United States District Court, N.D. New York
Charles McAllister, Westbury, New York, Plaintiff Pro Se.
ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, New York, KEITH J. STARLIN, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Attorney for Defendant.
REPORT-RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER
CHRISTIAN F. HUMMEL, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff pro se Charles McAllister ("McAllister), a former inmate who was, at all relevant times, in the custody of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"),  brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendant Harold Call ("Call"), Vocational Supervisor, Mohawk Correctional Facility ("Mohawk"), violated his constitutional rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Am. Compl. (Dkt. No. 64) ¶¶33, 34; 4. McAllister initially commenced this civil rights action against defendants Brian Fischer, Lucien J. LeClaire, Patricia LeConey, Carol Woughter, and John and Jane Does. Defendants moved for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 49. By report and recommendation dated July 6, 2012, (1) all claims against identified defendants were dismissed; and (2) defendant was directed to join Call, who was identified in the motion papers as a John Doe defendant. Dkt. No. 55; Dkt. No. 58. The report and recommendation was accepted in its entirety, and McAllister was directed to file an amended complaint to "include only one cause of action - a procedural due process claim in connection with his disciplinary hearing - and one Defendant - hearing officer Call." Dkt. No. 58 at 4. McAllister thereafter filed his amended complaint wherein he requested punitive and compensatory damages. Am. Compl. at 4. Presently pending is Call's motion for summary judgment on the amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Dkt. No. 74. McAllister did not respond. For the following reasons, it is recommended that Call's motion be granted in part and denied in part.
I. Failure to Respond
The Court notified McAllister of the response deadline and extended the deadline for his opposition papers on two occasions. Dkt. No. 75; Dkt. No. 77; Dkt. No. 80. Call also provided notice of the consequence of failing to respond to the motion for summary judgment in his motion papers. Dkt. No. 74-1. Despite these notices and extensions, McAllister did not respond.
Summary judgment should not be entered by default against a pro se plaintiff who has not been given any notice that failure to respond will be deemed a default." Champion v. Artuz, 76 F.3d 483, 486 (2d Cir. 1996). Thus, "[t]he fact that there has been no response to a summary judgment motion does not... mean that the motion is to be granted automatically." Id. at 486. Even in the absence of a response, defendants are entitled to judgment only if the material facts demonstrate their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Id.; FED. R. Cm P. 56 (c). "A verified complaint is to be treated as an affidavit... and therefore will be considered in determining whether material issues of fact exist...." Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted); see also Patterson v. Cnty. of Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004) (same). The facts set forth in defendant's Rule 7.1 Statement of Material Facts (Dkt. No. 74-2) are accepted as true as to those facts that are not disputed in McAllister's amended complaint. N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1 (a) (3) ("The Court shall deem admitted any properly supported facts set forth in the Statement of Facts that the opposing party does not specifically controvert.").
The facts are reviewed in the light most favorable to McAllister as the non-moving party. See subsection III (A) infra. At all relevant times, McAllister was an inmate at Mohawk. Am. Compl. ¶ 3.
On or about July 15, 2009, nonparty Correction Officer Femia, pursuant to authorization from nonparty Captain Dauphin, searched McAllister's personal property while McAllister was confined in a secure housing unit ("SHU"). Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 14; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6. Femia confiscated approximately twenty documents from McAllister's locker, including five affidavits that were signed by other inmates. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 14. As a result of the search, Femia issued McAllister a Tier III misbehavior report, alleging violations of prison rules 113.15 (unauthorized exchange) and 180.17 (unauthorized assistance). Id.; Am. Compl. ¶ 7.
McAllister was assigned as his inmate assistant nonparty Correction Officer A. Sullivan. Am. Compl. ¶ 7; Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 11. McAllister requested five inmate witnesses, documents, prison directives 4933 and 4982, and a facility rule book. Am. Compl. ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 11. He also asked Sullivan for permission to retrieve documents from his personal property. Id. The requested witnesses were those inmates whose signatures were affixed to the five confiscated affidavits. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 14. Sullivan retrieved the requested materials, and all inmate witnesses agreed to testify. Id. at 11.
On or about July 21, 2009, a Tier III disciplinary hearing was held before Call, who served as the hearing officer. Am. Compl. ¶ 10. McAllister pleaded not guilty to both alleged violations. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 38. McAllister objected to the misbehavior report as violative of prison directive 4932 because the copy he was given (1) provided insufficient notice of the charges against him and (2) differed from the report that Call read into the record. Id. at 39-41. McAllister stated that his copy did not list the names of the inmates to whom the confiscated affidavits allegedly belonged. Id. Call acknowledged the difference between the reports but concluded that the misbehavior report informed McAllister of the charges against him and the bases for the charges. Id. at 39, 41-42. McAllister also argued that his copy of the misbehavior report referred to confiscation of twenty documents from his cell, but did not identify the papers that were taken. Id. at 42. He contended that the misbehavior report's general reference to "legal work" was insufficient to provide him with notice of the documents to which the report was referring because he had several volumes of legal work. Id. at 42, 59. In response to this objection, Call recited the body of the misbehavior report, which described the confiscated documents as "[a]rticles of paper which appear to be legal work including some signed affidavits" and asked McAllister, "[t]hat didn't ring a bell for you? How much paperwork did you have that fit that description?" Id. at 42. Call also expressed his belief that the affidavits qualified as legal work. Id. at 45, 57-58.
McAllister next argued that he did not provide unauthorized legal assistance to another inmate in violation of rule 180.17 because the inmate affidavits were used as evidence to prove that the Division of Parole had a "practice" of "fail[ing] to respond to appeals over the last four years...." Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A at 45-49, 56. These inmates were aware that their affidavits were created for, and to be used solely in support of, McAllister's case and that they were receiving no legal benefit. Id. at 48-49. McAllister further contended that he did not need permission from prison personnel to collect the affidavits. Id. at 64.
McAllister also argued that rule 113.15 is ambiguous because it does not list the specific items which, if found in an inmate's possession, would violate the rule. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 54. Finally, to the extent it can be determined from the hearing transcript, McAllister objected to the SHU procedures for handling his personal property. Id. at 70.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Call informed McAllister that he would be considering testimony from a confidential witness. Dkt. No. 73-3, Exh. A, at 13, 38, 73. McAllister objected to consideration of confidential testimony without being informed of the contents. Id. at 74. Finally, McAllister declined to call the inmates that he had requested as witnesses. Id. at 37, 71.
Call found McAllister guilty of violating prison rules 113.15 and 180.17. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 8-9, 76. He imposed a penalty of three months in SHU and three months loss of privileges. Id. at 8. Call relied upon the misbehavior report, the confidential testimony, the packet of legal work containing the other inmates' affidavits, and McAllister's testimony and statements. Id. at 9.
The disciplinary determination was reversed upon administrative appeal on the ground that the evidence failed to support a finding of guilt. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. B, at 79; Exh. C, at 81. In May 2010, McAllister commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
McAllister argues that Call violated his rights under (1) the First Amendment, by (a) retaliating against him by finding him guilty and (b) hindering his access to the courts; (2) the Eighth Amendment, by imposing a three-month SHU assignment, plus ten additional days following reversal of the disciplinary hearing; and (3) the Fourteenth Amendment, because (a) he was given insufficient notice of the charges against him, (b) he was denied advance notice of the use of a confidential witness, (c) he was forced to spend approximately fifty-two days in SHU as a result of the misbehavior report, (d) Call failed to follow certain DOCCS directives and prison regulations, (e) Call demonstrated bias against him during the Tier III hearing and prejudged his guilt, and (f) he was denied equal protection.
A. Legal Standard
A motion for summary judgment may be granted if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, it was supported by affidavits or other suitable evidence, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The moving party has the burden to show the absence of disputed material facts by providing the court with portions of pleadings, depositions, and affidavits which support the motion. FED. R. Cm P. 56 (c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Facts are material if they may affect the outcome of the case as determined by substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All ambiguities are resolved and all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Skubel v. Fuoroli, 113 F.3d 330, 334 (2d Cir. 1997).
The party opposing the motion must set forth facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, and must do more than show that there is some doubt or speculation as to the true nature of the facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). For a court to grant a motion for summary judgment, it must be apparent that no rational finder of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. Partnership, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d Cir. 1994); Graham v. Lewinski, 848 F.2d 342, 344 (2d Cir. 1988).
Where, as here, a party seeks judgment against a pro se litigant, a court must afford the non-movant special solicitude. See Triestman v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2006). As the Second Circuit has stated,
[t]here are many cases in which we have said that a pro se litigant is entitled to "special solicitude, "... that a pro se litigant's submissions must be construed "liberally, "... and that such submissions must be read to raise the strongest arguments that they "suggest, ".... At the same time, our cases have also indicated that we cannot read into pro se submissions claims that are not "consistent" with the pro se litigant's allegations, ... or arguments that the submissions themselves do not "suggest, "... that we should not "excuse frivolous or vexatious filings by pro se litigants, "... and that pro se status "does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law....
Id. (citations and footnote omitted); see also Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191-92 (2d Cir. 2008).
B. Eleventh Amendment
Call argues that he is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity relating to McAllister's claims for money damages against him in his official capacity. The Eleventh Amendment provides that "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. CONST. AMEND. XI. "[D]espite the limited terms of the Eleventh Amendment, a federal court [cannot] entertain a suit brought by a citizen against his [or her] own State." Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98 (1984) (citing Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 21 (1890)). Regardless of the nature of the relief sought, in the absence of the State's consent or waiver of immunity, a suit against the State or one of its agencies or departments is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment. Halderman, 465 U.S. at 100. Section 1983 claims do not abrogate the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the states. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 340-41 (1979).
A suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is a suit against the entity that employs the official. Farid v. Smith, 850 F.2d 917, 921 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974)). "Thus, while an award of damages against an official in his personal capacity can be executed only against the official's personal assets, a plaintiff seeking to recover on a damages judgment in an official-capacity suit must look to the government entity itself, " rendering the latter suit for money damages barred even though asserted against the individual officer. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Here, because McAllister seeks monetary damages against Call for acts occurring within the scope of his duties, the Eleventh Amendment bar applies.
Accordingly, it is recommended that Call's motion on this ground be granted.
C. Personal Involvement
"[P]ersonal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983." Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d 880, 885 (2d Cir. 1991)). Thus, supervisory officials may not be held liable merely because they held a position of authority. Id.; Black v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 72, 74 (2d Cir. 1996). However, supervisory personnel may be considered personally involved if:
(1) [T]he defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation;
(2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong;
(3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom;
(4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts; or
(5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.
Colon, 58 F.3d at 873 (citing Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323-24 (2d Cir. 1986)). Assertions of personal involvement that are merely speculative are insufficient to establish a triable issue of fact. See e.g., Brown v. Artus, 647 F.Supp.2d 190, 200 (N.D.N.Y. 2009).
As to any constitutional claims beyond those surrounding the denial of due process at the Tier III hearing, the undersigned notes that evaluation of such is unnecessary as it is outside of the scope set forth in this Court's prior order. Dkt. No. 58 at 4. However, to the extent that Call acknowledges these claims and provides additional and alternative avenues for dismissal, McAllister fails to sufficiently allege Call's personal involvement in impeding his access to the courts, in violation of the First Amendment. McAllister argues that, as a result of Call's determination that he violated rules 113.15 and 180.17, his legal paperwork was confiscated, which impaired his ability to continue to represent himself in pending state and federal court claims. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38-40. However, McAllister does not suggest that Call was personally involved in either the search and confiscation of paperwork that led to the filing of the misbehavior report nor the subsequent reduction in his paperwork pursuant to directive 4913. To the contrary, McAllister concedes that the paperwork was reduced pursuant to the directive.
McAllister also fails to sufficiently allege Call's personal involvement in the SHU procedures for storing property or in holding him in SHU for ten additional days following the reversal of the Tier III determination. Call stated that hr had no involvment with the storage of property in SHU. Dkt. No. 74-3, at 5. Call also contended that he "was not responsible for plaintiff's being held in SHU for additional days following the August 26, 2009 reversal of the disciplinary hearing decision of July 22, 2009." Id. McAllister does not allege Call's involvement in this delay. McAllister's sole reference to the ten-day delay is his claim that he "was not released from Special Housing until September 4, 2009, approximately 10 days after the reversal" Am. Compl. ¶ 43. This conclusory statement is insufficient to demonstrate Call's personal involvement in an extension of his time in SHU following the reversal of the Tier III determination. Brown, 647 F.Supp.2d at 200.
Accordingly, it is recommended that Call's motion be granted insofar as McAllister alleges that Call: denied him access to the courts in violation of the First Amendment, was at all involved with the storage of his property while he was in SHU, and caused him to be held an additional ten days in SHU following administrative reversal of the Tier III determination.
D. First Amendment
McAllister appears to argue that, in retaliation for his filing of grievances and lawsuits, Call found him guilty of the misconduct in the Tier III hearing and imposed SHU time. He suggests that his transfer to SHU, as a result of the Tier III determination, triggered enforcement of his compliance with directive 4913, which impeded his ability to proceed with active legal matters and resulted in dismissals. Am. Compl. ¶ 41. Thus, McAllister also argues that he was denied access to the courts. Am. Compl. 1138. As a preliminary matter, McAllister's First Amendment retaliation and access claims are beyond the scope of the prior order of this Court directing McAllister to limit his amended complaint "include only one cause of action - a procedural due process claim in connection with his disciplinary hearing." Dkt. No. 58, at 4. Regardless, McAllister fails to plausibly allege either retaliation or denial of access to the courts.
Courts are to "approach [First Amendment] retaliation claims by prisoners with skepticism and particular care." See e.g., Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 352 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds la Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, NA, 534 U.S. 506 (2002)). A retaliation claim under section 1983 may not be conclusory and must have some basis in specific facts that are not inherently implausible on their face. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678; South Cherry St., LLC v. Hennessee Group LLC, 573 F.3d 98, 110 (2d Cir. 2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must show "(1) that the speech or conduct at issue was protected, (2) that the defendant took adverse action against the plaintiff, and (3) that there was a causal connection between the protected speech and the adverse action." Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 492 (2d Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds by Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002); Taylor v. Fischer, 841 F.Supp.2d 734, 737 (W.D.N.Y. 2012). If the plaintiff meets this burden, the defendants must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they would have taken the adverse action against the plaintiff "even in the absence of the protected conduct." Mount Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977). "Types of circumstantial evidence that can show a causal connection between the protected conduct and the alleged retaliation include temporal proximity, prior good discipline, finding of not guilty at the disciplinary hearing, and statements by defendants as to their motives." See Barclay v. New York, 477 F.Supp.2d 546, 588 (N.D.N.Y. 2007).
Here, McAllister baldly states that Call's disciplinary determination was imposed in retaliation for his filing of grievances and lawsuits; however, McAllister does not identify these grievances and lawsuits nor does he claim that any of these were lodged against Call. See generally Ciaprazi v. Goord, No. 02-CV-915, 2005 WL 3531464, at *9 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 22, 2005) (dismissing the plaintiff's claim of retaliation where the plaintiff could "point to no complaints lodged by him against or implicating the conduct of [the] defendant... who issued the disputed misbehavior report."). McAllister also provides no time frame for the apparent grievance and lawsuits. Thus, it cannot be discerned whether or how these unnamed grievances and lawsuits were a "motivating factor" in Call's Tier III determination. Doyle, 429 U.S. at 287 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). McAllister's unsupported, conclusory claim fails to plausibly demonstrate that Call's determination was a product of retaliatory animus.
Undoubtedly, prisoners have a constitutional right to meaningful access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824 (1977); Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996) ("The right that Bounds acknowledged was the (already well-established) right of access to the courts."). This right is implicated when prison officials "actively interfer[e] with inmates' attempts to prepare legal documents or file them." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350 (internal citations omitted). To establish a denial of access to the courts claim, a plaintiff must satisfy two prongs. First, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted deliberately and maliciously. Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003). Second, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he suffered an actual injury. Id.; Monsky v. Moraghan, 123 F.3d 243, 247 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal citations, quotation marks, and alterations omitted) (quoting Lewis, 518 U.S. at 329) ("In order to establish a violation of access to courts, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a defendant caused actual injury, i.e., took or was responsible for actions that hindered a plaintiff's effort to pursue a legal claim"). Thus, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant was "responsible for actions that hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim." Davis, 320 F.3d at 351 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Here, there is insufficient evidence to give rise to a genuine dispute of fact regarding either element of a denial of court access claim. As noted, McAllister merely states that, as a result of the property reduction pursuant to directive 4913, his "ability to continue litigation in Federal and State court caused adverse decisions by the court and dismissals." Am. Compl. ¶ 41. This claim is insufficient to demonstrate that Call was responsible for actions that hindered his legal claims. Insofar as McAllister's claim could be read to suggest that Call denied him access to the courts by confiscating his legal documents, as noted supra, McAllister fails to present any plausible facts to support a finding that Call was involved in the initial search of his property or in the later reduction of his property or that it was maliciously imposed by Call. As noted, the initial cell search which led to the misbehavior report was ordered by Captain Dauphin and executed by Correction Officer Femia. Similarly, McAllister concedes that his property was reduced pursuant to directive 4913. Although McAllister suggests that his transfer to SHU as a result of the Tier III hearing triggered the application of directive 4913, he was transferred to SHU on July 9, six days before the initial cell search occurred. Id. ¶ 5. Thus, if McAllister were forced to comply with directive 4913 because of his transfer to SHU, he failed to demonstrate that the compliance arose from the SHU term ordered by Call rather than the unknown incident that resulted in his transfer to SHU on July 9. Further, McAllister failed to establish any actual injury because he did not specify which cases were allegedly dismissed as a result of the property reduction. See Monsky, 123 F.3d at 247.
Accordingly, it is recommended that Call's motion for summary judgment be granted on this ground.
