United States District Court, N.D. New York
MAYNARD, O'CONNOR, SMITH & CATALINOTTO, LLP, ADAM T. MANDELL, ESQ., Saugerties, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.
OFFICE OF THE NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, CATHY Y. SHEEHAN, AAG, JUSTIN L. ENGEL, AAG, Albany, New York, Attorneys for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.
Plaintiffs commenced this action on May 23, 2012, alleging that, while incarcerated at Riverview Correctional Facility ("Riverview C.F."), they were denied the religious foods and drink necessary to observe and practice their religion in violation of their First Amendment rights. See Dkt. No. 1. On April 15, 2014, Defendants requested an evidentiary hearing regarding Plaintiffs' alleged failure to exhaust their administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). See Dkt. No. 43. The Court set a briefing schedule on the exhaustion issue and on November 14, 2014, the Court held an exhaustion hearing. See Dkt. Nos. 60 & 61.
Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion seeking dismissal of this action for Plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their administrative remedies.
On June 15, 2012, Plaintiffs Jay Kravitz, Michael Stoddard and four other individuals commenced this action while in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiffs allege several civil rights violations concerning their right to freely practice their religion while incarcerated at Riverview C.F. in April of 2011.
In their motion, Defendants contend that neither Plaintiff took the first step in grieving any of the allegations in their complaint. See Dkt. No. 60 at 4. Further, Defendants assert that neither Defendant filed an appeal to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), the third step in the grievance process, regarding any of the claims in the complaint. See id.
At the exhaustion hearing, Plaintiff Kravitz testified that he filed a grievance regarding the events at issue in this suit. See Transcript of Exhaustion Hearing dated November 14, 2014 ("Tr.") at 8, 44. In response to the grievance, Plaintiff Kravitz claims that he was called into Deputy Frank's office to discuss the matter, but that he never received a formal written response. See id. at 8, 44-45. Plaintiff Kravitz testified that, during the meeting, Deputy Superitendent Frank informed him and another inmate that there was no need to file a formal grievance and indicated that he would take care of the problem. See id. at 45. As such, Plaintiff Kravitz contends that he did not further pursue his grievance because of Deputy Superintendent Frank's representation to him.
Additionally, Plaintiff Kravitz testified at the hearing that he did not follow the formal grievance procedure regarding the events at issue in this case because he "was being threatened, physically and with things that we call set up." Id. at 50. Specifically, Plaintiff Kravitz testified that he "had one officer clearly threaten my safety" and indicated "that he was gonna beat me to death." Id. at 50-51. Although Plaintiff Kravitz did not file a grievance regarding the alleged threat that occurred in April of 2011, on September 28, 2011 he filed a grievance alleging that an Officer Bell threatened him for having previously filed a grievance against him. See id. at 7-8.
Plaintiff Stoddard also testified that he filed a formal grievance regarding the events at issue in this case. See id. at 57. Plaintiff Stoddard claimed that no action was ever taken on his grievance and, despite not receiving a response to the grievance, he did not file an appeal to the superintendent or the CORC. See id. According to Plaintiff Stoddard, he believed that Plaintiff Kravitz was acting on his behalf when he met with Deputy Superintendent Frank to discuss his grievance. See id. at 57-58.
Deputy Superintendent Frank also testified at the exhaustion hearing. See id. at 27-43. In April of 2011, Mr. Frank was the Deputy Superintendent of Programs at Riverview C.F. See id. at 28. Deputy Superintendent Frank testified that he would never tell an inmate not to file a grievance regarding a complaint the inmate may have. See id. at 29-30. Every week at the facility, the inmates are informed that, if they have a problem you have the right to file a grievance. See id. at 30. However, they are also encouraged to attempt to resolve any issue they may be having "at the lowest level." Id. If, however, the inmate is unable to informally resolve the issue, they are told that they should file a grievance. See id.
Deputy Superintendent Frank also testified about his meeting with Plaintiff Kravitz and Juarez Barreto regarding the alleged events in April of 2011. See id. at 30-34. According to Deputy Superintendent Frank, the alleged conduct was investigated. See id. at 34. Again, Deputy Superintendent Frank testified that he did not tell Plaintiff Kravitz to not ...