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Brown v. The City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 17, 2017

SHONE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Thomas P. Griesa United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Shone Brown brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of New York (the "City") and eleven individuals employed by the New York City Department of Correction (the "DOC").[1] Brown alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights while he was a pretrial detainee at Rikers Island. Brown also brings claims against Defendants under New York State law. Defendants move to partially dismiss the complaint[2] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         I. The Complaint[3]

         Brown was arrested in April 2012 following a domestic dispute with his ex-wife. Compl. ¶ 22. After his arraignment, Brown was held as a pretrial detainee at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, a DOC facility on Rikers Island. Id. ¶ 23-24. On July 7, 2012, the DOC moved Brown to a different facility on Rikers Island: the George Motchan Detention Center ("GMDC"). Id. ¶24.

         A. Attack on Brown in GMDC's Dayroom

         At approximately 4:30 PM on July 15, 2012, Brown entered a dayroom at GMDC and sat down in a chair. Id. ¶¶ 46-47. After Brown sat down, four inmates who were members of the Bloods gang approached him and told him to get up because "the chair belonged to Bloods." Id. ¶ 48. Brown did not get up and instead asked why he could not sit in the chair. Id. ¶ 49. The four inmates then attacked him. Id. The attack lasted for about twenty minutes and rendered Brown unconscious. Id. ¶¶ 50-51.

         Correction Officer ("CO") Regina James and CO Kenyonda Grinkley witnessed the attack but did not intervene. Id. ¶¶ 52, 54. They "merely stood idly by and watched." Id. ¶ 54. After Brown had been severely wounded, CO James and CO Grinkley called for aid. Id. Brown's attackers then left the area. Id. ¶ 57. Before assistance arrived, Brown regained consciousness and asked CO James why she did not protect him. Id. ¶ 55.

         A group of additional DOC personnel, known as a "probe team," responded to the dayroom. Id. ¶ 56. The probe team was led by Captain Ronald Rudolph. Id. ¶ 16. Brown told Captain Rudolph that he had been attacked by four members of the Bloods. Id. ¶ 58. Brown also told Captain Rudolph that he wanted to press charges against the four Bloods members, but Brown did not know their names because he had just been transferred to GMDC. Id. ¶ 60-61. Brown asked Captain Rudolph and CO James to help him identify the four inmates who attacked him. Id. ¶ 61. Brown also complained to Captain Rudolph that CO James saw the attack but did not intervene.[4] Id. ¶ 59.

         DOC personnel took Brown to GMDC's medical clinic. The doctor who saw Brown at the clinic noted that Brown had visible injuries to his back, lips, jaw, and ankle. Id. ¶ 72. At approximately 6:15 PM, Brown was transported from GMDC to Elmhurst Hospital Center, and later to Bellevue Hospital, for additional treatment. Id. ¶¶ 73, 132-33. Brown was diagnosed with a broken jaw and a fractured ankle. Id. ¶¶ 50, 134. Doctors performed surgery on Brown and implanted a plate, wires, and screws into his ankle. Id. ¶¶ 142-143. Brown was confined to a wheelchair for several months. Id. ¶ 144.

         Captain Edwin Skepple was a supervisor on duty at the time of the incident. Id. ¶¶ 15, 105. Assistant Deputy Warden Raymond Beltz was the commanding officer on duty. Id. ¶¶ 14, 105. Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz tasked Captain Skepple with investigating the incident. Id. ¶ 105. Brown contends, however, that Captain Skepple did not conduct an investigation. Id. ¶ 106.

