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Vail v. Smith

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 25, 2015

TIMOTHY A. VAIL, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH SMITH, Superintendent; Shawangunk Corr. Facility; LOUIS PINGOTTI, Captain; Shawangunk Corr. Facility; PETER PRESTON, Sergeant; Shawangunk Corr. Facility; and MAUREEN BOLL, Deputy Comm'r and Counsel; Dep't of Corr. and Cmty. Supervision, Defendants.

TIMOTHY A. VAIL, Plaintiff, Pro Se Shawangunk Correctional Facility Wallkill, New York.

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, JOSHUA E. McMAHON, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Albany, New York, Counsel for Defendant.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this prisoner civil rights action filed pro se by Timothy A. Vail ("Plaintiff") against the four above-captioned New York State correctional employees ("Defendants"), are (1) United States Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece's Report-Recommendation recommending that Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed; and (2) Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. Nos. 61, 62.) For the reasons set forth below, Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

For the sake of brevity, the Court will not summarize Plaintiff's claims, this action's procedural history, or the parties' arguments on Defendants' motion for summary judgment, because this Decision and Order is intended primarily for the review of the parties, and they have (in their underlying motion papers) demonstrated an accurate understanding of those facts.

Generally, in his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Treece made the following three recommendations: (1) that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Preston, now deceased, be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a)(1), based on Plaintiff's failure to file a motion for substitution within 90 days of Preston's death; (2) that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Boll, a supervisor, be dismissed based on Plaintiff's failure to adduce admissible evidence from which a rational fact-finder could conclude that Boll was personally involved in the constitutional violations alleged; and (3) that Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Smith and Pingotti be dismissed based on Plaintiff's failure to adduce admissible evidence from which a rational factfinder conclude that his First Amendment right to the free flow of incoming and outgoing mail was violated under the circumstances (in which Smith and Pingotti have established that the policy in question is rationally related to the legitimate penological concerns of the Shawangunk Correctional Facility's administrators). (Dkt. No. 61.)

Generally, in his Objections, instead of making any arguments regarding his claims against Defendants Preston and Boll, Plaintiff makes arguments regarding his claims against Defendants Smith and Pingotti, arguing that, in support of their claim of penological justification for their envelope policy, Smith and Pingotti merely offer their own affidavits, which are unsupported by extraneous evidence (such as grievances, memoranda from staff or emergency requisition orders) and contradicted by the fact that inmates are allowed to purchase an unlimited number of manilla envelopes and send out an unlimited amount of mail each day (thus undermining any asserted problems caused by allowing inmates to purchase an unlimited number of letter-sized envelopes). (Dkt. No. 61.)

II. GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARD

When a specific objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's reportrecommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to a de novo review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). To be "specific, " the objection must, with particularity, "identify [1] the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations, or report to which it has an objection and [2] the basis for the objection." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 72.1(c).[1] When performing such a de novo review, "[t]he judge may... receive further evidence...." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, a district court will ordinarily refuse to consider evidentiary material that could have been, but was not, presented to the magistrate judge in the first instance.[2] Similarly, a district court will ordinarily refuse to consider argument that could have been, but was not, presented to the magistrate judge in the first instance. See Zhao v. State Univ. of N.Y., 04-CV-0210, 2011 WL 3610717, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2011) ("[I]t is established law that a district judge will not consider new arguments raised in objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation that could have been raised before the magistrate but were not.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Hubbard v. Kelley, 752 F.Supp.2d 311, 312-13 (W.D.N.Y. 2009) ("In this circuit, it is established law that a district judge will not consider new arguments raised in objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation that could have been raised before the magistrate but were not.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

When only a general objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2), (3); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition; see also Brown v. Peters, 95-CV-1641, 1997 WL 599355, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 1997) (Pooler, J.) [collecting cases], aff'd without opinion, 175 F.3d 1007 (2d Cir. 1999). Similarly, when an objection merely reiterates the same arguments made by the objecting party in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation challenged by those arguments to only a clear error review.[3] Finally, when no objection is made to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition. When performing such a "clear error" review, "the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Id. [4]

After conducing the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

III. ANALYSIS

After carefully reviewing the relevant filings in this action, the Court can find no clear error in the Report-Recommendations' findings regarding Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Preston and Boll (with which he did not take issue in his Objections). Indeed, Plaintiff has expressly conceded his lack of evidence of Defendant Boll's personal involvement in the constitutional violations alleged. (Dkt. No. 57, Attach. 2, at 3 [attaching page "1" of Plf.'s Opp'n Memo. of Law].)

