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Frederick v. Sheahan

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 29, 2014

MICHAEL SHEAHAN, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Pro se plaintiff Michael Frederick ("Frederick" or "Plaintiff"), an inmate in the custody of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), instituted this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights while in DOCCS' custody. In his amended complaint [#4][1], Plaintiff names the following individual as being responsible for the constitutional violations alleged: Corrections Officer Mark Vandergrift ("CO Vandergrift"); CO Patrick Murphy ("CO Murphy"); CO Michael Robyck ("CO Robyck"); CO J. Robinson ("CO Robinson"); Corrections Sergeant D. Holton ("Sgt. Holton"); and Acting Superintendent Michael Sheahan ("Acting Supt. Sheahan"). Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, which Plaintiff has opposed. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Factual Background

The following facts-viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff-are gleaned from the pleadings and from the parties' submissions in conjunction with Defendants' summary judgment motion. See, e.g., Lipton v. Nature Co. , 71 F.3d 464, 471 (2d Cir. 1995) ("For the purposes of a summary judgment motion, courts are required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the parties opposing the motion and to suspend judgments on credibility.").

In November of 2009, Plaintiff had a verbal "altercation" with Southport Correctional Facility Nurse Deborah Allen. Ten minutes later, he was "threatened" by CO Vandergrift.

On December 2, 2009, Plaintiff and the other inmates locking on C-11 Gallery were ordered to submit to an institutional search. Officer Frisbee, who is not a party to this action, and another, unidentified officer, came to Plaintiff's cell and ordered him to turn around to be handcuffed.

After Plaintiff was handcuffed, the cell door opened, and he waited to follow the officers' commands. Instead, Plaintiff was shoved away from the door and pushed so he fell on the bed. Turning around, Plaintiff saw CO Vandergrift, who stated, "I told you I will be back for you." Plaintiff's Declaration in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl's Decl.") [#58], ¶ 6. CO Vandergrift then turned Plaintiff around and punched him in the face multiple times, while several officers (CO Murphy, CO Robyck, and CO Robinson) held his ankles, legs, and feet. The officers then began striking Plaintiff on his bare feet with their batons. Plaintiff estimates that this assault lasted for approximately 5 minutes. CO Vandergrift, CO Murphy, CO Robyck, and CO Robinson then brought him to the front of his cell, where CO Vandergrift "wrapped his hand around [Plaintiff's] neck and started choking him until [Plaintiff] passed out." Pl's Decl., ¶ 9.

After that, Plaintiff "remembered being dragged down the company and brought to a shower stall." Id . His injuries were photographed, and he was underwent a medical exam at the facility infirmary. In the section of the "Unusual Incident Report ("UIR")" titled "Medical Report, " DOCCS medical staff described Plaintiff's injuries as follows: A 4" by 3" red mark on the left side of his neck with no observed swelling, bruising, pain, welts or open areas; a bloodshot left eye, with no swelling, bruises, or pain noted; complaints of pain in left ankle and left wrist with no sign of injury noted in either area. See UIR at 2, attached as part of Exhibit ("Ex.") A to Defendants' Continuation of Rule 26 Disclosure [#25]. The Court notes that these injuries, observed by DOCCS' medical staff, are not inconsistent with Plaintiff's assertion that he was choked by CO Murphy (the welt on his neck and bloodshot eye) and struck on his ankles and feet with batons (pain in his ankle area). The Court also notes that CO Murphy's description of how the event occurred does not account for any of Plaintiff's injuries. According to CO Murphy, he used a "body hold" to force Plaintiff to the back wall after Plaintiff attempted to "head-butt" him. As Plaintiff allegedly resisted, CO Robinson assisted in attempting to restrain Plaintiff, who "went off the bed and onto the floor". Id . CO Robyck responded and applied leg restraints, and Sgt. Holton was called to the area. Id.

CO Murphy subsequently filed a misbehavior report against Plaintiff charging him with attempting to assault staff, violent conduct, and refusing a direct order. Plaintiff states that contrary to the accusations that he tried to head-butt CO Murphy, he did not attempt to assault any of the officers, resist them, or threaten them. Rather, Plaintiff asserts, he laid on his bed and tried to protect his face from the officers' blows.

On December 9, 2009, a Tier III disciplinary hearing was held before Commissioner's Hearing Officer James Esgrow ("CHO Esgrow"). The only non-party witness called was CO Murphy. After finding Plaintiff guilty as charged, CHO Esgrow sentenced him principally to 6 months in the special housing unit ("SHU"), and recommended a loss of 3 months of good time credits. CHO Esgrow's ruling and the sentence were upheld on administrative appeal.

III. General Legal Principles

A. Section 1983

Section 1983 authorizes an individual who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief through "an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd. , 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). Two essential elements comprise a Section 1983 claim: (1) the defendant acted under color of state law; and (2) as a result of the defendant's actions, the plaintiff suffered a denial of his federal statutory rights, or his constitutional rights or privileges. Annis v. County of Westchester , 136 F.3d 239, 245 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

To bring a § 1983 claim against a prison official, a plaintiff must allege that individual's personal involvement; it is not enough to simply assert that the defendant is a "link in the prison chain of command." McKenna v. Wright , 386 F.3d 432, 437 (2d Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted). "[S]upervisor liability in a § 1983 action depends on a showing of some personal responsibility, and cannot rest on respondeat superior." Hernandez v. Keane , 341 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted); accord Richardson v. Goord , 347 F.3d 431, 435 (2d Cir. 2003). Because "respondeat superior liability does not lie against corrections officers in Section 1983 actions[, ]" "[a] plaintiff must thus allege a tangible connection between the acts of a defendant and the injuries suffered." Bass v. Jackson , 790 F.2d 260, 263 (2d Cir. 1983) (internal citation omitted).

In the Second Circuit, supervisory personnel may be considered "personally involved" if they (1) directly participated in the violation; (2) failed to remedy that violation after learning of it through a report or appeal; (3) created, or allowed to continue, a policy or custom under which the violation occurred, (4) had been grossly negligent in managing subordinates who caused the violation; or (5) exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing ...

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