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Thomas v. DeMeo

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 28, 2017

BENJAMIN THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
MR. DeMEO, Manager; MR. PEPEKI, Unit Manager; ASSOCIATE WARDEN RODRIGUEZ; MS. BOWE, Staff Psychologist; CHARLES E. SAMUELS, JR., Director; JOE NORWOOD, Regional Director; HOWARD HUFFORD, Warden; MS. FLOWERS, Unit Manager; MR. W. McBRIDE, S.I.S. Technician; J. M. BANKS, “DHO”, Defendants.

          Benjamin Thomas Chicago, IL Pro Se Plaintiff

          Natasha W. Teleanu Assistant United States Attorney New York, NY Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER

          KENNETH M. KARAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se Plaintiff Benjamin Thomas (“Plaintiff”), formerly incarcerated at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution (“Otisville”), brings this action against nine employees (collectively, “Defendants”) of the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), alleging violations of his First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights.[1] Plaintiff asserts that he was subjected to unconstitutional confinement conditions, was deprived of reasonable protection from his cellmate, was improperly disciplined for attempting to submit grievances concerning such conditions, and that a conspiracy among prison officials deprived him of his constitutional rights. (See generally Am. Compl. (Dkt. No. 17).) Before the Court is Defendants' Motion To Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (See Dkt. No. 50.) For the reasons to follow, the Motion is granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and are accepted as true for the purposes of resolving the instant Motion.

         Plaintiff alleges that on or about February 23, 2013, he approached Otisville Correctional Counselor Gushue about the possibility of moving his cellmate, Michaels, to an empty cell. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff contends that Michaels suffered from “mental health and blood born[e] diseases” and had “unsanitary personal hygiene problems.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Michaels was a “deranged prisoner who def[e]cate[d] and urinate[d] upon himself while on the top bunk above [Plaintiff], ” and as such, deprived Plaintiff of his ability to sleep. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff describes Michaels as an individual who was “known to become violent at any time” and who was “alleged to have the [AIDS] virus, ” which Plaintiff feared he would contract through transmissions of bodily fluids. (Id.)

         Gushue, allegedly without providing any rationale, advised Plaintiff that a new cell for Michaels could not be provided “without permission from [D]efendant Flowers or someone else in command.” (Id. ¶ 17.) The following day, Plaintiff inquired with Unit Manager O'Maley as to the appropriate person that Plaintiff “could talk to about having inmate Michaels move to an empty cell.” (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff alleges that O'Maley directed Plaintiff to speak with Lieutenant Meyers or Gushue and explained that it was not O'Maley's job to “enforce or instruct another inmate into keeping his living quarters or his personal self up to another[] [inmate's] living conditions [standards].” (Id.) On February 25, 2013, Plaintiff approached Defendant Correctional Officer Bowe about the possibility of having the staff psychologist direct Plaintiff's “Unit Team to move inmate Michaels to a[] single cell assignment.” (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Bowe stated that she could not discuss other inmates with Plaintiff and that Plaintiff should “show some compassion” for Michaels. (Id.)

         The following day, Plaintiff spoke with Defendant Associate Warden Rodriguez, who sent him to Defendant Case Manager Repeki, who instructed Plaintiff to comply with Gushue's directions or risk “find[ing] himself in special housing.” (Id. ¶¶ 20-23.) On March 1, 2013, Plaintiff approached Defendant Warden Hufford about his troubles with Michaels and was instructed again to resolve the problem with the Unit Team. (See Id. ¶ 24.) Defendant Hufford is alleged to have become irritated by Plaintiff's assertion that the Unit Team and Defendant Rodriguez were threatening Plaintiff and failing to resolve the issue. (See id.) On March 3, 2013, Plaintiff once again approached Defendants Rodriguez and Repeki and told them that he was “suffering from physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation from [his] existing unconstitutional conditions of confinement” and warned that he would “have his family contact the Justice Department about the gladiator program and unlawful [d]rafting [of] prisoners into caregiver rolls [sic]” if they did not address his concerns. (Id. ¶ 25.) Defendants Rodriguez and Repeki allegedly then instructed Plaintiff to “live in the real world of incarceration, ” threatening him again with placement in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) and introducing the threat of relocation “[across] the country to a place he would not appreciate.” (Id. ¶ 26.)