E. Eighth Amendment
In his amended complaint, McAllister references the Eighth Amendment. Am. Compl. ¶ 31. However, McAllister's only reference to the Eighth Amendment is his assertion that Call's use of a confidential witness violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. However, in support of this argument, McAllister states only that this right was violated when Call stated, "[s]o, um there is a lot of stuff going on through my paperwork and I want to bring it to your attention before we move on..." Id. ¶ 33; Dkt. No. 74-3, at 73. When read in context, it becomes clear that Call made this statement immediately before informing McAllister of his consideration of confidential information. Dkt. No. 73-3, at 73. Although, in referencing this portion of the hearing transcript McAllister alleges that he was subject to cruel and unusual punishment, it appears that McAllister intended to assert that the use of a confidential witness was a due process violation. Even if McAllister had intended to argue that use of a confidential witness violates the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, such a claim would necessarily fail because the Eighth Amendment protects an inmate's right to be free from conditions of confinement that impose an excessive risk to an inmate's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 & 837 (1994). As McAllister makes no claim that he faced conditions of confinement imposing a risk to his health or safety and instead focuses his argument on notice of a confidential witness, giving McAllister due solicitude, his claim regarding the use of a confidential witness will be incorporated as part of the due process analysis below.
F. Fourteenth Amendment
1. Due Process
Well-settled law provides that inmates retain due process rights in prison disciplinary hearings." Hanrahan v. Doling, 331 F.3d 93, 97 (2d Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (citing cases). However, inmates do not enjoy "the full panoply of rights" accorded to a defendant in a criminal prosecution. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). For a plaintiff to state a claim that he was denied due process at a disciplinary hearing, the plaintiff "must establish (1) that he possessed a liberty interest and (2) that the defendant(s) deprived him of that interest as a result of insufficient process." Ortiz v. McBride, 380 F.3d 649, 654 (2d Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (quoting Giano v. Selsky, 238 F.3d 223, 225 (2d Cir. 2001)). To satisfy the first prong, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the deprivation of which he complains is an "atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). "A liberty interest may arise from the Constitution itself, ... or it may arise from an expectation or interest created by state laws or policies." Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005) (citations omitted).
a. Denial of Liberty Interest
In assessing whether an inmate plaintiff was denied procedural due process, the court must first decide whether the plaintiff has a protected liberty interest in freedom from SHU confinement. Bedoya v. Coughlin, 91 F.3d 349, 351 (2d Cir.1996). If the plaintiff demonstrates the existence of a protected liberty interest, the court is then to determine whether the deprivation of this interest "occurred without due process of law." ki at 351, citing Kentucky Dept. of Corr. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460-61 (1989). Due process generally requires that a state afford an individual "some kind of hearing" prior to depriving them of a liberty or property interest. DiBlasio v. Novello, 344 F.3d 292, 302 (2d Cir. 2003). Although not dispositive, duration of disciplinary confinement is a significant factor in determining atypicality. Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 231 (2d Cir. 2000); Blackshear v. Woodward, No. 13-CV-1165, 2014 WL 2967752 (N.D.N.Y. July 1, 2014).
McAllister suggests that his confinement in SHU for forty-two to fifty-two days is a sufficient deprivation that requires procedural protections. Freedom from SHU confinement may give rise to due process protections; however, the plaintiff must allege that the deprivation imposed "an atypical and significant hardship." Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484; Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 162 (2d Cir. 2001) (concluding that SHU confinement does not give rise to due process protections where inmate failed to demonstrate atypical hardship while confined). Although the Second Circuit has cautioned that "there is no bright-line rule regarding the length or type of sanction" that meets the Sandin standard ( Jenkins v. Haubert, 179 F.3d 19, 28 (2d Cir.1999)), it has made clear that confinement in SHU for a period of one year constitutes atypical and significant restraint on inmates, deserving due process protections. See e.g. Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 23 (2d Cir. 2000) (holding confinement in SHU exceeding 305 days was atypical); Sealey v. Giltner, 197 F.3d 578, 589 (2d Cir.1999) (concluding confinement for fewer than 101 days in SHU, plus unpleasant but not atypical conditions, insufficient to raise constitutional claim). Although the Second Circuit has generally held that confinement in SHU for 101 or fewer days without additional indicia of atypical conditions generally does not confer a liberty interest ( Smart v. Goord, 441 F.Supp.2d 631, 641 (2d Cir. 2006)), it has "explicitly noted that SHU confinements of fewer than 101 days could constitute atypical and significant hardships if the conditions were more severe than the normal SHU conditions of Sealey or a more fully developed record showed that even relatively brief confinements under normal SHU conditions were, in fact, atypical." Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 65 (2d. Cir. 2004) (citing, inter alia, Ortiz, 323 F.3d at 195, n. 1).
The undersigned notes that it is unclear what portion of McAllister's relatively brief time in SHU is attributable to the Tier III determination, because it appears that McAllister was already in SHU when the instant disciplinary report was filed. Am. Comp. ¶ 5; Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 14. The undersigned also notes that there is no indication that McAllister endured unusual SHU conditions. The only reference McAllister makes to his time in SHU is that, upon his transfer to SHU, several bags of his paperwork were confiscated pursuant to directive 4913. Id. ¶ 37. However, review of directive 4913 reveals that the personal and legal property limit set forth in directive 4913 applies to the general prison population and inmates in other forms of segregated confinement. Dkt. No. 49-2, at 5-19. Thus, the fact that McAllister was forced to comply with directive 4913 does not indicate that he was subjected to conditions more severe than the normal SHU conditions or conditions imposed on the general prison population. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A, at 14.
Although the record is largely absent of detail of the conditions McAllister faced in SHU, there is also nothing in the record comparing the time McAllister was assigned and spent in disciplinary confinement with the deprivations endured by other prisoners "in the ordinary course of prison administration, " which includes inmates in administrative segregation and the general prison population. Welch v. Bartlett, 196 F.3d 389, 394 (2d Cir. 1999) (holding that, after Sandin, "the relevant comparison concerning duration is between the period of deprivation endured by the plaintiff and periods of comparable deprivation typically endured by other prisoners in the ordinary course of prison administration, including general population prisoners and those in various forms of administrative and protective custody"). Because "[t]he record does not reveal whether it is typical for inmates not being disciplined to spend similar periods of time in similar circumstances, " Call's motion for summary judgment should be denied. Id. at 394 (citing Brooks v. DiFasi, 112 F.3d 46, 49 (2d Cir. 1997)).
Accordingly, it is recommended that defendant's motion for summary judgment on this ground be denied.
b. Procedural Due Process
Assuming a liberty interest exists, it must be determined whether McAllister was denied due process at his Tier III hearing. Where disciplinary hearings could result in SHU confinement or loss of good time credit, "[i]nmates are entitled to advance written notice of the charges; a fair and impartial hearing officer; a reasonable opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence; and a written statement of the disposition, including supporting facts and reasons for the action taken." Luna v. Pico, 356 F.3d 481, 487 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Kalwasinski v. Morse, 201 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir.1999)); see also Wolff, 418 U.S. at 556; Sira v. Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 59 (2d Cir. 2004).
McAllister first appears to argue that he was denied procedural due process because the misbehavior report (1) violated unnamed DOCCS rules, regulations, and procedures, and (2) failed to provide him with adequate notice of the charges against him because it did not list the five inmates whose affidavits were confiscated and, thus, impacted his ability to prepare a defense to the charges. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-13, 16-17. Although inmates are entitled to advance written notice of the charges, "[t]his is not to suggest that the Constitution demands notice that painstakingly details all facts relevant to the date, place, and manner of charged inmate misconduct...." Sira, 380 F.3d at 72 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Wolff, 418 U.S. at 564). "[T]here must be sufficient factual specificity to permit a reasonable person to understand what conduct is at issue so that he may identify relevant evidence and present a defense." Id.
First, to the extent that McAllister's argues that the differing disciplinary reports violated unspecified DOCCS rules, regulations, and procedures (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-13), this claim must fail. A section 1983 claim is not the "appropriate forum" in which to seek review of a violation of a prison regulation. Rivera v. Wohlrab, 232 F.Supp.2d 117, 123 (S.D.N.Y. 2002)("a § 1983 claim brought in federal court is not the appropriate forum to urge violations of prison regulation or state law... the allegations asserted must constitute violations of constitutional due process standards."). Next, McAllister fails to plausibly allege the existence of a question of fact whether the difference between the misbehavior reports deprived him of the ability to identify relevant evidence so that he could prepare a defense. Although McAllister's copy of the report was missing the names of the inmates whose affidavits were confiscated, it informed McAllister of the date, time, and location of the alleged violations; the rules alleged to have been violated; and a description of the documents that were confiscated. Johnson v. Goord, 305 Fed.Appx. 815, 817 (2d Cir. 2009) (concluding where the inmate's copy of misbehavior report included details of alleged violation and charges against him, a sentence missing from the inmate's copy of report did not violate the inmate's due process rights). It is clear that the discrepancy between the misbehavior reports did not affect McAllister's ability to prepare and present a defense. Prior to the hearing, McAllister requested as witnesses the five inmates whose affidavits were found during the property search. Indeed, the record demonstrates that McAllister was able to both identify the documents referenced in the misbehavior report and address them at the hearing. Dkt. No. 74-3, Exh. A at 45, 47-48.
Thus, because he received sufficient notice of the charges against him and was able to prepare and present a defense on his behalf, McAllister fails to raise a question of fact as to whether he was denied sufficient notice of the charges against him.
ii. Hearing Officer Bias/Pre-determination of Guilt
McAllister also contends that his procedural due process rights were violated because Call was biased against him and prejudged his guilt. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees inmates the right to the appointment of an unbiased hearing officer to address a disciplinary charge. Allen v. Cuomo, 100 F.3d 253, 259 (2d Cir. 1996). An impartial hearing officer "does not prejudge the evidence" and is not to say "how he would assess evidence he has not yet seen." Patterson v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 564, 570 (2d Cir.1990); see also Francis v. Coughlin, 891 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1989) ("it would be improper for prison officials to decide the disposition of a case before it was heard"). However, "[i]t is well recognized that prison disciplinary hearing officers are not held to the same standard of neutrality as adjudicators in other contexts." Russell v. Selsky, 35 F.3d 55, 60 (2d Cir.1996). "A hearing officer may satisfy the standard of impartiality if there is some evidence in the record' to support the findings of the hearing." Nelson v. Plumley, No. 9:12-CV-422, 2014 WL 4659327, at *11 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2014) (quoting Allred v. Knowles, No. 06-CV-0456, 2010 WL 3911414, at * 5 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 5, 2010) (quoting Waldpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985)). However, "the mere existence of some evidence' in the record to support a disciplinary determination does not resolve a prisoner's claim that he was denied due process by the presence of a biased hearing officer." See Smith v. United States, No. 09-CV-729, 2012 WL 4491538 at *8 (N.D.N.Y. July 5, 2012).
Prison officials serving as hearing officers "enjoy a rebuttable presumption that they are unbiased." Allen, 100 F.3d at 259. "Claims of a hearing officer bias are common in [inmate section] 1983 claims, and where they are based on purely conclusory allegations, they are routinely dismissed." Washington v. Afify, 968 F.Supp.2d 532, 541 (W.D.N.Y. 2003) (citing cases). "An inmate's own subjective belief that the hearing officer was biased is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact." Johnson v. Fernandez, No. 09-CV-626 (FJS/ATB), 2011 WL 7629513, at *11 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 1, 2011) (citing Francis, 891 F.2d at 46).
McAllister first argues that Call prejudged his guilt. He supports this contention by pointing to moments during the Tier III hearing where Call expressed his belief that McAllister's possession of affidavits signed by other inmates was sufficient to support a violation of prison rules 113.15 and 180.17. Am. Compl., ¶¶ 13, 15, 23-25, 36. Here, however the challenged affidavits were not evidence that Call prejudged because he had the opportunity to review the affidavits and did so at the hearing. Although McAllister disagreed with Call's opinion that possession of such documents would be a per se violation of the rules, Call's assertion of belief in this matter was an opinion he reached following his personal review of this evidence. See Johnson v. Doling, No. 05-CV-376, 2007 WL 3046701, at * 10 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 17, 2007) (holding that where the "[p]laintiff was provided the opportunity to testify, [and] call and question witnesses.... [d]isagreement with rulings made by a hearing officer does not constitute bias"). Thus, it does not appear that Call prejudged this evidence.
To support his claim that Call exhibited bias and partiality against him in the Tier III hearing, McAllister points out that, after he objected to the misbehavior report for failing to provide him sufficient notice of the documents confiscated, Call read the portion of the misbehavior report describing the documents as "[a]rticles of paper which appear to be legal work including some signed affidavits, " and stated "that didn't ring a bell for you?" Id. ¶¶ 19, 32). When read in context, this statement does not establish bias on Call's part, rather it appears to be a genuine question. Though it may be said that Call could have couched this question in a kinder manner, this statement does not demonstrate bias. Moreover, that the Tier III determination was reversed on appeal, without more, is not evidence of bias or other due process violation. Eng v. Therrien, No. 04-CV-1146, 2008 WL 141794, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2008).
Thus, McAllister fails to plausibly allege the existence of question of fact whether Call prejudged his guilt or was otherwise biased in the Tier III hearing.
iii. Failure to Investigate
McAllister next suggests that he was denied procedural due process because Call declined to interview the law library officer. Am. Compl. ¶ 29. Call permitted McAllister to present testimony on his behalf and afforded him the opportunity call witnesses. Had McAllister wished to hear testimony from the law library officer, he could have requested the law library officer as a witness. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 566 (inmates have a right to call witnesses in their defense at disciplinary hearings). That Call found it unnecessary to independently interview the law library officer - especially where McAllister did not demonstrate that his testimony would be relevant - does not result in a denial of due process because "[t]here is no requirement... that a hearing officer assigned to preside over a disciplinary hearing conduct an independent investigation; that is simply not the role of a hearing officer." Robinson v. Brown, No. 9:11-CV-0758, 2012 WL 6799725, *5 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 1, 2012).
Accordingly, McAllister fails plausibly raise a due process violation based on Call's alleged failure to investigate.
iv. Confidential Witness
To the extent it can be discerned, McAllister contends that he was denied due process because Call relied on confidential witness testimony, yet failed to provide him with advance notice of the confidential witness and refused to inform him of his or her identity or the nature of the testimony. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-34. The Second Circuit has held that a hearing officer must perform an independent assessment of a confidential informant's credibility for such testimony to be considered reliable evidence of an inmate's guilt. Sira, 380 F.3d at 78 (noting that, "when sound discretion forecloses confrontation and cross-examination, the need for the hearing officer to conduct an independent assessment of informant credibility to ensure fairness to the accused inmate is heightened.").
Here, the record provides no indication that Call independently assessed the credibility and reliability of the confidential witness. The confidential witness form merely states that Call "was provided confidential information relating to the misbehavior report." Dkt. No. 74-3, at 13. Similarly, Call does not provide whether or how he performed an assessment of the witness's credibility. Id. at 4. Therefore, there exist questions of fact whether Call deprived McAllister of due process by relying on this testimony without an independent assessment of the witness's credibility.
To the extent that McAllister argues that he was denied due process by Call's decision to refuse to disclose the content of the confidential witness's testimony, the law in this circuit provides that where a prison official decides to keep certain witness testimony confidential, he or she "must offer a reasonable justification for their actions, if not contemporaneously, then when challenged in a court action." Sira, 380 F.3d at 75 (citing Ponte v. Real, 471 U.S. 491, 498 (1985)). Although "[c]ourts will not readily second guess the judgment of prison officials with respect to such matters... the discretion to withhold evidence is not unreviewable...." Id. (citations omitted). Here, Call failed to provide his rationale for refraining to share the substance of this testimony, stating merely that McAllister could not be told the substance of the testimony because "it is by definition it is... confidential." Dkt. No. 74-3, at 74. As Call presented no reason to justify withholding the identity or substance of the confidential witness's testimony, McAllister presents a viable due process claim based on the nondisclosure of this evidence. Sira, 380 F.3d at 76.
Accordingly, Call's motion for summary judgment should be denied on this ground.
v. Some Evidence
"Once a court has decided that the procedural due process requirements have been met, its function is to determine whether there is some evidence which supports the decision of the [hearing officer]." Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 954 (2d Cir. 1986) (citations omitted). In considering whether a disciplinary determination is supported by some evidence of guilt, "the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record [before the disciplinary board] that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board." Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-56 (1985) (citations omitted); Sira, 380 F.3d at 69. The Second Circuit has interpreted the "some evidence" standard to require "reliable evidence" of guilt. Luna, 356 F.3d at 488.
In making his determination, Call relied upon McAllister's testimony and statements, testimony of a confidential witness, the misbehavior report, and the legal documents confiscated during the property search. Dkt. No. 74-3, at 4. As noted, based on the record provided, Call did not perform an independent assessment of the witness's credibility. Thus, Call's reliance on confidential testimony would be insufficient to support a finding of guilt. Taylor v. Rodriguez, 238 F.3d 188, 194 (2d Cir. 2001) (determining that reliance on confidential informant's testimony insufficient to provide "some evidence" of guilt where there was no independent examination of indicia relevant to informant's credibility). The remaining evidence relied upon - McAllister's testimony, the misbehavior report, and the affidavits - does not constitute some evidence of guilt, as required by the Due Process clause.
