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Bradshaw v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 23, 2017

JAY BRADSHAW, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. PAUL OETKEN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jay Bradshaw, currently incarcerated at the Green Haven Correctional Facility, brings this action pro se, under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1988, as well as under state law. Bradshaw alleges that, when he was incarcerated at the Anna M. Kross Center, Defendants denied him postage to mail his Notice of Intention to File a Claim by certified mail to the New York Office of the Comptroller, violating his right of access to the courts, access to mail, and other rights. Bradshaw first filed suit on November 17, 2015. (See Dkt. No. 2.) Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss (see Dkt. No. 13), and in response Bradshaw filed the operative amended complaint in this action (see Dkt. No. 15 (“Compl.”)).[1] Defendants, in turn, filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. (Dkt. No. 19.) For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss the amended complaint is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         The facts described herein are, unless otherwise noted, taken from the operative complaint, papers appended to the complaint, or, consistent with the Court's responsibility to liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's papers, from Bradshaw's opposition to the motion to dismiss. See Escoffier v. City of N.Y., No. 13 Civ. 3918, 2016 WL 590229, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 11, 2016). Bradshaw's allegations are presumed true for the purposes of this motion.

         The windows in the “dayroom area” at Anna M. Kross Center (“AMKC”), in the Quad Lower 6 housing unit-where Bradshaw was housed-would not close. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Even in the “bitterly cold months of January and February, ” the windows stayed open, prompting “several” inmate complaints regarding the temperature. (Id.) On February 15, 2015, maintenance “sealed all the windows” in the unit using plastic bags. (Id. ¶ 13.) But the unit now suffered from “insufficient air circulation” and lacked any ventilation, producing very hot temperatures that reached “above 100 degrees.” (Id. ¶ 14.) Several inmate complaints were made as a result. (Id.)

         About a week after the windows were sealed up, on February 22, 2015, Bradshaw suffered difficulty breathing, along with “throat and chest congestion, nausea and a headache.” (Id. ¶ 15.) Bradshaw alleges that these symptoms were caused by the hot temperatures and absence of ventilation in the Quad. (Id.) As a result, Bradshaw was taken to the medical clinic at AMKC for an examination. (Id. ¶ 16.) The personnel there determined that Bradshaw had contracted a throat infection, and they provided him with treatment. (Id. ¶17; id. at 23-25 (“Ex. 1”).)

         As a result of the incident, Bradshaw sought to file a Notice of Intention to File a Claim against the City of New York for failure to properly maintain AMKC and for negligence in causing Bradshaw's illness. (Id. ¶ 18-19; id. at 27-30 (“Ex. 2”).) Bradshaw sought to file the Notice within ninety days of the incident, by mid-May, as required by New York General Municipal Law § 50-e. (Id. ¶ 18.) On March 12, 2015, Bradshaw gave Officer Thomas (whom Bradshaw describes as the “mail-officer at AMKC”) certified, outgoing legal mail, which was labeled as such and addressed to the Office of the Comptroller. (Id. ¶ 20; id. at 32 (“Ex. 3”).) Thomas told Bradshaw that because Bradshaw was “indigent and unable to pay” the cost of postage, he should “execute and submit with his certified . . . mail an ‘Inmate Request for Withdrawal of Funds for Postage' form, ” which Bradshaw completed on March 12. (Id. ¶ 21; id. at 24 (“Ex. 4”).) Based on this form, Bradshaw alleges that Defendant John Doe, a “Social Service Supervisor, ” determined that there was no money in Bradshaw's “Inmate Account” on March 16, March 19, and April 9, 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 22.) Nevertheless, Doe failed to provide the funds required for postage and “held the mail.” (Id. ¶ 22.)

