United States District Court, N.D. New York
KENDALE JUDGE, Pro Se Bare Hill Correctional Facility Malone, NY, for Plaintiff.
HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, New York State Attorney General, Albany, NY, COLLEEN D. GALLIGAN, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, for Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.
Pro se plaintiff Kendale Judge, a New York State prison inmate, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendant William Gibson, a corrections officer, and other corrections personnel, including the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), violated his civil rights. Plaintiff's claims are based upon an incident in which defendant Gibson is alleged to have verbally and physically assaulted the plaintiff.
Currently pending before the court is a motion by defendant Gibson, the sole remaining defendant in the action following the earlier dismissal of the other four named defendants, seeking the entry of summary judgment dismissing the balance of plaintiff's claims based on plaintiff's failure to exhaust available administrative remedies before filing suit and on the merits. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that defendant's motion be granted.
Plaintiff is a prison inmate currently in the custody of the DOCCS. See generally, Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff is confined in the Bare Hill Correctional Facility ("Bare Hill"), located in Malone, New York, where he was incarcerated at the times relevant to his claims in this action. Id.
On March 19, 2013, Judge was removed from a class at Bare Hill for being argumentative with the teacher. Dkt. No. 1 at 4. The teacher escorted the plaintiff to the officers' desk in the lobby of Bare Hill's school building and described plaintiff's behavior to defendant Gibson, who, at the time, served as the main school officer. Dkt. No. 22-3 at 2. As a result of the incident, plaintiff was issued a misbehavior report by the teacher. Dkt. No. 22-3 at 5.
At this point, the parties' versions of the relevant events diverge. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Gibson and two other corrections officers escorted Judge to an empty room where he was positioned with his hands against the wall and feet spread apart. Dkt. No. 1 at 5. Defendant Gibson then grabbed him by the neck, at which point Judge fell to his hands and knees on a bench. Id. Defendant Gibson began making insulting verbal comments toward plaintiff and slapped him three times on the back of the head. Id.
Defendant's version of the relevant events significantly differs from plaintiff's account. According to the defendant, after plaintiff was removed from class, Gibson directed plaintiff to wait in the lobby of the school building until the area supervisor was notified of the situation, at which time the supervisor released Judge without incident back into his housing unit pending a disciplinary hearing. Dkt. No. 22-3 at 2. Defendant Gibson denies having physically assaulted or verbally harassed the plaintiff on March 19, 2013, or at any other time, and denies ever "physically touch[ing] plaintiff at all in any way whatsoever" on that date. Id. In light of plaintiff's complaint that he was assaulted by a corrections officer, Judge was examined by medical staff at Bare Hill on March 27, 2013, at which time no bruises or injuries were observed. Dkt. No. 22-3 at 5.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff's complaint, which is dated May 11, 2013, was filed in the Eastern District of New York on May 17, 2013. Dkt. No. 1. The complaint named five defendants, including Corrections Officer Gibson; DOCCS Commissioner Brian Fischer; Bare Hill Superintendent Bruce S. Yelich; Mrs. Larue, a teacher at Bare Hill; and the State of New York. Id. at 3. Plaintiff's complaint was accompanied by an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"). Dkt. No. 3. The matter was subsequently transferred to this district on June 21, 2013, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 112(a), 1406(a). Dkt. No. 5.
Upon receipt of the matter in this district, plaintiff's complaint and accompanying IFP application were reviewed by Senior District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., who granted plaintiff's request to proceed IFP and dismissed all of the claims set forth in plaintiff's complaint with the exception of the excessive force claim asserted against defendant Gibson. See generally Dkt. No. 13.
On March 13, 2014, following the close of discovery, defendant Gibson moved for the entry of summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims against him. Dkt. No. 22. In his motion, defendant contends that (1) plaintiff's complaint is procedurally deficient based upon his failure to exhaust available administrative remedies before commencing suit, and (2) no reasonable factfinder could conclude plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights were violated by his actions, even as alleged by the plaintiff in his complaint. Dkt. No. 22-6 at 4-10. On April 13, 2014, plaintiff filed a document which the court has liberally construed as his response in opposition to defendant's motion. Dkt. No. 24. In his submission, plaintiff includes (1) a document purporting to be an affidavit from a fellow inmate regarding the alleged assault by defendant Gibson, and (2) a letter recounting the incident, which plaintiff alleges he sent "to Albany." Dkt. No. 24. Significantly, plaintiff's opposition does not include a statement in response to defendant's local rule 7.1(a)(3) statement of undisputed material facts.
Defendant's 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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).
A. Plaintiff's Failure to Submit a Responsive Rule 7.1(a)(3) Statement
As was noted above, although plaintiff submitted a brief response to defendant's summary judgment motion, it did not address defendant's statement of undisputed material issues of fact submitted pursuant to rule 7.1(a)(3) of the local rules of practice for this court. See generally Dkt. No. 24. Before turning to the merits of defendant's motion, a threshold issue to be addressed is the legal significance of this failure.
This court's local rules provide that any motion for summary judgment must be accompanied by a statement of material facts as to which, the moving party submits, there exists no genuine dispute. N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The rule further requires that each fact listed set forth a specific citation to the record where the fact is established. Id.
In this instance, defendant's motion was accompanied by a proper rule 7.1(a)(3) statement, including corresponding record citations. Dkt. No. 22-1. The motion also included a notice to plaintiff of the consequences of failing to properly respond to the summary judgment motion, which stated that, "[i]f [plaintiff] do[es] not submit a proper response to the defendants' statement of material facts, the Court may deem [him] to have admitted the defendants' factual statements." Dkt. No. 22 at 3 (emphasis in original).
