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Santiago v. Westchester County

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 19, 2014

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

Plaintiff Javier Santiago, pro se, commenced the present action on March 20, 2013, arising out of his treatment while an inmate at Westchester County Jail. The Defendants are Westchester County, Correction Officer Jones, Correction Officer Spaulding, and Captain Randy Watkins. The Complaint states claims under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants' Motion is denied, because the Complaint states claims upon which relief may be granted.


Plaintiff Javier Santiago was housed in the I-South Housing Unit of Westchester County Jail, and was voluntarily part of a "boot camp" program designed to help reform inmates before release. On February 25, 2013, Plaintiff was disciplined by Corrections Officer Nappi for allegedly searching through desk drawers in an office in his housing unit. Corrections Officer Jones was notified and when he arrived at the scene, he directed Plaintiff to follow him. Plaintiff asked twice where Defendant Jones was taking him. Defendant Jones responded with expletives and ordered Plaintiff to the ground, but while Plaintiff was in the process of getting on the ground, Defendant Jones twisted his arm in a manner that caused Plaintiff severe pain. Defendant Jones then placed his hand on Plaintiff's throat and squeezed it, choking Plaintiff and nearly causing him to faint, and causing Plaintiff severe pain. Defendant Jones then addressed Plaintiff with another expletive and threatened that, if Plaintiff moved, he was "going down hard." Defendant Jones picked Plaintiff up off the ground and escorted him to a "bullpen, " but did not release his grip on Plaintiff.

While in the bullpen, Plaintiff told Captain Randy Watkins that he wanted to file a grievance against Defendant Jones. Defendant Watkins said, "You're going to the SHU (Special Housing Unit). How about that? You can't grieve disciplinary. I'm the grievance coordinator. Don't waste your time. You're in enough trouble. Don't make it worse." Plaintiff was taken to the special housing unit. On February 27, 2013, Plaintiff tried to file a grievance with Sergeant Spaulding, but Sergeant Spaulding refused to accept it. Plaintiff then mailed the grievance to Warden Diaz hoping that someone would investigate his claims, but he received no response.

Plaintiff was released from the special housing unit on March 1, 2013, and requested to see a sergeant about filing a grievance. It is unclear from Plaintiff's pleading whether he was able to file the renewed grievance, but he was not interviewed about any grievance. Plaintiff was transferred to a different housing block after the incident, and was placed on "keep lock" status, which he feels was retaliation for his attempting to submit a grievance.

The Complaint also brings a claim pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Social Sevs. of the City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against Westchester County for failure to supervise and discipline its employees and for not investigating claims of excessive force. The Complaint alleges five specific assaults on other inmates at the Westchester County Jail and asserts that Westchester County was aware of these incidents.


On a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Famous Horse Inc. v. 5th Ave. Photo Inc., 624 F.3d 106, 108 (2d Cir. 2010). To withstand dismissal, a pleading "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. While "detailed factual allegations'" are not necessary, the pleading must be supported by more than mere "labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires factual allegations that are sufficient to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Anderson News, L.L.C. v. Am. Media, Inc., 680 F.3d 162, 182 (2d Cir. 2012) (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 846 (2013). Moreover, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

In construing complaints by plaintiffs proceeding pro se, the Court "appl[ies] a more flexible standard to evaluate their sufficiency than [it] would when reviewing a complaint submitted by counsel." Lerman v. Bd. of Elections in City of N.Y., 232 F.3d 135, 139-40 (2d Cir. 2000); see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ("[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers."). Thus, the Court is obligated to construe pro se pleadings with "special solicitude, ' interpreting the complaint to raise the strongest [claims] that [it] suggest[s].'" Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011) (alterations in original) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474-75 (2d Cir. 2006)).


I. Exhaustion Defense

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims are barred because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Because failure to exhaust remedies is an affirmative defense that cannot be decided without further facts, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for failure to exhaust remedies is denied.

Failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") is an affirmative defense to an action. See Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir. 2004). In Hemphill, the Second Circuit established a three-part inquiry that "is appropriate in cases where a prisoner plaintiff plausibly seeks to counter defendants' contention that the prisoner has failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as required by the PLRA." Id. "[T]he court must ask whether administrative remedies were in fact available' to the prisoner." Id. "The court should also inquire as to... the defendants' own actions inhibiting the inmate's exhaustion of remedies, " which "may estop one or more of the defendants from raising the plaintiff's failure to exhaust as a defense." Id. Even if "the court finds that administrative remedies were available" and finds that "the defendants are not estopped and have not ...

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