United States District Court, N.D. New York
January 30, 2015
BENJI D. REED, Plaintiff,
JOHN DOE, 1 and SUPERINTENDENT, Eastern Correctional Facility, Defendants
BENJI D. REED, PLAINTIFF, Pro se, Pine City, NY.
FOR DEFENDANTS: JAMES SEAMAN, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, OF COUNSEL, HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, New York State Attorney General, Albany, NY.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
David E. Peebles, United States Magistrate Judge.
Pro se plaintiff Benji D. Reed, a New York State prison inmate, commenced this action in March 2011 alleging, inter alia, that some of the defendants employed at the Eastern Correctional Facility violated his civil rights and committed negligence during the course of his incarceration in that facility. The scope of this action has been narrowed as a result motion practice, and the only remaining cause of action is an Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim asserted against defendant John Doe 1, who has not been identified by plaintiff. To assist plaintiff in identifying defendant John Doe 1, the court substituted the superintendent of Eastern for purposes of service and discovery only. Following the close of discovery, the superintendent filed the currently pending motion seeking the entry of summary judgment in his favor in light of the absence of any record evidence that he was personally involved in the allegations giving rise to this action. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the superintendent's motion be granted.
Plaintiff is a prison inmate currently in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (" DOCCS"). See generally Dkt. No. 30. Although he is now incarcerated elsewhere, at the times relevant to his claims Reed was confined in the Eastern Correctional Facility (" Eastern"), located in Napanock, New York. Id.; Dkt. No. 55.
Plaintiff commenced this action on March 8, 2011, asserting the deprivation of his constitutional and federal statutory rights, as well as common law claims, against two unnamed defendants, designated as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, and defendant M. Soto, a Corrections Counselor at Eastern. See generally Dkt. No. 30. In his complaint, as amended, plaintiff alleges that on September 14, 2010, he became ill after consuming spoiled corn and rice at the Eastern mess hall. Id. at 3. As a result, plaintiff suffered abdominal pain and extreme bouts of diarrhea. Id. Plaintiff alleges that defendant John Doe 1 was advised that the corn and rice emitted a foul odor and could be contaminated, but failed to heed the warning and ordered that it be served to the general prison population. Id. at 4.
Plaintiff was initially treated on the following day at the Eastern medical clinic, along with several other infected inmates, and was given " dymo tablets" to address the condition. Dkt. No. 30 at 3. He was subsequently directed to return to the clinic later that day, however, and instructed to discontinue the use of the dymo tablets and told that he would instead be placed on a water diet and confined to his cell for one day to flush out any infection. Id. at 4.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff commenced this action on March 8, 2011. Dkt. No. 1. As defendants, plaintiff's complaint named two " Doe" defendants, M. Soto, and seven corrections employees assigned to Southport. Id. at 2. The complaint asserted claims under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution; the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq .; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (" section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794; and New York State common law. See generally id. Based upon an initial review of plaintiff's complaint and an accompanying in forma pauperis application, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), Senior District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy directed all claims arising from the events occurring at Southport severed and transferred to the Western District of New York. Dkt. No. 4.
In response to plaintiff's complaint, defendant Soto, the sole remaining named defendant in the action following Judge McAvoy's decision, moved for dismissal of plaintiff's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 11. Plaintiff followed with a motion, filed on December 7, 2011, seeking leave to amend his complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 14. Plaintiff's motion was intended, in part, to clarify and expand upon the allegations set forth in his original complaint related to the events at Eastern and eliminate claims and references to the defendants affected by the transfer to the Western District of New York. Id. In a report issued on July 26, 2012, I recommended dismissal of plaintiff's claims against defendant Soto with leave to amend regarding plaintiff's cause of action for retaliation. Dkt. No. 22. Judge McAvoy adopted that recommendation on September 30, 2012, and plaintiff was granted leave to replead within thirty days. Dkt. No. 28.
