United States District Court, N.D. New York
SELAM SELAH, Pro Se, Cape Vincent Correctional Facility Cape Vincent, NY, for Plaintiff.
CHRISTOPHER W. HALL, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, HON. ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, New York State Attorney General, Albany, New York, for Defendants,
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.
Pro se plaintiff Selam Selah, a New York State prison inmate, has brought this action against the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") and several present or past DOCCS employees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they have deprived him of his civil rights. In his complaint, as amended, plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that defendants have failed to accommodate his religious beliefs and permit him to practice his chosen religion, while members of other religions are treated more favorably, and have thereby violated his constitutional rights to freely exercise his chosen religion and to equal protection in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Acts ("RLU IPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq.
Now that discovery in the action is closed, the defendants remaining in the action have moved for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims on the basis of lack of personal involvement and on the merits, additionally asserting their entitlement to qualified immunity from suit. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that defendants' motion be granted.
Plaintiff is a prison inmate currently in the custody of the DOCCS. Dkt. No. 84. While it is clear from plaintiffs prolific filings in this case that he believes the failure to accommodate his religious beliefs is systemic throughout the DOCCS and the many facilities which it operates, the claims set forth in plaintiffs amended complaint stem from events occurring at Gouverneur Correctional Facility ("Gouverneur"), where he was confined from May 1, 2009, until May 17, 2010. Dkt. No. 84 at 15; see also Dkt. No. 198-4 at 3.
Plaintiff subscribes to the religious tenets of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian faith, also known as Ethiopian/Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christianity ("EOC"). Dkt. No. 84 at 9. According to plaintiff, EOC is "similar to Orthodox Judaism" and "virtually identical" to Rastafarianism, with the exception that Jesus Christ is recognized by EOC followers as the Messiah, but is not by Rastafarians and Jews. Id. at 5, 9. Members of EOC observe several major and minor holy days, including (1) Ethiopian Christmas, (January 7) to celebrate the birth of Jesus; (2) Ethiopian Epiphany/Revelation of Holy Trinity (January 19); (3) Ethiopian Empress Menen's birthday/Annunciation to Virgin Mary (March 25); (4) Palm Sunday; (5) Holy Friday; (6) Ascension Thursday (40 days following the Ethiopian Easter); (7) Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie's birthday (July 23); (8) the Ethiopian New Year (September 11); (9) the Coronation of Haile Selassie I (November 2); and (10) Ethiopian Liberation Day (May 5). Dkt. No. 84 at 2, 5. In addition, EOC followers observe Wednesdays and Fridays as holidays when they must fast, and Saturdays and Sundays as days of rest during which they are forbidden from "perform[ing] secular tasks of menial or servile labor[.]" Id. at
5. The followers of EOC subscribe to Old Testament dietary laws, similar to those followed by Orthodox Jews, with heavy emphasis placed on observing "Kosher" dietary requirements. Id.
In his amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that he and other EOC followers have been discriminated against by prison officials in various ways, including through defendants' (1) refusal to recognize EOC as a religion in the DOCCS statewide correctional system database; (2) refusal to permit him and other EOC followers to possess and display headgear, a prayer shawl, prayer girdle, prayer rug, and other religious attire and artifacts consistent with their beliefs; (3) refusal to allow members of his sect to observe and commemorate the major and minor holy days; (4) failure to permit plaintiff to participate in EOC congregate religious services and education; (5) failure to provide meals consistent with Old Testament dietary laws; (6) failure to permit the plaintiff and other EOC believers to wear beards and dreadlocks or braids; and (7) refusal to exempt the plaintiff and other EOC members from work on Saturdays and Sundays. See generally Dkt. No. 84.
The policies and practices regarding ministerial services and religious programs in the New York prison system are governed by DOCCS Directives Nos. 4200 and 4202, as well as the DOCCS's religious holy day calendar. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 2; Dkt. No. 198-5 at 2-3. Responsibility for implementation of those policies is entrusted to the DOCCS Office of Family, Ministerial, and Volunteer Services ("OFMVS") which, in turn, relies upon chaplains at the various individual correctional facilities to meet the pastoral needs of inmates of varying religious faiths. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 2. At the local facility level it is the prison superintendent's duty, in the first instance, to ensure compliance with DOCCS religious policies. Dkt. No. 198-8 at 2. In the case of Gouverneur, that responsibility was delegated to the deputy superintendent for programs, who in turn relied upon the coordinating chaplain to attend to the pastoral needs of the facility's inmates. Id.
Plaintiff complained to various DOCCS officials claiming that his religious beliefs were not being accommodated, while Rastafarians were provided many of the same accommodations sought by him. Dkt. No. 84 at 5, 6-7, 11-13. The alleged failure of prison officials to accommodate plaintiff's religious beliefs was the subject of multiple grievances filed by Selah while at Gouverneur. Dkt. No. 198-8 at 3; Dkt. No. 198-9; Dkt. No. 198-10; Dkt. No. 198-11; Dkt. No. 198-12; Dkt. No. 198-13. The first two, which were addressed separately by the Inmate Grievance Review Committee ("IGRC") at Gouverneur and the facility superintendent before being consolidated on review by the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), are identified as GOV-14596-09 and GOV-14611-09, and were filed on May 4, 2009, and May 11, 2009, respectively. Dkt. No. 198-9 at 4, 11. Those grievances alleged religious discrimination generally and requested that EOC be recognized by the DOCCS. Id. Following the IGRC's denial of both grievances, defendant Justin Taylor, the superintendent at Gouverneur at the time, advised plaintiff that, to the extent the grievances sought to establish policy concerning a departmental issue, neither the IGRC nor he had the authority to make those changes. Dkt. No. 198-9 at 8, 18. The superintendent's determinations were upheld on review to the CORC on July 8, 2009. Dkt. No. 198-9 at 2. In its decision, the CORC noted the following:
[T]he grievant is free to practice his chosen religion and although the department takes no position on it, ministerial services staff will attempt to accommodate the grievant if feasible. This will, however, require that the grievant provide ministerial staff with the name and address of his church and a clergy member whom they may contact to verify religious tenets. Having done so, the grievant may then request approval for head wear, a beard permit and clergy visitation. CORC notes that the grievant has been advised that proselytizing is prohibited by Directive #4202. CORC advises the grievant to address any further concerns regarding the Cold Alternative Diet (CAD) to the Food Service Administrator and any specific religious concerns to the Coordinating Chaplain for the most expeditious means of resolution.