The affidavits alone do not constitute some evidence of guilt because mere possession of affidavits signed by other inmates would not violate prison rules 113.15 and 180.17 were it true that these documents were McAllister's property and drafted solely for his benefit. Similarly, although a written misbehavior report may serve as some evidence of guilt, such is the case where the misbehavior report charges the plaintiff for behavior that the author of the misbehavior report personally witnessed. Creech v. Schoellkoph, 688 F.Supp.2d 205, 214 (W.D.N.Y. 2010) (citations omitted) (misbehavior report drafted by officer who personally observed plaintiff possess and transfer pieces of sharpened metal to another inmate constituted some evidence of guilt). In this case, where a determination of guilt would appear to turn on knowledge of the ownership of the documents and an understanding of the circumstances under which the papers were drafted, a misbehavior report which merely states that papers appearing to be legal work signed by other inmates were found in McAllister's property, it does not establish a per se violation of rules 113.15 and 180.17. See Hayes v. Coughlin, No. 87 CIV. 7401, 1996 WL 453071, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 12, 1996) ("if a misbehavior report can serve as some evidence' for a hearing decision and thereby insulate a hearing from review, there would be little point in having a hearing"); see also Williams v. Dubray, No. 09-CV-1298, 2011 WL 3236681, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. July 13, 2011) (holding that there were questions of fact whether the determination was based upon some evidence of guilt where the hearing officer relied on misbehavior report that was based on a corrections officer's unsupported accounts, without additional evidence to support its charges). Thus, absent additional evidence that these papers belonged to other inmates or that McAllister drafted the documents for other inmates' use, the fact that the misbehavior report identified these documents as being found in McAllister's secured property does not constitute reliable evidence of guilt.
Finally, McAllister's testimony does not constitute reliable evidence of guilt. In response to the charge of violating rule 113.15, McAllister testified that the affidavits were his property because he drafted them solely as evidence in his personal litigation against the Department of Probation. Similarly, in defense of the charge for violating rule 180.17, McAllister repeatedly testified that he did not provide legal assistance to the inmates in question because the affidavits were written solely to serve as supporting evidence in his personal action, the inmates were aware that they would receive no legal benefit as a result, and he did not receive any compensation from the inmates. Regardless whether Call considered McAllister's testimony to be credible, without some other reliable evidence, such as, perhaps, a statement from one of the other inmates claiming that he signed the affidavit under the belief that McAllister would provide him with legal assistance, McAllister's testimony denying violations of the charged prison rules would not constitute some evidence of guilt.
Accordingly, it is recommended that Call's motion for summary judgment be denied as to McAllister's procedural due process claim.
c. Directive 4913
McAllister further argues that, as a result of the SHU placement, he suffered an unconstitutional deprivation of his legal and personal property because he was required to comply with the limits set forth in directive 4913. This Court has already ruled upon this claim when it was raised at earlier stages. In deciding Call's motion for summary judgment on the McAllister's first complaint, this Court held that the directive did not violate his Fourteenth Amendment rights:
Directive # 4913 was reasonably related to valid institutional goals given DOCCS' responsibility to provide for the health and safety of its staff and inmates and the alternatives provided to inmates in being able to seek exceptions and choose which four or five draft bags of material would remain with them. Moreover, the rules were neutral and reasonably related to the ultimate goals of the facility, security and safety.
McAllister v. Fischer, 2012 WL 7681635, at *12 (N.D.N.Y. July 6, 2012) (Dkt. No. 55, at 22-23), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2013 WL 954961 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 12, 2013) (Dkt. No. 58), appeal dismissed 2d Cir. 13-111 (Jan. 13. 2014). Further, the Court concluded that directive 4913 "did not violate McAllister's Fourteen Amendment rights" and was "reasonably related to valid institutional goals." Dkt. No. 55, at 23-24; Dkt. No. 58. Thus, any such claim is barred by the law of the case. Arizona v. California, 460 U.S. 605, 618 (1983) (citations omitted); see also United States v. Thorn, 446 F.3d 378, 383 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)("The law of the case doctrine counsels against revisiting our prior rulings in subsequent stages of the same case absent cogent and compelling reasons....")); Arizona, 460 U.S. at 618 (citations omitted); Wright v. Cavan, 817 F.2d 999, 1002 n. 3 (2d Cir. 1987) (citations omitted) ("Even when cases are reassigned to a different judge, the law of the case dictates a general practice of refusing to reopen what has been decided.").
Accordingly, it is recommended that defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted on this ground.
2. Equal Protection
McAllister's only reference to an equal protection violation in the amended complaint is his conclusory claim that Call's reference to a confidential witness during the Tier III hearing was in violation of his right to equal protection. Am. Compl. ¶ 31. Further, in this Court's previous order, McAllister's equal protection claim was dismissed for failure to demonstrate, among other things, that he was part of a protected class or that he was treated differently from any similarly-situated inmates. Dkt. No. 58, at 4; Dkt. No. 55, at 24-25. Thus, any such claim would also be barred by the law of the case. Thorn, 446 F.3d at 383. Regardless, McAllister's equal protection claim must also fail for the reasons discussed infra.
To establish an equal protection violation, a plaintiff must show that "he was treated differently than others similarly situated as the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination." Phillips v. Girdich, 408 F.3d 124, 129 (2d Cir. 2005). McAllister has not identified, nor does the record disclose, any basis for a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that he was treated differently from similarly-situated individuals. Rather, plaintiff's only support for his equal protection claim is the following:
Call, throughout the entire disciplinary hearing deprive [sic] plaintiff equal protection when he stated: "This is hearing officer Call, this is 2:21 as I was going through my paperwork I realized something that I wanted to point out to Mr. McAllister."
Defendant Call discriminated against plaintiff when he stated: "I reviewed it this morning the 22' when it was received again is confidential"
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-32. McAllister does not explain how these statements denied him equal protection. McAllister fails to plausibly suggest that he was treated differently from any similarly-situated individuals. Further, even if these statements demonstrate the existence of questions of fact regarding whether McAllister was treated differently from similarly-situated persons, he fails to identify disparity in the conditions "as a result of any purposeful discrimination directed at an identifiable suspect class." See Dolberry v. Jakob, No. 11-CV-1018, 2014 WL 1292225, at *12 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2014).
Accordingly, it is recommended that defendant's motion on this ground should be granted.
G. Qualified Immunity
Call contends that, even if McAllister's claims are substantiated, he is entitled to qualified immunity. The doctrine of qualified immunity is an affirmative defense which "shield[s] an officer from personal liability when an officer reasonably believes that his or her conduct complies with the law." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 244 (2009). Even if a disciplinary disposition is not supported by "some evidence, " prison officials are entitled to qualified immunity if "their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Luna, 356 F.3d at 490 (quoting Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614 (1999)) (internal quotation marks omitted). This assessment is made "in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time it was taken." Wilson, 526 U.S. at 614; Kaminsky v. Rosenblum, 929 F.2d 922, 925 (2d Cir. 1991). To determine whether a state official is entitled to qualified immunity for acts taken during the course of his or her employment, a reviewing court is to determine: "(1) whether plaintiff has shown facts making out violation of a constitutional right; (2) if so, whether that right was clearly established; and (3) even if the right was clearly established, whether it was objectively reasonable for the [official] to believe the conduct at issue was lawful." Phillips v. Wright, 553 Fed.Appx. 16, 17 (2d Cir. 2014) (citing Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 728 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2013)).
First, as discussed, McAllister presented a viable due process claim that the determination was not based on some evidence of guilt because Call (1) relied on confidential witness testimony without making an independent assessment of the witness's credibility and (2) did not otherwise have sufficient reliable evidence to support his finding of guilt. McAllister has also raised issues of fact whether the remaining evidence relied upon - the misbehavior report, McAllister's testimony and statements, and the confiscated legal papers - provided reliable evidence of guilt.
Addressing the second prong of the analysis, there is a clearly-established right to procedural due process protections, including the right to have a disciplinary determination be based on some evidence of guilt. There is also a clearly-established right to an independent assessment of confidential witnesses performed where a hearing officer relies on the witness's testimony ( Vasquez v. Coughlin, 726 F.Supp. 466, 472 (S.D.N.Y.1989) (right clearly established by 1986); see also Sira, 380 F.3d at 80). Further, although there is no bright-line for what suffices as "some evidence" in every prison disciplinary proceeding (Woodard v. Shanley, 505 Fed. Appdx. 55, 57 (2d Cir. 2012)), there were questions of fact surrounding the allegedly reliable evidence demonstrating that McAllister was in possession of other inmates' legal documents or that he provided them with unauthorized legal assistance. Cf. Turner v. Silver, 104 F.3d 354, at *3 (2d Cir. 1996) (some evidence to support determination that the defendant violated rule against unauthorized legal assistance where documentary evidence indicated the plaintiff received payment from other inmates, author of misbehavior report testified regarding an interview with informant who implicated defendant, prison official testified that inmate told her he had been charged for law library services and inmate testified the same). Call both failed to perform an independent assessment of the confidential witness's credibility and provided no explanation for why both the identity of the witness and the substance of his or her testimony could not be disclosed to McAllister. Sira, 380 F.3d at 75 (citing Ponte, 471 U.S. at 498).
Thus, given the state of the law regarding the rights to which an inmate is entitled in his disciplinary hearing, it was not objectively reasonable for Call to have believed that (1) he need not perform an independent assessment of the witness credibility or (2) the misbehavior report, confiscated affidavits, and McAllister's consistent testimony and statements, without more, sufficiently supported a determination that McAllister violated rules 113.15 and 180.17.
Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment should be denied on this ground.
For the reasons stated above, it is hereby RECOMMENDED that defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 74) be
1. GRANTED insofar as:
a. dismissing plaintiff's First Amendment claims;
b. dismissing plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims;
c. dismissing plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of Directive 4913;
d. defendant's Eleventh Amendment immunity defense;
2. DENIED as to:
a. plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claims;
b. defendant's qualified immunity defense.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b) (1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court "within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy of the... recommendation." N.Y.N.D.L.R. 72.1(c) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b) (1) (B)-(C)).
FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir. 1993); Small v. Sec'y of HHS, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); FED. R. Civ. P. 72, 6 (a), 6 (e).
Jeffrey Allred, Queensvillage, NY, pro se.
Kim S. Murphy, N.Y.S. Attorney General's Office, Buffalo, NY, for Defendants.
DECISION AND ORDER
H. KENNETH SCHROEDER, JR., United States Magistrate Judge.
*1 Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the assignment of this case to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. Dkt. # 14.
Plaintiff, Jeffrey Allred, filed this pro se action seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Dkt. # 1. Plaintiff alleges that while an inmate at the Gowanda Correctional Facility ("Gowanda") his rights pursuant to the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution were violated. Id. Currently before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. # 18. For the following reasons, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted and the plaintiff's complaint is dismissed in all respects.
Plaintiff filed this action on July 11, 2006, against defendants, Michael Knowles and Louis Noto, pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983, seeking monetary damages. Id. The action arises from a misbehavior report issued on or about July 27, 2003 by defendant Noto against plaintiff and the resulting Tier III disciplinary hearing conducted by defendant Knowles. Id. Specifically, the complaint alleges the issuance of a false misbehavior report, retaliation and violation of plaintiff's due process rights. Id.
At the time of the events alleged in the complaint, plaintiff was an inmate in the care and custody of the New State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") housed at Gowanda. Dkt. # 1, p. 2; Dkt. # 20, p. 1. Defendant Knowles was a Captain at Gowanda and his duties included, from time to time, conducting inmate disciplinary hearings. Dkt. # 1, pp. 3-4; Dkt. # 21, pp. 1-2. Sergeant Noto was a DOCS Sergeant on plaintiff's housing unit at Gowanda. Dkt. # 1, p. 4; Dkt. # 22, pp. 1-2.
On July 22, 2003, at approximately 8:30 p.m., Correctional Officer Millich discovered several marijuana cigarettes during a search of inmate Meja's cell. Dkt. # 22, p. 3. Consequently, defendant Noto initiated an investigation into the matter. Dkt. # 1, p. 8; Dkt. # 22, p. 3. Defendant Noto maintained that Meja told him that he had purchased the marijuana cigarettes from plaintiff. Dkt. # 22, p. 3. Based on Meja's identification of plaintiff and information allegedly received from confidential informant(s)-who identified plaintiff as a drug dealer and indicated that the sale in question occurred between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. on July 22, 2003 in the prison yard-defendant Noto issued a misbehavior report charging plaintiff with violating Inmate Rule 113.25. Dkt. # 1, pp. 22 and 25; Dkt. # 22, p. 3. Inmate Rule 113.25 provides that "an inmate shall not make, possess, sell or exchange any narcotic, narcotic paraphernalia, controlled substance or marijuana. An inmate shall not conspire with any person to introduce such items into the facility." Dkt. # 22, p. 2; see also 7 NYCRR § 270.2(14)(xv).
On July 28, 2003, a Tier III disciplinary hearing was conducted before defendant Knowles. Dkt. # 1, p. 23; Dkt. # 21, p. 2. At the hearing, plaintiff testified in his own defense that he was at a Nation of Islam ("NOI")/Black studies program during the period of the alleged drug sale in the prison yard. Dkt. # 1, p. 24; Dkt. # 21, p.6. Plaintiff called two other inmates, Ford and Williams, as alibi witnesses. Dkt. # 1, p. 29; Dkt. # 21, p. 7. Ford and Williams attended the NOI/Black studies program with plaintiff, but could not verify the time plaintiff left. Dkt. # 21, pp. 7 and 16. The sign-out sheet for the NOI/Black studies class did not indicate the time plaintiff left, although it indicated that both Ford and Williams left at 7:00 p.m. Id. Plaintiff did not sign back into his housing unit until 8:10 p.m. and no one was able to verify his whereabouts after 7:00 p.m. Dkt. # 21, p. 17. Defendant Knowles interviewed the confidential informant(s) outside the presence of plaintiff and found them to be credible witnesses. Dkt. # 21, pp. 7-8. The confidential informant(s) identified plaintiff as a drug dealer and indicated that the sale of the drugs to Meja occurred between 7:00-8:00 p.m. in the prison yard. Id. Meja also testified at the hearing, and recanted his initial identification of plaintiff as the person who sold him drugs. Dkt. # 1, p. 26; Dkt. # 21, p. 11. When asked by defendant Knowles why he initially told defendant Noto that plaintiff was the individual who sold him drugs, Meja answered that he did so because he wanted defendant Noto to "leave [him] alone." Dkt. # 24, Ex. D, p 5. In response, defendant Knowles asked Meja to confirm, by answering in either the affirmative or the negative, if he initially identified plaintiff as the individual who sold him drugs, to which Meja answered in the affirmative. Id.
*2 On August 3, 2003, at the close of the disciplinary hearing, defendant Knowles entered a guilty finding against plaintiff. Dkt. # 24, Ex. C. Based on the Hearing Disposition Report completed by defendant Knowles, he based his guilt determination on the following evidence: defendant Noto's misbehavior report and his testimony that Meja initially identified plaintiff as the individual who sold Meja drugs in the yard; and the testimony of the confidential informant(s). Id. Defendant Knowles imposed a penalty of 12 months of confinement in special housing unit ("SHU") and a loss of privileges between the period August 22, 2003 and August 22, 2004.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "In reaching this determination, the court must assess whether there are any material factual issues to be tried while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party, and must give extra latitude to a pro se plaintiff." Thomas v. Irvin, 981 F.Supp. 794, 799 (W.D.N.Y.1997) (internal citations omitted). A fact is "material" only if it has some effect on the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see Catanzaro v. Weiden, 140 F.3d 91, 93 (2d Cir.1998). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979 (2d Cir.1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849, 112 S.Ct. 152, 116 L.Ed.2d 117 (1991).
Once the moving party has met its burden of "demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must come forward with enough evidence to support a jury verdict in its favor, and the motion will not be defeated merely upon a metaphysical doubt' concerning the facts, or on the basis of conjecture or surmise." Bryant, 923 F.2d at 982. A party seeking to defeat a motion for summary judgment must do more than make broad factual allegations and invoke the appropriate statute. The non-moving party must also show, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that there are specific factual issues that can only be resolved at trial. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir.1995).
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), affidavits in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment "shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein." Thus, affidavits "must be admissible themselves or must contain evidence that will be presented in an admissible form at trial." Santos v. Murdock, 243 F.3d 681, 683 (2d Cir.2001), citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); see also H. Sand & Co. v. Airtemp Corp., 934 F.2d 450, 454-55 (2d Cir.1991) (hearsay testimony that would not be admissible if testified to at trial may not properly be set forth in an affidavit).
Due Process Claim
*3 Plaintiff alleges that defendants deprived him of his constitutional right to procedural due process. Dkt. # 1, p. 42. This allegation appears to be based on the following: (1) that he was not afforded all of the procedural safeguards set forth in Wolff v. McDonnell  during the Tier III disciplinary hearing; and (2) that defendant Knowles was not an impartial hearing officer.
To prevail on a procedural due process claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that he possessed a protected property or liberty interest and that he was deprived of that interest without being afforded sufficient procedural safeguards. See Tellier v. Fields, 280 F.3d 69, 79-80 (2d Cir.2000) (liberty interest); Hynes v. Squillace, 143 F.3d 653, 658 (2d Cir.1998).
