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Guillory v. Ellis

United States District Court, N.D. New York

August 29, 2014

PATRICK GUILLORY, Plaintiff,
v.
KURT ELLIS, et al., Defendants.

PATRICK GUILLORY Clinton Correctional Facility Dannemora, New York, Plaintiff pro se.

GREGORY J. RODRIGUEZ, AAG OFFICE OF THE NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Albany, New York, Attorney for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, an inmate currently in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), commenced this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on May 31, 2011. See Dkt. No. 1. The remaining claims are that Defendants violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, as well as his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person's Act ("RLUIPA"), and subsequently retaliated against him for attempting to exercise these rights by destroying Plaintiff's mail and thus denying him access to the courts. See Dkt. Nos. 1, 210.

In a very thorough Report-Recommendation dated July 23, 2014, Magistrate Judge Baxter recommended that the Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismiss Plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. See Dkt. No. 210. Specifically, Magistrate Judge Baxter first found that in relation to the December 7, 2010 incident, Defendant Ready acted within the bounds of his employment and according to the documentation before him and thus, his inadvertent denial that caused Plaintiff to miss one religious service did not substantially burden Plaintiff's free exercise of his religion. See id. at 14. With regards to the March 20, 2011 incident, Magistrate Judge Baxter found that Defendant Ellis was not responsible for the shortened duration of the Purim celebration, and that while the delay may have been an inconvenience, Plaintiff was still able to participate in the service, thus satisfying the requirements of the First Amendment and RLUIPA. See id. at 19-20. Magistrate Judge Baxter also found that neither Defendant Ellis, nor Defendant Ready engaged in the conduct mentioned above as a way to retaliate against Plaintiff for any grievances that he had previously filed either against them or any other correctional officer. See id. at 39-40. Moreover, Magistrate Judge Baxter found that Defendant Kupiec did not interfere with Plaintiff's mail as a means to either retaliate against him or to deny him access to the courts. See id. 35-36. Finally, Magistrate Judge Baxter found that Plaintiff failed to establish that he suffered an adverse action as a result of Defendant Kupiec's alleged conduct. On August 4, 2014, the Court received objections to the Report-Recommendation from Plaintiff. See Dkt. No. 211.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's objections

In his objection to Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report-Recommendation, Plaintiff states that he objects to the Report in its entirety. See id. Plaintiff relays his astonishment at Magistrate Judge Baxter's choice to "excuse Def[endant] Kupiec's conduct" and at his finding that Plaintiff's position is "unfounded." See id. Plaintiff further objects to Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report on the grounds that he looked outside the pleadings and "only to the Defendants Affidavits" when making his determination to grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See id.

B. Standard of review

A court may grant a motion for summary judgment only if it determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried and that the facts as to which there is no such issue warrant judgment for the movant as a matter of law. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 36 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). When analyzing a summary judgment motion, the court "cannot try issues of fact; it can only determine whether there are issues to be tried." Id. at 36-37 (quotation and other citation omitted). Moreover, it is well-settled that a party opposing a motion for summary judgment may not simply rely on the assertions in its pleadings. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (e)).

In assessing the record to determine whether any such issues of material fact exist, the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Chambers, 43 F.3d at 36 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2502, 2513-14, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)) (other citations omitted). Where the non-movant either does not respond to the motion or fails to dispute the movant's statement of material facts, the court may not rely solely on the moving party's Rule 56.1 statement; rather the court must be satisfied that the citations to evidence in the record support the movant's assertions. See Giannullo v. City of N.Y., 322 F.3d 139, 143 n.5 (2d Cir. 2003) (holding that not verifying in the record the assertions in the motion for summary judgment "would derogate the truth-finding functions of the judicial process by substituting convenience for facts").