Plaintiffs second grievance, GOV-14641-09, was filed on May 28, 2009, and alleged that he was wrongfully denied his request to the Food Service Administrator at Gouverneur that he be provided fish, poultry, nuts or fruits, instead of beef or lamb, on Wednesdays and Fridays, which, according to plaintiff, are fasting days for EOC followers. Dkt. No. 198-10 at 6. Plaintiff also complained in the grievance that he was precluded from "enjoy[ing] congregate religious services, " claimed that he should be exempt from the DOCCS initial haircut and beard-length policies and the "ppd T.B. skin test, " and also contended that he should be permitted to wear a crown in accordance with his faith. Id. at 8. The IGRC and defendant Taylor both again denied plaintiff's grievance because, based on their interpretation of plaintiffs grievance, he was seeking a change to a departmental policy, a matter beyond the authority of both the IGRC and superintendent. Id. at 4, 10. The CORC upheld that determination by memorandum dated July 8, 2009, with the same notation included in response to grievance numbers GOV-14596-09 and GOV-14611-09. Id. at 2; Dkt. No. 198-9 at 2.
On October 19, 2009, plaintiff filed yet another grievance at Gouverneur, identified as GOV-15011-09, involving religion, on this occasion requesting clarification of the religious holidays recognized by the DOCCS. Dkt. No. 198-11 at 4. In response, defendant Taylor noted that lap required holidays and religious celebrations are determined by [the DOCCS] Central Office, " whose dictates in that regard are followed at each particular facility. Dkt. No. 198-11 at 6. Defendant Taylor also referred plaintiff to the DOCCS religious holy day calendar. Dkt. No. 198-11 at 6. The CORC affirmed defendant Taylor's determination on January 13, 2010, and Selah was advised "to address any further concerns regarding religious and cultural holidays to the Director of Ministerial, Family and Volunteer Services in [the DOCCS] Central Office." Dkt. No. 198-11 at 2.
In his fifth grievance, GOV-15083-09, filed on November 18, 2009, plaintiff requested that EOC be recognized by the DOCCS throughout the statewide correctional system as a legitimate religion, and that he and other EOC followers be afforded the right to celebrate and observe EOC religious and national holidays, be exempted from assigned work on recognized holy days, and be allowed to participate in religious fasts, feasts and festivals. Dkt. No. 198-12 at 4. On December 2, 2009, the IGRC responded by advising plaintiff to discuss his problems or concerns with the facility chaplain. Dkt. No. 198-12 at 5. That determination was upheld by defendant Taylor, who reiterated the reminder to plaintiff that he should direct concerns regarding religious dietary constraints to "the Food Service Administrator and any specific religious concerns to the coordinating Chaplain[.]" Dkt. No. 198-12 at 6. The CORC rejected plaintiffs appeal of defendant Taylor's determination on February 24, 2010. Dkt. No. 198-12 at 2. In its determination, the CORC "note[d] that the grievant is free to practice his chosen religion and although the department takes no position on it, ministerial services staff will attempt to accommodate the grievant if feasible." Id. The CORC further stated that any accommodation would require that Selah provide "ministerial staff with the name and address of his church and a clergy member whom they may contact to verify his religion's tenets." Id. Addressing plaintiffs concern regarding the DOCCS's recognition of his religion, the "CORC further note[d] that it is not possible to include every religion on the NYS DOCs computer system[, ]" and for that reason, plaintiff's "religious designation is indicated as other."