"A prisoner's liberty interest is implicated by prison discipline, such as SHU confinement, only if the discipline 'imposes [an] atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.'" Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 64 (2d Cir.2004) (quoting Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995). In assessing whether the discipline imposed rises to this level, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has directed the district courts to consider both the conditions of confinement and their duration, "since especially harsh conditions endured for a brief interval and somewhat harsh conditions endured for a prolonged interval might both be atypical." Id., quoting Sealey v. Giltner, 197 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir.1999). In light of this standard, the Court of Appeals has "explicitly avoided a bright line rule that a certain period of SHU confinement automatically fails to implicate due process rights" and has "explicitly noted that SHU confinements of fewer than 101 days could constitute atypical and significant hardships if the conditions were more severe than the normal SHU conditions... or a more fully developed record showed that even relatively brief confinements under normal SHU conditions were, in fact, atypical." Palmer, 364 F.3d at 64-65.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, courts in this Circuit "generally require that the duration of confinement be at least 100 days" to be categorized as constituting an "atypical and significant hardship." Palmer v. Goss, No. 02 Civ 5804(HB), 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18103, 2003 WL 22327110 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 10, 2003), aff'd, Palmer, 364 F.3d 60; Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 24 (2d Cir.2003) (vacating dismissal of, inter alia, procedural due process claims, stating, during little more than a 4¼ month period, Sims was sentenced to SHU for a total of nearly 3½ years); Durran v. Selsky, 251 F.Supp.2d 1208, 1214 (W.D.N.Y.2003) (quoting Tookes v. Artuz, No. 00CIV4969, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12540, 2002 WL 1484391 (S.D.N.Y. July 11, 2002)) ("[c]ourts in this Circuit routinely hold that an inmate's confinement in special housing for 101 days or less, absent additional egregious circumstances, does not implicate a liberty interest."); Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 232 (2d Cir.2000) (instructing district courts to develop detailed factual records "in cases challenging SHU confinements of durations within the range bracketed by 101 days and 305 days"). Here, following the Tier III disciplinary hearing, defendant Knowles imposed a penalty of 12 months of confinement in SHU and a loss of privileges between the period August 22, 2003 and August 22, 2004. Thus, there can be no dispute that plaintiff has demonstrated a protected liberty interest. The issue that remains and that which will be addressed below, is whether plaintiff was deprived of that protected liberty interest without due process. Defendants maintain that plaintiff was not. Dkt. # 21, p. 2; Dkt. # 22, p. 7.
*4 In Wolff, the Supreme Court enumerated certain procedural safeguards that must be afforded to an inmate during the course of a prison disciplinary proceeding in order to ensure that the minimum requirements of procedural due process are satisfied. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 563-66. Specifically, the Supreme Court identified the following procedures: advance written notice of the claimed violation or charges; the opportunity for an inmate to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his/her defense, provided that such a process would not jeopardize institutional safety; and a written statement by the fact finder of the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the disciplinary action taken. Id. Additionally, the findings must be supported by some evidence in the record. Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454, 105 S.Ct. 2768, 86 L.Ed.2d 356 (1985).
Here, contrary to plaintiff's contention, he was afforded all of the procedural safeguards set forth in Wolff. Dkt. # 24, p 4-5. Plaintiff was provided with a copy of defendant Noto's misbehavior report before the hearing, giving him advance notice of the charge against him. Dkt. # 1, p. 22; Dkt. # 21, p. 5. Plaintiff had the opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence. Dkt. # 1, pp. 26, 29; Dkt. # 21, pp. 6, 8. Plaintiff was also provided with a written statement of the guilty finding and the evidence relied on for the disposition. Dkt. # 21, p. 12. The guilty disposition was supported by evidence in the form of defendant Noto's notes; defendant Noto's misbehavior report and testimony; and the testimony of the confidential informant(s), particularly because plaintiff's alibi was uncorroborated. Id. at pp. 10-11. Thus, plaintiff's claim that he was deprived of procedural due process fails as a matter of law.
Impartial Hearing Officer
Plaintiff contends, in particular, that his due process rights were violated because defendant Knowles was not an impartial hearing officer. See Dkt. # 1, p. 6-8. Plaintiff points to the following to support his allegation: (1) that defendant Knowles was involved in both the Tier III hearing and in the investigation into plaintiff's drug sale; (2) that defendant Knowles instructed Meja to respond affirmatively at the hearing that plaintiff had sold Meja drugs although Meja testified at the hearing that he did not know plaintiff; and (3) that defendant Knowles rejected his alibi and confused the time of the drug sale at issue. Dkt. # 1, pp. 28, 39; Dkt. # 24, p. 6.
Indeed, as plaintiff correctly contends, "[a]n inmate subject to a disciplinary hearing is entitled to an impartial hearing officer." Allen v. Cuomo, 100 F.3d 253, 259 (2d Cir.1996); see Wolff, 418 U.S. at 570-71; Russell v. Selsky, 35 F.3d 55, 59 (2d Cir.1994). An impartial hearing officer "is one who, inter alia, does not prejudge the evidence and who cannot say... how he would assess evidence he has not yet seen." Patterson v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 564, 569-70 (2d Cir.1990); Francis v. Coughlin, 891 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir.1989) ("it would be improper for prison officials to decide the disposition of a case before it was heard").
*5 It is well recognized, however, "that prison disciplinary hearing officers are not held to the same standard of neutrality as adjudicators in other contexts." Allen, 100 F.3d at 259; see Francis, 891 F.2d at 46 ("Because of the special characteristics of the prison environment, it is permissible for the impartiality of such officials to be encumbered by various conflicts of interest that, in other contexts, would be adjudged of sufficient magnitude to violate due process."). For example, "[t]he degree of impartiality required of prison officials does not rise to the level of that required of judges generally." Allen, 100 F.3d at 259; see Francis, 891 F.2d at 46. A hearing officer may satisfy the standard of impartiality if there is "some evidence in the record" to support the findings of the hearing. Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455, 105 S.Ct. 2768, 86 L.Ed.2d 356 (1985) (emphasis added).
In this case, there is ample evidence to support defendant Knowles' guilty finding: defendant Noto's misbehavior report and his testimony that Meja originally identified plaintiff as the individual who sold him drugs; and the testimony of the confidential informant(s), which was considered outside the presence of plaintiff. Dkt. # 21, pp. 8-9.
Notably, plaintiff's only defense at the Tier III hearing was that he had been at an NOI/Black studies program at the time of the drug sale, which took place allegedly between 7:00-8:00 p.m. Dkt. # 21, p. 7. However, inmates Ford and Williams could not verify plaintiff's alibi defense. Id. Because plaintiff did not sign back into his cell area until 8:10 p.m., defendant Knowles determined that there was ample time for plaintiff to sell the drugs in the yard during the period of his unexplained absence. Dkt. # 21, pp. 7, 16-18.
Plaintiff further contends that defendant Knowles violated his constitutional right to due process by failing to adhere to the state guidelines for conducting prison disciplinary hearings (set forth in Title 7 of the NYCRR §§ 253.1(b), 254.1) because, he alleges, that defendant Knowles conducted the Tier III hearing and was also involved in the investigation of plaintiff's drug sale. Dkt. # 24, p 6.
This argument fails because violations of state law that do not deprive the plaintiff of a right "secured by the Constitution and laws" are insufficient to support a claim under § 1983. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 139-40, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979); Shakur v. Selsky, 391 F.3d 106, 119 (2d Cir.2004); Blouin v. Spitzer, 356 F.3d 348, 362 (2d Cir.2004). State procedural protections do not give rise to substantive federal rights. See Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 249-50, 103 S.Ct. 1741, 75 L.Ed.2d 813 (1983); Holcomb v. Lykens, 337 F.3d 217, 224 (2d Cir.2003) ("[S]tate statutes do not create federally protected due process entitlements to specific state-mandated procedures."). Moreover, "[s]tate procedures designed to protect substantive liberty interests entitled to protection under the federal constitution do not themselves give rise to additional substantive liberty interests." Blouin, 356 F.3d at 363. It is "federal law, not state regulations, [that] determines the procedures necessary to protect that liberty interest." Id. (citing Watson v. City of New York, 92 F.3d 31, 38 (2d Cir.1996)). Therefore, "the only relevant inquiry was whether the constitutional [procedures] were met, not whether state procedures were followed." Shakur, 391 F.3d at 119 (citing Holcomb, 337 F.3d at 224). As set forth above, plaintiff's constitutional rights were not violated during the Tier III hearing. Plaintiff's exclusive reliance on defendants' alleged violations of 7 NYCRR §§ 253.1(b) and 254.1 is insufficient to support his claim under § 1983. See Shakur, 391 F.3d at 119; Holcomb, 337 F.3d at 224; Ramsey v. Goord, 661 F.Supp.2d 370, 391-92 (W.D.N.Y.2009).
*6 Accordingly, since plaintiff received all of the process he was due in the course of the Tier III disciplinary hearing, defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's due process claim is granted.
Plaintiff alleges that, in retaliation for attending a Nation of Islam ("NOI")/Black Studies course and/or for his affiliation therewith, defendant Noto filed a false misbehavior report and gave false testimony and that defendant Knowles found him guilty. Dkt. # 1, p. 43.
"In order to establish a claim of retaliation for the exercise of a constitutional right, plaintiff must show first, that he engaged in constitutionally protected conduct, and second, that the conduct was a substantial motivating factor for adverse action' taken against him by defendants." Bennett v. Goord, 343 F.3d 133, 137 (2d Cir.2003) (citing Gayle v. Gonyea, 313 F.3d 677 (2d Cir.2002); see also Hendricks v. Coughlin, 114 F.3d 390 (2d Cir.1997)). Third, the plaintiff must establish a causal connection between the protected speech and the adverse action. Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379, 380 (2d Cir.2004) (citing Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir.2001), overruled on other grounds, Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002)).
The Second Circuit has defined "adverse action" in the prison context as "retaliatory conduct that would deter a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness from exercising... constitutional rights.'" Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d at 381 (quoting Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 353 (2d Cir.2003), superseded by 2003 U.S.App. LEXIS 13030, 2003 WL 360053 (2d Cir. Feb. 10, 2003)) (omission in the original). This objective test applies even if the plaintiff was not himself subjectively deterred from exercising his rights. Id.
The court must keep in mind that claims of retaliation are "easily fabricated" and "pose a substantial risk of unwarranted judicial intrusion into matters of general prison administration." Bennett, 343 F.3d at 137 (citing Dawes, 239 F.3d at 491). Accordingly, plaintiff must set forth non-conclusory allegations. Id. Finally, even if plaintiff makes the appropriate showing, defendants may avoid liability if they demonstrate that they would have taken the adverse action even in the absence of the protected conduct. Id.
A prison inmate has no constitutionally-guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongly accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest, as long as the prisoner is provided with procedural due process. Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir.1986). However, if a defendant initiated disciplinary proceedings against plaintiff in retaliation for his exercise of a constitutionally protected right, substantive due process rights are implicated even if the plaintiff did receive full procedural due process. Franco v. Kelly, 854 F.2d 584, 588-89 (2d Cir.1988). Any adverse action taken by defendant in retaliation for the exercise of a constitutional right, even if not unconstitutional in itself, states a viable constitutional claim. Id.
*7 Here, even assuming plaintiff's affiliation with the NOI/Black studies program was constitutionally protected conduct, he cannot show that his affiliation therewith was a substantial motivating factor for the filing of the misbehavior report and the subsequent finding of guilt concerning the report. Defendant Knowles declares that he "did not even recall plaintiff prior to the hearing he conducted, " and had no involvement whatsoever in any NOI activities. Dkt. # 21, p. 22. Similarly, defendant Noto declares that he had no knowledge of plaintiff's participation in the NOI/Black Studies program, and, up until the time of the instant litigation, "did not know that plaintiff attended such a course or was a member of the NOI." Dkt. # 22, p. 6. To this extent, plaintiff cannot demonstrate that his affiliation with the NOI/Black studies program was a motivating factor in defendants' actions. Since plaintiff cannot establish any plausible connection between NOI/Black studies participation and the misbehavior report and the guilty finding, his retaliation claim fails as a matter of law.
Assuming, arguendo, that plaintiff could show that the disciplinary actions were motivated by retaliatory animus (an assumption that has no basis in the record before this Court), plaintiff's retaliation claims would fail because defendants can easily show that they would have taken the same disciplinary actions even in the absence of the protected conduct. See Davidson v. Chestnut, 193 F.3d at 149 ("At the summary judgment stage, if the undisputed facts demonstrate that the challenged action clearly would have been taken on a valid basis alone, defendants should prevail."). The record shows that there was sufficient evidence, based on defendant Noto's investigation, to have charged plaintiff with a drug sale. Further, there was ample evidence at the Tier III disciplinary hearing for defendant Knowles to find plaintiff guilty of the drug sale charge. This is so particularly in the context of prison administration where courts must be cautious to recognize that prison officials have broad administrative and discretionary authority over the institutions they manage. Lowrance v. Achtyl, 20 F.3d 529, 535 (2d Cir.1994).
Accordingly, defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of retaliation is granted.
For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. Dkt. # 18. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of the defendants.
The Court hereby certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (3), that any appeal from this Order would not be taken in good faith, and leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals as a poor person is denied. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 82 S.Ct. 917, 8 L.Ed.2d 21 (1962). Further requests to proceed on appeal as a poor person should be directed, on motion, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in accordance with Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.
*8 SO ORDERED.
Kevin Blackshear, Johnstown, NY, pro se.
Office of New York State Attorney General, Justin L. Engel, AAG, of Counsel, Albany, NY, for Defendants.
SCULLIN, Senior District Judge.
*1 Currently before the Court is Magistrate Judge Hummel's June 17, 2014 ReportRecommendation and Order, in which he recommended that this Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to all claims against all Defendants. See Dkt. No. 26.Plaintiff filed an "Objection Notice to Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation and Order, " in which he merely stated that he sent his "notice of objection to the Clerk of the United States District Court for a decision rendered by U.S. Magistrate Judge, Christian F. Hunnel [sic] on June 17, 2014." See Dkt. No. 28.
After reviewing a magistrate judge's recommendations, the district court may accept, reject or modify those recommendations. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews de novo those portions of the magistrate judge's recommendations to which a party objects. See Pizzaro v. Bartlett, 776 F.Supp. 815, 817 (S.D.N.Y.1991)." "If, however, the party makes only conclusory or general objections, ... the Court reviews the Report and Recommendation only for clear error.'"" Salmini v. Astrue, No. 3:06-CV-458, 2009 WL 179741, *1 (N.D.N.Y. June 23, 2009) (quoting [ Farid v. Bouey, 554 F.Supp.2d 301] at 306 [(N.D.N.Y.2008] (quoting McAllan v. Von Essen, 517 F.Supp.2d 672, 679 (S.D.N.Y.2007))). Finally, even if the parties file no objections, the court must ensure that the face of the record contains no clear error. See Wilds v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 262 F.Supp.2d 163, 169 (S.D.N.Y.2003) (quotation omitted).
In light of Plaintiff's conclusory objection, the Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Hummel's June 17, 2014 Report-Recommendation and Order for clear error; and, finding none, the Court hereby
ORDERS that Magistrate Judge Hummel's June 17, 2014 Report-Recommendation and Order is ACCEPTED in its entirety for the reasons stated therein; and the Court further
ORDERS that Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to all claims against all Defendants; and the Court further
ORDERS that the Clerk of the Court shall enter judgment in favor of Defendants and close this case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
REPORT-RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER
CHRISTIAN F HUMMEL, United States 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.
*2 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. 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 suboxone and Form 2080, which is the chain of custody form for the suboxone. Compl. at 5; Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 65-66, 70. Woodward adjourned the hearing to allow Blackshear time to review the documents he was provided. Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 68.
*3 The hearing recommenced on July 13, 2011. Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 68. Kogut testified that Thomas's name did not appear on Form 2080 because Thomas had never handled the suboxone. Id. at 68-69.Non-party Pharmacist Goodnough explained the visual process by which she identified the pills found as suboxone. Id. at 71-72.By comparing the markings and appearance of the pills found to the Physician's Desk Reference, Goodnough was able to confirm the pills as suboxone. Id. at 42, 72. Woodward then briefly adjourned the meeting to create a written disposition. Id. at 73; Compl. at 6. Woodward returned to read his disposition, which found Blackshear guilty of drug possession and imposed penalties of three months in SHU, and three months loss of recreation, packages, commissary, and phone use. Compl. at 6; Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 73. In his decision, Woodward noted that he relied upon the following to make his conclusions: the written report of non-party Maitland, the verbal testimonies of Blackshear and nonparties Kogut and Goodnough, Form 2080, and the photograph of the suboxone. Compl. at 6; Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 73-74.
Blackshear made several allegations concerning the conditions of SHU confinement. Compl. at 11. Specifically, Blackshear alleges that he had limited privileges generally, was confined in a small cell, was permitted only one hour of exercise a day in a small space, and had limited interaction with correction officers. See id.
C. Administrative Appeal
Blackshear appealed Woodward's determination of his guilt in an administrative appeal process. Compl. at 6; Dkt. No. 16-3 at 78. Blackshear posited three grounds for his appeal. See Dkt. No. 16-3 at 78-80.First, Blackshear claimed that Woodward was personally involved in the investigation because his name appeared on Form 2080. Id. at 78-79. Blackshear noted that parties involved in the investigation were unable to serve as hearing officers to any cases they had investigated. Id. at 78. Blackshear contended that, because Woodward's name appeared on the chain of custody form, Woodward was involved in the investigation and thus, ineligible to serve as hearing officer. Compl. at 7. Second, Blackshear contended that Zehr's insistence on the suboxone being tested compromised his ability to fairly evaluate the seriousness of the infraction for purposes of assigning it to a tier. Compl. at 7-8; Dkt. No. 16-3 at 79-80. Blackshear asserted that Zehr's involvement in the suboxone's testing left Zehr's "mind... compromised" and unable to properly evaluate the infraction. Dkt. No. 16-3 at 80. Lastly, Blackshear argued that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the drugs found were in fact his because the drugs, while found between his bed and locker, were not found in an area he exclusively controls. Id. Defendant Venettozzi, as the Acting Director of Special Housing and Inmate Disciplinary Program, reviewed and denied the appeal. Id. at 90.
D. State-Level Action
*4 Blackshear filed an action against defendants on January 7, 2012 in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County, under Civil Practice Law and Rules Article 78. Dkt. No. 16-3 at 5-15; Compl. at 5. The matter was sent to the Appellate Division, Third Department for a ruling as it pertained to a question of substantial evidence. Dkt. No. 16-3 at 96-97.On January 9, 2013, the July 13, 2011 disciplinary hearing was administratively reversed as a result of conversations between Albert Prack, the director of special housing and inmate discipline, and the Office of the Attorney General. Id. at 101-03.Any references to the incident were to be expunged from Blackshear's records and he was to be returned the good time credits he had forfeited as a result of the July 13, 2011 decision. See id. On June 13, 2013, the Third Department issued a judgment dismissing Blackshear's claim, indicating that it was moot as the administrative reversal had given him "all relief to which he is entitled." Id. at 105-06. This action followed.
