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Vigliotti v. Selsky

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 14, 2014

DIRECTOR DONALD SELSKY, et al., Defendants.


JEREMIAH J. McCARTHY, Magistrate Judge.

The parties have consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c) [29].[1] Before me are the parties' cross-motions for partial summary judgment [123, 131]. Oral argument was held on February 14, 2014 [147]. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, and plaintiff's motion is denied.


Plaintiff commenced this action pro se on November 25, 2008 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that on September 12, 2005, while he was incarcerated at the Wende Correctional Facility, he was assaulted by defendant Correctional Officer Timothy Benson. Complaint [1], First Cause of Action. Plaintiff further alleges that certain due process violations occurred at his disciplinary hearing arising from the incident, which was conducted by defendant Captain Martin Kearney. Id., Second Cause of Action. On October 18, 2005 defendant Kearney found plaintiff guilty of some of the charges against him and sentenced him to 180 days of confinement in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") and 180 days loss of packages, television, commissary, and telephone. Id. at ¶21, p. 11. On December 7, 2005, defendant Donald Selsky, the Director of Special Housing, denied plaintiff's appeal and affirmed defendant Kearney's determination. Id. at ¶24, p.14.

The parties cross-move for partial summary judgment on the Second and Third Causes of Action alleging due process violations against defendants Kearney and Selsky.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard to be applied on a motion for summary judgment in this Circuit is well settled. "Summary judgment is appropriate only if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden to demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to, and draw all inferences in favor of, the non-movant. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record that could reasonably support a jury's verdict for the non-moving party." Ford v. Reynolds , 316 F.3d 351, 354 (2d Cir. 2003).

B. Due Process Standard

"Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply." Wolff v. McDonnell , 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). Nevertheless, inmates are "entitled to certain procedural protections when disciplinary actions subject them to further liberty deprivations such as... special confinement that imposes an atypical hardship". Sira v. Morton , 380 F.3d 57, 69 (2d Cir. 2004).[2] These protections include "advance written notice of the charges against him; a hearing affording him a reasonable opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence; a fair and impartial hearing officer; and a written statement of the disposition, including the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the disciplinary actions taken". Id . ( citing Wolff , 418 U.S. at 563-67). "In addition, due process requires that there be some evidence to support the findings made in the disciplinary hearing." Washington v. Gonyea, 538 Fed.Appx. 23, 25 (2d Cir. 2013) (Summary Order). See Luna v. Pico , 356 F.3d 481, 491 (2d Cir. 2004) (interpreting the "some evidence" standard to require "reliable evidence").

"[R]egardless of state procedural guarantees, the only process due an inmate is that minimal process guaranteed by the Constitution, as outlined in Wolff". Shakur v. Selsky , 391 F.3d 106, 119 (2d Cir. 2004). Therefore, violations of "state regulations during [a] disciplinary hearing do not give rise to a §1983 due process claim". Austin v. Fischer, 453 Fed.Appx. 80, 83 (2d Cir. 2011) (Summary Order). See also Russell v. Coughlin , 910 F.2d 75, 78 (2d Cir. 1990) ("Federal constitutional standards rather than state law define the requirements of procedural due process").

"[P]rison disciplinary hearings are subject to a harmless error analysis." Tafari v. Rock, 2012 WL 1340799, *5 (W.D.N.Y. 2012) (Telesca, J.) ( citing Powell v. Coughlin , 953 F.2d 744, 750 (2d Cir.1991)). Thus, "to establish a procedural due process claim in connection with a prison disciplinary hearing, an inmate must show that he was prejudiced by the alleged procedural errors, in the sense that the errors affected the outcome of the hearing." Eleby v. Selsky , 682 F.Supp.2d 289, 292 (W.D.N.Y. 2010) (Larimer, J.).

With this standard in mind, I will address each of the alleged deficiencies raised by plaintiff.

C. Inadequate Assistance

Plaintiff was assigned an Inmate Assistant, Angelo Amato, to prepare for his disciplinary hearing. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts [124], ¶8. He alleges that Amato failed to provide him with adequate assistance, in violation of his due process rights, by not contacting witnesses and by not providing him with certain documentation. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law [134], pp. 4-5.

"Prison authorities have a constitutional obligation to provide assistance to an inmate in marshaling evidence and presenting a defense when he is faced with disciplinary charges." Eng v. Coughlin , 858 F.2d 889, 897 (2d Cir.1988). However, since Amato is not named as a defendant, it is unnecessary for me to determine whether he provided plaintiff with adequate assistance. See Sowell v. Weed, 2013 WL 3324049, *13 (W.D.N.Y. 2013) (Telesca, J.) ...

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