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Hill v. Laird

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 31, 2014


For Plaintiff: Demetrius Hill, pro se, Lewisburg, PA.

James R. Cho, Esq. United States Attorney's Office, Brooklyn, NY, For Defendants Laird, Clemens, Schoenfelder, McFarland, Garcia, Wheeless, and Henderson.

Vincent Lipari, Esq. United States Attorney's Office, Central Islip, NY.

Maldonado: No appearances.


JOANNA SEYBERT, District Judge.

On January 6, 2006, incarcerated plaintiff Demetrius Hill ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, commenced this action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), against eight former and current prison officials, alleging, inter alia, First Amendment claims of retaliation for filing prison grievances. Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by seven of the eight defendants-Paul Laird ("Laird"), Judd Clemens ("Clemens"), Rick Schoenfelder ("Schoenfelder"), Patrick McFarland ("McFarland"), Daniel Garcia ("Garcia"), Terrell Wheeless ("Wheeless"), and Gregory Henderson ("Henderson") (collectively, "Defendants"). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


From December 10, 2005 to July 21, 2005, Plaintiff was an inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center (the "MDC"), a prison in Brooklyn, New York, managed by the United States Bureau of Prisons (the "BOP"). (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., Docket Entry 109-2, ¶ 5.) Defendants are seven current and former prison officials who worked at the MDC during Plaintiff's incarceration there. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 42-56.)[2] During this period of time, Plaintiff was assigned to the Special Housing Unit (the "SHU") at the MDC. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff alleges a series of incidents that occurred at the MDC from April 2005 to July 2005 in which executive staff and correctional officers allegedly assaulted and harassed Plaintiff in retaliation for Plaintiff repeatedly filing administrative grievances regarding alleged staff misconduct and unconstitutional conditions of confinement. (See generally Compl.) Briefly stated, the Court reads Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claims to be based on the following allegations:

1. "From the inception of his arrival at the MDC, " Clemens, former Associate Warden at the MDC, told Plaintiff "to stop filing complaints or he would make his life a living hell." Clemens further threatened to keep Plaintiff in the SHU by filing false disciplinary reports. (Compl. at 2.)

2. Acting at Clemens' direction, several staff members, who are not named as defendants here, confiscated Plaintiff's personal belongings, including a window covering and Plaintiff's administrative grievance forms and legal materials. (Compl. at 2-3.)

3. "In or about the second Thursday of June [2005], " Clemens kicked a "food slot" closed on Plaintiff's hand. (Compl. at 3.) Clemens and Schoenfelder, a former captain at the MDC, then placed Plaintiff on a restricted "bag lunch" diet consisting of bread and bologna for five days. (Compl. at 3.) When Plaintiff asked Clemens why he "was being deprived of food, " Clemens told him that he "got too much energy [and] maybe less food a [sic] stop these [administrative grievances Plaintiff] file[s]." (Compl. at 4.)

4. McFarland, a case manager at the MDC, refused to process Plaintiff's administrative grievance forms on two occasions because Clemens and Laird, former Warden at the MDC, instructed McFarland not to accept grievances from Plaintiff. (Compl. at 4.)

5. After Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the alleged assault by Clemens, Schoenfelder told Plaintiff that he "better stop filing complaints because things would get a lot worse, [Plaintiff would] find [himself] far, far, far away, that himself, the warden and Clemens were making arrangements to have [Plaintiff] shipped to a place that makes Guantanamo Bay look like luxury." (Compl. at 4.)

6. Wheeless, a senior officer at the MDC, searched Plaintiff's cell "everyday [sic] for a week straight confiscating legal letters, forms, which dealt with civil litigations against an institution, hygiene and [Plaintiff's] pictures and threw them away each time." (Compl. at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that "[i]t's believed that [Schoenfelder]" told Wheeless to conduct these searches. (Compl. at 4.)

7. Henderson, a senior officer at the MDC, spit in Plaintiff's food, refused to give Plaintiff food on one occasion, "denied plaintiff recreation when he had the opportunity, " destroyed several pieces of Plaintiff's mail, and threatened to poison Plaintiff and "pay him back for each and every complaint [plaintiff] made." (Compl. at 4-5 (alteration in the original).)

8. During a SHU meeting Clemens and Schoenfelder instructed Defendant Daniel Garcia ("Garcia"), a disciplinary hearing officer at the MDC, to take away Plaintiff's visiting privileges in retaliation for Plaintiff's numerous grievances. (Compl. at 5.)

9. On December 10, 2005, Laird transferred Plaintiff from the MDC to the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in retaliation for Plaintiff's complaints against other MDC officials. (Compl. at 6.)

According to Defendants, during this three-month period, Plaintiff filed thirty-nine administrative grievances, fourteen of which relate to staff misconduct, some of which relate to the incidents alleged in the Complaint and some of which do not. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 18-33.) The remaining twenty-five administrative grievances relate to Plaintiff's conditions of confinement and are not the subject of this lawsuit. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 34.)

Defendants moved for summary judgment on June 14, 2013 arguing that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because: (1) Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and (2) Plaintiff failed to establish his First Amendment retaliation claims. (Docket Entry 109.) Plaintiff has submitted a sworn statement in opposition alleging, inter alia, that he would have exhausted his administrative remedies had prison staff not prevented him from doing so and that he has established claims of retaliation. (Docket Entry 123.)


Before turning to the merits of Defendants' motion, the Court must make one preliminary point. Defendants have moved for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the entire Complaint on the ground that Plaintiff has failed to establish his First Amendment retaliation claims. However, given Plaintiff's pro se status, the Complaint, liberally construed, appears also to attempt to hold Laird liable on a theory of supervisor liability. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that "[Laird, t]he Warden, also is named, because the plaintiff has complained to him continuously and on numerous occasions, all to no avail" and that "[i]t is a fact Warden Laird turned a blind eye' to the abuses of his staff and directly condoned their actions." (Compl. at 6.) In addition, Plaintiff appears to allege a claim against Garcia, a disciplinary officer at the MDC, that Garcia violated Plaintiff's due process rights by attending the "S.H.U. meeting for the purpose of learning how the administration wants particular prisoners handled." (Compl. at 5.) These claims may or may not have merit. However, given that Defendants have only moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claims, the Court therefore consider Defendants' motion as one for partial summary judgment and will not consider the merits of these additional claims at this time. The Court would invite an additional summary judgment motion on the potential additional claims against Laird and Garcia.

As to the Defendants' current motion, the Court will first address the applicable standard of review on a motion for summary ...

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