Blackshear alleges that his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights were violated when: (1) defendant Woodward failed to afford Blackshear due process rights during the disciplinary heaing; (2) defendant Zehr failed to investigate the alleged rule infraction in an adequate and non-biased way; and (3) defendant Venettozzi failed to train, supervise, and discipline Woodward and Zehr in a manner that would protect Blackshear's rights and affirmed Woodward's decision based on insufficient evidence. Compl. at 9-11. Although not specifically pled, Blackshear also indicates to the Court that he did not receive adequate assistance and proper protocol was not followed in testing the suboxone, both in violation of his due process rights. Id. at 3, 4. Blackshear seeks declaratory relief and monetary damages for the aforementioned violations. Id. at 12.
Defendants seek dismissal of the complaint, contending that: (1) Blackshear's liberty interests at stake are too de minimus to support a claim that his due process rights have been violated; (2) in any event, Blackshear was provided with all the process that he was due; (3) the evidence was sufficient to support Woodward's finding and Venettozzi's affirmation of Blackshear's guilt; (4) Blackshear's claims of bias on the part of Woodward and Zehr do not raise triable issues of fact; and (5) Woodward, Zehr, and Venettozzi are protected from Blackshear's suit by qualified immunity. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. at 6-12.
A. Legal Standard
Summary judgment may be granted by a court when the moving party has demonstrated that there exists no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(A). The moving party bears the burden of establishing the lack of genuine issue of material fact. Id.; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) ("[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of... identifying [materials] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."). Facts are to be considered "material" where they have the potential to affect the outcome of a case under current and applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Any ambiguities and inferences should be reconciled in favor of the non-moving party. Skubel v. Fuoroli, 113 F.3d 330, 334 (2d Cir.1997). Similarly, all facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (finding that facts may only not be viewed most favorably to the non-movant when there has been shown to be no genuine issue of material fact).
*5 It then falls to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment to demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact facilitating the need for trial. For this issue to be "genuine" it must rise above the level of casting mere doubt concerning the nature of the fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
When, as here, a party seeks judgment against a pro se litigant, a court must afford the non-movant special solicitude. See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir.2006). As the Second Circuit has stated,
[t]here are many cases in which we have said that a pro se litigant is entitled to "special solicitude, "... that a pro se litigant's submissions must be construed "liberally, "... and that such submissions must be read to raise the strongest arguments that they "suggest, ".... At the same time, our cases have also indicated that we cannot read into pro se submissions claims that are not "consistent" with the pro se litigant's allegations, ... or arguments that the submissions themselves do not "suggest, "... that we should not "excuse frivolous or vexatious filings by pro se litigants, "... and that pro se status "does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law...."
Id. (citations and footnote omitted); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (stating that the allegations of pro se plaintiffs are to be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers."); Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant # 1, 537 F.3d 185, 191-92 (2d Cir.2008) ("On occasions too numerous to count, we have reminded district courts that when [a] plaintiff proceeds pro se, ... a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally.' " (citations omitted)). However, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.
B. Fourteenth Amendment
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that "[n]o State shall... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."U.S. CONST. amend. XIV § 1. To make a claim for depravation of procedural due process, a plaintiff must show that: (1) they enjoyed a protected liberty interest; and (2) they were deprived of that interest absent due process. Taylor v. Rodriguez, 238 F.3d 188, 191 (2d Cir.2001) (citing Tellier v. Fields, 230 F.3d 502, 511 (2d Cir.2000). It is important to emphasize that due process "does not protect against all deprivations of liberty. It protects only against deprivations of liberty accomplished without due process of the law." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 (1979) (internal quotation and citations omitted). "A liberty interest may arise from the Constitution itself, ... or it may arise from an expectation or interest created by state laws or policies." Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005) (citations omitted).
1. Liberty Interest
*6 An inmate retains a protected liberty interest to remain free from segregated confinement if the prisoner can satisfy the standard set forth in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 483-84 (1995). In Sandin, the Court held that while segregated housing does not automatically implicate a liberty interest, it can if the inmate can establish the confinement created an, "atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Id. at 484. The Second Circuit has articulated a two-part test whereby the length of time a prisoner was placed in segregation as well as "the conditions of the prisoner's segregated confinement relative to the conditions of the general prison population" are to be considered. Vasquez v. Coughlin, 2 F.Supp.2d 255, 259 (N.D.N.Y.1998). This standard requires a prisoner to establish that the confinement or condition was atypical and a significant hardship in relation to ordinary prison life. See Jenkins v. Haubert, 179 F.3d 19, 28 (2d Cir.1999); Frazier v. Coughlin, 81 F.3d 313, 317 (2d Cir.1996). Thus, due process claims are "reserved for prisoners enduring a hardship that is substantially more grave" than that of the general prison population. Welch v. Bartlett, 196 F.3d 389, 392 (2d Cir.1999).
While not a dispositive factor, the duration of a disciplinary confinement is a significant factor in determining atypicality. Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 231 (2d Cir.2000) (citations omitted). The Second Circuit has not established "a bright line rule that a certain period of SHU confinement automatically fails to implicate due process rights." Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 64 (2d Cir.2004) (citations omitted). Despite this, past courts have allowed summary judgment for defendants in cases of SHU confinement and "the cases show a consensus in this Circuit that an inmate's confinement in the SHU for 101 days or less-without further deprivation-does not constitute an atypical or significant hardship." Alvarado v. Kerrigan, 152 F.Supp.2d 350, 355 (S.D.N.Y.2001); see also Tookes v. Artuz, No. 00CIV4969RCCHBP, 2002 WL 1484391, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. July 11, 2002) (collecting cases) (ninety-six days in SHU did not implicate a liberty interest); Carter v. Carriero, 905 F.Supp. 99, 104 (W.D.N.Y.1995) (270 days in SHU did not implicate a liberty interest).
Even when accepting the complaint as true and viewing all facts most favorably to Blackshear, it is apparent that Blackshear lacked a protected liberty interest. Blackshear was subjected to ninety-days' confinement in SHU, below the 101 day threshold noted in Alvarado. 152 F.Supp.2d at 355. As Blackshear's time spent in SHU cannot alone implicate a liberty interest, the nature and condition of his confinement must also be considered. See Vasquez, 2 F.Supp.2d at 259. Here, Blackshear only asserts that he had limited privileges while in SH U.Such a claim falls short of establishing a liberty interest as Blackshear fails to allege any particular condition or further deprivation outside of those generally applicable to the incidents of prison life in SHU confinement. See id; Frazier v. Coughlin, 81 F.3d 313, 317 (2d Cir.1996) (explaining that while prisoners in SHU may be deprived of "certain privileges that prisoners in the general population enjoy, " there exists no liberty interest in remaining a part of the general prison population); see also Alvarado, 152 F.Supp.2d at 355 (finding restrictions such as loss of phone privileges, one hour of exercise a day, and three showers per week, fail to meet Sandin requirements).
*7 Blackshear lacked a protected liberty interest and, thus, necessarily lacks a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim. Accordingly, defendants' motion on this ground should be granted.
2. Procedural Due Process
Even assuming a liberty interest exists, Blackshear's claim must fail because he was afforded all process due to him. It is important to note that prisoners retain the constitutional right to due process protections. See, e.g., Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974) (citations omitted) ("[Prisoners] may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."). Though prisoners retain these rights, "[p]rison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply." See id.; see also Horne v. Coughlin, 155 F.3d 26, 30 (2d Cir.1998) (finding that prisoners have no right to a "counsel substitute" for prison disciplinary hearings). Nevertheless, a prisoner is entitled to: (1) advanced written notice of the charges against him; (2) a hearing with reasonable opportunity to call witness and present documentary evidence; (3) a fair and impartial hearing officer; and (4) a written statement of the hearing officer's decision, including the evidence relied upon in making said decision. Sira v. Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 69 (2d Cir.2004) (citations omitted); see Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 953 (2d Cir.1986) (citations omitted). Additionally, a prisoner has the right to non-counsel assistance in establishing a defense. Eng v. Coughlin, 858 F.2d 889 (2d Cir.1988); Ayers v. Ryan, 152 F.3d 77, 81 (2d Cir.1998); see Horne, 155 F.3d at 30.
a. Advanced Written Notice
An accused prisoner has the right to be provided with advanced written notice of the charge or charges he has been accused of. Sira, 380 F.3d at 69. Blackshear was provided with a copy of his misbehavior report, the document indicating the violation he was charged with, on July 3, 2011 at 7:10 a.m., well before Blackshear's first appearance for his disciplinary hearing on July 6, 2011 at 1:31 p.m. Compl. at 2-3; Dkt. No. 16-3 at 30. Thus, Blackshear was provided with written notice of the charges he was accused of in advance of his hearing.
Accordingly, Blackshear had advanced written notice of his charges.
b. Opportunity to Call Witnesses and Present Documentary Evidence
An accused prisoner has the right to a hearing where he is given the reasonable opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence. Sira, 380 F.3d at 69. In this case, Blackshear did not inform his assistant on July 5, 2011 of any witnesses he wished to call, nor did he indicate he wished to present any documentary evidence. Compl. at 3; Dkt. No. 16-3 at 36-37, 58-59. Blackshear's requests to his assistant were limited to the production of "evidence from inmate records" and "DNA testing on items." Dkt. No. 16-3 at 36-37, 58-59.Defendant Woodward, as hearing officer, received confirmation from Blackshear that he wished to call no witnesses and advised Blackshear that the hearing was Blackshear's opportunity to present any documentary evidence. See Dkt. No. 16-3 at 58.Additionally, when asked at his hearing if he was satisfied with his assistant, Blackshear indicated he was. Id. at 59.
*8 The record thoroughly supports the conclusion that Blackshear was granted a hearing with reasonable opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence.
c. Fair and Impartial Hearing Officer
Blackshear claims defendant Woodward was biased against him in serving as hearing officer and, accordingly, violated his due process rights. Compl. at 9-10. An accused prisoner has the right to have a fair and impartial hearing officer preside over his disciplinary hearing. Sira, 380 F.3d at 69. However, "[t]he degree of impartiality required of prison officials does not rise to the level of that required of judges... [as i]t is well recognized that prison disciplinary hearing officers are not held to the same standard of neutrality as adjudicators in other contexts." Allen v. Cuomo, 100 F.3d 253, 259 (2d Cir.1996) (citations omitted). The Supreme Court held "that the requirements of due process are satisfied if some evidence supports the decision by the [hearing officer]..." and the Second Circuit has held that the test is whether there was "reliable evidence' of the inmate's guilt." Luna v. Pico, 356 F.3d 481, 487-88 (2d Cir.2004); see also Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985).
Blackshear appears to make four claims as to why Woodward was a biased hearing officer. See Compl. at 10-11. First, Blackshear contends Woodward was generally biased against him in his decisions and determinations. See id. Second, Blackshear claims Woodward was involved in investigating Blackshear's alleged violation and, as such, was inherently compromised by a conflict of interests. See id. Blackshear's third claim is that Woodward demonstrated bias by imposing a harsh punishment unsupported by the evidence. See id. The final claim made is that Woodward violated Blackshear's due process rights when he found Blackshear guilty absent sufficient evidence. See id.
Blackshear first alleges that defendant Woodward was generally biased in failing to view facts in a neutral manner. See id. This claim is not supported by the record. The Tier III hearing transcript indicates quite the opposite, with Woodward taking numerous precautions for the benefit of Blackshear. See, e.g., Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 58-61. Woodward began the hearing by reviewing numerous facts with Blackshear for confirmation. See id. When Blackshear complained to Woodward that he did not receive all of the documents he requested through his assistant, Woodward provided them to him as well as adjourned the hearing for one week to allow Blackshear to review them, despite Woodward's belief that they were irrelevant. See id. at 60-68.Furthermore, upon resuming the hearing, Woodward asked two witnesses questions that Blackshear had raised in an effort to remove lingering confusion. See id. at 68-73. This was done even though Blackshear had no constitutional right to pose questions to witnesses. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 567-68 (stating that "it does not appear that confrontation and cross-examination are generally required [for prison disciplinary hearings] and "that adequate bases for decision in prison disciplinary cases can be arrived at without cross-examination."). The record thus does not support a finding that Blackshear was prejudiced by Woodward being a biased hearing officer, but, rather, that Woodward afforded Blackshear more latitude than Blackshear was legally entitled to.
*9 Blackshear's second claim concerning Woodward's bias is that Woodward was involved in the investigation of the incident and thus, had a conflict of interest which prevented him from serving as hearing officer. Blackshear bases this claim on the appearance of Woodward's name on Form 2080 for the suboxone found near Blackshear's bed. Blackshear contends that by being in possession of the suboxone, Woodward was involved in its related investigation. Blackshear asserts that Woodward thus violated N.Y. Comp.Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, § 254.1 which provides, in relevant part: "The following persons shall not be appointed to conduct the proceeding:... a person who has investigated the incident."Blackshear's argument hinges on whether or not being in physical possession of contraband constitutes "investigating" the contraband. It should be noted that, "the mere involvement of a hearing officer in related investigations or proceedings does not evidence bias." Rodriguez v. Selsky, No. 09:07-C0432(LEK/DEP), 2011 WL 1086001, at *11 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 25, 2011) (citing Vega v. Artus, 610 F.Supp.2d 185, 200 (N.D.N.Y.2009)). Here, Woodward's conduct-possession the contraband-cannot be said to rise to the level of "investigation, " but is merely tangential involvement. See Vidal v. Goord, 273 A.D.2d 535, 535 (2000) (finding that the signature of a hearing officer at the bottom of a disbursement form did not constitute "investigation"). As Woodward only appeared on the chain of custody form as a result of his need to remove the suboxone from the drop box in order to have them transported to a pharmacist for testing, his involvement was merely tangential and does not rise to the level of evidencing bias. See Rodriguez, 2011 WL 1086001 at Thus, the record does not support a finding that Woodward investigated Blackshear's case.
Blackshear's third claim regarding Woodward is that Woodward was not a fair and impartial hearing officer because he imposed an unduly harsh punishment.Dkt. No. 16-3 at 7, 9-13.Contrary to Blackshear's assertion, the punishment imposed by Woodward does not run afoul the Sandin test for being an "a typical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." See subsection II(B)(1) supra (discussing how Blackshear's punishment of ninety-days' SHU confinement is not an "atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life"). By not violating the Sandin test, Woodward's recommended punishment does not support the conclusion that he was not a fair and impartial hearing officer. Lastly, Blackshear claims his due process rights were violated when Woodward found him guilty of the alleged violation. Compl. at 9. A similar claim is made against defendant Venettozzi. Blackshear argues that there was insufficient evidence for Venettozzi to affirm Woodward's finding of guilt. Id. at 11.As a prison disciplinary hearing is not a formal criminal proceeding, accused prisoners are not afforded the same rights. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 556. Instead, due process requirements are fulfilled when there is some evidence of the inmate's guilt. Luna, 356 F.3d at 487-88. The record indicates that Woodward found Blackshear guilty in part because of the location of the suboxone between two areas of his control, his locker and his bed. Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 60-61, 74. This undisputed fact provides sufficient evidence for a finding of guilt as it provides "some evidence" of Blackshear's guilt. See Luna, 356 F.3d at 487-88. Similarly, in reviewing the record, Venettozzi was justified in affirming that finding on administrative appeal for the same reasons. See id. Accordingly, defendants Woodward and Venettozzi did not violate Blackshear's due process rights because they had sufficient evidence to support the finding of guilt.
*10 Contrary to Blackshear's assertion, the record does not support the claim that Woodward was not a fair and impartial hearing officer. Woodward did not fail to view facts in a fair and neutral manner, nor did he investigate the incident or impose an atypical punishment. Similarly, there was ample evidence to support a finding of guilt. As such, defendant Woodward did act as a fair and impartial hearing officer and did not deprive Blackshear of his constitutional rights.
d. Written Statement of Decision
An accused prisoner has the right to a written statement of decision, including a statement of the evidence relied upon by the hearing officer. Sira, 380 F.3d at 69. In this case, Blackshear does not allege, nor does the record support, a claim that he was not provided with such a written statement of Woodward's decision. See Dkt. No. 16-3 at 73-75. In his decision, which he read aloud on-the-record, Woodward stated that to make his decision, he relied upon the written report of Maitland, the verbal testimonies of Blackshear and non-parties Kogut and Goodnough, Form 2080, and the photograph of the suboxone. Id. at 73-74. As Blackshear did not allege, nor does the record indicate, that Blackshear was not provided with a copy of this written report, including the evidence relied upon by Woodward, the notion that this prong of the Sira test was not met is without merit. Accordingly, Woodward acted as a fair and impartial hearing officer and did not deprive Blackshear of his constitutional rights.
e. Pharmacological Analysis of Suboxone
Although inartfully alleged, Blackshear seems to state that his due process rights were violated when Woodward allowed evidence of the suboxone to be used where the suboxone was not tested in accordance with Directive 4938. See Compl. at 4; Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 62-64. The record however, indicates that the proper protocol was used, allowing for the reliance on the suboxone as evidence. See Dkt. Nos. 16-3 at 42; 22-4 at 6. Directive 4983, § 1010.4 outlines the procedure to be used when testing contraband drugs. See Dkt. No. 22-4 at 6. It provides, in relevant part: "If the substance is in tablet or capsule form, it shall be inspected at the facility pharmacy for possible identification."Id. Only if the substance cannot be conclusively identified at the pharmacy will another test be implemented. See id. In this case, Pharmacist Goodnough was able to conclusively identify the substance as suboxone. Dkt. No. 16-3 at 42; see Dkt. No. 22-4 at 6. As a result, there was no need to undertake another type of test, including the chemical test sought by Blackshear. See Dkt. No. 22-4 at 6; Compl. at 4; Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 62-64.