Plaintiff's sixth and seventh grievances at Gouverneur concerning his religious rights, identified as GOV-15184-10 and GOV-15219-10, were filed on January 19, 2010, and February 8, 2010, respectively. Dkt. No. 198-13 at 7-11, 18-24, 47-50. Grievance number GOV-15184-10 generally alleges that Selah was the subject of an improper misbehavior report charging him with, inter alia, smuggling food from the mess hall. Id. at 47-50. Plaintiff alleged that he intended to bring food out of the mess hall because he was observing a fast and intended to eat the food later in the day in accordance with EOC doctrine. See generally id. In grievance number GOV-15219-10, plaintiff complains that the DOCCS does not recognize his religion and has unfairly placed the responsibility on him to notify the DOCCS of his religious needs. See generally id. at 7-11, 18-24. The facility's IGRC responded to grievance number GOV-15219-10, on February 18, 2010, recommending that plaintiff correspond in writing directly to defendant Thomas Kilian, the Senior Chaplin at Gouverneur, concerning any issues regarding policies or procedures related to religious practices. Id. at 12. Similarly, the IGRC responded to grievance number GOV-15184-10 on January 28, 2010, by advising plaintiff to correspond with defendant Kilian. Id. at 39. The determinations by the IGRC regarding those two grievances were affirmed by defendant Taylor in his responses dated February 16 and 24, 2010, which in relevant part, instructed plaintiff to coordinate his religious needs with defendant Kilian. Id. at 25, 40. Defendant Taylor's determinations were upheld by the CORC on August 4, 2010, in a decision that consolidated both grievance numbers GOV-15184-10 and GOV-15219-10. Id. at 2. In its decision, the CORC noted that, pursuant to DOCCS Directive No. 4202, in cases where a religion is not represented by certified chaplains, the DOCCS "will seek advice on matters of religious doctrine, practice and tradition from recognized religious authorities in the outside community." Id. The CORC further noted that a DOCCS Chaplain had met with the plaintiff on July 6, 2010, to discuss his religious demands, and the Chaplain contacted "a recognized religious authority in the outside community." Id. The CORC concluded that it "has not been presented with sufficient evidence to support the grievant's claim that the Department has not accommodated the legitimate spiritual needs of the grievant as reasonably as possible in a manner which is commensurate with its legitimate correctional interests and the safety and security of its respective facilities." Id.
In his position as coordinating chaplain at Gouverneur, defendant Kilian serves as the principal advisor to the superintendent on matters regarding religious programs and practices and is responsible for planning the overall religious program at the facility, in collaboration with other chaplains assigned there. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 1. Defendant Kilian interacted with the plaintiff while he was at Gouverneur and repeatedly advised that, in order for him to obtain his assistance in accommodating Selah's beliefs, plaintiff needed to inform defendant Kilian, in writing, of his dietary requirements, the holy days he wished to observe, and the religious books and articles that he desired to possess. Id. at 2-3. Defendant Kilian also repeatedly asked Selah to provide the name of a clergy person he wished to have visit, and indicated that, if possible, he would facilitate the visit. Id. at 3.
Defendant Kilian met with Selah on February 11, 2010. Dkt. No. 198-4. During that meeting, Kilian informed Selah that he was to correspond directly with Kilian concerning religious matters and was instructed to provide a specific list or request concerning the facilitation of any religious observants. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 6. On the day of the meeting, plaintiff signed a memorandum from defendant Kilian specifically instructing him to provide any religious-based requests to Kilian, as the coordinating chaplain, in writing. Dkt. No. 201 at 27. Plaintiff acknowledged that he would provide defendant Kilian with a list of EOC holy days. Id. Plaintiffs failure to comply with that directive resulted in the issuance of a misbehavior report for not following facility procedures. Id. at 25.
Between February 12 and February 15, 2010, Kilian received "voluminous responses" from the plaintiff concerning his needs. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 6. The materials submitted by Selah were forwarded by Kilian to Omega Austin, the Assistant Director of OFMVS with a notation that Selah's religion was listed in departmental records as "other" and that he was placed on an Cold Alternative Diet ("CAD") to accommodate his religious dietary requirements, and additionally had been relieved of work and programs for the holy day of Ethiopian Christmas. Id. ; Dkt. No. 201 at 35. Kilian requested that Austin provide additional instructions regarding plaintiffs requests. Dkt. No. 201 at 35. Further correspondence from Selah was forwarded by defendant Kilian on March 25, 2010, to Deacon Donald T. Sharrow, at the DOCCS Central Office. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 6-7. In his cover letter accompanying those materials, defendant Kilian indicated he would advise plaintiff of the need to provide a name and address of an EOC clergy as directed by the CORC. Dkt. No. 201 at 106. Defendant Kilian did not receive any further correspondence regarding plaintiff through the date of Selah's transfer out of Gouverneur on May 17, 2010. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 7.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff commenced this action on December 7, 2009. Dkt. No. 1. Since its inception, the action has had an extensive and tortured procedural history that includes over 200 docket entries, and features repetitive serial filings by plaintiff, including, but not limited to, twenty-nine requests for injunctive relief or supplemental materials in support of previously filed requests for injunctive relief, Dkt. Nos. 5, 69, 74, 76, 86-89, 91, 95-96, 99, 102-103, 105-07, 109-10, 131, 155, 157, 164, 176, 182, 189, 211, 214, 220; eight requests for the appointment of pro bono counsel or supplemental materials in support of previously filed requests for counsel, Dkt. Nos. 6, 115, 118, 122, 135, 208-09, 211; and twenty-one miscellaneous submissions that seek no relief, seek relief that cannot be obtained from the court, include discovery-related materials but request no specific court intervention, relate to settlement, and/or request copies from the court of voluminous materials submitted earlier by plaintiff, Dkt. Nos. 58, 72, 80-81, 83, 108, 117, 119, 142, 144, 147, 150-51, 154, 158, 160, 166, 184, 187, 197, 206.
On September 14, 2011, with leave of court, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which serves as the currently operative pleading in the case. Dkt. No. 84. As defendants, plaintiff's amended complaint names (1) the DOCCS; (2) the former DOCCS Commissioner, Brian Fischer; (3) the retired DOCCS Chaplain to Rastafarian inmates, Abuna Ammanuel Foxe; (4) the DOCCS Director of the OFMVS, Cheryl Morris; (5) the DOCCS Greek Orthodox Christian Chaplain, Fr. Mantzouris; (6) the Director of the DOCCS Inmate Grievance Program, Karen Bellamy; (7) the Superintendent at Gouverneur, Justin Taylor; (8) the Coordinating Chaplain at Gouverneur, Thomas Kilian; and (9) the former DOCCS Director of OFMVS, Mark Leonard, all of whom are sued in both their individual and official capacities. See generally id. Plaintiffs amended complaint asserts three claims, including (1) a violation of his right to freely exercise his chosen religion as guaranteed under the First Amendment; (2) the denial of equal protection in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) infringement of his statutory rights under the RLU IPA. Id. Plaintiff seeks various forms of monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief. Id.