"[I]n a pro se case, the court must view the submissions by a more lenient standard than that accorded to formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Govan v. Campbell, 289 F.Supp.2d 289, 295 (N.D.N.Y. 2007) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)) (other citations omitted). The Second Circuit has opined that the court is obligated to "make reasonable allowances to protect pro se litigants" from inadvertently forfeiting legal rights merely because they lack a legal education. Govan v. Campbell, 289 F.Supp.2d 289, 295 (N.D.N.Y. 2007) (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)). "However, this does not mean that a pro se litigant is excused from following the procedural requirements of summary judgment. See id. at 295 (citing Showers v. Eastmond, 00 CIV. 3725, 2001 WL 527484, *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 16, 2001)). Specifically, "a pro se party's bald assertion, ' completely unsupported by evidence, is not sufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Lee v. Coughlin, 902 F.Supp. 424, 429 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (citing Cary v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991)).

When a party files specific objections to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the district court makes a " de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, when a party files "[g]eneral or conclusory objections or objections which merely recite the same arguments [that he presented] to the magistrate judge, " the court reviews those recommendations for clear error. O'Diah v. Mawhir, No. 9:08-CV-322, 2011 WL 933846, *1 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 16, 2011) (citations and footnote omitted). After the appropriate review, "the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendation made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

C. Application

In the present matter, although Plaintiff has filed objections to Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report-Recommendation, the objections that are given are mostly conclusory and "merely recite the same arguments" that were originally presented to Magistrate Judge Baxter. See O'Diah, 2011 WL 933846, at *1; see generally Dkt. No. 211. Moreover, some of the objections that Plaintiff makes are of an accusatory nature, in that he charges Magistrate Judge Baxter with excusing the behavior of Defendant Kupiec based on her race, and supporting "the Defendants [r]eckless lies." See Dkt. No. 211 at 1 ("I'm sure if Kupiec was black you would have treated her like all of the blacks who appear before you who are ignorant of the law'"). Nearly all of Plaintiff's "objections" lack the specificity needed to make a de novo determination. In light of his pro se status, however, the Court will address the arguments raised.

Plaintiff argues that Magistrate Judge Baxter improperly considered disputed facts in rendering his recommendation. See Dkt. No. 211 at 3. Having reviewed the Report-Recommendation, the Court finds that Magistrate Judge Baxter correctly relied only on undisputed facts in rendering his determination or construed any disputed facts in Plaintiff's favor in finding that Plaintiff's allegations were insufficient as a matter of law to support his claims. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 210 at 39 (finding that "neither the action allegedly taken by defendant Ready, nor the action allegedly taken by defendant Ellis rises to the level of an adverse action' under the case law"). Further, contrary to Plaintiff's allegations, Defendants' motion for summary judgment was properly supported by the record, including affidavits and deposition transcripts.

Finally, contrary to Plaintiff's assertions, Magistrate Judge Baxter correctly determined that Defendant Boll was not personally involved in the alleged conduct. The letter to which Plaintiff refers clearly establishes that Defendant Boll did not conduct an investigation into the underlying subject of Plaintiff's grievance, but was merely conducting an "investigation" into the status of Plaintiff's grievance and a reminder that the "Inmate Grievance Program was instituted to handle issues such as yours." Dkt. No. 202-6 at Exhibit "A." Defendant Boll then stated that "[t]he CORC will conduct a thorough investigation to assure that your rights are observed and your issues are addressed. If any corrective action is needed, you will be notified. As your appeal to the CORC is pending, it is recommended that you await the decision." Id. Magistrate Judge Baxter correctly determined that Defendant Boll's response to Plaintiff was insufficient to establish her personal involvement. See Rivera v. Fischer, 655 F.Supp.2d 235, 238 (W.D.N.Y. 2009).

The Court has thoroughly reviewed the parties' submissions and Magistrate Judge Baxter's comprehensive Report-Recommendation and finds that Magistrate Judge Baxter correctly recommended that the Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismiss this case.

III. CONCLUSION

After carefully reviewing Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report-Recommendation, the parties' submissions and the applicable law, and for the reasons stated herein, the Court hereby

ORDERS that Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 210) is ADOPTED in its entirety for the reasons stated therein; and the Court further

ORDERS that Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 202) is GRANTED; and the Court further

ORDERS that the Clerk of the Court shall enter judgment in Defendants' favor and close this case; and the Court further

ORDERS that the Clerk of the Court shall serve a copy of this Memorandum-Decision and Order on all parties in accordance with the Local Rules.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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