As Directive 4983 was strictly adhered to, Blackshear's procedural due process rights were not violated.
f. Adequacy of Assistance
Blackshear also contends that his due process right was violated because he was not afforded the benefit of sufficient assistance, claiming that "[n]o other evidence [beyond a photograph of the suboxone, ] [Blackshear] asked his assistant for was given, nor did the assistant ever appear to assist [Blackshear]." See Dkt. No. 1 at 3. The Second Circuit has explained that:
*11 the assistant's role is to speak with the inmate charged, to explain the charges to the inmate, interview witnesses and to report the results of his efforts to the inmate. He may assist the inmate in obtaining documentary evidence or written statements which may be necessary. The assistant may be required by the hearing officer to be present at the disciplinary or superintendent's hearing.
Horne v. Coughlin, 155 F.3d 26, 29 (2d Cir.1998) (citing N.Y. COMP.CODES R. & REGS. § 251-4.2). The assistant need only perform what the plaintiff would have done but need not go beyond the inmate's instructions. Lewis v. Johnson, No. 08-CV-482 (TJM/ATB), 2010 WL 3785771, at *10 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 5.2010) (citing Silva, 992 F.2d at 22). Furthermore, "any violations of this qualified right are reviewed for harmless error.'" Clyde v. Schoellkopf, 714 F.Supp.2d 432, 437 (W.D.N.Y.2010) (citing Pilgrim v. Luther, 571 F.3d 201, 206 (2d Cir.2009)).
A review of the record yields no indication that Blackshear was not adequately assisted. As Blackshear had initially indicated he was satisfied with the assistance he received, his claim must logically come from some failure of his assistant discovered during the hearing. See Dkt. No. 16-3 at 59.During his hearing, Blackshear contended that a document he had requested had not been provided to him by his assistant. Id. at 65.Even accepting that Blackshear had indeed made this request, it amounts to a harmless error because defendant Woodward provided the document to Blackshear and adjourned the hearing to give Blackshear time to review the document and formulate a defense. Id. at 68; see Clyde, 714 F.Supp.2d at 437.
As Blackshear was afforded all assistance he had requested and any assistance he did not receive amounted to harmless error, none of Blackshear's due process rights can be said to have been violated by inadequate assistance.
g. Failure to Investigate
While inartfully alleged, Blackshear indicates that his due process rights were violated by Zehr's failure to further investigate the origin of the suboxone. See Compl. at 10. Blackshear alleges that the mere fact that the suboxone was found near his possessions is not enough to confirm his guilt for possession of suboxone. Tier III Hr'g Tr. at 61-62. Thus, Blackshear seems to assert the claim that Zehr erred by failing to investigate any other potential origins of the suboxone. See id.; Compl. at 10. This argument, however must fail. A prison disciplinary hearing is not a formal criminal proceeding and thus, the accused lack the same protections which would be afforded to them in a criminal matter. See subsection II(B)(2) supra discussion of Wolf and Horne. Among the distinctions between the two proceedings, a prison disciplinary hearing's burden of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt, but a much lower standard requiring only reliable evidence of a prisoner's guilt. Luna, 356 F.3d at 487-88. Accordingly, Zehr was not required to undergo additional investigation to further establish Blackshear's guilt-or, as Blackshear asserts, potentially exonerate him-as Zehr had already discovered evidence sufficient for a finding of guilt. See id. As Zehr conducted an adequate investigation, Blackshear's claim to the contrary is without merit.
*12 Blackshear was afforded all process he was due during all phases of his proceedings-investigation, hearing, and administrative appeal-and, thus, Blackshear necessarily lacks a claim that his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights were violated. Accordingly, defendants' motion on this ground should be granted.
C. Failure to Train and Supervise
Blackshear claims that Venettozzi violated his due process rights when Venettozzi failed to adequately train, supervise, and discipline his employees in such a way as to prevent the unfairness and bias that Blackshear claims plagued his hearing and violated his due process rights. Compl. at 11. As discussed supra, the record shows no evidence of any violations of Blackshear's due process rights by any of Venettozzi's subordinates. Accordingly, Blackshear's claim that Venettozzi is vicariously liable for these violations must necessarily fail and defendants' motion on this ground should be granted.
D. Qualified Immunity
Defendants contend that even if Blackshear is found to have a legitimate Fourteenth Amendment claim, they are protected from civil liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity generally protects governmental officials from civil liability "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); Aiken v. Nixon, 236 F.Supp.2d 211, 229-30 (N.D.N.Y.2002) (McAvoy, J.), aff'd, 80 F.Appx. 146 (2d Cir.2003). However, even if the constitutional privileges "are so clearly defined that a reasonable public official would know that his actions might violate those rights, qualified... immunity might still be available... if it was objectively reasonable for the public official to believe that his acts did not violate those rights." Kaminsky v. Rosenblum, 929 F.2d 922, 925 (2d Cir.1991); Magnotti v. Kuntz, 918 F.2d 364, 367 (2d Cir.1990) (internal citations omitted)). A court must first determine whether, if plaintiff's allegations are accepted as true, there would be a constitutional violation.
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Only if there is a constitutional violation does a court proceed to determine whether the constitutional rights were clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. Aiken, 236 F.Supp.2d at 230. Here, the second prong of the inquiry need not be addressed with respect to Blackshear's Fourteenth Amendment claims against these defendants because, as discussed supra, it has not been shown that defendants violated Blackshear's Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Accordingly, defendants' motion on this ground should be granted.
For the reasons stated above, it is hereby RECOMMENDED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 16) be GRANTED as to all claims against all defendants.
*13 Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court "within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy of the... recommendation." N.Y.N.D.L.R. 72.1(c) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C)). FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir.1993); Small v. Sec'y of HHS, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir.1989); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, 6(a), 6(e).
Attorneys and Law Firms
Roberto Ciaprazi, Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, New York, Plaintiff pro se.
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General, State of New York, The Capitol, Albany, New York, for the Defendants.
Patrick F. MacRae, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
*1 Plaintiff pro se Roberto Ciaprazi brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Ciaprazi alleges that the defendants violated his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Pending are Ciaprazi's objections to Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles' Report-Recommendation. Upon careful consideration of the arguments, the relevant parts of the record, and the applicable law, the court adopts the Report-Recommendation in its entirety.
II. Procedural History
Ciaprazi commenced this action on July 15, 2002. Dkt. No. 1. On February 27, 2003, the defendants moved for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 39. On March 14, 2004, Judge Peebles issued a Report-Recommendation which recommended that the defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in part, and denied in part. Dkt. No. 47. Ciaprazi objected. Dkt. No. 48. His objections are now before this court.
III. Discussion 
A. Standard of Review
When objections to a magistrate judge's Report-Recommendation are lodged, the Court makes a " de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made" See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). After such a review, the court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or the recommendations made by the magistrate judge." Id. Having reviewed the unobjected to portions of the Report-Recommendation, the court adopts them in their entirety because they are not clearly erroneous.
Although Judge Peebles examined the merits of the case and found that many of Ciaprazi's claims were meritless, this court only conducts de novo review of the objected to portions of the Report-Recommendation. Specifically, Judge Peebles found no evidence tending to establish that the adverse actions taken against Ciaprazi were motivated by disciplinary animus, and thereby recommended dismissing Ciaprazi's First Amendment retaliation claim. Report and Recommendation, pp. 13-23, 45, Dkt. No. 47. He further found that Ciaprazi lacked standing to bring a cause of action challenging the Tier III disciplinary system under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 27. Lastly, Judge Peebles dismissed both of Ciaprazi's claims under international law and his personal involvement claim against defendant Goord. Id. at 41, 43-4. 
1. First Amendment Claim
First, Ciaprazi contends that his retaliation claim under the First Amendment should not have been dismissed because the defendants did not satisfy their initial evidentiary burden. Pl. Objs. pp. 1-7, Dkt. No. 48. Specifically, he argues that Judge Peebles did not properly consider the falsity of a misbehavior report as evidence of retaliation by the defendants.
The court rejects Ciaprazi's argument because as Judge Peebles noted, a prisoner does not have a right to be free from false misbehavior reports. Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir.1986). As Judge Peebles further noted, the defendants have shown sufficient evidence to establish that there is no specific link between Ciaprazi's grievances and the defendants' actions. Accordingly, Ciaprazi's retaliation claim is dismissed.
2. Eighth Amendment
*2 Next, Ciaprazi objects to Judge Peebles' finding that he did not have standing to challenge the disciplinary authority of the Tier III system. Pl. Objs. p. 7, Dkt. No. 48. This objection is without merit. As Judge Peebles noted, since the length of Ciaprazi's disciplinary confinement was within the bounds of constitutionally acceptable levels, he has no standing to sue. Second, as Judge Peebles further noted, any generalized complaints Ciaprazi has against the Tier III system are more appropriately addressed as part of his due process claims. Accordingly, Ciaprazi's claims against the Tier III system are dismissed.
3. Human Rights Claims
Ciaprazi also objects to Judge Peebles' finding that he did not have claims under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Ciaprazi's contention is without merit. As Judge Peebles noted, Ciaprazi has failed to establish that these treaties provide private causes of action. See Report Recommendation p. 41, Dkt. No. 47. Accordingly, Ciaprazi's claims under international law are dismissed.
4. Personal Involvement
Ciaprazi also objects to Judge Peebles' dismissal of his personal involvement claim against defendant Goord. As Judge Peebles noted, Ciaprazi merely made allegations against Goord in his supervisory capacity. Accordingly, the personal involvement claim against Goord was properly dismissed.
Having reviewed the objected-to portions of the Report and Recommendation de novo, the remainder under a clearly erroneous standard, and Ciaprazi's objections, this court accepts and adopts the recommendation of Judge Peebles for the reasons stated in the March 14, 2004 Report-Recommendation.
WHEREFORE, for the foregoing reasons, it is hereby
ORDERED that defendants' summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 39) be GRANTED in part, and that all of plaintiff's claims against defendant Goord, and all of plaintiff's claims against the remaining defendants except his procedural due process and Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement causes of action, be DISMISSED, but that to the extent of those claims, with respect to which triable issues of fact exist, the defendants' motion be DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PEEBLES, Magistrate J.
Plaintiff Roberto Ciaprazi, a New York State prison inmate who by his own account has frequently lodged complaints against prison officials and been openly critical of their practices, has commenced this proceeding against the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") and several of that agency's employees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, complaining of constitutional violations occurring during the course of his confinement. In his complaint, Ciaprazi alleges that 1) a misbehavior report was filed against him in retaliation for his having previously engaged in protected activity; 2) he was deprived of procedural due process during the course of the hearing and resulting adverse finding associated with that misbehavior report; and 3) the conditions which he faced while in disciplinary confinement, following that hearing, were cruel and unusual. Plaintiff asserts claims pursuant to the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as under certain international human rights accords.
*3 Currently pending before the court is a motion by the defendants seeking summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. Having carefully reviewed the record in light of Ciaprazi's claims and defendants' arguments, I find that many of plaintiff's causes of action are devoid of merit, as a matter of law, and thus subject to dismissal. Because I find the existence of genuinely disputed issues of material fact surrounding certain of plaintiff's claims, however, including notably his due process claim against defendants Melino, Kohl, Graham, Fitzpatrick, and Rogers, I recommend denial of defendants' motion seeking dismissal of plaintiff's claims against them.
At the times relevant to his complaint, Ciaprazi was a prisoner entrusted to the custody of the DOCS. Plaintiff alleges that after having been confined within the Clinton Correctional Facility since February, 1997, he was transferred into the Coxsackie Correctional Facility in April of 1998. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 3. Ciaprazi asserts that while at Coxsackie he was administered more than a dozen allegedly false misbehavior reports, resulting in disciplinary cell confinement of over 200 days as well as other "deprivations" of an unspecified nature. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff contends that the issuance of those misbehavior reports was motivated by his having filed multiple complaints involving conduct of corrections workers and staff at Coxsackie.
At the heart of plaintiff's claims in this action is an incident which occurred at Coxsackie on July 31, 1999. On that date, Ciaprazi and various other prisoners were taken to an enclosed holding area to provide specimens for use in conducting drug screening urinalysis testing. As a result of an interaction occurring during the course of that testing between the plaintiff and defendant Fitzpatrick, a corrections lieutenant at the facility, plaintiff was placed in keeplock confinement and issued a misbehavior report on the following day, charging him with creating a disturbance (Rule 104.13), interference with a prison employee (Rule 107.10), harassment (Rule 107.11), refusal to obey a direct order (Rule 106.10), and making threats (Rule 102.10). Defendants' Motion (Dkt. No. 39) Exh. A.
On July 31, 1999, following the underlying events and the imposition of keeplock confinement but prior to receiving the misbehavior report, plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the incident; plaintiff followed the filing of that grievance with a request on August 3, 1999 for prehearing release from confinement. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 19. Plaintiff received no response to that grievance. Id.
A Tier III disciplinary hearing in connection with the charges stemming from the July 31, 1999 incident was conducted by defendant Melino, a corrections counselor at Coxsackie, beginning on August 4, 1999, and concluding on August 10, 1999. Defendants' Motion (Dkt. No. 39) Exh. A at 2; id. Exh. B at 17, 15. Defendant Cole, who according to the plaintiff is a civilian employee working at Coxsackie, was assigned as plaintiff's inmate assistant in connection with that hearing. The evidence adduced at that hearing included the misbehavior report, as well as testimony from the plaintiff, Corrections Lieutenant Fitzpatrick, Corrections Officer Marshal, Corrections Counselor Cole, Corrections Officer Rogers, Corrections Officer Simonik, Corrections Lieutenant McDermott, and Corrections Officer Phillips. Defendants' Motion (Dkt. No. 39) Exh. B.
*4 At the conclusion of the hearing, plaintiff was found guilty on all five counts, and a penalty of ten months of disciplinary confinement within the Coxsackie Special Housing Unit ("SHU"), with a corresponding loss of commissary, telephone and package privileges, was imposed. Defendants' Motion (Dkt. No. 39) Exh. A at 00. Ciaprazi was not present when Hearing Officer Melino read her decision into the record, having previously been removed from the proceeding for engaging in what the hearing officer regarded as disruptive behavior. See Defendants' Motion (Dkt. No. 39) Exh. B at 152. Plaintiff appealed the hearing officer's decision to Donald Selsky, the DOCS Director of Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program, who on September 27, 1999 affirmed the determination. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 51.
On August 20, 1999, plaintiff was transferred into the Upstate Correctional Facility, where he was apparently placed in SHU confinement to serve his disciplinary sentence. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 52. Plaintiff asserts that during that period, as well as while in keeplock confinement at Coxsackie, he was subjected to significant deprivations, which are described in summary fashion in his complaint, until September 16, 1999 when he was transferred into Clinton and exposed to similarly unpleasant conditions. Id. ¶¶ 53-55; Ciaprazi Aff. (Dkt. No. 46) ¶¶ 54-57. Plaintiff describes the keeplock confinement conditions at Coxsackie as even more unpleasant than those experienced in SHU, having included the deprivation of certain personal items such as food and snacks, toiletries, musical instruments, and other similar amenities. Ciaprazi Aff. (Dkt. No. 46) ¶ 54. The deprivations experienced by the plaintiff while in keeplock confinement at Coxsackie also entailed being subjected to "loud and non-stop noise from other frustrated prisoners yelling and banging on the doors, " as well as the denial of access to the law library, books and other reading materials, and various programs available to those in general population. Id. ¶ 55.While at Upstate, plaintiff contends that he was exposed to cell lighting between 6:00 am and 1:00 am; he was denied reading materials; his medical requests "were ignored"; and he experienced cold conditions and the inability to participate in available recreation due to the lack of warm clothing. Id. ¶ 57; Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 53. Similar conditions were experienced by the plaintiff while at Clinton, including exposure to cold and lack of warm clothing and blankets, together with the deprivation of medical and mental health services. Ciaprazi Aff. (Dkt. No. 46) ¶ 57; Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 54..
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, commenced this action on July 15, 2002. Dkt No. 1. Named as defendants in plaintiff's complaint are New York DOCS Commissioner Glenn S. Goord; Ellen J. Croche, Chair of the New York State Commission of Correction; Fred Lamey, a member of the New York Commission of Correction; Donald Selsky, the DOCS Director of Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program; Corrections Counselor Melino, whose first name is unknown; Cole, another DOCS employee whose complete name is unknown to the plaintiff; H.D. Graham, Deputy Superintendent for Security at Coxsackie; Corrections Lieutenant Fitzpatrick; and Corrections Officer Rogers. Id. In his complaint, plaintiff asserts nine separate causes of action, including claims 1) against defendants Rogers and Fitzpatrick, for infringement of his First Amendment right to free speech, and due process and equal protection violations under the United States Constitution, as well as under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ("UDHR") and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCPR"); 2) against defendant Graham, for failure to investigate plaintiff's grievance and to take actions to prevent infringement of his constitutional rights; 3) against defendant Cole, for failing to properly perform his duties as Ciaprazi's inmate assistant; 4) against defendant Melino, for deprivation of due process, based upon her conduct and bias during the disciplinary hearing; 5) of retaliation against defendant Melino, asserting that her actions were taken in response to the filing of complaints and grievances by the plaintiff; 6) against defendants Goord and Selsky, based upon their failure to overturn plaintiff's disciplinary conviction and remediate the constitutional deprivations suffered by him; 7) against defendants Goord and Selsky for retaliation, based on plaintiff's prior filing of complaints and grievances; 8) against defendants Croche, Lamey and Goord, in their supervisory capacities, for failure to properly oversee DOCS employees and enact policies to prevent such abuses; and 9) against defendants Goord, Croche and Lamey, for maintaining and fostering a policy of widespread and disportionate disciplinary punishments within the state's prison system. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 14-16.Plaintiff's complaint seeks both injunctive and monetary relief. Id.
