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Williams v. King

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 14, 2015

JEAN G. KING, Deputy Superintendent of Program (DSP) and IMAM ABDUL LATIF, Facility Muslim Chaplain, Defendants.

Andrew Williams, Woodbourne Correctional Facility, Woodbourne, NY, Plaintiff (pro se).

Michael J. Keane, James B. Cooney, Daniel A. Schultze, Assistant Attorneys General, Office of the New York State Attorney General, New York, NY, For Defendants.


SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, District Judge.

On April 10, 2015, after a four-day jury trial, a verdict was entered in favor of defendants.[1] Plaintiff moves - pro se - for a new trial, [2] on the theory that Imam Mubdi - a prison official who was not named in the original complaint or identified in any of defendants' responsive filings - inculpated himself, at trial, as the one primarily responsible for violating plaintiffs rights. Specifically, Mubdi testified to the effect that he "initiated" the policy of Shiite registration at Woodbourne, and that he did so to enable "Shiite practitioners in the Department of Corrections ["DOCCS"] to reap the benefits of all the services [offered by DOCCS]... [and] to participate in the holidays."[3] When I asked Mubdi to clarify whether he considered the registration requirement to be "[his] requirement" (as opposed to Imam Latifs or Deputy King's), and whether he took it upon himself to explain the requirement to Woodboume inmates, the answer was yes.[4] According to Mubdi, the purpose of the registration policy was to ensure that prison officials - himself included - could properly accommodate the needs of Shiite Muslims. As Mubdi explained it,

by receiving [registration] forms it helps me know where this individual is or keep track of his movements within DOCCS. So that if he goes to a particular jail and it's not noted that he is a practitioner of the Shiite faith, I will have paperwork stating that he is.[5]

Because this testimony was the first time that plaintiff (and everyone else) learned of Mubdi's central role in the creation of a registration policy for Shiites at Woodbourne, plaintiff argues that he should be allowed to add Mubdi as a defendant - and to reopen the case against King and Latif. In short, plaintiff believes that in light of Mubdi's testimony, "the jury was given a[n] improper charge, " because Mubdi's remarks cast new light on Latif's and King's actions, and therefore "[a]dding Mubdi to [the case] will require a whole new defense."[6]

Defendants offer two arguments in response. First, they argue that plaintiff's objections were not property preserved at trial, which, if true, means that "a new trial [can] be granted" only in the extraordinary event that an "error [] was so serious and flagrant that it goes to the very integrity of the trial."[7] Second, defendants argue that the plaintiff has not shown prejudice. Even assuming, arguendo, that something in the Court's handling of Mubdi's testimony was erroneous, the error could not possibly have affected the jury's ultimate verdict.[8]

Because I agree with defendants' second argument, the preservation issue can be put to one side. Even if plaintiff is right (1) that Mubdi's testimony confirms the existence of an ad hoc policy of disparate treatment toward Shiite Muslims at Woodbourne, and (2) that Mudbi was responsible for the promulgation of that policy, [9] plaintiff's argument overlooks a crucial fact. Namely, the jury found that plaintiff was subject to religious discrimination at Woodbourne. But it also found that the policy was justified by countervailing penological interests, which means that although plaintiff was subject to disparate treatment, his constitutional rights were not violated.[10]

Given this verdict, for Mubdi's testimony to have affected the resolution of the case, it must have affected the way the jury viewed the legitimate penological interest in treating Shiites and Sunnis differently. Plaintiff has offered no theory - much less any evidence - to support this proposition. This is not surprising, for Mubdi's testimony did not address the issue of penological interests. Therefore, I need not decide whether the inclusion of Mubdi's testimony was erroneous, because even if it was, the error caused plaintiff no prejudice.[11] Accordingly, the motion for a new trial is DENIED. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close Dkt. No. 166.

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