Rule 7.1(a)(3) provides that "[t]he Court shall deem admitted any facts set forth in the Statement of Material Facts that the opposing party does not specifically controvert." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3) (emphasis in original). Under this rule, plaintiff's failure to respond to the defendant's rule 7.1(a)(3) statement is the functional equivalent of his admission of the material facts contained with the statement for purposes of the instant motion. See Elgamil v. Syracuse Univ., No. 99-CV-611, 2000 WL 1264122, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 22, 2000) (McCurn J.) (listing cases); see also Monahan v. N.Y. City Dep't of Corrs., 214 F.3d 275, 292 (2d Cir. 2000) (discussing district courts' discretion to adopt local rule 7.1(a)(3); Ketchuck v. Boyer, No. 10-CV-0870, 2011 WL 5080404, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 25, 2011) (McAvoy, J.) ("[T]he responding Statement of Material Facts is not a mere formality, and the courts apply this rule strictly." (listing cases)).
B. 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 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (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").
C. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
In his motion, defendant Gibson argues that plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal based upon his failure to exhaust available administrative remedies before commencing suit. Dkt. No. 22-6 at 4-6. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), which imposes several restrictions on the ability of prisoners to maintain federal civil rights actions, expressly requires that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see also Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006) ("Exhaustion is... mandatory. Prisoners must now exhaust all available' remedies[.]"); Hargrove v. Riley, No. 04-CV-4587, 2007 WL 389003, at *5-6 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2007) ("The exhaustion requirement is a mandatory condition precedent to any suit challenging prison conditions, including suits brought under Section 1983."). "[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). In the event the defendant establishes that the inmate plaintiff failed "to fully complete the administrative review process" prior to commencing the action, the plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal. Pettus v. McCoy, No. 04-CV-0471, 2006 WL 2639369, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2006) (McAvoy, J.); see also Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93 ("[W]e are persuaded that the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion."). "Proper exhaustion" requires a plaintiff to procedurally exhaust his claims by "compl[ying] with the system's critical procedural rules." Woodford, 548 U.S. at 95; accord, Macias v. Zenk, 495 F.3d 37, 43 (2d Cir. 2007).
The DOCCS makes available to inmates a grievance procedure entitled the Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP"). The IGP is comprised of three steps that inmates must satisfy when they have a grievance regarding prison conditions. 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.5; Mingues v. Nelson, No. 96-CV-5396, 2004 WL 324898, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2004). Embodied in 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701, the IGP requires that an inmate first file a complaint with the facility's IGP clerk within twenty-one days of the alleged occurrence. 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.5(a)(1). If a grievance complaint form is not readily available, a complaint may be submitted on plain paper. Id. A representative of the facility's Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") has up to sixteen days after the grievance is filed to informally resolve the issue. Id. at § 701.5(b)(1). If there is no such informal resolution, then the full IGRC conducts a hearing within sixteen days after receipt of the grievance. Id. at § 701.5(b)(2).
A grievant may then appeal the IGRC's decision to the facility's superintendent within seven days after receipt of the IGRC's written decision. Id. at § 701.5(c). The superintendent must issue a written decision within a certain number of days after receipt of the grievant's appeal. Id. at § 701.5(c)(i), (ii).
The third and final step of the IGP involves an appeal to the DOCCS Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), which must be taken within seven days after receipt of the superintendent's written decision. Id. at § 701.5(d)(1)(i). The CORC is required to render a written decision within thirty days of receipt of the appeal. Id. at § 701.5(d)(2)(i).
As can be seen, at each step of the IGP process, a decision must be rendered within a specified time period. Significantly, "[a]ny failure by the IGRC or the superintendent to timely respond to a grievance or first-level appeal, respectively, can - and must - be appealed to the next level, including CORC, to complete the grievance process." Murray v. Palmer, No. 03-CV-1010, 2010 WL 1235591, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010) (Hurd, J., adopting report and recommendation by Lowe, M.J.) (citing, inter alia, 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.6(g)(2)).
Generally, if a plaintiff fails to follow each of the required three steps of the above-described procedure prior to commencing litigation, he has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Ruggerio v. Cnty. of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 176 (2d Cir. 2006) ("[T]he PLRA requires proper exhaustion, which means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits)." (quotation marks omitted)).
The record is equivocal as to whether plaintiff filed a formal grievance concerning the events relevant to this action. In his complaint, Judge alleges that he did file a grievance and appealed it to the facility superintendent, Albany, and the DOCCS Inspector General. Dkt. No. 1 at 2. In his deposition, however, plaintiff testified that he did not file a grievance out of fear of retaliation by corrections officers. Dkt. No. 22-2 at 18. In response to defendant's motion, plaintiff attached a "grievance" he "sent to Albany, " which shows two stamps, one indicating receipt by the DOCCS Office of Counsel for the Board of Parole on March 22, 2013, and a second showing receipt by the DOCCS on March 26, 2013. Dkt. No. 24 at 3-4. The latter also states "RECEIVED INMATE GRIEVANCE." Id. at 3.
Regardless of whether plaintiff filed a formal grievance through the IGP concerning the alleged assault by defendant Gibson, it is uncontested that any such grievance was not pursued to completion through appeal to the CORC. Defendant's rule 7.1(a)(3) statement, to which plaintiff has not responded, includes the following assertion:
Plaintiff did not appeal to CORC regarding any grievance filed under NYCRR §§ 701.5 or 701.8 alleging he was subjected to excessive force by Officer Gibson at Bare Hill Correctional Facility on March 19, 2013. See, Hale Decl. ¶¶ 11-12.