*5 Following the filing of an answer on behalf of the eight defendants who have been served in the action on December 3, 2002, generally denying plaintiff's allegations and setting forth various affirmative defenses, Dkt. No. 13, and pretrial discovery, on February 27, 2004 those defendants moved seeking entry of summary judgment on various bases. Dkt. No. 39.Aided only by plaintiff's complaint, the record related to the relevant internal disciplinary proceedings against the plaintiffs, and answers by plaintiff to defendants' interrogatories, and without the benefit of either a transcript of plaintiff's deposition or any affidavits, other than from their counsel, defendants have moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiff's claims on various grounds. Id. In their motion, defendants argue that 1) plaintiff has failed to offer proof from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that cognizable constitutional violations have occurred; 2) defendants Goord and Selsky lack the requisite personal involvement in the constitutional violations alleged; and 3) plaintiff should be denied the injunctive relief which he seeks. Id. Plaintiff has since submitted papers in opposition to defendants' summary judgment motion. Dkt. No. 46.Defendants' motion, which is now ripe for determination, has been referred to me for the issuance of a report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Northern District of New York Local Rule 72.3(c). See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is warranted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits... show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509-10 (1986); Security Insurance Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 82-83 (2d Cir.2004). When summary judgment is sought, the moving party bears an initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute of material fact to be decided with respect to any essential element of the claim in issue; the failure to meet this burden warrants denial of the motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 n. 4, 106 S.Ct. at 2511 n. 4; Security Insurance, 391 F.3d at 83.
In the event this initial burden is met, the opposing party must show, through affidavits or otherwise, that there is a material issue of fact for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. When deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must resolve any ambiguities, and draw all inferences from the facts, in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Wright v. Coughlin, 132 F.3d 133, 137-38 (2d Cir.1998). Summary judgment is inappropriate where "review of the record reveals sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to find in the [nonmovant's] favor." Treglia v. Town of Manlius, 313 F.3d 713, 719 (2d Cir.2002) (citation omitted); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511 (summary judgment is appropriate only when "there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict.").
B. Plaintiff's First Amendment Retaliation Claim
*6 Plaintiff's complaint asserts several claims of unlawful retaliation. In his first cause of action, plaintiff asserts that the actions of defendants Rogers and Fitzpatrick in confining him to a cell and issuing, or directing the issuance of, misbehavior reports were taken in retaliation for his having filed prior grievances and complaints regarding DOCS officials, including those working at Coxsackie. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) First Cause of Action. Plaintiff's second claim alleges that defendant Rogers' failure to investigate plaintiff's complaint regarding the allegedly false misbehavior report, and to order his release from confinement pending a disciplinary hearing, were similarly retaliatory. Id. Second Cause of Action. Plaintiff further alleges in his fifth cause of action that the actions of Hearing Officer Melino, including in finding him guilty on all five counts, were motivated by Ciaprazi's filing of prior grievances and complaints. Id. Fifth Cause of Action. Plaintiff's seventh claim similarly attributes the failure of defendants Goord and Selsky to reverse the hearing officer's determination, on appeal, to retaliation for his having engaged in protected activity. Id. Seventh Cause of Action. Defendants maintain that these retaliation claims are legally deficient, and that the record contains no evidence upon which a factfinder could conclude that unlawful retaliation occurred.
Claims of retaliation like those asserted by the plaintiff find their roots in the First Amendment. See Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379, 380-81 (2d Cir.2004). Central to such claims is the notion that in a prison setting, corrections officials may not take actions which would have a chilling effect upon an inmate's exercise of First Amendment rights. See id. at 81-83.Because of the relative ease with which claims of retaliation can be incanted, however, as exemplified by plaintiff's claims in this action, the courts have scrutinized such retaliation claims with particular care. See Flaherty v. Coughlin, 713 F.2d 10, 13 (2d Cir.1983). As the Second Circuit has noted,
[t]his is true for several reasons. First, claims of retaliation are difficult to dispose of on the pleadings because they involve questions of intent and are therefore easily fabricated. Second, prisoners' claims of retaliation pose a substantial risk of unwarranted judicial intrusion into matters of general prison administration. This is so because virtually any adverse action taken against a prisoner by a prison official-even those otherwise not rising to the level of a constitutional violation-can be characterized as a constitutionally proscribed retaliatory act.
Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir.2001) (citations omitted), overruled on other grounds, Swierkewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992 (2002).
In order to state a prima facie claim under section 1983 for unlawful retaliation in a case such as this, a plaintiff must advance non-conclusory allegations establishing that 1) the conduct or speech at issue was protected; 2) the defendants took adverse action against the plaintiff; and 3) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action-in other words, that the protected conduct was a "substantial or motivating factor" in the prison officials' decision to take action against the plaintiff. Mount Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287, 97 S.Ct. 568, 576 (1977); Gill, 389 F.3d at 380 (citing Dawes, 239 F.3d at 492). If the plaintiff carries this burden, the defendants must then show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they would have taken action against the plaintiff "even in the absence of the protected conduct." Mount Healthy, 429 U.S. at 287, 97 S.Ct. at 576. Under this analysis, adverse action taken for both proper and improper reasons may be upheld if the action would have been taken based on the proper reasons alone. Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir.1996) (citations omitted).
*7 As can be seen, evaluation of claims of retaliation is a particularly fact-laden exercise, since such claims revolve around both the engaging in protected conduct and establishment of a nexus between that conduct and the adverse action ultimately taken. In making the required analysis in this case, however, the court is somewhat disadvantaged by virtue of the fact that defendants' summary judgment motion is not particularly enlightening as to the basis for their claim that the court is positioned to find, as a matter of law, that plaintiff's retaliation claims are lacking in merit.
In their motion the defendants, in the context of the now-familiar standard governing analysis of First Amendment retaliation claims, acknowledge that the plaintiff, who has lodged formal complaints of prison conditions and treatment of inmates, has engaged in protected activity. That plaintiff has filed an unusually large number of grievances and lawsuits, and taken other steps to complain publicly about matters associated with his confinement by the DOCS, is both apparent from the record before the court, and not controverted by the defendants. Indeed, in his response to defendants' summary judgment motion, plaintiff proudly states that he has "systematically exposed, vehemently criticized, and even ridiculed the inappropriate and arbitrary policies and actions of the staff at Coxsackie, including the actions of defendant Goord and of the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendents of Coxsackie." Plaintiff's Affidavit (Dkt. No. 46) ¶ 32. Plaintiff has therefore established, at least for purposes of the instant motion, that he was engaged in protected activity sufficient to trigger First Amendment rights against acts taken in retribution for having voiced those types of complaints. Graham, 89 F.3d at 80; Morello v. James, 810 F.2d 344, 346-47 (2d Cir.1987).
Defendants argue, however, that the record is lacking in evidence to establish the requisite connection between that protected activity and the adverse actions taken against Ciaprazi by prison officials. Defendants' legal position is advanced, in part, in an affidavit from their counsel, Patrick F. MacRae, Esq., outlining the evidence relied upon by the defendants in making their motions. Defendants also note, in further support of their motion, the requirement that retaliation claims rest upon more than mere conclusory allegations regarding the state of mind of prison officials. See Dkt. No. 39 at 8-9; e.g., Flaherty, 713 F.2d at 13.
As plaintiff correctly notes, the applicable pleading requirements, including Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, provide for mere "notice" pleading, and do not require that complaints contain every detail associated with a plaintiff's claims except in categories not applicable to this case. See Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 167-69, 113 S.Ct. 1160, 1162-63 (1993). Accordingly, the mere fact that the plaintiff's retaliation claims are pleaded in non-specific, conclusory terms does not alone entitle defendants to summary dismissal of those claims.
*8 In this case the defendants have satisfied their initial, modest threshold burden of establishing the lack of evidentiary support for plaintiff's retaliation claims. Though conventional wisdom might dictate the submission of affidavits from the primary actors, including notably defendants Rogers and Fitzpatrick, disavowing any retaliatory motives associated with their actions, defendants' decision to rely instead upon the lack of evidentiary support for plaintiff's retaliation claims, including through plaintiff's responses to defendants' interrogatories as well as the proceedings associated with the underlying disciplinary matter, is sufficient to cast the burden upon the plaintiff to come forward with evidence demonstrating the existence of genuinely disputed material issues of fact for trial with regard to those claims. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-34, 106 S.Ct. at 2553; see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. There is no requirement under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or otherwise that a party affidavit be submitted to support such a motion, which instead can be based upon any admissible evidence. Id.
To demonstrate that a reasonable factfinder could discern a nexus between plaintiff's filing of grievances and the disciplinary matters associated with the incident at issue, Ciaprazi essentially makes two arguments. First, he contends that the manifest falsity of the misbehavior report as well as testimony proffered during the disciplinary hearing give rise to an inference that the disciplinary matters were motivated toward retaliatory animus. Secondly, plaintiff argues that the sheer number of grievances and formal complaints lodged by him, including some close in temporal proximity to the underlying incident, similarly gives rise to a legitimate inference of retaliatory motivation. See Ciaprazi Memorandum (Dkt. No. 46) at 14.
Plaintiff's argument in this regard is significantly diluted by the sheer number of complaints lodged by him over time. By his own admission, plaintiff has regularly and openly complained of prison policies and practices and during the relevant time period prior to the July 31, 1999 incident, and indeed had filed many formal complaints regarding his treatment while at Coxsackie. Yet, plaintiff has submitted no evidence that any of those complaints related to defendants Rogers or Fitzpatrick, the two principal actors in this case, nor has he pointed to any collaboration between those named in his prior complaints and Fitzpatrick and Rogers. At best, plaintiff has argued that prior to July 31, 1999 he "filed complaints and/or grievances against Lieutenants Sweeney, Armstrong, Skrocky and McDermott, all colleagues of defendant Fitzpatrick of the same rang [sic] with defendant Fitzpatrick." Id. ¶ 32.
In an equally tenuous attempt to link his protected activity with the issuance of a misbehavior report, plaintiff notes that on May 26, 1999 he filed a grievance for harassment against an employee named Fitzpatrick, who was assigned to assist him in connection with another Tier III disciplinary hearing, stating his naked belief, lacking in evidentiary support, that the employee named in that complaint "may be and apparently is a relative of defendant Fitzpatrick ."Id. ¶ 33, Exh. 39. Plaintiff also notes that on July 21, 1999 he filed a grievance accusing defendant Goord of "gross abuse of power", requesting an investigation of defendant Goord by the New York State Police and federal authorities, and that five days later, on July 26, 1999, he filed a complaint with various agencies including the United States Department of Prisons complaining of mistreatment. Id. ¶¶ 34, 35.
*9 While there is some appeal to finding the requisite fact issue to avoid the entry of summary judgment on plaintiff's retaliation claims based upon the timing of these events, that factor is undermined by the steady stream of grievances filed by him on a regular and continuing basis. Were the plaintiff someone who had rarely if ever complained about prison conditions, but shortly before being issued a misbehavior report had lodged a formal complaint against or implicating the conduct of the officer who issued the disciplinary citation, a very different set of circumstances would be presented, and summary judgment would not be warranted. In this case, however, plaintiff can point to no complaints lodged by him against or implicating the conduct of defendant Fitzpatrick, who issued the disputed misbehavior report. Accordingly, I find that the defendants have established that they are entitled to summary dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claims based upon plaintiff's failure to establish a basis on which a reasonable factfinder could find the requisite connection between plaintiff's grievance activities and the issuance of the misbehavior report and subsequent disciplinary hearing. E.g., Williams v. Goord, 111 F.Supp.2d 280, 290 (S.D.N.Y.2000); Mahotep v. DeLuca, 3 F.Supp.2d 385, 389 (W.D.N.Y.1998).
C. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Cruel And Unusual Punishment Claim
In his complaint Ciaprazi, in somewhat indiscriminate fashion, asserts that the actions taken against him by the various defendants resulted in his exposure to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff's cruel and unusual punishment claims appear to center upon the conditions which he faced as a result of the disciplinary proceedings against him and resulting in SHU confinement initially at Coxsackie, and later at Upstate and at Clinton. In their motion, defendants assert that these claims are similarly deficient as a matter of law.
The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment encompasses punishments that involve the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" and are incompatible with "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society ." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 290, 291 (1976); see also Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319, 106 S.Ct. 1076, 1084 (1986) (citing, inter alia, Estelle ). The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons, but yet it does not tolerate inhumane ones either; thus the conditions of an inmate's confinement are subject to Eighth Amendment scrutiny. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1976 (1994) (citing Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 2400 (1981)).
A claim alleging that prison conditions violate the Eighth Amendment must satisfy both an objective and subjective requirement-the conditions must be "sufficiently serious" from an objective point of view, and the plaintiff must demonstrate that prison officials acted subjectively with "deliberate indifference". See Leach v. Dufrain, 103 F.Supp.2d 542, 546 (N.D.N.Y.2000) (Kahn, J.) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 111 S.Ct. 2321 (1991)); Waldo v. Goord, No. 97-CV-1385, 1998 WL 713809, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 1, 1998) (Kahn, J. and Homer, M.J.); see also, generally, Wilson, 501 U.S. 294, 111 S.Ct. 2321. Deliberate indifference exists if an official "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.'' ' Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837, 114 S.Ct. at 1978; Leach, 103 F.Supp.2d at 546 (citing Farmer ); Waldo, 1998 WL 713809, at *2 (same).
*10 Plaintiff's cruel and unusual punishment claim challenges the fact that 1) he was placed in a double bunk cell at Upstate; 2) was placed in isolation and exposed to light except for five hours each night; 3) was deprived of such amenities such as writing paper and envelopes, proper access to the law library, medical care, access to newspapers, magazines and books, access to the courts, and legal papers; 4) was exposed to loud and boisterous behavior on the part of other inmates; 5) was denied essential clothing and bedding as well as personal hygiene materials, radios or headphones, books, newspapers and magazines; and 6) was exposed to cold conditions, leading him to suffer at least one case of the flu. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 52-56; see also Plaintiff's Affidavit (Dkt. No. 46) ¶¶ 53-57. To counter these allegations, defendants have submitted nothing to reflect the lack of a basis upon which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that plaintiff was exposed to cruel and unusual punishment while in disciplinary isolation as a result of the Tier III determination now at issue. Instead, defendants' motion focuses upon a narrow aspect of plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim, in which they assert that the lack of policies guaranteed to result in uniformity throughout the DOCS system of punishments to result in a Eighth Amendment violation.
As skeptical as perhaps one may be regarding plaintiff's ability to ultimately persuade a factfinder that the admittedly unpleasant conditions to which he was apparently exposed and the deprivations suffered while in disciplinary confinement rise to a constitutionally significant level, I am unable to state, based upon the record as currently constituted, that no reasonable factfinder could so conclude. I therefore recommend denial of defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim relating to the conditions of his confinement.
Included within his Eighth Amendment claim, though more appropriately grouped with his due process cause of action, is plaintiff's contention that because the Tier III hearing officer was provided the unfettered discretion, in the event of finding of guilt, to impose a penalty of whatever magnitude seen fit, the disciplinary scheme in place at the DOCS is constitutionally infirm. In plaintiff's case, however, the imposed penalty of ten months of disciplinary confinement, 180 days of which were deferred, fell comfortably within the bounds of acceptable levels under the Eighth Amendment. Consequently, whatever may be said about plaintiff's arguments regarding the discretion affording to hearing officers, he lacks standing to raise such a claim. See Trammell v. Mantello, No. 90-CV-382, 1996 WL 863518, at *8-*9 (W.D.N.Y. June 10, 1996) (Tier III regulations pass constitutional muster).
D. Plaintiffs Procedural Due Process Claim
In their motion, defendants also challenge plaintiff's contention that he was denied procedural due process during the course of the disciplinary hearing which resulted in his disciplinary confinement for a period of five months. In support of their motion, defendants argue both that plaintiff was not deprived of a constitutionally cognizable liberty interest, and that even assuming he was, he was afforded the requisite process due under the Fourteenth Amendment in connection with that deprivation.
*11 To successfully state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of due process arising out of a disciplinary hearing, a plaintiff must show that he or she both (1) possessed an actual liberty interest, and (2) was deprived of that interest without being afforded sufficient process. See Tellier v. Fields, 260 F.3d 69, 79-80 (2d Cir.2000) (citations omitted); Hynes, 143 F.3d at 658; Bedoya v. Coughlin, 91 F.3d 349, 351-52 (2d Cir.1996).
1. Liberty Interest
Addressing the first of these required showings, in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995), the United States Supreme Court determined that to establish a liberty interest, a plaintiff must sufficiently demonstrate that (1) the State actually created a protected liberty interest in being free from segregation; and that (2) the segregation would impose an "atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Id. at 483-84, 115 S.Ct. at 2300; Tellier, 280 F.3d at 80; Hynes, 143 F.3d at 658.