Since the filing of plaintiffs amended complaint, the defendants have brought three dispositive motions seeking dismissal of the action. In the first, filed on November 21, 2011, they sought dismissal of plaintiff's original complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 111. That motion was granted only to the limited extent of ordering dismissal of all claims against the DOCCS. Dkt. Nos. 125, 126. Defendants then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on September 17, 2012, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 136. That second motion resulted in dismissal of plaintiffs claims against defendants Mantzouris, Bellamy, and Leonard, without leave to replead, but was otherwise denied. Dkt. Nos. 165, 177.
On March 31, 2014, following the close of discovery, defendants moved for the entry of summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs remaining claims, arguing that the record does not adequately reflect the personal involvement of two of the defendants, the plaintiffs claims lack merit, and, alternatively, defendants are all entitled to qualified immunity from suit. Dkt. No. 198. Plaintiff has since responded in opposition to defendants' motion. Dkt. Nos. 207, 212, 219. Defendants' motion, which is now fully briefed, 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 (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").
B. Personal Involvement
In their motion, defendants first contend that the record evidence does not support a finding that defendants Fischer and Foxe were personally involved in the alleged violations of plaintiff's rights under the Constitution or RLUIPA. Dkt. No. 198-14 at 3-6.
"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 lqbal, 556 U.S. at 683 ("[P]etitioners cannot be held liable unless they themselves acted on account of a constitutionally protected characteristic."). In order 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).
1. Defendant Fischer
Defendant Fischer, the Commissioner of the DOCCS, is mentioned only four times in plaintiff's amended complaint. Dkt. No. 84 at 13, 14, 15-16. Plaintiff alleges that (1) he intends to "keep Defendant[... Fischer... as [a] named defendant in this case, " id. at 15; (2) members of the prison staff at the Orleans Correctional Facility report to defendant Fischer, id.; (3) defendant Fischer, as the Commissioner of the DOCCS, owed plaintiff "a duty of care" related to "[d]efendant Fischer's responsibility for directing policies, " id. at 13; and (4) defendant Fischer has "consulted with and [has] relied on Defendant Abuna Foxe to assist [him] in authoring and promulgating [DOCCS] rules, directives, regulations and policies concerning Rastafarianism and decisions about Ethiopian/Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian doctrine, practices, tradition, beliefs, and observances... that the Defendants, the [DOCCS] and its agents, have used to subject the Plaintiff... to religious discrimination and deprivations, " id. at 14.
It appears that plaintiffs claims against defendant Fisher are predicated largely upon his supervisory role as the DOCCS Commissioner. It is wellestablished that a supervisor cannot be liable for damages under section 1983 solely by virtue of being a supervisor, "and [liability] cannot rest on respondeat superior." Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431, 435 (2d Cir. 2003); Wright, 21 F.3d at 501. To establish responsibility on the part of a supervisory official for a civil rights violation, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the individual (1) directly participated in the challenged conduct; (2) after learning of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) created or allowed to continue a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred; (4) was grossly negligent in managing the subordinates who caused the unlawful event; or (5) failed to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring. lqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2007), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 554 (2009); see also Richardson, 347 F.3d at 435; Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995); Wright, 21 F.3d at 501.
In my prior report, addressing plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings, I found that only the fourth allegation listed above against defendant Fischer could give rise to a plausible claim. In doing so, in light of the procedural posture of the case, I generously construed plaintiff's complaint as alleging that defendant Fischer is responsible for promulgating policies that have prevented the plaintiff from (1) possessing and displaying head gear, a prayer shawl, a prayer girdle, a prayer rug, and other appropriate religious attire and artifacts; (2) observing and commemorating holy days; (3) participating in congregate religious services and education; (4) eating meals consistent with Old Testament dietary laws; (5) wearing beards and dreadlocks or braids; and (6) being exempt from work on Saturdays and Sundays. See generally Dkt. No. 84; Dkt. No. 165 at 14.
Despite the opportunity for plaintiff to engage in discovery, the record before the court fails to reveal any evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that defendant Fischer was aware of and failed to remedy any of the constitutional or statutory violations alleged by plaintiff. At this stage of the litigation, the burden is on plaintiff to come forward with evidence giving rise to a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether defendant Fischer created or enforced DOCCS policies that specifically precluded plaintiff from possessing religious accoutrements, observing and celebrating holy days, participating in congregate services and the appropriate dietary restrictions for EOC, wearing his hair in dreadlocks and/or braids and wearing his beard a certain length, and working on Saturdays and Sundays.
In his response in opposition to defendants' motion, plaintiff includes the following argument:
[W]hile the Defendants claim that they have not... created, implemented, nor carried out any discriminatory prison policies...[, ] in actuality [the DOCCS] Directive #4040, § 701.5, (d) (2) (ii) (7/12/06) states in pertinent part: The CORC functions on behalf of the Commissioner and under his authority. CORC decisions have the [same] effect of [Departmental] directives.... The Departmental Directives are in other words prison policies....