Dkt. No. 22-1 at 4. To satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, plaintiff must have completed all steps of the IGP, including seeking review by the CORC. Ruggerio, 467 F.3d at 176. In light of plaintiff's failure to respond to this statement, and the fact that it is supported by the record, it therefore stands uncontested, for purposes of the instant motion, that plaintiff did not fully exhaust the available administrative remedies concerning the events giving rise to this action.
Plaintiff's apparent failure to exhaust available remedies is not necessarily fatal to his claims. In a series of decisions rendered since enactment of the PLRA, the Second Circuit has prescribed a three-part test for determining whether dismissal of an inmate plaintiff's complaint is warranted when an inmate has failed to file and pursue to completion a proper grievance concerning the issues raised in the action. See, e.g., Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir. 2004); see also Macias, 495 F.3d at 41. Those decisions instruct that, before dismissing an action as a result of a plaintiff's failure to exhaust, a court must first determine whether the administrative remedies were available to the plaintiff at the relevant times. Macias, 495 F.3d at 41; Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. In the event of a finding that a remedy existed and was available, the court must next examine whether the defendant has forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to properly raise or preserve it, or whether, through his own actions preventing the exhaustion of plaintiff's remedies, he should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust as a defense. Id. In the event the exhaustion defense survives these first two levels of scrutiny, the court must examine whether the plaintiff has plausibly alleged special circumstances to justify his failure to comply with the applicable administrative procedure requirements. Id.
Liberally construing plaintiff's allegations, deposition testimony, and his response in opposition to the pending motion, it appears he contends that he should be excused from his failure to exhaust administrative remedies because he feared retaliation by corrections officers. Dkt. No. 22-2 at 18; Dkt. No. 24 at 1. In addition, in his response to defendant's motion, Judge states "I am still in fear of my safety and life at this time[.]" Plaintiff's purported fear of retaliation lacks plausibility in light of the letter sent by him to the DOCCS on the same day of the alleged assault. Dkt. No. 24 at 3-4. In addition, plaintiff commenced this action less than two months following the incident. Dkt. No. 1. These circumstances bely plaintiffs conclusory and unsupported claim that he feared retribution. Similarly, plaintiff's vague and unsupported allegation, in his response to the defendant's motion, that he is "still in fear for [his] safety" is not sufficient to satisfy any of the exceptions to the exhaustion rule. See Singh v. Lynch, 460 F.Appx. 45, 47-48 (2d Cir. 2012) ("The test for determining the availability of grievance procedures to a prisoner is objective.... Singh's subjective fear of retaliatory physical harm derives from two facts: the unreported June 6, 2005 assault and other inmates' warnings that Lynch was out to get him. The former fact cannot, by itself, support an objective finding that grievance procedures were unavailable.... As for the alleged inmate warnings, in the absence of any particulars indicating that Lynch was looking to do more than harass Singh..., this fact cannot support a finding that grievance procedures for an assault claim were effectively unavailable."); Harrison v. Stallone, No. 06-CV-0902, 2007 WL 2789473, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2007) (Kahn, J., adopting report and recommendation by DiBianco, M.J.) (concluding that the plaintiff was not excused from exhausting available administrative remedies even where the plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he did not file a grievance because he was "afraid of retaliation' and he stated in opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgment that "he had a legitimate fear' of retaliation because of his substantive claim is one for retaliation"). To hold otherwise would permit an exception that would be easily and often incanted by inmates, and would potentially undermine the PLRA's exhaustion rule. Harrison, 2007 WL 2789473, at *6.
Based upon the foregoing, I recommend a finding that plaintiff's claims in this action are subject to dismissal on the procedural ground that he failed to exhaust available administrative remedies before commencing suit.
D. Merits of Plaintiff's Excessive Force Claim
Addressing the merits of plaintiff's claims, defendant Gibson argues that his allegations are not sufficient to support a cognizable constitutional claim. Dkt. No. 22-6 at 7-10. Plaintiff's excessive force claim is grounded in the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits punishment that is "incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society[, ]' or involve[s] the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain[.]' Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102-03 (1976) (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 100-01 (1958) and Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 169-73 (1976) (citations omitted)). While the Eighth Amendment "does not mandate comfortable prisons, ' neither does it permit inhumane ones." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981)).
A plaintiff's constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment is violated by an "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (quotation marks omitted); Griffin v. Crippen, 193 F.3d 89, 91 (2d Cir. 1999). "A claim of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment has two components - one subjective, focusing on the defendant's motive for his conduct, and the other objective, focusing on the conduct's effect." Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 268 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7-8; Blyden v. Mancusi, 186 F.3d 252, 262 (2d Cir. 1999)). To satisfy the subjective requirement in an excessive force case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that "the defendant had the necessary level of culpability, shown by actions characterized by wantonness in light of the particular circumstances surrounding the challenged conduct." Wright, 554 F.3d at 268 (quotation marks omitted). This inquiry turns on "whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6 (1992) (quotation marks omitted); accord, Blyden, 186 F.3d at 262. The Supreme Court has emphasized that the nature of the force applied is the "core judicial inquiry" in excessive force cases - not "whether a certain quantum of injury was sustained." Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (2010) (per curiam). Accordingly, when considering the subjective element of the governing Eighth Amendment test, a court must be mindful that the absence of serious injury, though relevant, does not necessarily negate a finding of wantonness. Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 37; Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9.
Additionally, courts must bear in mind that "[n]ot every push or shove, even if it later may seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers, violates a prisoner's constitutional rights." Romano v. Howarth, 998 F.2d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 1993) (quotation marks omitted); see also Griffin, 193 F.3d at 91. "The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10 (quotation marks omitted).
