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Smith v. Wildermuth

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 14, 2017

AUREL SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL WILDERMUTH, et al., Defendants.

          STROUSE & BOND PLLC Counsel for Plaintiff, HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN Attorney General of the State of New York Counsel for Defendants.

          DAVID E. BOND, ESQ., C. HARRIS DAGUE, ESQ. Assistant Attorney General.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER [1]

          THERESE WILEY DANCKS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Aurel Smith is an inmate in the custody of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and is currently housed at Cayuga Correctional Facility. (Dkt. No. 39.) The allegations of Plaintiff's third amended complaint, which is the operative pleading, relate to Plaintiff's previous confinement at Coxsackie Correctional Facility (“Coxsackie”). (Dkt. No. 119.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages against remaining Defendants Corrections Officer (“CO”) Michael Wildermuth (“Wildermuth”), CO Nathan Ensel (“Ensel”), CO Christopher Hale (“Hale”), CO Jody Slater (“Slater”), Corrections Sergeant (“Sgt.”) Paul Morris (“Morris”), Sgt. James Noeth (“Noeth”[2]); CO James Chewens (“Chewens”), CO Julio Saez (“Saez”), Sgt. Charles Bailey (“Bailey”), and Superintendent Daniel F. Martuscello (“Martuscello”). Id. at ¶¶ 247-53.[3] Plaintiff's allegations are organized into five causes of action:

Count One: Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Wildermuth, Ensel, Slater, Hale, Morris, and Noeth; Count
Two: Conspiracy claim against Wildermuth, Ensel, Slater, Hale, Morris, and Noeth; Count
Three: First Amendment free exercise claim against Wildermuth;
Count Four: Eighth Amendment failure to intervene claim against Bailey, Chewens, and Saez; and Count
Five: Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim against Martuscello.

Id. at ¶¶ 237-246.

         Defendants have now moved for partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amendment free exercise claim against Wildermuth and Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim against Martuscello. (Dkt. No. 127.) Plaintiff has opposed the motion. (Dkt. No. 128.) Defendants have filed a reply. (Dkt. No. 129.) For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. The motion is granted with respect to Plaintiff's First Amendment free exercise claim against Wildermuth and denied with respect to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim against Martuscello.

         Further, on the record now before the Court, the Court finds Plaintiff has plausibly alleged a First Amendment retaliation claim against Wildermuth. As such, the following claims will proceed to trial: (1) Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Wildermuth, Ensel, Slater, Hale, Morris, and Noeth; (2) conspiracy claim against Wildermuth, Ensel, Hale, Slater, Morris, and Noeth; (3) First Amendment retaliation claim against Wildermuth; (4) Eighth Amendment failure to intervene claim against Bailey, Chewens, and Saez; and (5) Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim against Martuscello.

         II. BACKGROUND

         At all times relevant to this action, Martuscello served as either the Superintendent or Deputy Superintendent of Security at Coxsackie. (Dkt. No. 126 at ¶ 6.) Plaintiff was housed at Coxsackie from January 2009 to July 2010. (Dkt. No. 119 at ¶ 24.) Plaintiff alleges that throughout that period there was a “maintained environment of staff abuse . . . and misconduct, especially guard brutality and the falsification of incident reports fraudulently covering up and thus justifying such misconduct, as well as both administrative acquiescence and administrative failure to curb and deter such conduct.” Id. at ¶ 25. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Martuscello permitted and maintained the “widespread and systemic conditions of abuse and misconduct” that “ultimately led to Plaintiff becoming a victim to such patterns of abuse on April 20, 2010.” Id. at ¶ 75.

         At approximately 3:30 p.m. on April 20, 2010, Plaintiff was in his cell located in the B-2 housing block of Coxsackie. (Dkt. No. 127-4 at 18-20.[4]) Plaintiff was engaged in Salaah, or Islamic prayer, with his back to the cell gate. (Dkt. No. 119 at ¶ 95.) According to Plaintiff, Wildermuth conducted an unannounced, unscheduled, and unexpected walk-through of the B-2 housing block. Id. While Plaintiff was praying, Wildermuth ordered Plaintiff to remove a coat hanging on the bedpost of his cell. Id. at ¶¶ 97-98. Plaintiff complied by reaching over and moving the coat while still engaged in Salaah. Id. at ¶ 98. Plaintiff continued praying. Id.

         Wildermuth shouted, “hey you, ” at Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 127-4 at 8.) Because Plaintiff was praying he did not verbally respond to Wildermuth. Id. at 9. Instead, Plaintiff raised his right hand to shoulder level to indicate Wildermuth should wait a moment. Id. Wildermuth became irate, began yelling at Plaintiff, banged on Plaintiff's cell gate with his baton, and reached his baton into the cell and knocked some of Plaintiff's personal items from his locker onto the floor. Id. at ¶ 101; Dkt. No. 127-4 at 9. Plaintiff continued praying. (Dkt. No. 127-4 at 9.) As a result, Wildermuth informed Plaintiff that he was “burned” for the day, which is form of informal punishment involving the unofficial taking of inmate privileges resulting in “informal keep lock.” (Dkt. Nos. 127-4 at 10, 128-4 at 9, and 119 at ¶ 103.)