Dkt. No. 207 at 8 (emphasis and bracketed text in original). This argument appears to suggest that, because the CORC acts on behalf of the DOCCS Commissioner and under his authority, any decision by the CORC has the same force and effect as a departmental directive from the Commissioner, which then becomes controlling prison policy. Even liberally construed, however, this argument misses the mark and merely serves to underscore the fact that defendant Fischer's personal involvement in this case is based on his role as the DOCCS Commissioner. This is not enough at the summary judgment stage to give rise to a dispute of fact regarding personal involvement. Because the record is lacking in any evidence of defendant Fischer's personal involvement in the decisions rendered that allegedly denied plaintiff the right to exercise his chosen religion, I recommend that all claims against him be dismissed.
2. Defendant Foxe
Defendant Foxe is mentioned five times in plaintiffs amended complaint. Dkt. No. 84 at 10, 14-16. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Foxe (1) founded the Ba Beta church of Haile Selassie I sect of Rastafarians, id. at 10; (2) is not an expert on plaintiff's religion, id. at 14; (3) was excommunicated from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, id. ; (4) assisted defendants Fischer and Morris in creating the policies and regulations allegedly responsible for violating plaintiffs rights when they
consulted with him, id.; and (5) possessed the authority to approve the requests made by Orleans Correctional Facility staff as they relate to plaintiff's religious accommodations, id. at 15-16.
Plaintiffs allegations against defendant Foxe were also addressed in my prior report addressing defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. I concluded that the first, third, and fifth allegations were legally insufficient to support a finding of liability for damages on the part of defendant Foxe. Dkt.
No. 165 at 16-17. I further found, however, that given the early procedural stage at which the issue was being raised, the allegations that defendant Foxe contributed to creating and maintaining the DOCCS policies and practices, which, plaintiff alleges, violated his rights were sufficient at that point to state a plausible claim against that defendant. Id. at 17.
Now that defendants have moved for summary judgment, the procedural setting has been altered, and the pending motion now requires a careful review of the record to determine whether any evidence has been presented to inculpate defendant Foxe in the violations alleged. Based upon that review, I find that the record now before the court is lacking in evidence to support a finding that defendant Foxe was personally involved in the alleged violations. In his declaration, defendant Foxe denies consulting with defendants Fischer or Morris "concerning the policies of the Division of Family, Ministerial, and Volunteer Services" or "communicat[ing] with [defendants Fischer or Morris] regarding [plaintiff]'s complaints." Dkt. No. 198-3 at 3. Moreover, aside from a single discussion between Foxe and the plaintiff "[i]n the latter part of 2010, " after plaintiff had been transferred out of Gouverneur, defendant Foxe had "no further contact, in person or in writing, with [plaintiff]." Id. In light of the fact that plaintiff has failed to come forward with evidence to contradict these statements, I recommend that his claims against defendant Foxe be dismissed based upon a lack of personal involvement.
3. Defendant Morris
Based on my review of the record, it is not clear how defendant Morris was involved in the alleged violations of plaintiffs rights under the Constitution and RLUIPA. Although in part I. of this report and in my previous report and recommendation, Dkt. No. 165 at 14-16, I generously construed plaintiffs amended complaint as suggesting that defendant Morris is responsible for various specific conduct, I find there is no record evidence to support plaintiffs allegations against that defendant. In defendant Morris' declaration submitted in support of defendants' motion, she provides the court with information regarding her role as the Director of the OFMVS, the individuals to whom she reports, and the role the OFMVS serves within the DOCCS, and refers the court to the declarations of defendants Kilian and
Taylor for specific examples of how plaintiff's religious needs were attempted to be served while he was confined at Gouverneur. See generally Dkt. No. 198-5. As was mentioned above, defendant Morris denies ever consulting with defendant Foxe concerning plaintiff's requests. Id. at 8. As for plaintiff's proof, he has offered no evidence to support his allegations regarding defendant Morris' involvement. While general and conclusory allegations occasionally will permit a plaintiff's claim to pass muster in connection with a motion dismiss pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, at the summary judgment stage he is required to set forth evidence that gives rise to a genuine dispute of material fact. Plaintiff's failure to do so in this case is fatal to his claim against defendant Morris. Because I find there is no record evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that defendant Morris was personally involved in the constitutional and statutory violations alleged, I recommend the dismissal of all claims asserted against her.
C. Qualified Immunity
Defendants contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity from suit in this action based on their conduct as alleged by plaintiff. Dkt. No. 198-14 at 21-22. "Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages liability unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Reichle v. Howards, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093 (2012); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009); Sudler v. City of N.Y., 689 F.3d 159, 174 (2d Cir. 2012). The law of qualified immunity seeks to strike a balance between "the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. Government officials are shielded from liability by qualified immunity when making "reasonable mistakes" concerning the lawfulness of their conduct. Sudler, 689 F.3d at 174 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 206 (2001), abrogated on other grounds by Pearson, 555 U.S. 223)).
Because qualified immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability, " Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985), the Supreme Court has "repeatedly... stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in the litigation, " Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231 (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per curiam)).