"The objective component [of the excessive force analysis]... focuses on the harm done, in light of contemporary standards of decency." Wright, 554 F.3d at 268 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8); see also Blyden, 186 F.3d at 263 (finding the objective component "context specific, turning upon contemporary standards of decency'). In assessing this component, a court must ask whether the alleged wrongdoing is objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 303 (1991); accord Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8; see also Wright, 554 F.3d at 268. "But when prison officials use force to cause harm maliciously and sadistically, contemporary standards of decency always are violated. This is true whether or not significant injury is evident.' Wright, 554 F.3d at 268-69 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9) (alterations omitted)). The extent of an inmate's injury is but one of the factors to be considered in determining whether a prison official's use of force was "unnecessary and wanton" because "injury and force... are imperfectly correlated[.]" Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 38. In addition, courts consider the need for force, whether the force was proportionate to the need, the threat reasonably perceived by the officials, and what, if anything, the officials did to limit their use of force. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7; Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321; Romano, 998 F.2d at 105.
Finally, on a motion for summary judgment, where the record evidence could reasonably permit a rational factfinder to find that corrections officers used force maliciously and sadistically, dismissal of an excessive force claim is inappropriate. See Wright, 554 F.3d at 269 (reversing summary dismissal the plaintiff's complaint, though suggesting that prisoner's evidence of an Eighth Amendment violation was "thin" as to his claim that a corrections officer struck him in the head, neck, shoulder, wrist, abdomen, and groin, where the "medical records after the... incident with [that officer] indicated only a slight injury") (citing Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d 282, 291 (2d Cir. 2003)).
In this instance, even assuming the truth of plaintiff's allegations regarding the extent of force used against him by defendant Gibson on March 19, 2013, no reasonable factfinder could conclude that his Eighth Amendment rights were abridged by the defendant. Plaintiff contends that, after defendant Gibson instructed him to place his hands against the wall with his feet apart, defendant Gibson kicked his feet further apart and then grabbed his neck, at which point plaintiff fell to his hands and knees onto a bench where defendant Gibson slapped Judge three times on the back of the head. Dkt. No. 1 at 5. In light of his claim of having been subjected to excessive force, plaintiff was examined by medical personnel at the facility, who observed no visible bruises or injuries. Dkt. No. 22-3 at 5. Significantly, in the medical report, the examiner stated, "[I]nmate denies injuries or medical concerns at this time." Id.
The Supreme Court has explained that a de minimis use of force constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment only if it is "repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10. The Second Circuit, moreover, has agreed "with other circuits that some degree of injury is ordinarily required" for a plaintiff to succeed on his Eighth Amendment claim. U.S. v. Walsh, 194 F.3d 37, 50 (2d Cir. 1999). Plaintiff alleges only that he was grabbed by the back of the neck and "slap[ped]" on the head three times by defendant Gibson. Dkt. No. 1 at 5. In addition, defendants have submitted uncontroverted evidence that, as a result of the alleged use of force by defendant Gibson, plaintiff suffered no injury and reported no medical concerns to Bare Hill medical staff. Dkt. No. 22-3 at 5. While the court does not necessarily condone the conduct alleged in plaintiff's complaint, if it in fact occurred as stated, no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the use of force, even as claimed by the plaintiff, was anything more than de minimis or was of the type that shocks the conscience. See Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 861 (2d Cir. 1997) (concluding that the plaintiff's allegations "of a small number of incidents in which he was allegedly verbally harassed, touched, and pressed against without his consent" were not "severe enough to be objectively, sufficiently serious" (quotation marks omitted)); McEachin v. Bek, No. 06-CV-6453, 2012 WL 1113584, at *7 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 2, 2012) (granting summary judgment in the defendant's favor where the court assumed, for purposes of the motion, that the defendant struck the plaintiff in the head three times with his closed fist); Romaine v. Rawson, 140 F.Supp.2d 204, 212 (N.D.N.Y. 2001) (Kahn, J.) ("Regardless of whether the strikes were open-fisted or closed-fisted, given the lack of any visible injury to Plaintiff, the Court concludes that Defendant's application of force against Plaintiff was de minimis."); Santiago v. C.O. Campisi Shield No. 4592, 91 F.Supp.2d 665, 674 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (dismissing the plaintiff's excessive force claim where the most severe use of force was "an open-handed slap"). Accordingly, I further recommend plaintiff's excessive force claim asserted against defendant Gibson be dismissed on the merits.
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
As an initial procedural matter, plaintiff's failure to file a grievance concerning the matters now complained of, and to pursue it to completion, serves to preclude his maintenance of this action. Moreover, even assuming plaintiff could establish that he did satisfy his obligation to exhaust available administrative remedies, defendant Gibson's alleged use of force against plaintiff is not legally sufficient to support the only remaining claim in this action. Accordingly, it is hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 22) be GRANTED, and that plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED in its entirety.
NOTICE: 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.
Joch & Kirby, Ithaca, New York, for Plaintiff, Joseph Joch, of counsel.
Bond, Schoeneck & King, LLP, Syracuse, New York, for Defendant, John Gaal, Paul Limmiatis, of counsel.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
McCURN, Senior J.
*1 Plaintiff brings suit against defendant Syracuse University ("University") pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. ("Title IX") claiming hostile educational environment, and retaliation for complaints of same. Presently before the court is the University's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff opposes the motion.
LOCAL RULES PRACTICE
The facts of this case, which the court recites below, are affected by plaintiffs failure to file a Statement of Material Facts which complies with the clear mandate of Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) of the Northern District of New York. This Rule requires a motion for summary judgment to contain a Statement of Material Facts with specific citations to the record where those facts are established. A similar obligation is imposed upon the non-movant who shall file a response to the [movant's] Statement of Material Facts. The non-movant's response shall mirror the movant's Statement of Material Facts by admitting and/or denying each of the movant's assertions in matching numbered paragraphs. Each denial shall set forth a specific citation to the record where the factual issue arises.... Any facts set forth in the [movant's] Statement of material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by the opposing party.