         B. Post-Attack Events and Incident Reports

         After the incident, CO James prepared and signed a handwritten report, dated July 15, 2012, detailing what she had observed. Id. ¶ 62. In the report, CO James wrote that she saw Brown and another inmate, "D.T.," engaged in a fist fight. Id. CO James said she ordered Brown and D.T. to stop fighting but they ignored her commands. Id. ¶ 63. According to the report, CO James then warned Brown and D.T. that she would use pepper spray if they continued fighting. Id. ¶ 64. CO James wrote that the fight then ended, and both inmates were escorted out of the area without further incident. Id. ¶¶ 64, 67. CO James also noted in her report that CO Grinkley witnessed the fight. Id. ¶ 65. Brown claims that CO James lied in this report to cover up the attack and to retaliate against him for his complaint about her to Captain Rudolph. Id. ¶ 62.

         A similar report about the incident, also dated July 15, 2012, bears CO Grinkley's signature. Id. ¶ 69-70. Brown says this report, despite purporting to be authored by CO Grinkley, was really prepared by CO James as well. Id. ¶ 69.

         On July 20, 2012, CO Jose Freire met with Brown to discuss the incident. Id. ¶ 166. At this meeting, Brown prepared a handwritten complaint stating that he was attacked by four members of the Bloods while CO James stood by and watched. Id. ¶ 79. Brown also wrote that he wanted to press charges against CO James and the gang members. Id. CO Freire told Brown that he would show Brown a photo array of GMDC inmates to help Brown identify his attackers. Id. ¶ 166. CO Freire also said he would investigate Brown's complaint and assist Brown in pressing charges against CO James and the gang members. Id. ¶167.

         Brown speculates that, after this exchange, CO Freire met with CO James, CO Grinkley, and Captain Skepple (the supervisor) to discuss the situation. Id. ¶ 168. Brown claims that, during this discussion, CO James, CO Grinkley, and Captain Skepple told CO Freire that they were working with other DOC personnel to cover up the truth about the incident. Id. ¶ 169. Specifically, Brown contends that CO James, CO Grinkley, and Captain Skepple informed CO Freire that Captain Rudolph (the probe team leader), Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz (the commanding officer), Deputy Warden Daniel O'Connell, and Deputy Warden Felipe Laboriel[5] were all part of the conspiracy to cover up the incident. Id. According to Brown, once CO Freire learned that these seven DOC personnel were working together to hide the truth, CO Freire agreed to join the effort to conceal the actual facts of the incident. Id. ¶ 170. Thus, after the discussion, CO Freire refused to meet with Brown again, did not provide Brown with the promised photo array, and did not assist Brown in pressing charges against CO James and the four gang members. Id. ¶ 171.

         On July 23, 2012, Captain Rudolph filed a report about the incident. Id. ¶ 77. Captain Rudolph wrote that he responded to the dayroom with the probe team on July 15, and Brown told him at the scene that he was involved in a fight with one other inmate. Id. ¶ 78. Brown contends that Captain Rudolph submitted this false report as part of his collusion with CO James, CO Grinkley, Captain Skepple, and other DOC personnel. Id. ¶¶ 77, 79.

         On July 30, 2012, Captain Skepple submitted a report detailing the findings of his investigation.[6] Id. ¶ 107. In his report, Captain Skepple wrote that he attempted to question Brown on July 15 at GMDC's medical clinic but Brown refused to provide a statement or any information as to how he got hurt. Id. ¶ 108. Captain Skepple also noted that he told Brown that fighting was not tolerated in DOC facilities, and that Brown would be "infracted" for violating DOC rules. Id. ¶ 109. Captain Skepple wrote that he tried to give Brown a formal notice of the infraction during the morning of July 20, 2012-i.e., just before CO Freire went to meet with Brown-but Brown refused to sign and take a copy. Id. ¶¶ 110-11. Captain Skepple concluded in his report that no other inmates besides Brown and D.T. were involved in the altercation. Id. ¶¶ 113, 118. Captain Skepple speculated that Brown lied in his statement to CO Freire on July 20 because Brown had just been given notice of the infraction and wanted to make himself look like a victim to avoid discipline. Id. ¶¶ 115-17. Moreover, Captain Skepple praised CO James for her quick response to the situation. Id. ¶ 120. Brown claims that he never spoke to Captain Skepple and that this report, like the others, is inaccurate. Id. ¶¶ 107, 110.