Plaintiff availed himself of the opportunity to amend, and submitted an amended complaint on October 12, 2012. Dkt. No. 30. Upon review of that amended complaint, I issued a report dated November 9, 2012, in which I recommended that (1) the amended complaint be rejected insofar as it asserts a retaliation claim against defendant Soto and that the claim be dismissed with prejudice; (2) the amended complaint be rejected with respect to plaintiff's state common law claims against defendant John Doe 2; (3) plaintiff's amended complaint be accepted as it relates to the constitutional claims asserted against defendant John Doe 1; (4) the superintendent at Eastern be added as a defendant for the purposes of service and discovery to assist plaintiff in identifying defendant John Doe 1; and (5) Judge McAvoy direct plaintiff to take reasonable steps to ascertain the identity of defendant John Doe 1 and seek permission to add that individual by name as a defendant in the action. Dkt. No. 33 at 18-21. On September 27, 2013, Judge McAvoy adopted these recommendations. Dkt. No. 39.
Following the joinder of issue, I issued a standard Rule 16 scheduling order, which, inter alia, required that both parties provide mandatory disclosures and established April 4, 2014 as a deadline for completion of all discovery in the action. Dkt. No. 49.
Following the close of discovery, the Eastern superintendent filed the pending motion seeking the entry of summary judgment in his favor. Dkt. No. 53. The superintendent contends that dismissal is appropriate in light of the fact that he is not implicated in plaintiff's claims and plaintiff has failed to identify and join the individual identified in the amended complaint as defendant John Doe 1. Plaintiff has not responded to defendant's motion, which is now ripe for determination, and 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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment motions are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that provision, the entry of summary judgment is warranted " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 82-83 (2d Cir. 2004). A fact is " material" for purposes of this inquiry, if it " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553 (2d Cir. 2005). A material fact is genuinely in dispute " if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
A party moving for summary judgment 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, and the failure to meet this burden warrants denial of the motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 n.4; Sec. Ins. Co., 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 dispute of fact for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
When deciding a summary judgment motion, a court must resolve any ambiguities, and draw all inferences, in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Jeffreys, 426 F.3d at 553; Wright v. Coughlin, 132 F.3d 133, 137-38 (2d Cir. 1998). The entry of summary judgment is justified only in the event of a finding that no reasonable trier of fact could rule in favor of the non-moving party. Bldg. Trades Employers' Educ. Ass'n v. McGowan, 311 F.3d 501, 507-08 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (finding summary judgment appropriate only when " there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict").
B. Plaintiff's Failure to Respond to the Superintendent's Motion
Pursuant to local rule 7.1(b)(3), by failing to oppose the Eastern superintendent's motion, plaintiff has effectively consented to the granting of the relief sought. That rule provides as follows:
Where a properly filed motion is unopposed and the Court determines that the moving party has met its burden to demonstrate entitlement to the relief requested therein, the non-moving party's failure to file or serve any papers as this Rule requires shall be deemed as consent to the granting or denial of the motion, as the case may be, unless good cause is shown.
N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(b)(3); see also Jackson v. Fed. Express, 766 F.3d 189, 194 (2d Cir. 2014) (holding that the district courts may enter summary judgment in favor of the moving party where the non-moving party fails to respond in opposition, but not without first " ensur[ing] that each statement of material fact is support by record evidence sufficient to satisfy the movant's burden of production" and " determin[ing] whether the legal theory of the motion is sound").
In this case, plaintiff has not responded to the pending motion, which was properly filed by the superintendent. Through his motion, the superintendent has satisfied his burden of demonstrating entitlement to the relief requested. With respect to the question of the superintendent's burden, I note that his " burden of persuasion is lightened such that, in order to succeed, [their] motion need only be 'facially meritorious.'" See Rodriguez v. Goord, No. 04-CV-0358, 2007 WL 4246443, at *1 (Scullin, J., adopting report and recommendation by Lowe, M.J.) (finding that whether a movant has met its burden to demonstrate entitlement to a dismissal under local rule 7.1(b)(3) " is a more limited endeavor than a review of a contested motion to dismiss" (citing cases)). Because the superintendent has accurately cited both proper legal authority and evidence in the record supporting the grounds upon which his motion is based, and plaintiff has failed to respond in opposition, I find the motion is facially meritorious. Jackson, 766 F.3d at 194. Accordingly, I recommend that the court grant the superintendent's motion on this basis.