         On March 6, 2013, Plaintiff went to Gushue's office and requested a “BP-8 Informal Resolution Complaint Form.” (Id. ¶ 27). Gushue allegedly asked what the form was for, and upon Plaintiff's response that he was not required to “explain his reasons, ” Gushue “became enraged towards . . . [P]laintiff's right to seek administrative process about the incompatibility between cellmates and the staff's failure to resolve the issue.” (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) Gushue, claiming that he had moved Michaels twice already because of his behavior, subsequently sent Plaintiff to prison operation Lieutenant Meyers' office, again threatening Plaintiff with placement in the SHU. (See Id. ¶¶ 28.) Plaintiff appealed to Lieutenant Meyers that “[Plaintiff] was not required to be a babysitter for unstable convicts, known for their assaultive conduct, who should be in Springfield or Buckner medical centers.” (Id. ¶ 29.) However, Meyers reiterated the need for Plaintiff to work it out with the Unit Team or risk placement in SHU and a potential transfer to a different facility. (See id.)

         On March 9, 2013, Plaintiff contends that, “unable to bear [Michaels'] foul smell [any] more, ” he instructed Michaels to use the toilet and take a shower, or “find another cell to live in before the room had to be secured for count.” (Id. ¶ 30.) At some point that same day, Plaintiff alleges that Michaels told Unit Manager O'Maley that either himself or Plaintiff had to move “because their [sic] will be trouble between them.” (Id. ¶ 31.) Consequently, Plaintiff alleges that on March 9, 2013, he was attacked by Michaels and they fought “for a couple of minutes before Mr. Michaels surrendered the battle he started.” (Id. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff also alleges that during the altercation, an unnamed unit officer locked the door and left the scene upon Gushue's “suggestion to let things happen.” (Id.) Following the incident, Plaintiff alleges that both he and Michaels were “escorted to the operation Lieutenant's Office, ” “taken to [the] medical department for assessment, ” and then “taken to special housing for investigation.” (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Plaintiff contends that on March 15, 2013, he met with Defendant Special Investigative Support (“SIS”) Technician McBride and detailed the “acts and omissions” of Gushue and Defendants Repeki and Rodriguez, which led to his altercation with Michaels. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff alleges that McBride “became extremely hostile” toward Plaintiff and stated that Plaintiff “made a mistake in maintaining [his] position, and should just take his punishment without protest.” (Id.) Following their meeting, McBride “wrote a[] conduct report upon [P]laintiff and charged him with code #201[:] Fighting with another person.” (Id. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff contends that in an effort to cover up the prohibited conduct of fellow staff members, McBride's report omitted “critical facts” favorable to Plaintiff and “used agency investigative regulation power to exten[d] the (‘24') hour time limitation in serving the shot on a simple altercation staff orchestrated [sic].” (Id.) On the following day, Defendant Case Manager DeMeo “conduct[ed] a ‘UDC' hearing on [McBride's] incident report . . . and asked whether [P]laintiff wanted to make a statement about the incident.” (Id. ¶ 36.) At this point, Plaintiff called into question Defendant DeMeo's authority to conduct the hearing because DeMeo himself “was a party to the same incident.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that DeMeo then became “hostile” and stated that Plaintiff would “regret [Plaintiff's] false claims, and had no business in questioning employees about their activities.” (Id.)

         About a week later, on or about March 26, 2013, Plaintiff was “taken before [D]efendant Banks for [a] final disciplinary case hearing, ” during which Plaintiff detailed “his efforts to avoid combat” with Michaels and cited “staff direct involvement in this incident” as a mitigating factor. (Id. ¶ 37.) Ultimately, Defendant Banks imposed a sanction of “[twenty]-seven days loss of goodtime, ” telling Plaintiff that he “[did] not have a ‘right' to raise any kin[d] of self[-]defense claim[] because it indangers [sic] staff safety and their ability to control the prison environment.” (Id. ¶¶ 38-39.)