L.R. 7.1(a)(3) (emphasis in original).
In moving for summary judgment, the University filed an eleven page, twenty-nine paragraph Statement of Material Facts, replete with citations to the record in every paragraph. Plaintiff, in opposition, filed a two page, nine paragraph statement appended to her memorandum of law which failed to admit or deny the specific assertions set forth by defendant, and which failed to contain a single citation to the record. Plaintiff has thus failed to comply with Rule 7.1(a)(3).
As recently noted in another decision, "[t]he Local Rules are not suggestions, but impose procedural requirements upon parties litigating in this District." Osier v. Broome County, 47 F.Supp.2d 311, 317 (N.D.N.Y.1999). As a consequence, courts in this district have not hesitated to enforce Rule 7.1(a)(3) and its predecessor, Rule 7.1(f)FN1 by deeming the facts asserted in a movant's proper Statement of Material Facts as admitted, when, as here, the opposing party has failed to comply with the Rule. See, e.g., Phipps v. New York State Dep't of Labor, 53 F.Supp.2d 551, 556-57 (N.D.N.Y.1999); DeMar v. Car-Freshner Corp., 49 F.Supp.2d 84, 86 (N.D.N.Y.1999); Osier, 47 F.Supp.2d at 317; Nicholson v. Doe, 185 F.R.D. 134, 135 (N.D.N.Y.1999); TSI Energy, Inc. v. Stewart and Stevenson Operations, Inc., 1998 WL 903629, at *1 n. 1 (N.D. N.Y.1998); Costello v. Norton, 1998 WL 743710, at *1 n. 2 (N.D.N.Y.1998); Squair v. O'Brien & Gere Engineers, Inc., 1998 WL 566773, at *1 n. 2 (N.D.N.Y.1998). As in the cases just cited, this court deems as admitted all of the facts asserted in defendant's Statement of Material Facts. The court next recites these undisputed facts.
FN1 Amended January 1, 1999.
*2 Plaintiff became a doctoral student in the University's Child and Family Studies ("CFS") department in the Spring of 1995. Successful completion of the doctoral program required a student to (1) complete 60 credit hours of course work; (2) pass written comprehensive examinations ("comp.exams") in the areas of research methods, child development, family theory and a specialty area; (3) after passing all four comp. exams, orally defend the written answers to those exams; (4) then select a dissertation topic and have the proposal for the topic approved; and (5) finally write and orally defend the dissertation. Plaintiff failed to progress beyond the first step.
Each student is assigned an advisor, though it is not uncommon for students to change advisors during the course of their studies, for a myriad of reasons. The advisor's role is to guide the student in regard to course selection and academic progress. A tenured member of the CFS department, Dr. Jaipaul Roopnarine, was assigned as plaintiffs advisor.
As a student's comp. exams near, he or she selects an examination committee, usually consisting of three faculty members, including the student's advisor. This committee writes the questions which comprise the student's comp. exams, and provides the student with guidance and assistance in preparing for the exams. Each member of the committee writes one exam; one member writes two. Two evaluators grade each exam; ordinarily the faculty member who wrote the question, and one other faculty member selected by the coordinator of exams.
Roopnarine, in addition to his teaching and advising duties, was the coordinator of exams for the entire CFS department. In this capacity, he was generally responsible for selecting the evaluators who would grade each student's comp. exam, distributing the student's answer to the evaluators for grading, collecting the evaluations, and compiling the evaluation results.
The evaluators graded an exam in one of three ways: "pass, " "marginal" or "fail." A student who received a pass from each of the two graders passed that exam. A student who received two fails from the graders failed the exam. A pass and a marginal grade allowed the student to pass. A marginal and a fail grade resulted in a failure. Two marginal evaluations may result in a committee having to decide whether the student would be given a passing grade. In cases where a student was given both a pass and a fail, a third evaluator served as the tie breaker.
These evaluators read and graded the exam questions independently of each other, and no indication of the student's identity was provided on the answer.FN2 The coordinator, Roopnarine, had no discretion in compiling these grades-he simply applied the pass or fail formula described above in announcing whether a student passed or failed the comp. exams. Only after a student passed all four written exam questions would he or she be permitted to move to the oral defense of those answers.
FN2 Of course, as mentioned, because one of the evaluators may have written the question, and the question may have been specific to just that one student, one of the two or three evaluators may have known the student's identity regardless of the anonymity of the examination answer.
*3 Plaintiff completed her required course work and took the comp. exams in October of 1996. Plaintiff passed two of the exams, family theory and specialty, but failed two, child development and research methods. On each of the exams she failed, she had one marginal grade, and one failing grade. Roopnarine, as a member of her committee, authored and graded two of her exams. She passed one of them, specialty, and failed the other, research methods. Roopnarine, incidently, gave her a pass on specialty, and a marginal on research methods. Thus it was another professor who gave her a failing grade on research methods, resulting in her failure of the exam. As to the other failed exam, child development, it is undisputed that Roopnarine neither wrote the question, nor graded the answer.
Pursuant to the University's procedures, she retook the two exams she failed in January of 1997. Despite being given the same questions, she only passed one, child development. She again failed research methods by getting marginal and fail grades from her evaluators. This time, Roopnarine was not one of the evaluators for either of her exam questions.
After this second unsuccessful attempt at passing research methods, plaintiff complained to the chair of the CFS department, Dr. Norma Burgess. She did not think that she had been properly prepared for her exam, and complained that she could no longer work with Roopnarine because he yelled at her, was rude to her, and was otherwise not responsive or helpful. She wanted a new advisor. Plaintiff gave no indication, however, that she was being sexually harassed by Roopnarine.
