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Tartt v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 16, 2014

TONY TARTT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, WARDEN HILLS, C.O. MOSS, DEPUTY WARDEN STANLEY LETT, C.O. CHERELLE PAYNE, CAPTAIN JOHN DOE, JOHN DOE CAUCASIAN OFFICER, and JOHN DOE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

VALERIE CAPRONI, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tony Tartt, pro se, alleges that prison officials at the Robert N. Davoren Complex ("RNDC") on Rikers Island forced him to ride from building to building on an overheated bus, denied him access to medication for his diabetes and asthma, improperly cuffed his hands behind his back, and maced and choked him, all over the course of approximately 20 hours. He also alleges that RNDC officials improperly confiscated his mail and photographs, mocked him, and harassed him with frequent strip and body-scan searches. Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that Tartt did not exhaust the available administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Because Tartt did not exhaust his claims, but some were either not grievable or, if they were grievable, the Defendants waived the exhaustion defense, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.[1]

BACKGROUND

Tartt's First Amended Complaint ("FAC") alleges that Department of Corrections ("DOC") officials mistreated Tartt from approximately 2:00 p.m. on July 29, 2012, [2] through 11:00 the following morning. Specifically, various DOC officials allegedly subjected Tartt to extreme temperatures in a bus, handcuffed him behind his back despite medical instructions to handcuff him in front, and denied him access to medication for diabetes and asthma. When Tartt passed out, he alleges, unidentified officers threatened him and, on his failure to rise, maced, beat, and choked him. Tartt also alleges that Defendant Moss confiscated Tartt's mail and photographs without due process and strip-searched him four days per week while Warden Hills mocked him with lewd comments. FAC at 3-4.

Tartt filed grievances regarding his strip searches in May 2012 and filed complaints regarding the events of June 29-30 on July 2 and July 5, 2012. Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1 Statement ("Plaintiff's 56.1") ¶ 10; Dantowitz Decl. Ex. D at 20. He did not receive a response to his complaints and did not pursue them further. Plaintiff's 56.1 ¶ 11; Tartt Decl. Ex. D § IV(B)(1)(d)(i). Tartt commenced this action by signing his formal complaint and providing it to DOC officials on July 5, 2012. Plaintiff's 56.1 ¶ 14.

The Court's Order of August 13, 2012 dismissed Tartt's claims against the DOC and the RNDC and required the City to help Tartt to identify several defendants who were sued as John Doe. Dkt. 6 (citing Valentin v. Dinkins, 121 F.3d 72 (2d Cir. 1997) ( per curiam )). Based on the City's efforts, Tartt was able to name two of the unknown John Doe Defendants. Dkt. 43 at 3-4. Tartt filed an amended complaint on May 2, 2013; in February 2014, the Defendants moved for summary judgment.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is appropriate where there exists no genuine issue of material fact and, based on the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Guippone v. BH S & B Holdings LLC, 737 F.3d 221, 225 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, courts "must resolve all ambiguities and draw all factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Catanzaro v. Weiden, 188 F.3d 56, 61 (2d Cir. 1999). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'" Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)) (quotation marks omitted).

"It is well established that the submissions of a pro se litigant must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. '" Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) ( per curiam ) (quoting Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006)) (emphasis from Triestman ). Courts should go to lengths to ensure that inexperienced pro se litigants do not inadvertently forfeit rights or winning arguments; this "special solicitude" includes a liberal construction of papers and a flexibility on some otherwiserigid procedural rules. Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101 (2d Cir. 2010). Courts "should be particularly solicitous of pro se litigants who assert civil rights claims" and incarcerated litigants. Id. at 102. Tartt falls into both categories.

II. PLRA Administrative Exhaustion Requirement

Congress passed Section 803 of the PLRA "to invigorate the exhaustion prescription' for prisoners." Ruggiero v. Cnty. of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 173 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002)). Section 803 provides:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The administrative process that a prisoner must exhaust is "defined not by the PLRA, but by the prison grievance process itself." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). "The exhaustion inquiry thus requires that [courts] look at the state prison procedures and the prisoner's grievance to determine whether the prisoner has complied with those procedures." Espinal v. Goord, 558 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2009). The Supreme Court in Jones rejected a "total exhaustion" rule that would bar any lawsuit containing one ...


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