         After Plaintiff finished his Salaah, he sought to speak to Wildermuth “in order to explain the matter and thus to mitigate both the situation and Wildermuth's anger, as well as to (more fundamentally) avoid future repetition of that event.” (No. 119 at ¶ 105.) Wildermuth, irate, told Plaintiff that he did not care whether Plaintiff was praying and that Plaintiff had better acknowledge him. Id. at ¶ 106.

         Because Wildermuth “burned” Plaintiff for the day, Plaintiff claims he was not released for evening recreation. Id. at ¶ 108. At approximately 7:00 p.m., Wildermuth returned to Plaintiff's cell. Id. at ¶¶ 109-11. Wildermuth “began to rehash a confrontation with Plaintiff, asking Plaintiff whether he had learned his lesson.” Id. at ¶ 109. Plaintiff claims the confrontation “became heated and hostile” and ended with Wildermuth storming away. Id. at ¶ 110.

         At approximately 8:00 p.m., Morris and Ensel came to Plaintiff's cell and asked Plaintiff if he was ready to move to the F-2 housing unit. Id. at ¶ 112. Plaintiff told them he was not packed because he was unaware that he was scheduled for a move. Id. at ¶ 113. Plaintiff asked Morris and Ensel if he was “being set-up” in retaliation for his dispute with Wildermuth. Id. at ¶ 114. Plaintiff was instructed to do as he was told and to pack his belongings. Id. at ¶¶ 117-118. Although he feared for his safety, Plaintiff packed his belongings. Id. at ¶ 118.

         At approximately 8:40 p.m., Wildermuth, Morris, and Ensel returned to Plaintiff's cell. Id. at ¶¶ 119-20. Plaintiff alleges that before opening the cell door, Wildermuth stated to Plaintiff, “We'll see how tough you are now.” Id. at ¶ 121. Plaintiff then loaded six property draft-bags and his mattress onto a push cart. Id. at ¶¶ 122-24.

         According to Plaintiff, as he carried his last draft-bag down the staircase to his new cell, Wildermuth punched Plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶ 145-46. Hale, Slater, Ensel, Morris, and Noeth joined in the attack. Id. at 148. Plaintiff alleges Bailey, Saez, and Chewens were present during the attack and failed to intervene. Id. at ¶¶ 146-78.

         On April 21, 2010, Plaintiff received two inmate misbehavior reports from Wildermuth and Ensel, which made “a series of false allegations” to cover up their use of force on April 20, 2010. Id. at ¶ 195. Plaintiff claims Wildermuth and Ensel fraudulently reported that Plaintiff attacked Ensel and Wildermuth. Id. At the disciplinary hearing, Plaintiff was found guilty of several institutional rule violations. Id. at ¶ 229. Plaintiff was sentenced to twenty-four months in the segregated housing unit (“SHU”), with a corresponding loss of privileges and good-time credits. Id. at ¶ 230. Plaintiff appealed and his sentence was reduced to twelve months in the SHU, with a corresponding loss of privileges and good-time credits. Id. at ¶ 231. Plaintiff was transferred to Upstate Correctional Facility in July of 2010. Id. at ¶ 234.

         Plaintiff contends that the April 20, 2010, incident was the result of “abusive prison conditions . . . fueled and maintained by Defendant Martuscello's deliberate indifference to the existence of such conditions . . . as well as his abdication of duties to monitor and supervise officers' use of force, to act decisively and meaningfully on possible instances of misconduct by officers in the facility/under his supervision, and to remedy malfeasant behavior so as to otherwise constitute an acquiescence to the existence of said abusive conditions without deterrence. ” Id. at ¶ 245.

         III. APPLICABLE SUMMARY JUDGMENT LEGAL STANDARDS

         Summary judgment may be granted only if the submissions of the parties taken together “show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing, through the production of admissible evidence that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006). A dispute of fact is “genuine” if “the [record] evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         Only after the moving party has met this burden is the nonmoving party required to produce evidence demonstrating that genuine issues of material fact exist. Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 272-73. The nonmoving party must do more than “rest upon the mere allegations . . . of the [plaintiff's] pleading” or “simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). “Conclusory allegations, conjecture and speculation . . . are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact.” Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998).

         A party opposing summary judgment is required to submit admissible evidence. See Spiegel v. Schulmann, 604 F.3d 72, 81 (2d Cir. 2010) (“It is well established that in determining the appropriateness of a grant of summary judgment, [the court] . . . may rely only on admissible evidence.”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         In Jeffreys v. City of New York, the Second Circuit reminded that on summary judgment motions “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” 426 F.3d 549, 554 (2d Cir. 2005). “To defeat summary judgment, . . . nonmoving parties “may not rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, “[a]t the summary judgment stage, a nonmoving ...


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