         Deputy Warden Laboriel, Deputy Warden O'Connell, and Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz reviewed all of the reports, agreed with their findings, and "signed off on them. Id. ¶ 150. Deputy Warden Laboriel, Deputy Warden O'Connell, and Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz also praised their staff for responding quickly to the incident, exonerated CO James of any wrongdoing, and summarily dismissed Brown's complaint against CO James and the gang members. Id. ¶ 151. As the commanding officer, Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz submitted a final report about the incident. Id. ¶ 152. Beltz wrote that Brown and D.T. were "horse playing" when the situation escalated and turned into a fist fight. Id. ¶ 154. Brown contends that Beltz's report contains numerous lies and was fabricated to cover up the incident.

         Brown supports his allegation that Defendants' fist-fight theory is implausible by highlighting D.T.'s physical traits and medical records. D.T. is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. Id. ¶ 140. Brown, on the other hand, is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds. Id. ¶ 139. Like Brown, D.T. was seen by a doctor at GMDC's clinic after the incident. Id. ¶ 135. But unlike Brown, D.T. did not sustain any visible injuries and did not need treatment. Id. ¶¶ 135-36. Brown says it is impossible that D.T., who weighs less than Brown, inflicted such severe injuries on Brown without sustaining any injuries of his own. Id. ¶ 146.

         On September 18, 2012, Brown met with Captain Rudolph to complete an application for protective custody. Id. ¶ 81. Brown wrote that he was attacked by four members of the Bloods gang, and that he was worried the Bloods would target him again. Id. ¶ 84. Captain Rudolph signed Brown's application as a witness. Id. ¶ 85. Captain Rudolph wrote in his own separate form, though, that Brown was involved in an altercation with just one other inmate who is a known member of the Bloods. Id. ¶¶ 86-87.

         The DOC did not hold a hearing to adjudicate the merits of the misbehavior report filed against Brown. Id. ¶¶ 157, 159, 163. The infraction remained in Brown's official inmate file. Id. ¶¶ 161-62. Defendants relied on the misbehavior report to maintain Brown's custody level at a classification that deprived him of several benefits available to inmates with a lower custody level classification. Id. ¶ 164.

         C. Screening for Gang Membership

         Brown claims that D.T. did not belong in GMDC's general population. Brown says CO Tietjen,[7] who processed D.T.'s inmate classification, failed to screen D.T. for gang membership. Id. ¶ 187. Further, Brown alleges that Warden Brian Suprenant, the individual responsible for approving D.T.'s initial placement, also improperly reviewed D.T.'s criminal history and missed D.T.'s gang membership. Id. ¶¶ 188-89. According to Brown, had CO Tietjen and Warden Suprenant properly evaluated D.T., then D.T. would have been placed in a special housing area away from the general population. Id. ¶¶ 190-92.

         D. Allegations of Violence and Corruption at GMDC

         Brown further alleges that GMDC is known for inmate assaults. Brown says that DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte and other DOC officials are aware of gang-related violence at GMDC but do not take corrective action. Id. ¶¶ 35-44, 197-98. Moreover, Brown claims that correction officers regularly recruit inmates who are gang members to help control the general prison population. Id. ¶¶ 27-28, 45. Brown contends that correction officers give these gang members exclusive use of common areas, including dayrooms and chairs, and allow gang members to attack other inmates who attempt to use these areas. Id. ¶ 32-34. According to Brown, a few days before he was attacked, another inmate at GMDC was attacked by the Bloods in a similar manner. Id. ¶ 193.

         II. Procedural History

         Brown brought this lawsuit on September 30, 2013. Defendants answered the original complaint and, on April 16, 2015, moved for partial judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Brown responded on June 2, 2015 by moving for leave to amend his complaint. The court granted Brown's motion for leave to file an amended complaint on November 13, 2015. ECF No. 49. In light of that decision, the court denied Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings.