         About a month after Bradshaw sought to send the Notice, on April 14, 2015, Thomas returned the Notice to Bradshaw, along with two other unspecified pieces of certified mail, also addressed to the Office of the Comptroller. (Id. ¶ 23.) Bradshaw claims that Thomas told him that Doe simply “refuse[d] to provide funds to pay [the] expense of the Certified Mail Receipt despite the Department's duty to indigent inmates.” (Id. ¶ 24.) Thomas allegedly told Bradshaw to “file a grievance.” (Id. ¶ 25.)

         On April 19, 2015, Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the three pieces of “Certified (out-going legal) mail[]” addressed to the Office of the Comptroller that had been returned and for which Doe had refused to provide the required funds for postage. (Id. ¶ 26; id. at 36 (“Ex. 5”).) Having received “no response, ” Bradshaw appealed and requested a formal hearing, by letter dated May 1, 2015. (Id. ¶ 27; id. at 38 (“Ex. 6”).) Again receiving no word back, Bradshaw appealed to Tony Durante (“Warden Durante”), by letter dated May 11, 2015. (Id. ¶ 28; id. at 40 (“Ex. 7”).) When Warden Durante failed to issue a decision, Bradshaw appealed to the “Central Office Review Committee” (“CORC”), by letter dated May 23, 2015. (Id. ¶ 29; id. at 42 (“Ex. 8”).) The CORC failed to render a decision or otherwise respond, so Bradshaw considered his initial grievance and subsequent appeals “constructively denied.” (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) Bradshaw received only a letter from the “DOC, Office of the Commissioner” stating that the Department of Correction had received his letter of May 23, 2015, and that the letter had been forwarded to the appropriate unit for investigation. (Id. ¶ 32; id. at 44 (“Ex. 9”).) But Bradshaw received nothing further. (Id. ¶ 33.) The ninety-day window in which Bradshaw could file his Notice of Claim under New York law elapsed on May 23, 2015. (Id. ¶ 34.)

         On May 9, 2016, Bradshaw was transferred from AMKC to Green Haven Correctional Facility, where he remains to this day. (Id. ¶ 35.) Bradshaw alleges that this was the first time he had access to a law library. (Id.)

         As a result of these circumstances, Bradshaw alleges that he was “prevented from sending his Notice of Claim, ” forfeiting the chance to bring a legal action. (Id. ¶ 36.) Here, Bradshaw brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the deprivation of his access to courts and his First Amendment right to send mail. (Id. ¶¶ 38-43.) Bradshaw further asserts claims for discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. (Id. ¶ 40.) He additionally alleges that the relevant authorities failed to intervene, and advances claims of supervisory and municipal liability, based on a pattern or practice carried out by the city. (Id. ¶¶ 53-66.) Bradshaw further claims that the City was generally negligent, and specifically negligent in the screening, hiring, and retention of personnel at AMKC, and in its training and supervising, in violation of New York law, and he further makes a claim for respondeat superior liability. (Id. ¶¶ 67-78.) Finally, Bradshaw asserts a claim under the Constitution of the State of New York that duplicates the federal constitutional torts alleged. (Id. ¶¶ 79-81.)

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wilson v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 671 F.3d 120, 128 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation mark omitted)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         When evaluating whether a complaint meets these requirements, courts assume that all “factual allegations contained in the complaint” are true, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007), and “draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party[], ” In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Additionally, a complaint “filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed, ' and ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         III. Discussion

         The heart of Bradshaw's claims is that Defendants violated his rights, while he was an indigent inmate at AMKC, by failing to provide the required postage to send outgoing legal mail. “[A]s few as two incidents of mail tampering could constitute an actionable violation (1) if the incidents suggested an ongoing practice of censorship unjustified by a substantial government interest, or (2) if the tampering unjustifiably chilled the prisoner's right of access to the courts or impaired the legal representation received.” Davis v. Goord,320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Washington v. James, 782 F.2d 1134, 1139 (2d Cir. 1986)). “Interference with a prisoner's mail thus may implicate two distinct rights: the ‘right of access to the courts' ...


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