Though plaintiff never offered any additional explanation for her demands of a new advisor, Burgess eventually agreed to change her advisor, due to plaintiffs insistence. In March of 1997, Burgess and Roopnarine spoke, and Roopnarine understood that he would no longer be advising plaintiff. After that time period, plaintiff and Roopnarine had no further contact. By June of that year, she had been assigned a new advisor, Dr. Mellisa Clawson.
Plaintiff then met with Clawson to prepare to take her research methods exam for the third time. Despite Clawson's repeated efforts to work with plaintiff, she sought only minimal assistance; this was disturbing to Clawson, given plaintiffs past failures of the research methods exam. Eventually, Clawson was assigned to write plaintiffs third research methods exam.
The first time plaintiff made any mention of sexual harassment was in August of 1997, soon before plaintiff made her third attempt at passing research methods. She complained to Susan Crockett, Dean of the University's College of Human Development, the parent organization of the CFS department. Even then, however, plaintiff merely repeated the claims that Roopnarine yelled at her, was rude to her, and was not responsive or helpful. By this time Roopnarine had no contact with plaintiff in any event. The purpose of plaintiffs complaint was to make sure that Roopnarine would not be involved in her upcoming examination as exam coordinator. Due to plaintiffs complaints, Roopnarine was removed from all involvement with plaintiffs third research methods examination. As chair of the department, Burgess took over the responsibility for serving as plaintiffs exam coordinator. Thus, Burgess, not Roopnarine, was responsible for receiving plaintiffs answer, selecting the evaluators, and compiling the grades of these evaluators; FN3 as mentioned, Clawson, not Roopnarine, authored the exam question.
FN3 Plaintiff appears to allege in her deposition and memorandum of law that Roopnarine remained the exam coordinator for her third and final exam. See Pl.'s Dep. at 278; Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 9. The overwhelming and undisputed evidence in the record establishes that Roopnarine was not, in fact, the coordinator of this exam. Indeed, as discussed above, the University submitted a Statement of Material Facts which specifically asserted in paragraph 18 that Roopnarine was removed from all involvement in plaintiffs exam, including the role of exam coordinator. See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 18 (and citations to the record therein). Aside from the fact that this assertion is deemed admitted for plaintiffs failure to controvert it, plaintiff cannot maintain, without any evidence, that Roopnarine was indeed her exam coordinator. Without more than broad, conclusory allegations of same, no genuine issue of material fact exists on this question.
*4 Plaintiff took the third research methods examination in September of 1997. Clawson and another professor, Dr. Kawamoto, were her evaluators. Clawson gave her a failing grade; Kawamoto indicated that there were "some key areas of concern, " but not enough for him to deny her passage. As a result of receiving one passing and one failing grade, plaintiffs research methods exam was submitted to a third evaluator to act as a tie breaker. Dr. Dean Busby, whose expertise was research, was chosen for this task. Busby gave plaintiff a failing grade, and began his written evaluation by stating that
[t]his is one of the most poorly organized and written exams I have ever read. I cannot in good conscience vote any other way than a fail. I tried to get it to a marginal but could not find even one section that I would pass.
Busby Aff. Ex. B.
The undisputed evidence shows that Clawson, Kawamoto and Busby each evaluated plaintiffs exam answer independently, without input from either Roopnarine or anyone else. Kawamoto and Busby did not know whose exam they were evaluating.FN4 Importantly, it is also undisputed that none of the three evaluators knew of plaintiffs claims of sexual harassment.
FN4 Clawson knew it was plaintiffs examination because she was plaintiffs advisor, and wrote the examination question.
After receiving the one passing and two failing evaluations, Burgess notified plaintiff in December of 1997 that she had, yet again, failed the research methods exam, and offered her two options. Although the University's policies permitted a student to only take a comp. exam three times (the original exam, plus two retakes), the CFS department would allow plaintiff to retake the exam for a fourth time, provided that she took a remedial research methods class to strengthen her abilities. Alternatively, Burgess indicated that the CFS department would be willing to recommend plaintiff for a master's degree based on her graduate work. Plaintiff rejected both offers.
The second time plaintiff used the term sexual harassment in connection with Roopnarine was six months after she was notified that she had failed for the third time, in May of 1998. Through an attorney, she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Roopnarine with the University. This written complaint repeated her allegations that Roopnarine had yelled at her, been rude to her, and otherwise had not been responsive to her needs. She also, for the first time, complained of two other acts:
1. that Roopnarine had talked to her about his sex life, including once telling her that women are attracted to him, and when he attends conferences, they want to have sex with him over lunch; and
2. that Roopnarine told her that he had a dream in which he, plaintiff and plaintiffs husband had all been present.
Prior to the commencement of this action, this was the only specific information regarding sexual harassment brought to the attention of University officials.
The University concluded that the alleged conduct, if true, was inappropriate and unprofessional, but it did not constitute sexual harassment. Plaintiff then brought this suit. In her complaint, she essentially alleges two things; first, that Roopnarine's conduct subjected her to a sexually hostile educational environment; and second, that as a result of complaining about Roopnarine's conduct, the University retaliated against her by preventing her from finishing her doctorate, mainly, by her failing her on the third research methods exam.
*5 The University now moves for summary judgment. Primarily, it argues that the alleged conduct, if true, was not sufficiently severe and pervasive to state a claim. Alternatively, it argues that it cannot be held liable for the conduct in any event, because it had no actual knowledge of plaintiffs alleged harassment, and was not deliberately indifferent to same. Finally, it argues that plaintiff is unable to establish a retaliation claim. These contentions are addressed below.