C. Eastern Superintendent
The superintendent at Eastern, the sole remaining named defendant in the action, has moved for the entry of summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims against him based upon lack of personal involvement. Dkt. No. 53-14 at 5-7. " 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); McKinnon v. Patterson, 568 F.2d 930, 934 (2d Cir. 1977)). As the Supreme Court has noted, a defendant may only be held accountable for his actions under section 1983. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 683 (" [P]etitioners cannot be held liable unless they themselves acted on account of a constitutionally protected characteristic."). To prevail on a section 1983 cause of action against an individual, a plaintiff must show " a tangible connection between the acts of a defendant and the injuries suffered." Bass v. Jackson, 790 F.2d 260, 263 (2d Cir. 1986). " To be sufficient before the law, a complaint must state precisely who did what and how such behavior is actionable under law." Hendrickson v. U.S. Attorney Gen., No. 91-CV-8135, 1994 WL 23069, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 1994).
When the superintendent was added as a defendant by the court, it was done for the express purpose of permitting plaintiff to engage in discovery in an attempt to ascertain the identity of defendant John Doe 1. In my report dated November 9, 2012, I stated the following:
I recommend that the clerk of the court be directed to add the superintendent of Eastern as a defendant for service and discovery purposes only. By doing so, I do not suggest in any way that the superintendent of Eastern was personally involved in the events allegedly giving rise to the Eighth Amendment claim asserted against defendant John Doe #1.
Dkt. No. 33 at 16. Since the issuance of that report and recommendation, plaintiff has not identified defendant John Doe 1, and there is no record evidence suggesting that the superintendent was personally involved in the decision to serve allegedly spoiled food to the inmates at Eastern.
In light of the fact that plaintiff has failed to adduce any evidence suggesting that the superintendent was personally involved in the alleged constitutional violation, and his presence in the lawsuit for discovery purposes is no longer needed, I recommend that plaintiff's claims against him be dismissed.
D. John Doe 1
In his motion, the Eastern superintendent also urges the court to dismiss plaintiff's claims against defendant John Doe No. 1. Dkt. No. 53-14 at 7.
In the court's order issued on September 27, 2013, plaintiff was directed to take reasonable steps to ascertain the identity of defendant John Doe 1. Dkt. No. 39 at 6. In that decision, Judge McAvoy pointedly advised that " [p]laintiff's failure to ascertain the identity of Defendant John Doe #1 will result in the dismissal of this action[.]" Id. Because plaintiff failed to heed that warning and take timely measures reasonably calculated to ascertain the identity of John Doe #1, I recommend that his claims against that defendant be dismissed without prejudice. See, e.g., Pravada v. City of Albany, 178 F.R.D. 25, 26 (N.D.N.Y. 1998) (Scullin, J.) (dismissing the unidentified " John Doe" and " Jane Roe" defendants after the plaintiff had been provided " over two years to identify and serve these individuals, including the full discovery period").
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMDATION
The sole remaining claim in this action is asserted against an unidentified corrections employee based on plaintiff's allegation that he served spoiled food to the general inmate population at Eastern. In deference to his pro se status, the court directed that the superintendent at Eastern be named as a defendant so that plaintiff could be afforded a reasonable opportunity to engage in discovery calculated to lead to the identity of defendant John Doe 1. Despite this and the court's warnings that the failure to identify defendant John Doe 1 would result in dismissal of plaintiff's claims against him, plaintiff has not yet done so. Accordingly, I recommend that all of the remaining claims in this action, which was commenced nearly four years ago, be dismissed with regard to the superintendent, who was not personally involved in the constitutional violations alleged, and as against defendant John Doe 1, who remains unidentified. Accordingly, it is hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED that the Eastern superintendent's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 53) be GRANTED; and it is further
RECOMMENDED that plaintiff's claims against defendant superintendent be DISMISSED with prejudice and his claims against defendant John Doe 1 be DISMISSED without prejudice.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections must be filed with the clerk of the court within FOURTEEN days of service of this report. FAILURE TO SO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a), 6(d), 72; Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993).
It is hereby ORDERED that the clerk of the court serve a copy of this report and recommendation upon the parties in accordance with this court's local rules.