The determination of whether a government official is immune from suit is informed by two factors. Doninger v. Niehoff, 642 F.3d 334, 345 (2d Cir. 2011). Specifically, the inquiry turns on whether the facts alleged, taken in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, show that the conduct at issue violated a statutory or constitutional right, and if so, whether that right "was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Terebesi v. Torreso, 764 F.3d 217, 230 (2d Cir. 2014) (citing Reichle, 132 S.Ct. at 2093). The Supreme Court has said that an officer's "conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a right are sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011) (quotation marks and alterations omitted). "To this end, a plaintiff need not show a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Terebesi, 764 F.3d at 230 (quoting al- Kidd, 131 S.Ct. at 2083). However, [e]ven where the law is clearly established' and the scope of an official's permissible conduct is clearly defined, ' the qualified immunity defense also protects an official if it was objectively reasonable' for him at the time of the challenged action to believe his acts were lawful." Higazy v. Templeton, 505 F.3d 161, 169-70 (2d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). This "objective reasonableness" part of the test is satisfied if "officers of reasonable competence could disagree on [the legality of the defendant's actions]." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).
After carefully considering the record evidence and the parties' memoranda submitted in connection with defendants' motion, 1 recommend a finding that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity in this action. Under the circumstances, and even assuming, without deciding, that defendants Kilian and Taylor violated plaintiffs clearly established rights, I conclude that it was objectively reasonable for them to believe that their conduct did not violate plaintiffs rights under the First Amendment or RLUIPA.
1. Defendant Kilian
According to the record, as early as December 1, 2009, plaintiff was instructed by Deputy Commissioner Kenneth S. Perlman to refer his requests regarding his religious needs to defendant Kilian, the coordinating chaplain at Gouverneur. Dkt. No. 201 at 2. On December 23, 2009, plaintiff was again advised by R. Pirie, the DOCCS Deputy Superintendent for Program Services, to refer his religious needs to defendant Kilian. Id. at 6. Pirie's memorandum explained that, in order to obtain assistance in having his religious beliefs met, plaintiff must provide defendant Kilian "specific requests, " which would enable him to consult with "those who are authorities on such religious matters, as well as Central Office staff in Ministerial Services[.]" Id.
According to a letter from plaintiff, dated January 2, 2010, and addressed to several individuals, including defendant Kilian and Pirie, defendant Kilian met with plaintiff in or around that date. Dkt. No. 102 at 8. During that meeting, defendant Kilian asked plaintiff "to draft a list of some of the various things and ways that [he] desire[s] and/or request[s] to exercise [his] freedom of religion[.]" Id. Plaintiffs letter then asks for EOC to be listed as a religion in the DOCCS database, that EOC "duly be recognized as a bonifide [sic] and legitimate religious designation and religion by the [DOCCS], " that he "and similarly situated inmates" that adhere to EOC be permitted to celebrate "major and minor holy days of significance... and to be allocated daily kosher meals (at least one hot meal per day) and special holy days meals." Id. It appears from the record that defendant Kilian did not receive this letter from plaintiff. Instead, it appears that the letter was sent to and received by Pirie, who responded to the letter in a memorandum dated January 6, 2010, in which Pirie wrote as follows:
As Deacon Kilian advised you at [your] meeting [with him], you should direct any and all requests for religious assistance to him because he is the Coordinating Chaplain and in the best position to assist you. Therefore, I am forwarding your letter to him so that he may investigate and respond to your requests....
Id. at 21.
Less than a month later, plaintiff again met with defendant Kilian again. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 6; Dkt. No. 201 at 27. Defendant Kilian provided plaintiff with a memorandum that stated the following:
Please be advised that I am in receipt of copies of your recent religious requests and grievance filing.
In order to best help you with any religious/faith group matters you may have you must follow these procedures:
1. You are to correspond, in writing, with me DIRECTLY regarding any religious/faith group concerns you may have so that I may best serve you in a timely manner.
2. You are to provided me DIRECTLY with a specific list or request regarding any matter of religious/faith group practice that you claim is part of your religious observance that you want facilitated on your behalf. Any list or request will be submitted to Ministerial and Family Services, Central Office, for their recommendation and approval.
Id. Plaintiff signed and acknowledged receipt of this memorandum on the same day. Id.
Following this meeting, plaintiff provided defendant Kilian with "voluminous" submissions dated February 12, 2010, and February 15, 2010. Dkt. No. 198-4 at 6; Dkt. No. 201 at 36-104. Defendant Kilian forwarded plaintiffs submissions to Omega Alston, the Assistant Director Ministerial Services, seeking guidance as to "what further action is to be taken regarding [plaintiff's] religious requests[.]" Dkt. No. 201 at 35. Similarly, defendant Kilian submitted additional correspondence received by plaintiff to Deacon Donald T. Sharrow at the Central Office on March 25, 2010. Dkt. No. 106-19. According to defendant Kilian, "[a]s of May 17, 2010, the date of [plaintiff]'s transfer out of Gouverneur, [he] had not received further correspondence concerning [plaintiff]." Dkt. No. 198-4 at 7.
Aside from the evidence described above, there is nothing in the record before the court regarding defendant Kilian's conduct in this matter. Although plaintiff's amended complaint, liberally construed, alleges defendant Kilian is responsible for denying him various specific religious requests, there is no record to support those allegations. Even assuming, however, that plaintiff's allegations are true, and assuming for the sake of argument that the allegations were sufficient to support a reasonable factfinder's conclusion that defendant Kilian violated plaintiff's rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA, I find that it was reasonable for defendant Kilian to believe that his responses to plaintiff's letters did not violate his rights. Based on the record before me, it appears defendant Kilian met with plaintiff on two occasions, instructed him to put in writing his specific requests regarding his religious exercise, and forwarded plaintiff's demands to the appropriate personnel within the DOCCS for further guidance. Because I find that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that it was objectively unreasonable for defendant Kilian to believe that his conduct in this case did not violate plaintiff's clearly established constitutional and statutory rights, I recommend defendant Kilian be afforded qualified immunity from suit and the claims asserted against him be dismissed.
