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Ciaprazi v. Fischer

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 24, 2015

BRIAN FISCHER, et al., Defendants.


FRANK MAAS, Magistrate Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Roberto Ciaprazi ("Ciaprazi") is an inmate at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"), which is under the control of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). He brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). In his amended complaint (ECF No. 5 ("Amended Complaint" or "Am. Compl.")), Ciaprazi asserts twenty-four federal and state law claims against nineteen DOCCS employees, including Brian Fischer ("Fischer"), the former DOCCS Commissioner;[1] Daniel F. Martuscello III ("Martuscello"), the DOCCS Deputy Commissioner of Administrative Services; Joseph F. Bellnier ("Bellnier"), the DOCCS Deputy Commissioner of Correctional Facilities (collectively, the "Albany Defendants"); and sixteen Sing Sing officials and correction officers (the "Sing Sing Defendants" and, together with the Albany Defendants, the "Defendants"). The Defendants are sued in their individual capacities for monetary damages and in their official capacities for declaratory and injunctive relief.

The Defendants have moved to dismiss certain aspects of the Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (See ECF No. 91). For the reasons that follow, that motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual Background

The following facts derived from the Amended Complaint, Ciaprazi's opposition papers, and the exhibits annexed thereto, (see ECF No. 102 ("Pl.'s Opp.")), are presented in the light most favorable to Ciaprazi and, for present purposes, are assumed to be true.[2]

A. Conditions of Confinement in Building 5

Between 2007 and 2012, Ciaprazi was lodged in Building 5 at Sing Sing ("Building 5"). (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 37, 156). Building 5 is not equipped with airconditioning. (Id. ¶ 38). In 2012, the Building 5 cell windows were replaced with windows designed for buildings equipped with air-conditioning systems. (Id.). As a consequence, these windows could be opened only to a limited extent, thereby reducing the amount of fresh air reaching each cell. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40). This lack of ventilation was exacerbated by a "thick and extremely dense metal mesh screen" installed in each window, and an ineffective mechanical ventilation system that - to make matters worse - was out of order during the summer of 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 53-54). The conditions created by these improper windows, including poor air quality and circulation, unreasonably high cell temperatures, and unmanageable humidity, caused Ciaprazi and other inmates in Building 5 to suffer from "high body temperature[s], headaches, dizziness, ... disruption of sleep, dehydration, feeling[s] of suffocation and severe personal discomfort." (Id. ¶¶ 43-50, 55).

On August 7, 2012, Ciaprazi sent a formal complaint to Fischer, in which he described in great detail the temperature and air quality problems plaguing Building 5 and requested that certain specific corrective measures be taken. (Id. ¶ 57; Ex. 1).[3] On October 17, 2012, Martuscello responded on Fischer's behalf, explaining that while the newly-installed windows were "markedly different [than] the dilapidated windows which existed prior to the renovation, " they were, in fact, consistent with the "current correctional industry standard" and appropriate for Building 5. (Ex. 2 at 1). Accordingly, Martuscello denied the relief sought by Ciaprazi. (Id. at 2; Am. Compl. ¶ 58).

Based on these facts, Ciaprazi has asserted Eighth Amendment claims against both Fischer and Martuscello for "installing or approving" the windows in question, (Count One), and failing to remedy the conditions created by those windows, (Count Two).

B. Eviction From Building 5

Building 5 is a "preferred housing unit for prisoners with particular program assignments, such as law library clerks." (Am. Compl. ¶ 37). Beginning in 2011, "the practically all-black correction staff in Building 5" commenced a coordinated attempt to evict white inmates from Building 5 through the issuance of "false or baseless disciplinary reports." (Id. ¶ 59). On October 17, 2011, Ciaprazi described this "pattern of racially motivated actions" in a written complaint addressed to Fischer on which numerous other federal and state officials were copied. (Id. ¶ 66; Ex. 9). Kenneth Decker, DOCCS Acting Deputy Commissioner, responded on Fischer's behalf, stating that he was forwarding Ciaprazi's complaint to the Superintendent of Sing Sing because Ciaprazi had failed to pursue his complaint, as required, "at the facility level." (Ex. 10). Ciaprazi's complaints concerning the harassment and racial abuse of white inmates were investigated by Sing Sing staff and determined to be unfounded. (Am. Compl. ¶ 66; Exs. 11-12; Pl.'s Opp. at 14).