         Brown filed his amended complaint on November 17, 2015 and listed the following parties as defendants: the City, Commissioner Ponte, Warden Suprenant, Deputy Warden Laboriel, Deputy Warden O'Connell, Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz, Captain Skepple, Captain Rudolph, CO James, CO Grinkley, CO Tietjen, and CO Freire. Each of the Individual Defendants is named in his or her official capacity and individual capacity. Six of these defendants-Ponte, Suprenant, Laboriel, O'Connell, Rudolph, and Tietjen- were not listed in the original complaint. On the other hand, some defendants listed in the original complaint were not named in the amended complaint, including former DOC Commissioner Dora Schriro and numerous "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" defendants.

         In his amended complaint, Brown brings various claims against Defendants through eight causes of action. The first four causes of action arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and allege as follows:

(1) Commissioner Ponte, Warden Suprenant, Deputy Warden Laboriel, Deputy Warden O'Connell, Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz, Captain Skepple, CO James, CO Grinkley, and CO Tietjen engaged in conduct that "amounted to deliberate indifference to a serious threat to the health or safety, cruel and inhuman treatment, cruel and unusual punishment and denial of due process rights." Id. ¶¶ 204-07.
(2) Deputy Warden Laboriel, Deputy Warden O'Connell, Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz, Captain Skepple, CO James, CO Grinkley, and Captain Rudolph engaged in conduct that "amounted to first amendment retaliation and denial of due process rights." Id. ¶¶ 208-11.
(3) Deputy Warden Laboriel, Deputy Warden O'Connell, Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz, Captain Skepple, CO James, CO Grinkley, Captain Rudolph, and CO Freire engaged in conduct that "amounted to conspiracy, denial of equal protection of the laws and denial of due process rights." Id. ¶¶ 212-15.
(4) The City is liable for having an unconstitutional municipal policy or custom, and for failing to properly train, supervise, or discipline its correction officers. Id. ¶¶ 216-45.

         The remaining four causes of action arise under state law and make the following allegations:

(5) All defendants violated Brown's rights under various provisions of the New York State Constitution. Id. ¶¶ 246-50.
(6) All defendants are liable for "other New York torts," including "negligence, assault and battery, and breach of special duty or relationship." Id. ¶¶ 251-53.
(7) Unspecified defendants are liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. ¶¶ 254-57.
(8) The City negligently hired and retained DOC employees. Id. ¶¶ 258-62.

         On March 16, 2016, all defendants except for CO James and CO Grinkley moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Specifically, the City, Commissioner Ponte, Warden Suprenant, Deputy Warden Laboriel, Deputy Warden O'Connell, Assistant Deputy Warden Beltz, Captain Skepple, Captain Rudolph, CO Tietjen, and CO Freire seek dismissal of all Brown's claims against them.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. However, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

         II. Claims Against the Individual Defendants in their Official Capacities

         The court notes that Brown has sued the Individual Defendants in both their official and individual capacities. Compl. ¶¶ 10-20. Brown's claims against the Individual Defendants in their official capacities are duplicative of his claims against the City because "a suit against a governmental officer in his official capacity is the same as a suit against the entity of which the officer is an agent." McMillian v. Monroe Cty., 520 U.S. 781, 785 n.2 (1997) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "As long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985); see also Davis v. Stratton, 360 F. App'x 182, 183 (2d Cir. 2010) ("[I]n a suit against a public entity, naming officials of the public entity in their official capacities add[s] nothing to the suit." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). "Within the Second Circuit, where a plaintiff names both the municipal entity and an official in his or her official capacity, district courts have consistently dismissed the official capacity claims as redundant." Phillips v. Cty. of Orange, 894 F. Supp. 2d 345, 384 n.35 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). Thus, Brown's claims against the Individual Defendants in their official capacities are dismissed.

         III. ...


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