2. Defendant Taylor
The record evidence reflects that defendant Taylor affirmed the IGRC's denials of each of plaintiff's grievances described in part I. of this report. Dkt. No. 198-8 at 3-5; Dkt. No. 198-9 at 8, 18; Dkt. No. 198-10 at 6; Dkt. No. 198-11 at 6; Dkt. No. 198-12 at 6; Dkt. No. 198-13 at 25, 40. In addition, defendant Taylor instructed defendant Kilian and Deputy Superintendent Pirie to take specific steps to address plaintiffs religious requests and cooperate with the OFMVS to this end. Dkt. No. 198-8 at 3, 5. Having had an opportunity to review plaintiff's grievances and defendant Taylor's responses, I find that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that his conduct was objectively unreasonable or that he knew or should have known that his conduct violated plaintiffs rights under the Constitution or RLUIPA. As defendant Taylor emphasizes, he denied plaintiff's appeals in connection with the grievances based on his belief that plaintiff was seeking relief that he was not authorized to provide, and he provided plaintiff with instructions regarding how to seek the relief requested. Id. at 3-5. Moreover, defendant Taylor responded in accordance with DOCCS policies that were in place at the time. Id. at 5; see Green v. Bauvi, 46 F.3d 189, 195 (2d Cir. 1995) ("[A]dherence to [state regulations] may be pertinent in considering whether a reasonable official would have known his actions violated the Constitution."). Accordingly, even assuming that defendant Taylor violated plaintiffs clearly established rights by denying his appeals from each of his grievances, I recommend defendant Taylor be afforded qualified immunity from suit and the claims asserted against him be dismissed.
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
In this action, plaintiff complains of a host of actions taken by DOCCS employees that allegedly imposed substantial burdens upon his right to freely exercise his chosen religion. After a careful review of the record in the case, I find the record fails to give rise to a genuine dispute of fact regarding whether defendants Fischer, Foxe, and Morris were personally involved in the alleged conduct. In addition, even assuming plaintiffs allegations are true, and without rendering any finding regarding whether defendants did, in fact, violate plaintiff's rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA, I find that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that it was unreasonable for defendants Kilian and Taylor to believe that their conduct did not violate plaintiffs rights.
Based upon the foregoing, it is hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No.198) be granted, and that all remaining claims set forth in plaintiffs complaint be DISMISSED.
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 further hereby ORDERED that the clerk serve a copy of this report and recommendation upon the parties in accordance with this court's local rules.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
McKENNA, District Judge.
*1 On December 4, 1991, pro se plaintiff Dale Hendrickson ("Plaintiff' or "Hendrickson"), an inmate then in confinement at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York ("Otisville"), filed this action for injunctive relief and damages based upon alleged violations of his rights under the United States Constitution, Amendments I, IV, V, VI, IX, and XIII, and upon violations of various laws and/or regulations governing prison administration.FN1 The Complaint named as defendants G.L. Hershberger ("Hershberger"), the United States Attorney General ("Attorney General"), Gary Morgan ("Morgan"), Pamela Ashline ("Ashline"), Kenneth Walicki ("Walicki"), Hulett Keith ("Keith"), the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"), and the Otisville Medical Department ("OTV Medical Department") (collectively "Defendants"). Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set out below, Defendants' Rule 12(c) motion is granted.
Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 12(c) provides:
After the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings. If, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). "[T]he same standards that are employed for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) are applicable" to a Rule 12(c) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Ad-Hoc Comm. of the Baruch Black & Hispanic Alumni Ass'n v. Bernard M. Baruch College, 835 F.2d 980, 982 (2d Cir.1987); see also Viacom Int'l. Inc. v. Time, Inc., 785 F.Supp. 371, 375 n. 11 (S.D.N.Y.1992); 5A Charles Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure ¶ 1367, at 515-16 (1990). Thus, the Court must read the Complaint generously, drawing all reasonable inferences from the complainant's allegations. See California Motor Transp. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 515 (1972). Moreover, "consideration is limited to the factual allegations in [the] amended complaint, which are accepted as true, to documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference, to matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or to documents either in plaintiff[s] possession or of which plaintiff had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit." Brass v. American Film Technologies, Inc., 987 F.2d 142 (2d Cir.1993); accord Allen v. West-point-Pepperell, Inc., 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir.1991); Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47-48 (2d Cir.1991), cert. denied, 112 S.Ct. 1561 (1992); Frazier v. General Elec. Co., 930 F.2d 1004, 1007 (2d Cir.1991). Defendants, therefore, are entitled to dismissal for failure to state a claim only if the Court finds beyond a doubt that "plaintiff can prove no set of facts" to support the claim that plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).
*2 Because the 3(g) statement and declarations submitted to this Court by Defendants have not been considered and are hereby excluded from the record, the Court renders its judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c).
Drawing all inferences in favor of the Plaintiff, Miller v. Polar Molecular Corp., 12 F.3d 1170, 1993 WL 527434 (2d Cir.), the facts are as follows.
During Hendrickson's confinement at Otisville, certain video tapes which had been supplied to him by the government were "systematically and maliciously confiscated"; audio tapes and legal materials also were removed from Plaintiffs possession while he was a pre-trial detainee at Otisville. In retaliation for his bringing legal materials into the Otisville compound area, Plaintiff claims, he was placed in administrative detention. Compl. at 1 (presumably ¶ A.)
