiff is again requesting class certification, this court recommends that it be denied, and will proceed based upon plaintiff's individual claims.
III. Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate where there exists no genuine issue of material fact and, based on the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006). "Only disputes over ["material"] facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). It must be apparent that no rational finder of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party for a court to grant a motion for summary judgment. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).
The moving party has the burden to show the absence of disputed material facts by informing the court of portions of pleadings, depositions, and affidavits which support the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party must move forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d at 273. In that context, the nonmoving party must do more than "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). However, in determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, a court must resolve all ambiguities, and draw all inferences, against the movant. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d at 272.
IV. Due Process (First and Second Causes of Action)
A. Legal Standards
1. Procedural Due Process
To begin a due process analysis, the court must determine whether plaintiff had a protected liberty interest in remaining free from the confinement that he challenges, and then determine whether the defendants deprived plaintiff of that liberty interest without due process. Giano v. Selsky, 238 F.3d 223, 225 (2d Cir. 2001); Bedoya v. Coughlin, 91 F.3d 349, 351 (2d Cir. 1996). In Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995), the Supreme Court held that although states may create liberty interests for inmates that are protected by due process, "these interests will be generally limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force..., nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life."
The Second Circuit has explicitly avoided a bright line rule that a certain period of confinement in a segregated housing unit ("SHU") automatically gives rise to due process protection. See Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 23 (2d Cir. 2000); Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 234 (2d Cir. 2000). Instead, cases in this circuit have created guidelines for use by district courts in determining whether a prisoner's liberty interest was infringed. Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 64-66 (2d Cir. 2004). A confinement longer than an intermediate one, and under "normal SHU conditions" is "a sufficient departure from the ordinary incidents of prison life to require procedural due process protections under Sandin ." Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d at 231 (finding that a prisoner's liberty interest was infringed by 305-day confinement).
The due process protections afforded inmates facing disciplinary hearings that affect a liberty interest include advance written notice of the charges, a fair and impartial hearing officer, a hearing that affords the inmate the opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence, and a written statement of the evidence upon which the hearing officer relied in making his determination. Sira v. Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 69 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing, inter alia, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-67 (1974)). The hearing officer's findings must be supported by "some" "reliable evidence." Id. (citing, inter alia, Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985)).
"Due process requires prison officials to provide inmates with adequate notice of what conduct is prohibited." Collins v. Goord, 581 F.Supp.2d 563, 578 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citing, inter alia, Chatin v. Coombe, 186 F.3d 82, 87 (2d Cir.1999). "Courts have recognized prisoners' substantive due process claims that allege that prison rules failed to provide adequate notice of prohibited conduct. The underlying rationale... [is that] inmates must be free to avoid prohibited conduct, and prison regulations must therefore place them on notice....'" Williams v. Fischer, 08-CV-413 (TJM/DRH), 2010 WL 3910129, at *10 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2010) (quoting Leitzsey v. Coombe, 998 F.Supp. 282, 289 (W.D.N.Y. 1998)). A disciplinary rule "is unconstitutionally vague if persons of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application, or if it fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of conduct proscribed or required by the regulation and encourages arbitrary and erratic behavior on the part of the officials charged with enforcing the rule." Id. (citing Giano v. Senkowski, 54 F.3d 1050, 1057 (2d Cir.1995)).
1. Liberty Interest
In this case, plaintiff was found guilty of the possession of gang-related material, but was found not guilty of possessing another inmate's legal work. (Goglia Decl. Ex. B at 4). He was sentenced to one year in SHU for the possession of gang-related photographs. Even though plaintiff only served 264 days of his one year sentence in SHU, defendants do not contest, and this court will assume for purposes of this recommendation, that plaintiff had a protected liberty interest. Thus, the court need not engage in a lengthy analysis of whether plaintiff suffered an atypical and significant hardship,  and instead, may proceed to an analysis of whether plaintiff was afforded the requisite procedural safeguards.
2. Advance Notice of Charges
Plaintiff was served with his misbehavior report on March 27, 2010. (Kober Aff. Ex. B at 1) (Hearing Transcript ("HT")) (Dkt. No. 103-15); (Goglia Decl. Ex. B at 4, 5) (indicating delivery date and time). His hearing commenced on April 1, 2010. ( Id. ) The misbehavior report specified the rules that plaintiff was alleged to have violated. (Goglia Decl. Ex. A). The explanation in the misbehavior report was quite clear that Officer Kavanaugh had been assigned to search plaintiff's personal property, and that during the course of that search, found the five photographs that were said to be "gang-related material, " in violation of Rule 105.13. ( Id. ) Officer Kavanaugh also stated that he ...