The principles that govern summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment is properly granted only when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all factual inferences and resolve all ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party. See Torres v. Pisano, 116 F.3d 625, 630 (2d Cir.1997). As the Circuit has recently emphasized in the discrimination context, "summary judgment may not be granted simply because the court believes that the plaintiff will be unable to meet his or her burden of persuasion at trial." Danzer v. Norden Sys., Inc., 151 F.3d 50, 54 (2d Cir.1998). Rather, there must be either an absence of evidence that supports plaintiffs position, see Norton v. Sam's Club, 145 F.3d 114, 117-20 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1001 (1998), "or the evidence must be so overwhelmingly tilted in one direction that any contrary finding would constitute clear error." Danzer, 151 F.3d at 54. Yet, as the Circuit has also admonished, "purely conclusory allegations of discrimination, absent any concrete particulars, " are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir.1985). With these principles in mind, the court turns to defendant's motion.
I. Hostile Environment
Title IX provides, with certain exceptions not relevant here, that
[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).
Recently, the Supreme Court reiterated that Title IX is enforceable through an implied private right of action, and that monetary damages are available in such an action. See Gebser v. Lugo Vista Indep. Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 118 S.Ct. 1989, 1994 (1998) (citing Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677 (1979) and Franklin v. Gwinnett County Pub. Sch., 503 U.S. 60 (1992)).
A. Severe or Pervasive
Provided that a plaintiff student can meet the requirements to hold the school itself liable for the sexual harassment, FN5 claims of hostile educational environment are generally examined using the case law developed for hostile work environment under Title VII. See Davis, 119 S.Ct. at 1675 (citing Meritor Say. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986), a Title VII case). Accord Kracunas v. Iona College, 119 F.3d 80, 87 (2d Cir.1997); Murray v. New York Univ. College of Dentistry, 57 F.3d 243, 249 (2d Cir.1995), both abrogated on other grounds by Gebser, 118 S.Ct. at 1999.
FN5 In Gebser, 118 S.Ct. at 1999, and Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 119 S.Ct. 1661, 1671 (1999), the Supreme Court explicitly departed from the respondeat superior principles which ordinarily govern Title VII actions for purposes of Title IX; in a Title IX case it is now clear that a school will not be liable for the conduct of its teachers unless it knew of the conduct and was deliberately indifferent to the discrimination. Defendant properly argues that even if plaintiff was subjected to a hostile environment, she cannot show the University's knowledge and deliberate indifference. This argument will be discussed below.
It bears noting that courts examining sexual harassment claims sometimes decide first whether the alleged conduct rises to a level of actionable harassment, before deciding whether this harassment can be attributed to the defendant employer or school, as this court does here. See, e.g., Distasio v. Perkin Elmer Corp., 157 F.3d 55 (2d Cir.1998). Sometimes, however, courts first examine whether the defendant can be held liable for the conduct, and only then consider whether this conduct is actionable. See, e.g., Quinn v. Green Tree Credit Corp., 159 F.3d 759, 767 n. 8 (2d Cir.1998). As noted in Quinn, the Circuit has not instructed that the sequence occur in either particular order. See id.
*6 In Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21-22 (1993), the Supreme Court stated that in order to succeed, a hostile environment claim must allege conduct which is so "severe or pervasive" as to create an "objectively' hostile or abusive work environment, " which the victim also "subjectively perceive[s]... to be abusive." Richardson v. New York State Dept of Corr. Servs., 180 F.3d 426, 436 (alteration in original) (quoting Harris, 510 U.S. at 21-22). From this court's review of the record, there is no dispute that plaintiff viewed her environment to be hostile and abusive; hence, the question before the court is whether the environment was "objectively" hostile. See id. Plaintiffs allegations must be evaluated to determine whether a reasonable person who is the target of discrimination would find the educational environment "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victim['s] educational experience, that [this person is] effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." Davis, 119 S.Ct. at 1675.
Conduct that is "merely offensive" but "not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment-an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive" is beyond the purview of the law. Harris, 510 U.S. at 21. Thus, it is now clear that neither "the sporadic use of abusive language, gender-related jokes, and occasional testing, " nor "intersexual flirtation, " accompanied by conduct "merely tinged with offensive connotations" will create an actionable environment. Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 787 (1998). Moreover, a plaintiff alleging sexual harassment must show the hostility was based on membership in a protected class. See Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 77 (1998). Thus, to succeed on a claim of sexual harassment, a plaintiff "must always prove that the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations, but actually constituted discrimina[tion] because of... sex." Id. at 81 (alteration and ellipses in original).
The Supreme Court has established a non-exclusive list of factors relevant to determining whether a given workplace is permeated with discrimination so severe or pervasive as to support a Title VII claim. See Harris, 510 U.S. at 23. These include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating, whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with plaintiffs work, and what psychological harm, if any, resulted from the conduct. See id. ; Richardson, 180 F.3d at 437.
Although conduct can meet this standard by being either "frequent" or "severe, " Osier, 47 F.Supp.2d at 323, "isolated remarks or occasional episodes of harassment will not merit relief [ ]; in order to be actionable, the incidents of harassment must occur in concert or with a regularity that can reasonably be termed pervasive.'" Quinn, 159 F.3d at 767 (quoting Tomka v. Seiler Corp., 66 F.3d 1295, 1305 n. 5 (2d Cir.1995)). Single or episodic events will only meet the standard if they are sufficiently threatening or repulsive, such as a sexual assault, in that these extreme single incidents "may alter the plaintiffs conditions of employment without repetition." Id . Accord Kotcher v. Rosa and Sullivan Appliance Ctr., Inc., 957 F.2d 59, 62 (2d Cir.1992) ("[t]he incidents must be repeated and continuous; isolated acts or occasional episodes will not merit relief.").