Hendrickson also claims at various times to have been wrongly isolated from the general prison population based on alleged and allegedly erroneous OTV Medical Department claims that he had tuberculosis. Id. ¶ B. During these periods of medical confinement, Hendrickson claims that the "4A unit team" denied him personal visits, his right to send mail, and telephone communications and consultations necessary to his legal representation. Id. ¶ C.
Hendrickson claims that as part of his medical confinement he was "subjected to ruthless and inhumane [d]isciplinary action from the D[isciplinary] H[earing] O[fficer], " and was for 15 days placed in administrative detention and for 30 days deprived of commissary, visitation, and phone privileges. Id. ¶ D.
Hendrickson further alleges that commissary items that he had in his possession before entering medical confinement were wrongly confiscated from him, and while in such confinement he was assaulted and searched by the "OTV Riot Squad." Id. ¶ E. In addition, he claims, commissary receipts, as well as legal documents and other legal materials were confiscated from him. Id. ¶ F.
Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Of course, in considering a pro se pleading, the Court takes into consideration the special circumstances of pro se litigants. As the Second Circuit has often noted, "special solicitude should be afforded pro se litigants generally, when confronted with motions for summary judgment." Graham v. Lewinski, 848 F.2d 342, 344 (2d Cir.1988); accord, e.g., Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir.1988); Beacon Enters., Inc. v. Menzies, 715 F.2d 757, 767 (2d Cir.1983). We apply the same solicitous standard to the instant motion to dismiss.
Plaintiff, however, has failed to present to this Court either a colorable theory of violation of legal duties or facts to support a claim that might be inferred from the pleadings. Even assuming the truth of Plaintiffs allegations, the Court is left without a cognizable claim before it.
*3 At the outset, the Court notes that to the extent that the Complaint seeks injunctive relief from conditions of Plaintiffs treatment while at Otisville as a pre-trial detainee, the claim is now moot as Plaintiff has since been transferred to the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc, California following his conviction at trial. Hendrickson's Complaint also fails to the extent that it seeks damages from the United States government or government officials in their official capacity. Because the United States government enjoys sovereign immunity, it can be sued only to the extent it so consents. United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980) (quoting U.S. v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586 (1941)). No such immunity has been waived in suits for damages arising from constitutional violations. Keene Corp. v. United States, 700 F.2d 836, 845 n. 13 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 864 (1983). Thus, the only possible redress remaining available to Plaintiff for the harms alleged is a Bivens action FN2 against government officials in their personal capacities for actions taken under the color of governmental authority.
As Defendants point out, however, Plaintiff has nowhere, other than in the caption of the Complaint, mentioned by name any of the individual named Defendants. Defs.' Mem.Supp.Mot.Dismiss or Summ.Jt. at 2. It is true that Plaintiff did in the body of the Complaint name the "4A Unit Team, " the "DHO, " and the "OTV Riot Squad, " but these designations of group actions undifferentiated as to individuals and of official titles unconnected to any individual names do not allege the actionable individual behavior necessary to sustain a Bivens claim.
In a Bivens action, where Defendants are sued in their personal capacities, actionable behavior must be alleged as to individuals. See, e.g., Ostrer v. Aronwald, 567 F.2d 551, 553 (2d Cir.1977); Barbera v. Smith, 836 F.2d 96, 99 (2d Cir.1987), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1065 (1989). A complaint that fails to make any specific factual allegations of "direct and personal responsibility on the part of any of the named defendants in regard to the loss of any of [plaintiff's] property" must be dismissed. Lee v. Carlson, 645 F.Supp. 1430, 1436 (S.D.N.Y.1986).
More importantly, the light in which a pro se complaint may be considered does not burn so brightly as to blind the court as to the rights of defendants who are entitled to have claims against them alleged with sufficient clarity as to make possible a defense. Even in a pro se complaint, claims must "specify in detail the factual basis necessary to enable [defendants] intelligently to prepare their defense..." Ostrer v. Aronwald, 567 F.2d 551, 553 (2d Cir. 1977). Otherwise, blameless parties would be subject to damages claims for free-floating innuendo. To be sufficient before the law, a complaint must state precisely who did what and how such behavior is actionable under law. Although the Court may make special efforts to understand the underlying claim of a vague, confusing, or poorly crafted pro se complaint that it would not undertake in connection with a claim prepared by legal counsel, it cannot do so to the extent that this would work an injustice to defendants, whose rights also must be protected. A defendant who is alleged to be liable for his actions has a right to have the claims against him spelled out with a basic degree of clarity and particularity. See supra at 7. Although some of the harms alleged by Plaintiff might conceivably be of some substance, the Court cannot understand from the documents before it which defendants are alleged to have participated in which allegedly actionable behavior. The Court cannot on such a basis subject a party to potential liability. See Defs' Mot. at 9, 10.
Summary and Order
*4 For the reasons stated, Plaintiff has failed to plead a colorable case. Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.
FN1. The Complaint states only that "Bureau of Prison institutional Law" was violated; subsequent documents filed by Plaintiff imply the violation of specific prison policies. See, e.g., Letter from Hendrickson to Judge McKenna of 10/13/93 at 2 (citing BOP Policy Statement 1315.3 purportedly concerning prisoner access to legal materials while in administrative detention).
FN2. Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
Joch & Kirby, Ithaca, New York, for Plaintiff, Joseph Joch, of counsel.
Bond, Schoeneck & King, LLP, Syracuse, New York, for Defendant, John Gaal, Paul ...