On August 14, 2012, following a purported nighttime altercation with defendant McCants, a Sing Sing sergeant, defendant Miller, a Sing Sing correction officer, issued Ciaprazi a misbehavior report for "obstruction of visibility and harassment, " which was "entirely false... [and] baseless." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 22, 69-72). On August 26, 2012, after a hearing resulted in a determination that he was guilty of these charges, Ciaprazi appealed to defendant Capra, Sing Sing's Superintendent, and sent copies of his papers to Fischer, Governor Cuomo, and other public officials. (Am. Compl. ¶ 89; Ex. 14). The Superintendent's designee affirmed the disposition, but reduced Ciaprazi's punishment from sixteen to twelve days of keeplock. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 87, 90). On August 28, 2012, Ciaprazi again wrote to Fischer and Capra, challenging the misbehavior report against him as "false and racially motivated, " and he requested an investigation into the incident. (Am. Compl. ¶ 84; Ex. 13). Thereafter, on August 29 and September 7, 2012, Ciaprazi wrote to Fischer regarding the "misuse of the disciplinary system" to retaliate against him for the exercise of his First Amendment rights, and again requested an investigation into the underlying incident. (Am. Compl. ¶ 91; Exs. 15-16). Ciaprazi received no response to any of these letters and no subsequent action was taken. (Am. Compl. ¶ 91). As a consequence of the adverse disposition, however, Ciaprazi was "evicted from Building 5" and moved to Housing Block A, where he remains lodged. (Id. ¶¶ 88, 156).

Based on these events, Ciaprazi has asserted claims against Fischer for failing to investigate or otherwise address the "false, baseless and racially motivated report, " (Count Five), and failing to investigate or otherwise address the "baseless and retaliatory affirmance" of the disposition against him and his subsequent eviction, (Count Ten).

C. Conditions of Confinement in Housing Block A

The conditions in Housing Block A are even less acceptable than those in Building 5, and there are problems regarding the air temperature and quality, toxic fumes, and lighting protocols.[4]

In particular, Sing Sing maintains a custom of keeping the windows in Housing Block A closed for "[eight] months or more a year, " creating "very high [cell temperatures] and... air unsuitable for breathing." (Am. Compl. ¶ 157). On October 1, 2012, Ciaprazi articulated his concerns in a letter to Fischer. (Id. ¶ 166; Ex. 18). Ciaprazi also copied Fischer on a letter, dated February 8, 2013, in which he refuted statements made to him by defendant Kelley, the Sing Sing Plant Superintendent, who claimed that the temperature in Housing Block A consistently remained "between 72 and 78 degrees." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 173-75; Ex. 19).

There also are problems with the radiators in Housing Block A. Specifically, toxic fumes are released from heat-incompatible paint that is applied annually to Housing Block A's radiators just before the heating season begins. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 184-85). The radiators also were painted in this way (presumably with the same type of paint) when Fischer was the Superintendent of Sing Sing. (Id. ¶ 186).

Housing Block A also has "high intensity" artificial lighting which is turned on round-the-clock. (Id. ¶ 202). These lights, which are affixed to the ceiling, as well as powerful fluorescent "wall lights, " are unnecessary and make sleep impossible. (See id. ¶¶ 202-14). On September 4, 2012, Ciaprazi addressed these concerns in a letter to Fischer. (Id. ¶ 216; Ex. 22). Although Fischer did not respond, Ciaprazi was interviewed by an unnamed Sing Sing official who was unable to provide Ciaprazi with any justification for the lighting policy. (Am. Compl. ¶ 217). Thereafter, on September 27, 2012, Bellnier wrote to Ciaprazi on Fischer's behalf, suggesting that the lighting policy had been explained to Ciaprazi and that Ciaprazi's concerns were resolved. (Id. ¶ 218; Ex. 23). On October 29, 2012, Ciaprazi responded to Bellnier, disputing his characterization of Ciaprazi's concerns as having been resolved. (Am. Compl. ¶ 219; Ex. 24).

Based on these facts, Ciaprazi has asserted Eighth Amendment claims against Fischer for failing to remedy the conditions created by keeping the windows in Housing Block A closed (Count Thirteen), maintaining a custom of annually exposing inmates in Housing Block A to toxic paint fumes (Count Fourteen), and failing to change the painting process in Housing Block A (Count Sixteen). Ciaprazi also has asserted an Eighth Amendment claim ...

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