Turning to the Report-Recommendations' findings regarding Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Smith and Pingotti, the Court begins by noting that Plaintiff's challenge to those findings (i.e., that Smith and Pingotti merely offer their own affidavits, which are unsupported by extraneous evidence and contradicted by the fact that inmates are allowed to purchase an unlimited number of manilla envelopes and send out an unlimited amount of mail each day) consists of arguments that were asserted in his memorandum of law in opposition to Defendants' motion. ( Compare Dkt. No. 62, at 3-6 [attaching pages "1" through "4" of Plf.'s Obj.] to Dkt. No. 57, Attach. 2, at 6, 11 [attaching pages "4" and "9" of Plf.'s Opp'n Mem. of Law].) As pointed out above in Part II of this Decision and Order, when an objection merely reiterates the same arguments made by the objecting party in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation challenged by those arguments to only a clear error review. After carefully reviewing the relevant filings in this action, the Court can find no clear error in the Report-Recommendations' findings regarding Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Smith and Pingotti: Magistrate Judge Treece employed the proper standards, accurately recited the facts, and reasonably applied the law to those facts.

For all of these reasons, the Court accepts and adopts the Report-Recommendation for the reasons stated therein. (Dkt. No. 61.) To those reasons, the Court would add only the following analysis.

Even if the Court were to treat Plaintiff's challenge to the Report-Recommendation as containing new arguments that were not asserted in opposition to Defendants' motion, and thus subject the findings regarding Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Smith and Pingotti to a de novo review, the Court would find those findings survive that review. This is because, even without supporting exhibits, an affidavit may suffice to enable a movant to meet its threshold burden on a motion for summary judgment.[5] Moreover, the facts asserted and supported by Defendants in their Rule 7.1 Statement were never denied by Plaintiff in his Rule 7.1 Response. (Dkt. No. 57, at ¶¶ 9, 11, 12, 16-21, 26.) Merely "[d]enying knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief" is inadequate to create a genuine dispute of material fact.[6] This rule applies even to pro se litigants.[7]

Furthermore, even if the Court were to sua sponte review the entire record (which it exercises its discretion not to do under the circumstances, given the size of the record and Plaintiff's enlarged opportunity to be heard), a non-movant cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact by merely challenging the veracity of an affiant.[8] On a summary judgment motion, the Court may not make credibility determinations.

Finally, at most, the fact that inmates are allowed to purchase an unlimited number of manilla envelopes and send out an unlimited amount of mail each day appears inconsistent with the assertion that the temporary lifting of the policy regarding letter-sized envelopes disrupted the mailing distribution process and interfered with the orderly operation of the prison (unless one concludes that the lifting of the policy overburdened an already strained system). In any event,

Plaintiff's reliance on the above-stated facts wholly ignores that (1) Shawangunk Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison, (2) the policy reduces the waste and hoarding of lettersized envelopes (which increase the incidence of vermin, fires, contraband-secretion, visibilityblocking, and "kiting"), (3) Shawangunk Correctional Facility's inmates have "other avenues" for sending out time-sensitive mail (especially given that the prisoners can prioritize their correspondence), and (4) prison staff had a difficult time implementing an alternative policy (in which inmates could receive extra letter-sized envelopes if they could demonstrate a need for the request) because inmates could not verbalize a legitimate need for extra letter-sized envelopes.

ACCORDINGLY, it is

ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 61) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Preston are DISMISSED from this action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a)(1); and it is further

ORDERED that Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 50) is GRANTED, and all of Plaintiff's remaining claims against Defendants Smith, Pingotti and Boll are dismissed; and it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED in its entirety.


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