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Robinson v. Henschel

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 26, 2014

LATEE ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
J. HENSCHEL, SGT. WARD, T. LUCAS, CORRECTION OFFICER TITKA, K. JOHNSON, MACKO, CARON, SUPERINTENDENT PHILLIPS, STEIBAUGH, SULLIVON, LIEUTENANT ALEXANDER, R. HAMILTON, C. FRASER, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER D. KAUFMAN, C. WILSON, R. ARRICK, CORRECTIONS OFFICER D. HUTTEL, T. KOHLER, T. STEVENS, SCHMITT, CORRECTION OFFICER R. WARD, NOVOA, PRISON MEDICAL STAFF'S RN STAFF, KRAUSE, B. ROBERTS, and SUPERINTENDENT ROBERT ERCOLE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

PAUL G. GARDEPHE, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Latee Robinson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants - correction officers and supervisors at the Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven") - violated his constitutional rights. (Am. Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 61)) Many of Plaintiff's claims were previously dismissed. (See Dkt. No. 46) The remaining defendants - Ercole, Steinbaugh, Fraser, Wilson, Kaufman, Kohler, Huttel, and Arrick ("Defendants") - have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claims. (Dkt. No. 70) For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

On August 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint alleging that Defendants used excessive force against him on three occasions in April and May 2007. (Am. Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 61)) Plaintiff alleges that on April 24, 2007, an unnamed Green Haven correction officer shut a cell door on his hand. (Id. at 4) Plaintiff also claims that - later that day - Defendant Kaufman repeatedly slammed his injured hand against a wall during a pat frisk. (Id. at 4-5) Plaintiff further alleges that on May 10, 2007, Defendants assaulted him in a disciplinary hearing room while he was handcuffed. (Id. at 5)

On April 12, 2013, Defendants moved for summary judgment on several grounds, including failure to exhaust administrative remedies, failure to allege the personal involvement of Defendants in the cell door and May 10 incidents, and failure to demonstrate that Defendant Kaufman's use of force on April 24, 2007, rose to the level of a constitutional violation. (Dkt. No. 70; Def. Br. (Dkt. No. 73))

Plaintiff's opposition was due on May 10, 2013. (Dkt. No. 69) On August 28, 2013 - after having received no opposition from Plaintiff - this Court directed that another copy of Defendants' motion papers be sent to Plaintiff at Great Meadow Correctional Facility - the address on file with the Court - and extended the deadline for Plaintiff's opposition papers to October 1, 2013. (Dkt. No. 81) On December 11, 2013, Plaintiff was granted an additional extension of time to January 9, 2014. (Dkt. No. 85) The docket sheet indicates that the December 11, 2013 order and copies of Defendants' motion papers were sent to Plaintiff on December 12, 2013, and that a return receipt was received by the Clerk's Office on December 19, 2013.

With a February 11, 2014 letter to the Court, Plaintiff submitted thirty-one pages of optometrist and eye care medical reports from various correctional facilities. (Dkt. No. 87) The letter and the eye care reports are not responsive to Defendants' motion and have no bearing on the claims remaining in this case. Accordingly, the Court deems Defendants' summary judgment motion unopposed.

DISCUSSION

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is warranted where the moving party shows that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that it "is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A dispute about a genuine issue' exists for summary judgment purposes where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could decide in the non-movant's favor." Beyer v. Cnty. of Nassau, 524 F.3d 160, 163 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Guilbert v. Gardner, 480 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2007)). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, Rule 56 permits the moving party to point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Bay v. Times Mirror Magazines, Inc., 936 F.2d 112, 116 (2d Cir. 1991).

In deciding a summary judgment motion, the Court "resolve[s] all ambiguities, and credit[s] all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Cifra v. Gen. Elec. Co., 252 F.3d 205, 216 (2d Cir. 2001). However, to survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'... [He] must come forth with evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in [his] favor." Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). "Mere conclusory statements, conjecture or speculation" by the plaintiff will not defeat a summary judgment motion. Gross v. Nat'l Broad. Co., Inc., 232 F.Supp.2d 58, 67 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).

