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Davis v. State, Department of Corrections

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 13, 2017

MELVIN DAVIS, Plaintiff,

          Appearances: Howard R. Birnbach Great Neck, New York Counsel for Plaintiff

          Steven N. Schulman Assistant Attorney General Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER

          CATHY SEIBEL, U.S.D.J.

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts[1]

         Plaintiff Melvin Davis, an African-American man, has been employed by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) since 2008 as a correction officer (“CO”) at Fishkill Correctional Facility (“Fishkill”). (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 1, 5.)[2]DOCCS is an agency of the State of New York that administers the State's correctional facilities, including Fishkill. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendant COs Keith Canfield and James McAnney were at all relevant times employed by DOCCS at Fishkill - McAnney since 1989 and Canfield since 1998. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.)

         In the summer of 2013, Plaintiff had been assigned for at least four years to Housing Unit A-West, as the only CO for the overnight shift from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 14.) During the summer of 2013, Canfield and McAnney were also both assigned to Housing Unit A-West, as the only two COs for the morning shift from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10, 14.) Canfield and McAnney would relieve Plaintiff from his shift each day. (Id. ¶ 14.) Canfield and McAnney did not outrank Plaintiff, and had no supervisory control over him. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Plaintiff met McAnney around April 2013, when McAnney first transferred to Housing Unit A-West. (See Id. ¶ 12.) Prior to the incident in question, Plaintiff did not have any problems with McAnney, who “seemed to be a nice guy.” (Id. ¶ 13.) Prior to the incident, Plaintiff had known Canfield for about four and a half years, (id. ¶ 14), and had never filed a complaint against Canfield during that time, (id. ¶ 15).

         On July 5, 2013, McAnney and Canfield were in Housing Unit A-West's “back room, ” which is a room behind the officer's station that contains lockers for some of the COs and a table where COs often eat meals. (Id. ¶ 16.) McAnney was eating his lunch at the table. (Id.) Plaintiff was not present. (Id.) McAnney had brought cookies to work in a clear sandwich bag that was reusable by virtue of plastic ridges at the opening that, when pressed or zipped together, sealed the bag. (Id. ¶ 17.)[3] As Canfield was on a diet, McAnney teased him by offering him cookies, which Canfield declined. (Id. ¶ 18.) Shortly thereafter, McAnney was called out of the room, but left the cookie bag. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         As a practical joke, Canfield poked a hole below the bag's zipper and poked a piece of pre-cut packing twine through the hole. (Id.) Canfield tied the twine in a knot around the bag's zipper and looped the twine over a pipe in the ceiling, which left the bag containing the cookies hanging from the ceiling pipe. (Id.) McAnney returned to the room and asked for his cookies, at which point Canfield told him to find them. (Id. ¶ 20.) After looking for the cookie bag, McAnney saw it hanging from the ceiling pipe and climbed a chair to reach and grab it. (Id.) McAnney ripped the bag apart, taking with him the part of the bag containing the cookies and leaving a remnant of the bag and its zipper attached by the twine to the ceiling pipe. (Id.)

         Nine days later, on July 14, 2013, Plaintiff was working his usual shift. (Id. ¶ 21.) At approximately 5:45 a.m., Plaintiff was in the back room. (Id.) While reaching for a box of pretzels he kept on top of one of the lockers, Plaintiff noticed the bag and twine remnant hanging from the ceiling pipe. (Id.) Plaintiff testified at his deposition that when he observed the baggie tied to the ceiling, it was twenty to twenty-four inches long and “had baggy arms on it” as well as “a head.” (Id.) Plaintiff also testified that this angered him because “the first thing I thought of was somebody being lynched or something.” (Id.) Plaintiff removed the bag remnant and twine from the ceiling pipe, (id. ¶ 22; Doc. 40 Ex. C (“P's Dep.”), at 108), and placed it in his pocket, (see P's 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 22, 26).

         Shortly thereafter, McAnney arrived at the unit to relieve Plaintiff from his shift, (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 23), but Canfield had the day off, (id. ¶ 34). Without knowing who had been involved, (id. ¶ 24), Plaintiff gave McAnney the bag remnant and twine and asked him what it was, (see Id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 26; P's Dep. 108). McAnney informed Plaintiff that Canfield had tied the bag of cookies to the ceiling pipe to play a prank on McAnney. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 25; Doc. 39 (“McAnney Decl.”) ¶ 9.) McAnney placed the bag remnant and twine in the trash. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff never discussed the incident with Canfield. (Id. ¶ 37.)

         Plaintiff then went to complain to Lieutenant Witold Suski, the watch commander, who asked Plaintiff to draft a memorandum about the incident. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff wrote the requested memo and left the facility. (Id. ¶ 32.) Lt. Suski asked Sergeant Shawn Barto to investigate the matter. (Id. ¶ 28.)[4] Sgt. Barto then went to the back room of Housing Unit A-West to retrieve the bag remnant and twine. (Id. ¶ 29.) There, Sgt. Barto told McAnney that Plaintiff had made a complaint about the bag remnant and twine. (Id.) McAnney retrieved the object from the trash and gave it to Sgt. Barto. (Id.) At Lt. Suski's direction, Sgt. Barto took pictures of the bag remnant and twine. (Id. ¶ 30.) Sgt. Barto asked McAnney to draft a memorandum responding to Plaintiff's complaint, which McAnney wrote on July 14, 2013. (Id. ¶ 33.) In a memorandum to Lt. Suski, Sgt. Barto concluded that the incident was “just a harmless prank played on one officer [CO McAnney] by another [CO Canfield] with no malicious intent.” (Id. ¶ 35 (alterations in original); Doc. 40 Ex. F, at 33.) When Canfield came back to work the next day, July 15, 2013, he was also asked to write a memorandum in response to Plaintiff's complaint. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 36.)

         Neither McAnney nor Canfield have ever made any race-based remarks or comments to or about Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 39.) In fact, no one at Fishkill has ever made any racist or discriminatory remarks to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 51.) After July 14, 2013, Plaintiff never had any further problems with McAnney or Canfield. (Id. ¶ 40.) Apart from the July 14, 2013 complaint, Plaintiff never submitted a complaint about discrimination to DOCCS. (Id. ¶ 50.) Nor has Plaintiff submitted any labor grievances. (Id.)

         On April 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging that Defendants had violated his civil rights by constructing a dummy in a noose and hanging it from a ceiling pipe in the back room. (Id. ¶ 41.) McAnney and Canfield were asked by DOCCS to write memoranda in response to Plaintiff's EEOC complaint, which they did on August 18, 2014. (Id. ¶ 42.)

         On November 4, 2014, at around 7:30 a.m., Plaintiff found a toy black rat with a noose tied around it on the outside staircase leading to his apartment. (Id. ¶ 43.) Plaintiff reported the toy rat and noose to his landlord and his psychologist, but not to the police or to anyone at DOCCS. (Id. ¶ 44.) In fact, Plaintiff never discussed the toy rat and noose with anyone at work or otherwise reported it to DOCCS. (Id. ¶ 45; P's Dep. 95, 96.) Plaintiff did not know who placed the toy rat and noose on the outside staircase of his apartment. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 46.) McAnney and Canfield both state that they were not directly or indirectly involved ...

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