         In April 2013, Defendant Flowers visited Plaintiff in the SHU to “conduct a unit review upon [P]laintiff's status.” (Id. ¶ 40.) Defendant Flowers allegedly told Plaintiff that she had spoken to eight staff members who “told her about the problems that had been occurring between Michaels and [Plaintiff]” prior to their altercation, but that any failure to take action on the part of Gushue and Defendant DeMeo did not matter because Defendant Bowe had “decided that Mr. Michael[]s needed a caregiver companion, and that they elected . . . [P]laintiff to play that roll [sic].” (Id.) Plaintiff's custody score was thereafter raised an additional six points and his transfer to Beaumont Penitentiary in Texas was initiated because he “had two other physical altercations within the last thirty[-]six and should have done as instructed when it came to inmate Michaels due to the fact that [P]laintiff was [a] prisoner with no rights who he cells with.” (Id.)[2]

         Plaintiff protested Flowers's decision, citing her “arbitrary and capricious actions outside the disciplinary process” and claiming that Flowers “is not allowed to impose [sanctions] because [she] was ‘not' the (‘DHO') officer” responsible for imposing sanctions on top of those already imposed by Defendant Banks. (Id. ¶ 41.) Defendant Flowers allegedly told Plaintiff that, in addition to already having Defendants Rodriguez and Hufford “on board with her program, ” this was the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and she could do what she wanted “on general principles alone.” (Id.) Plaintiff later contends that he spoke with Defendants Rodriguez and Hufford about his transfer to Beaumont, claiming that his family should not be punished for the mistakes of prison officials. (See id. ¶ 42.) Rodriguez “back[ed] [the] staff decisions in this matter” and cited Plaintiff's failure to work with the unit team as support for Plaintiff's transfer. (Id. ¶ 43.)

         In May 2013, Plaintiff alleges he was “forced to go on a hunger strike to make [D]efendant Flowers and Gushue [] locate a previously filed informal resolution BP-8 Complaint Form and to issue both a Tort Claim Form and BP-10 appeal form.” (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff contends that Gushue and Defendants Flowers, DeMeo, Repeki, and McBride “could not justify their intentional conduct and . . . imposition of unconstitutional con[]finement, ” and, as such, were “attempting to ha[]rass, obstruct, delay, and intimidate [Plaintiff] to drop his complaints.” (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that around that time, he was “coerced” by “staff from the Health Services Department” into agreeing not to receive medical care “in segregation while pending a transfer” and to “waive his medical care rights” while being “placed in transient [sic] to another facility.” (Id. ¶ 45.)

         Plaintiff lastly alleges that, during the course of his confinement and through the date of his Amended Complaint, Defendants Samuels, Norwood, Hufford, and Rodriguez “entered into or continued a line of collective bargain[in]g agreements” carried out in response to “public sector union demands” from the “American Federation of Government [E]mployee[s] Union Council of Prison Locals.” (Id. ¶¶ 46, 55.) Plaintiff contends that this union has acted as a “shadow organization” for over 40 years, “negotiat[ing] deals with the Bureau of Prisons” to deprive inmates of their constitutional rights. (Id. ¶¶ 46-48, 56.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Samuels, Norwood, Hufford, and Rodriguez entered into agreements with Defendants DeMeo, Repeki, Bowe, McBride, and Banks to “disregard their duties under the Statutes, Rules, and Regulations” and “sanitize [Plaintiff's] and other inmates['] rights.” (Id. ¶¶ 47, 54-56.) Plaintiff contends that these agreements had the effect of “forc[ing] inmates into court cases they [could not] afford, ” (id. ¶ 47), and in particular, are the reason for Defendants' ignorance of Plaintiff's complaints and “obstruction of his administrative remedy process, ” (id. ¶ 48).

         Plaintiff requests that the Court issue a declaratory judgment and an award of damages. (Id. at 23.) Specifically, Plaintiff requests $50, 000 in monetary damages from each Defendant for “acts and omissions based upon the ordeal they cause[d] [him], ” and $100, 000 in punitive damages from each Defendant for their “intentional and wilful [sic] conduct to deprive [P]laintiff of his civil rights.” (Id.)

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint on December 4, 2015, naming Defendants O'Maley, Meyers, Gushue, DeMeo, Repeki, Rodriguez, and Bowe. (See Dkt. No. 2.)[3] Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on July 8, 2016, naming Samuels, Norwood, Hufford, Flowers, McBride, and Banks as additional defendants. (See Dkt. No. 17.) Pursuant to an Order dated January 30, 2017, (Dkt. No. 49), Defendants filed the instant Motion To Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on February 15, 2017, (Dkt. No. 50). Plaintiff has not filed any response.

         II. ...


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