"Although the same standards apply when a pro se litigant is involved, the pro se litigant "should be given special latitude in responding to a summary judgment motion.'"... [T]he Court must liberally construe the claims of a pro se litigant." Brown v. Selwin, 250 F.Supp.2d 299, 306-07 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (quoting Shepherd v. Fraisher, No. 96 Civ. 3283 (JGK), 1999 WL 713839, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 14, 1999) (citation omitted)).

Where, as here, "the non-moving party chooses the perilous path of failing to submit a response to a summary judgment motion, the district court may not grant the motion without first examining the moving party's submission to determine if it has met its burden of demonstrating that no material issue of fact remains for trial.'" Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Amaker v. Foley, 274 F.3d 677, 681 (2d Cir. 2001)); see also D.H. Blair & Co., Inc. v. Gottdiener, 462 F.3d 95, 110 (2d Cir. 2006). Even an unopposed motion for summary judgment must "fail where the undisputed facts fail to show that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Vt. Teddy Bear Co., 373 F.3d at 244 (quoting Champion v. Artuz, 76 F.3d 483, 486 (2d Cir. 1996)).

II. THE APRIL 24, 2007 CELL DOOR INCIDENT

Plaintiff claims that on April 24, 2007, an unnamed Green Haven correction officer escorting him from a disciplinary hearing intentionally shut a cell door on Plaintiff's right hand. (Am. Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 61) at 4) Plaintiff alleges that he suffered injuries - including "disfigure[d] knuckles" and "pain" - as a result. (Id. at 5) Plaintiff has not alleged that other officers were present or otherwise involved in this incident.

A. Applicable Law

"It is well settled in this Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.'" Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d 880, 886 (2d Cir. 1991); McKinnon v. Patterson, 568 F.2d 930, 934 (2d Cir. 1977)). "Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to... § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009); see Hernandez v. Keane, 341 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2003) ("[S]upervisor liability in a § 1983 action depends on a showing of some personal responsibility, and cannot rest on respondeat superior."); Garcia v. Watts, No. 08 Civ. 7778 (JSR) (HBP), 2009 WL 2777085, at *12-13 (S.D.N.Y. Sept, 1, 2009). Mere presence in the "prison chain of command" is not sufficient to demonstrate personal involvement for purposes of Section 1983. See Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir. 1985) (per curiam).

With respect to defendants in supervisory positions, the Second Circuit has instructed that

[t]he personal involvement of a supervisory defendant may be shown by evidence that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.

Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995).

B. Analysis

Here, Plaintiff has not offered any evidence that any of the Defendants were personally involved in the April 24, 2007 cell door incident. The Amended Complaint does not indicate that any of the Defendants participated in or witnessed this incident. In his deposition, Plaintiff stated, "Like I said in my report, ... I was being escorted by a prison guard in a disciplinary hearing. And I'm unfamiliar with that prison guard, I don't know his name, and I never seen him before." (Harkins Decl. (Dkt. No. 75), Ex. A ("Deposition Tr.") at 14) Plaintiff has not demonstrated - or even alleged - that any of the Defendants who may have supervised the unnamed officer were aware of the incident, were responsible for a policy or custom under which it occurred, or were grossly negligent in supervising the unidentified officer.

Because Plaintiff has not offered evidence sufficient to raise a factual issue as to whether any Defendant was personally involved in the cell door incident, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted as to this claim. See Pravda v. City of Albany, N.Y., 956 F.Supp. 174, 182 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (granting summary judgment as to individual defendants where only "John Doe" officers were alleged to have participated in the use of force and plaintiff provided only "conclusory allegations... insufficient to establish the personal involvement of the[] [named] individual Defendants in Plaintiff's alleged constitutional deprivations").

III. THE APRIL 24, 2007 PAT FRISK

Plaintiff alleges that on April 24, 2007 - after the cell door incident - Defendant Kaufman used excessive force against him during a pat frisk. (Amended Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 61) at 4-5) According to Plaintiff, Kaufman knew that Plaintiff's hand had been injured, but he nonetheless squeezed the hand during the pat frisk, causing Plaintiff "extreme pain." (Id. at 4) Defendant Kaufman then allegedly "slamm[ed]" Plaintiff's hand repeatedly ...


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