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Richardson v. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Employees

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 11, 2014

ROLAND RICHARDSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION EMPLOYEES, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiffs Roland Richardson ("Mr. Richardson") and Kishma Richardson ("Mrs. Richardson")[1] brought suit against a number of employees of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") for civil rights violations arising from alleged incidents at the Sullivan Correctional Facility, where Mr. Richardson was incarcerated. This action is now before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is converted into a motion for summary judgment for purposes of Mr. Richardson's claims, and is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from the Amended Complaint and documents attached to the initial complaint, which the Amended Complaint incorporates by reference. Because Plaintiffs are pro se litigants, the Court will interpret the pleading documents to raise the strongest claims that they suggest. Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011).

I. Allegations

The Amended Complaint ("Complaint") alleges that Plaintiffs' rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated by seven employees of New York State's Sullivan Correctional Facility ("Sullivan"), where Mr. Richardson was incarcerated, in incidents that occurred over the course of 10 months between July 2011 and May 2012.

Based on the pleading documents, C.O. C. Bruno began harassing Plaintiffs on July 16, 2011, when Mrs. Richardson visited her husband Mr. Richardson at Sullivan. C.O. Bruno "kept interrupting [their] conversation by making snide grunting noises, " falsely accused Mr. Richardson of squeezing Mrs. Richardson's buttocks, and yelled at both Plaintiffs. Mr. Richardson filed an internal grievance about this incident on July 20, 2011, and Mrs. Richardson appears to have written a letter to "Albany" - presumably a state governmental entity - about the same incident. When Mrs. Richardson visited Mr. Richardson on September 17, 2011, C.O. Bruno "purposefully s[at] [Plaintiffs] one seat away from her as usual to taunt [them] with her loud comments, " and loudly said in a conversation with another inmate that "[t]his is a jail full of snitches and that[']s the biggest one right there, " pointing to Mr. Richardson. Mrs. Richardson reported this incident in a September 18, 2011, letter to Sullivan's Office of the Superintendent, the DOCCS and the Inspector General's Office. In a December 29, 2011, letter to the DOCCS director of diversity management, Mrs. Richardson stated that C.O. Bruno continued to harass Plaintiffs during two visits in December 2011 by singling them out for petty mistreatment.

During Plaintiffs' visit on May 20, 2012, Defendant C.O. Richard Lordo ordered Mr. Richardson, at the direction of C.O. Bruno, to "straighten [his] legs under the table." Plaintiffs overheard C.O. Bruno tell C.O. Lordo that "if [C.O. Bruno] were to... tell [Plaintiffs, ] [they] will write her up and that she[ wa]s tired of [them] writing her up." When Plaintiffs stood to go to the vending machine, C.O. Lordo walked up behind Mr. Richardson and said, "[M]ake sure you spell my name right." They also heard C.O. Bruno saying, "Don't worry they complained all the way to Albany about me and I'm still here, " after which C.O. Lordo "cl[e]nch[ed] his fist and t[ook] his gloves on and off looking in [Plaintiffs'] direction."

When the visit ended, instead of processing Mr. Richardson through the frisk area when he reached the front of the line, C.O. Lordo told him to wait until he was the last inmate left. When Mr. Richardson walked into the frisk area, he observed that C.O. Lordo had put on blue gloves rather than clear ones he searched the others with. C.O. Lordo instructed him to go straight into the booth and put his hands on the wall, which had never occurred before. When Mr. Richardson complied, he was punched by C.O. Lordo, tackled by C.O. Lordo and Defendant C.O. Derrick Lawrence, hit in the head with a stick, kneed on the back of the neck by C.O. Lordo, bound with mechanical restraints by C.O. Lawrence, and then stepped on in the back of the neck by Defendant Sergeant William Haas, who told him to "shut [his] mouth because [he] was screaming for help." Mr. Richardson was then taken to the clinic, where Defendant R.N. Carol Liciaga examined him. Although R.N. Liciaga noted the swelling on his face and prescribed medication for pain that continued throughout the following year, she noted "no injury" in her Use of Force Report. Defendant Lieutenant G. Sipple approved a urinalysis test on Mr. Richardson. Defendants R.N. Liciaga, Lt. Sipple, C.O. Lordo and C.O. Lawrence all noted in their respective reports of the incident that Mr. Richardson had assaulted staff. The Complaint alleges that they acted in concert with Defendant Superintendent Patrick Griffin to cover up the incident by fabricating evidence of Mr. Richardson's purported assault. Mrs. Richardson reported the events of her May 20 visit in a May 21, 2012, letter to the Office of the Superintendent at Sullivan and to the DOCCS director of diversity management.

Based on these facts, Plaintiffs claim that their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.

II. Facts Concerning Mr. Richardson's Exhaustion of Remedies

In addition to the documents included in the Complaint, in the record on this motion are documents submitted by Defendants. They attach to their moving papers three grievances filed by Mr. Richardson and related documents, including a declaration by the Supervisor of the Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP") at Sullivan stating under penalty of perjury that these three grievances constitute all grievances that Mr. Richardson filed with the IGP at Sullivan. The first grievance is an unrelated complaint regarding a package mailed to him. The second grievance, also attached to the Complaint, is dated July 20, 2011, and concerns C.O. Bruno's conduct on July 16, 2011. An accompanying document shows that on August 19, 2011, Superintendent Griffin found this grievance to be unsubstantiated. The third of Mr. Richardson's grievances is dated May 20, 2012, and concerns the assault against him that day. An accompanying document shows that on July 17, 2012, Superintendent Griffin likewise found this grievance to be without merit. Defendants also submit a declaration from the Director of the IGP at DOCCS, who states under penalty of perjury that (i) the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") is required to keep all grievance files and logs for five years; and (ii) a search of the CORC's database showed that Mr. Richardson had only two appeals come before the CORC, both of which were filed after his transfer to another correctional facility and neither of which was related to the incidents alleged here. A printout of the CORC database search is attached to the declaration.

In opposition, Mr. Richardson submits three letters dated July 9, July 24 and August 14, 2012, showing that he sought to follow up on the status of his grievance. In the August 14 letter, Mr. Richardson asked that "[his] grievance be forwarded to C.O.R.C. office by the grievance clerk or... M[r]. Griffin for further actions."

In reply, Defendants submit another declaration from the Supervisor of the IGP at Sullivan, in which he states under the penalty of perjury that (i) he would have received the three letters had Mr. Richardson sent them the way they were addressed; and ...


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