*7 The University quite properly argues that the conduct plaintiff alleges is not severe and pervasive. As discussed above, she claims that she was subjected to behavior by Roopnarine that consisted primarily of his yelling at her, being rude to her, and not responding to her requests as she felt he should. This behavior is insufficient to state a hostile environment claim, despite the fact that it may have been unpleasant. See, e.g., Gutierrez v. Henoch, 998 F.Supp. 329, 335 (S.D.N.Y.1998) (disputes relating to job-related disagreements or personality conflicts, without more, do not create sexual harassment liability); Christoforou v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 668 F.Supp. 294, 303 (S.D.N.Y.1987) ("there is a crucial difference between personality conflict... which is unpleasant but legal... [and sexual harassment]... which is despicable and illegal."). Moreover, the court notes that plaintiff has failed to show that this alleged behavior towards her was sexually related-an especially important failing considering plaintiff's own testimony that Roopnarine treated some males in much of the same manner. See, e.g., Pl.'s Dep. at 298 ("He said that Dr. Roopnarine screamed at him in a meeting"). As conduct that is "equally harsh" to both sexes does not create a hostile environment, Brennan v. Metropolitan Opera Ass'n, Inc., 192 F.3d 310, 318 (2d Cir.1999), this conduct, while demeaning and inappropriate, is not sufficiently gender-based to support liability. See Osier, 47 F.Supp.2d at 324.
The more detailed allegations brought forth for the first time in May of 1998 are equally unavailing. These allegations are merely of two specific, isolated comments. As described above, Roopnarine told plaintiff of his sexual interaction(s) with other women, and made a single, non-sexual comment about a dream in which plaintiff, plaintiffs husband, and Roopnarine were all present. Accepting as true these allegations, the court concludes that plaintiff has not come forward with evidence sufficient to support a finding that she was subject to abuse of sufficient severity or pervasiveness that she was "effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." Davis, 119 S.Ct. at 1675.
Quinn, a recent Second Circuit hostile work environment case, illustrates the court's conclusion well. There, plaintiff complained of conduct directed towards her including sexual touching and comments. She was told by her supervisor that she had been voted the "sleekest ass" in the office and the supervisor deliberately touched her breasts with some papers he was holding. 159 F.3d at 768. In the Circuit's view, these acts were neither severe nor pervasive enough to state a claim for hostile environment. See id. In the case at bar, plaintiffs allegations are no more severe than the conduct alleged in Quinn, nor, for that matter, did they occur more often. Thus, without more, plaintiffs claims fail as well.
*8 Yet, plaintiff is unable to specify any other acts which might constitute sexual harassment. When pressured to do so, plaintiff maintained only that she "knew" what Roopnarine wanted "every time [she] spoke to him" and that she could not "explain it other than that's the feeling [she] had." Pl.'s Dep. at 283-85, 287, 292. As defendant properly points out, these very types of suspicions and allegations of repeated, but unarticulated conduct have been shown to be insufficient to defeat summary judgment. See Meiri, 759 F.2d at 998 (plaintiffs allegations that employer" conspired to get of [her];' that he misconceived [her] work habits because of his subjective prejudice against [her] Jewishness;' and that she heard disparaging remarks about Jews, but, of course, don't ask me to pinpoint people, times or places.... It's all around us, '" arc conclusory and insufficient to satisfy the demands of Rule 56) (alterations and ellipses in original); Dayes v. Pace Univ., 2000 WL 307382, at *5 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (plaintiffs attempts to create an appearance of pervasiveness by asserting "[t]he conduct to which I was subjected... occurred regularly and over many months, " without more "is conclusory, and is not otherwise supported in the record [and] therefore afforded no weight"); Quiros v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., 7 F.Supp.2d 380, 385 (S.D.N.Y.1998) (plaintiffs allegations of hostile work environment without more than conclusory statements of alleged discrimination insufficient to defeat summary judgment); Eng v. Beth Israel Med. Ctr., 1995 U.S. Dist. Lexis 11155, at *6 n. 1 (S.D.N.Y.1995) (plaintiffs "gut feeling" that he was victim of discrimination was no more than conclusory, and unable to defeat summary judgment). As plaintiff comes forward with no proper showing of either severe or pervasive conduct, her hostile environment claim necessarily fails.
B. Actual Knowledge/Deliberate Indifference
Even if plaintiffs allegations were sufficiently severe or pervasive, her hostile environment claim would still fail. As previously discussed, see supra note 5, the Supreme Court recently departed from the framework used to hold defendants liable for actionable conduct under Title VII. See Davis, 119 S.Ct. at 1671; Gebser, 118 S.Ct. at 1999. Pursuant to these new decisions, it is now clear that in order to hold an educational institution liable for a hostile educational environment under Title IX, it must be shown that "an official who at minimum has authority to address the alleged discrimination and to institute corrective measures on the [plaintiffs] behalf has actual knowledge of [the] discrimination [.]" Gebser, 118 S.Ct. at 1999 (emphasis supplied). What's more, the bar is even higher: after learning of the harassment, in order for the school to be liable, its response must then "amount to deliberate indifference to discrimination[, ]" or, "in other words, [ ] an official decision by the [school] not to remedy the violation. "Id. (Emphasis supplied). Accord Davis, 119 S.Ct. at 1671 ("we concluded that the [school] could be liable for damages only where the [school] itself intentionally acted in clear violation of Title IX by remaining deliberately indifferent to acts of teacher-student harassment of which it had actual knowledge."). This requires plaintiff to show that the school's "own deliberate indifference effectively cause[d]' the discrimination." Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Gebser, 118 S.Ct. at 1999). The circuits that have taken the question up have interpreted this to mean that there must be evidence that actionable harassment continued to ...