Defendants challenge the applicability of both of these factors. Initially, defendants question whether New York has, by statute or otherwise, created a protected liberty interest in prisoners remaining free from segregation, including for disciplinary reasons, arguing that it has not. Defendants' Memorandum (Dkt. No. 39) at 14. The cases cited in support of that proposition, however, which relate to whether there is a constitutional or liberty interest in being assigned to a particular program, job assignment, or facility, are inapposite. See, e.g., Klos v. Haskell, 48 F.3d 81, 87-88 (2d Cir.1995) (involving revocation of assignment to "shock incarceration" program); Hall v. Unknown Named Agents of N.Y. State Dept. for Corr. Servs. for APPU Unit at Clinton Prison, 825 F.2d 642, 645-46 (2d Cir.1987) (involving assignment to Assessment Program and Preparation Unit); see also Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 243, 96 S.Ct. 2543, 2547 (1976) (no constitutional right of inmate to be placed in any particular facility); Frazer v. Coughlin, 81 F.3d 313, 318 (2d Cir.1996) ("no protected liberty interest in a particular job assignment"). Despite defendants' assertion to the contrary, it is now firmly established that through its regulatory scheme, New York State has created a liberty interest in prisoners remaining free from disciplinary confinement, thus satisfying the first Sandin factor. See, e.g., Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60, 64 n. 2 (2d Cir.2004) (citing Welch v. Bartlett, 196 F.3d 389, 394 n. 4 (2d Cir.1999); see also LaBounty v. Coombe, No. 95 CIV 2617, 2001 WL 1658245, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 26, 2001); Alvarez v. Coughlin, No. 94-CV-985, 2001 WL 118598, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2001) (Kahn, J.).
Having rejected defendants' contention that the State has not created such an interest, I next turn to examination of whether the conditions of plaintiff's disciplinary confinement, as alleged by him, rise to the level of an atypical and significant hardship under Sandin. Atypicality in a Sandin inquiry normally presents a question of law. Colon v. Howard, 215 F.3d 227, 230-31 (2d Cir.2000); Sealey v. Giltner, 197 F.3d 578, 585 (2d Cir.1999). When determining whether a plaintiff possesses a cognizable liberty interest, district courts must examine the specific circumstances of confinement, including analysis of both the length and conditions of confinement. See Sealey, 197 F.3d at 586; Arce v. Walker, 139 F.3d 329, 335-36 (2d Cir.1998); Brooks v. DiFasi, 112 F.3d 46, 48-49 (2d Cir.1997). In cases involving shorter periods of segregated confinement where the plaintiff has not alleged any unusual conditions, however, a detailed explanation of this analysis is not necessary. Hynes, 143 F.3d at 658; Arce, 139 F.3d at 336.
*12 Given that plaintiff has shown that he was subjected to disciplinary confinement for a period of five months, and has alleged his exposure to conditions beyond those normally associated with such SHU confinement, as described in the applicable regulations, at this juncture I am unable to conclude, as a matter of law, that he was not deprived of a constitutionally significant liberty interest as a result of the disciplinary proceeding at issue. I therefore recommend against summary dismissal of plaintiff's due process claims on this basis.
2. Due Process
The procedural protections to which a prison inmate is entitled before being deprived of a recognized liberty interest are well established, the contours of the requisite protections having been articulated in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564-67, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2978-80 (1974). Under Wolff:, the constitutionally mandated due process requirements include 1) written notice of the charges; 2) the opportunity to appear at a disciplinary hearing and present witnesses and evidence, subject to legitimate safety and penological concerns; 3) a written statement by the hearing officer explaining his or her decision and the reasons for the action being taken; and 4) in some circumstances, the right to assistance in preparing a defense. Wolff:, 418 U.S. at 564-67, 94 S.Ct. at 2978-80;see also Eng v. Coughlin, 858 F.2d 889, 897-98 (2d Cir.1988).
Plaintiff's procedural due process claim is multi-faceted. In that claim, Ciaprazi maintains that 1) he was denied meaningful assistance by defendant Cole, who refused his request to interview potential witnesses identified by the plaintiff; 2) Hearing Officer Melino effectively denied the plaintiff access to witnesses since witness waiver forms, not to plaintiff's liking in form, were allegedly presented by an unknowledgeable corrections officer to those inmates whose testimony was requested by Ciaprazi, following which those inmates apparently refused to sign the waiver forms and appear to testify on his behalf; 3) the hearing officer was biased and partial, and demonstrated open hostility toward the plaintiff; 4) the hearing officer's disciplinary determination was not supported by the evidence; and 5) the hearing officer refused plaintiff's suggestion to administer polygraph tests to defendants Rogers and Fitzpatrick, as well as to Ciaprazi. Also implicit in plaintiff's due process claim is his contention that his constitutional rights were violated through the issuance of a false misbehavior report.
Plaintiff's arguments relating to the sufficiency of evidence supporting the hearing officer's finding of guilt can be swiftly discounted. The Constitution, including its Due Process Clause, requires only that there be some evidence of guilt supporting a prison disciplinary determination. Superintendent, Massachusetts Corr. Inst., Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-56, 105 S.Ct. 2768, 2774 (1985). Having reviewed the record of plaintiff's disciplinary proceeding in light of his submissions, I find that this standard has been met.
*13 Plaintiff's claims regarding the allegedly false misbehavior report also lack merit. It is well established that in the absence of other aggravating factors, an inmate enjoys no constitutional right against the issuance of a false misbehavior report. Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir.1986), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 982, 108 S.Ct. 1273 (1988). The rationale supporting this general rule is that an inmate's procedural due process rights are adequately safeguarded by the opportunity to challenge and present evidence to rebut the false accusations at a disciplinary hearing. Freeman, 808 F.2d at 953.
As for plaintiff's contention that his due process rights were violated when polygraph tests were not administered to key corrections officials, as requested by him, plaintiff has cited no cases-nor is the court aware of any-which require the administering of polygraph tests in connection with parties and witnesses in the context of an inmate disciplinary determination. See Hinebaugh v. Wiley, 137 F.Supp.2d 69, 79 (N.D.N.Y.2001) ("some evidence" does not require independent examination of credibility and therefore "certainly does not require" court to order personnel to submit to polygraph to ascertain if hearing testimony was truthful). This issue, then, provides no basis for finding the existence of a procedural due process violation.
Plaintiff's allegations regarding the ineffectiveness of his assigned assistant provide a greater basis for pause. While the requirements associated with the provision of such assistance are modest, they are not non-existent. Under Wolff, an inmate facing a Tier III disciplinary hearing is entitled to meaningful assistance in preparing his or her defense. Eng, 858 F.2d at 897-98. In this case, plaintiff asserts that while he was assigned an assistant, he was denied meaningful assistance from that individual. In support of this contention, plaintiff alleges that he identified certain witnesses critical to his defense, but that his assistant refused to interview those witnesses with an eye toward requesting their testimony during the hearing. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 20-21; Ciaprazi Aff. (Dkt. No. 46) ¶ 40. This, if true, could establish a due process violation based on the inadequacy of the inmate assistance provided to the plaintiff. See Ayers v. Ryan, 152 F.3d 77, 81 (2d Cir.1998).
In light of my inability to find, as a matter of law, that plaintiff did not suffer the deprivation of a liberty interest as a result of his five month period of disciplinary confinement, and additionally to conclude that no reasonable factfinder could find the existence of a due process violation associated with that disciplinary confinement, I recommend denial of the portion of defendants' summary judgment motion which seeks dismissal of plaintiff's due process claims.
F. Equal Protection
In his complaint plaintiff also complains of the alleged deprivation of equal protection. Defendants contend that this claim is also subject to dismissal as a matter of law.
*14 "The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, ' which is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne, Tx. v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 3254 (1985) (citation omitted). The general rule is that a policy is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the classification drawn by that policy is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Id. at 440, 105 S.Ct. at 3254. One exception to that rule, however, is when a policy classifies by race, alienage, or national origin-"[t]hese factors are so seldom relevant to the achievement of any legitimate state interest that laws grounded in such considerations are deemed to reflect prejudice and antipathy-a view that those in the burdened class are not as worthy or deserving as others."Id. For this reason, these policies are subjected to strict scrutiny and will be sustained only if they are suitably tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Id. The essence of a cognizable equal protection claim includes a showing of "clear and intentional discrimination." Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1, 8, 64 S.Ct. 397, 401 (1944) (internal quotation and citations omitted).
The apparent basis for plaintiff's equal protection claim is his contention that in light of his national origin, he was treated differently than United States citizen counterparts. In the face of defendants' summary judgment motion, it was incumbent upon the plaintiff to come forward with evidence which could support a claim that he was treated differently than other inmates, and that the difference in treatment could properly be attributed to his status as a Romanian. As such evidence, plaintiff offers only a statement made to him by defendant Fitzpatrick at one point, in substance, that plaintiff had "now... learned to speak English." See Plaintiff's Memorandum (Dkt. No. 46) at 29.Beyond this slender reed, plaintiff offers no evidence to support his claim that he was treated differently than inmates not of his national origin, and indeed acknowledges mere speculation on his part as to this premise, arguing that "discrimination based on national origin may... have placed [sic] a role in defendants' unlawful actions[.]" Plaintiff's Memorandum (Dkt. No. 46) at 29 (emphasis added). Instead, plaintiff's equal protection claims consist of mere surmise and speculation, and are subject to dismissal on this basis. See, e.g., Barr v. Abrams, 810 F.2d 358, 363 (2d Cir.1987) ("complaints relying on the civil rights statutes are insufficient unless they contain some specific allegations of fact indicating a deprivation of rights, instead of a litany of general conclusions that shock but have no meaning").
Despite being obligated to do so at this juncture, plaintiff has failed to adduce any evidence to show either that he was treated differently than his non-Romanian counterparts, and that the difference in treatment was based upon his national origin. I therefore recommend dismissal of plaintiff's equal protection claims as a matter of law.
G. United Nations Resolutions
*15 Each of plaintiff's eight causes of action is based, in part, upon two international agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ("UDHR") and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCPR"). Defendants maintain that as a matter of law, those provisions do not support claims under section 1983.
Section 1983 provides, in pertinent part, for a right of action on behalf of any person deprived of "any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws[.]"42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff argues that because the United States is a signatory to these two treaty-like provisions, they have the force of law and can be implemented, and individual treaty violations can give rise to recourse, under section 1983.
It is true that violation of a treaty entered into by the United States can serve as a basis for a claim for damages under section 1983, provided that the treaty allows for a private right of action to redress any alleged violations of its provisions. Standt v. City of New York, 153 F.Supp.2d 417, 422-30 (S.D.N.Y.2001) (finding private right of action under section 1983 for violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 21 U.S.T. 77, 101 T.I.A.S. No. 6820, 596 U.N.T.S. 261 (April 24, 1963)). To the extent that the defendants argue otherwise, and contend that treaties-as distinct from constitutional and other types of federal statutory provisions-cannot support a claim for section 1983 liability, see Defendants' Memorandum (Dkt. No. 39) at 17-18, that position therefore lacks support.
As can be seen, analysis of the sufficiency of plaintiff's claims under the cited treaty provisions turns upon whether those international agreements confer individual rights of action. In order to be found deserving of enforcement under section 1983 as a "law", a treaty ratified by the Senate must either be found to be self-executing or, alternatively, must have been the subject of implementing legislation by Congress. Mannington Mills, Inc. v. Congoleum Corp., 595 F.2d 1287, 1298 (3d Cir.1979).
Since plaintiff has pointed to no applicable implementing legislation, nor is the court aware of any, the availability of the ICCPR to support plaintiff's section 1983 claim depends upon whether it is self-executing. The majority of the courts addressing this issue, however, including within the Second Circuit, have concluded that it is not. See, e.g., Poindexter v. Nash, 333 F.3d 372, 379 (2d Cir.2003); Murray v. Warden, FCI Raybrook, No. 9:01-CV-255, 2002 WL 31741247, at *11 n. 10 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 5, 2002) (Sharpe, M.J.) (citing U.S. ex rel. Perez v. Warden, FMC Rochester, 286 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir.2002) and Reaves v. Warden, No. Civ. A3:01-CV-1149, 2002 WL 535398, at *9 (M.D.Pa. Mar. 22, 2002). Similarly, the UDHR has been characterized by the Second Circuit as "non-binding." Flores v. Southern Peru Copper Corp., 343 F.3d 140, 167-68 (2d Cir.2003).
*16 Based upon the foregoing, and without deciding whether the evidence in the record demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether those provisions were violated by defendants' alleged actions toward the plaintiff, I find that Ciaprazi's claims under the ICCPR and UDHR are legally deficient as a matter of law. I therefore recommend dismissal of plaintiff's claims which are dependent on those two international agreements.
H. Personal Involvement
Defendants claim that plaintiff's claims against defendants Goord and Selsky are legally deficient, in that the record fails to establish their requisite personal involvement in the constitutional violations alleged.
Personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under section 1983. Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.1994) (citing Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d 880, 885 (2d Cir.1991) and McKinnon v. Patterson, 568 F.2d 930, 934 (2d Cir.1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1087, 98 S.Ct. 1282 (1978)). In order to prevail on a section 1983 cause of action against an individual, a plaintiff must show some tangible connection between the constitutional violation alleged and that particular defendant. See Bass v. Jackson, 790 F.2d 260, 263 (2d Cir.1986).
A supervisor cannot be liable for damages under section 1983 solely by virtue of being a supervisor-there is no respondeat superior liability under section 1983. Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431, 435 (2d Cir.2003); Wright, 21 F.3d at 501. A supervisory official can, however, be liable in one of several ways: 1) the supervisor may have directly participated in the challenged conduct; 2) the supervisor, after learning of the violation through a report or appeal, may have failed to remedy the wrong; 3) the supervisor may have created or allowed to continue a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred; 4) the supervisor may have been grossly negligent in managing the subordinates who caused the unlawful event; or 5) the supervisor may have failed to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring. Richardson, 347 F.3d at 435; Wright, 21 F.3d at 501; Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323-24 (2d Cir.1986).
The basis for asserting liability against defendant Selsky arises exclusively from plaintiff's appeal from his disciplinary determination. That appeal was addressed by defendant Selsky, whose review of that appeal sufficiently establishes his personal involvement in any alleged due process violations based upon his being positioned to discern and remedy the ongoing effects of any such violations. See, e.g., Gilbert v. Selsky, 867 F.Supp. 159, 166 (S.D.N.Y.1994).
Plaintiff's claim against defendant Goord is far more tenuous. Plaintiff asserts that because his appeal was mailed directly to defendant Goord who, consistent with his established practice, then referred it to defendant Selsky for review, the Commissioner "presumably read [its] contents." See Plaintiff's Memorandum (Dkt. No. 46) at 32.This, coupled with his contention that as the ultimate supervisor of the DOCS defendant Goord was positioned to remedy the violations which he suffered, forms the sole basis for his claims against defendant Goord. These are merely claims against defendant Goord in his supervisory capacity; to sanction them would be to allow for respondeat superior liability. Since it is well established that such liability does not lie under section 1983, and there is no other discernible basis to conclude defendant Goord's awareness of or involvement in the matters alleged in plaintiff's complaint, I recommend that defendants' motion be granted and plaintiff's claims against defendant Goord be dismissed based upon lack of personal involvement. Richardson, 347 F.3d at 435 (quoting Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir.1985); "mere 'linkage in the prison chain of command' is insufficient to implicate a state commissioner of corrections or a prison superintendent in a § 1983 claim"); Scott v. Coughlin, 78 F.Supp.2d 299, 312 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (Commissioner's act of forwarding appeals addressed to him to Selsky insufficient to establish personal involvement; citing, inter alia, Sealey v. Giltner, 116 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir.1991)).
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
*17 The plaintiff, an experienced and well-versed pro se litigant, has commenced this action asserting various claims arising out of the issuance of a disciplinary misbehavior report and the process which followed, including the punishment received. Upon examination of the record, I find no evidence tending to demonstrate that the adverse actions taken against the plaintiff were motivated by disciplinary animus, and thereby recommend the entry of summary judgment dismissing his retaliation claim. I do, however, find the existence of triable issues of fact regarding whether or not Ciaprazi was deprived of a constitutionally significant liberty interest, and whether the assistance provided to the plaintiff in anticipation of his hearing was constitutionally adequate, and therefore recommend against summary dismissal of plaintiff's procedural due process claims.
Addressing plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims I find, particularly in view of the lack of any evidence to the contrary, that the conditions described by the plaintiff could lead a reasonable factfinder to conclude that they amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore recommend against the entry of summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim. I further find, however, no basis to conclude that a reasonable factfinder could find an Eighth amendment violation based on the Tier III regulatory scheme, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, or that the international treaty provisions cited give rise to a private right of action. Accordingly, I recommend dismissal of those claims.
Finally, I recommend dismissal of plaintiff's claims against defendant Goord based upon the lack of his personal involvement, but against dismissal of plaintiff's claims against defendant Selsky on this basis. It is therefore hereby RECOMMENDED that defendants' summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 39) be GRANTED in part, and that all of plaintiff's claims against defendant Goord, and all of plaintiff's claims against the remaining defendants except his procedural due process and Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement causes of action, be DISMISSED, but that to the extent of those claims, with respect to which triable issues of fact exist, I recommend that defendants' motion be DENIED.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72.1(c), the parties have TEN days within which to file written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN TEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a), 6(e), 72; 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir.1993) (citations omitted); and it is further hereby
ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court serve a copy of this Report and Recommendation upon the parties by regular mail.
Attorneys and Law Firms
Andre Dolberry, Fishkill, NY, pro se.
Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, New York State Attorney General, Adele Taylor-Scott, Esq., Ass't Attorney General, of Counsel, Albany, NY, for Defendants.
DECISION and ORDER
DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.
*1 Pro se plaintiff Andre Dolberry, who is also sometimes known as Andre Duberry, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On February 28, 2014, the Honorable David E. Peebles, United States Magistrate Judge, advised by Report-Recommendation that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied, and that plaintiff's complaint in this action be dismissed based upon his material misrepresentation to the court, under oath, that he has not brought any prior actions relating to his imprisonment. Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Report-Recommendation.
Based upon a de novo review of the portions of the Report-Recommendation to which plaintiff objected, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in all respects. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
Therefore, it is
1. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is DENIED;
2. Plaintiffs complaint is DISMISSED in its entirety based upon his material misrepresentations to the court and abuse of the litigation process; and
3. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED as moot.
The Clerk is directed to serve a copy of this Decision and Order upon plaintiff in ...