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Blackshear v. Captain Woodward

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 17, 2014

CAPTAIN WOODWARD, Captain-Hearing Officer, Watertown Correctional Facility; LIEUTENANT ZEHR, Lieutenant-Watch Commander, Watertown Correctional Facility; D. VENETTOZZI, Acting Director, Special Housing Inmate Disciplinary Program, NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Defendants, [1]

KEVIN BLACKSHEAR Johnstown, New York, Plaintiff Pro Se.

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, New York, ADELE M. TAYLOR-SCOTT, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Attorney for Defendants.


CHRISTIAN F HUMMEL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff pro se Kevin Blackshear ("Blackshear"), an inmate currently in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at 1; Blackshear Resp. (Dkt. No. 22-1) at 1. Blackshear alleges that defendants Captain Woodward, Lieutenant Zehr, and Acting Director Venettozzi, employees of DOCCS, violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Compl. at 1; Blackshear Resp. at 1. Presently pending is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. (Dkt. No. 16). Blackshear opposes the motion. Blackshear Resp. at 1. For the following reasons, it is recommended that defendants' motion be granted.

I. Background

All facts are related in the light most favorable to Blackshear as the non-moving party. See subsection II(A) infra. At all relevant times, Blackshear was an inmate at Watertown Correctional Facility ("Watertown").

A. Search and Investigation

On July 2, 2011, at Watertown, non-party Corrections Officer Maitland performed a routine search of Blackshear's bed area. Compl. at 2; Dkt. No. 16-3 at 30. Maitland discovered a gap in the cover of a heater located between Blackshear's locker and bed. Dkt. No. 16-3 at 30. Inside of this gap, Maitland reported finding toilet paper, which he removed. Id . Inside of the toilet paper was the finger of a latex glove, which contained three additional latex glove fingers, additional toilet paper, and three orange pills, one in each finger. Id . Non-party Nurse Hall identified these pills to Maitland as suboxone. Id . Maitland then issued Blackshear a Tier III misbehavior report, charging Blackshear with possession of drugs in violation of § 113.25 of the State of New York Department of Correctional Services Standards of Inmate Behavior. Id .; Compl. at 2.

A contraband receipt was created for the suboxone, which was transferred from Maitland to non-party Corrections Officer Kogut. Dkt. No. 16-3 at 42. Kogut arranged the suboxone for non-party Sergeant Thomas to photograph and then placed the suboxone in Watertown's contraband box. Id . Blackshear was taken to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") per defendant Lieutenant Zehr's ("Zehr") authorization.[3] Id. at 30. Zehr later requested that the suboxone be identified by Watertown's pharmacist, who visually confirmed Nurse Hall's identification of suboxone. Id. at 42. In the early morning the next day, July 3, 2011, Blackshear was provided with a copy of Maitland's report. Compl. at 2.

Blackshear first met with his inmate assistant on July 5, 2011. Compl. at 3; Dkt. No. 16-3 at 37. Blackshear indicated he did not wish to call any witnesses, but did request "DNA testing on items" and "evidence from his inmate records." Dkt. No. 16-3 at 37. The same day, Blackshear was provided with a copy of the photographs taken of the contraband. Dkt. No. 16-3 at 37.; Compl. at 3.

B. Tier III Disciplinary Hearing

Blackshear's Tier III disciplinary hearing in connection with the July 2, 2011 misbehavior report commenced on July 6, 2011 before defendant Woodward, who would serve as hearing officer. Compl. at 3; Tier III Hr'g Tr. (Dkt. No. 16-3 at 58-76) at 58. Blackshear defended himself against the allegation by claiming that forty-six other men had access to his room, in addition to the four who lived with him. Compl. at 4; Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 60-61. Thus, many others had access to the area where Maitland found the suboxone. Compl. at 4; Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 60-61. Blackshear argued that he was not the one who placed the suboxone in the heater and that he was unfamiliar with suboxone. Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 61-62. Additionally, Blackshear contended that he did not receive access to all relevant documents. Id. at 65-66; Compl. at 3-4. Woodward then provided Blackshear with a copy of the pharmacist's report identifying the pills found in the heater as ...

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