Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Walker v. Bellnier

United States District Court, N.D. New York

November 3, 2017

TYRONE WALKER, Plaintiffs,
v.
JOSEPH BELLNIER, et. al., Defendants.

          TYRONE WALKER Plaintiff, pro se

          DECISION AND ORDER

          Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby Chief U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The Clerk has sent to the Court for review a pro se civil rights complaint filed by plaintiff Tyrone Walker ("Plaintiff") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), asserting claims arising out of his confinement in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl."). Plaintiff, who has not paid the statutory filing fee, seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Dkt. No. 2 ("IFP Application"). Plaintiff also filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief. Dkt. No. 4.

         II. IFP APPLICATION

         "28 U.S.C. § 1915 permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in a federal court without prepayment of the filing fee that would ordinarily be charged." Cash v. Bernstein, No. 09-CV-1922, 2010 WL 5185047, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 26, 2010). Upon review of Plaintiff's IFP Application, the Court finds that Plaintiff has demonstrated sufficient economic need and filed the inmate authorization form required in the Northern District of New York. Plaintiff's IFP application (Dkt. No. 2) is granted.[1]

         III. INITIAL SCREENING

         Having found that Plaintiff meets the financial criteria for commencing this action in forma pauperis, and because Plaintiff seeks relief from an officer or employee of a governmental entity, the Court must consider the sufficiency of the allegations set forth in the Complaint in light of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. Section 1915(e) of Title 28 of the United States Code directs that, when a plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that - . . . (B) the action . . . (I) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).[2]

         Similarly, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, a court must review any "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity" and must "identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint . . . is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or . . . seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also Carr v. Dvorin, 171 F.3d 115, 116 (2d Cir. 1999) (per curiam) (noting that Section 1915A applies to all actions brought by prisoners against government officials even when plaintiff paid the filing fee).

         Additionally, when reviewing a complaint, the Court may also look to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a pleading which sets forth a claim for relief shall contain, inter alia, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The purpose of Rule 8 "is to give fair notice of the claim being asserted so as to permit the adverse party the opportunity to file a responsive answer, prepare an adequate defense and determine whether the doctrine of res judicata is applicable." Hudson v. Artuz, No. 95 CIV. 4768, 1998 WL 832708, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 1998) (quoting Powell v. Marine Midland Bank, No. 95-CV-0063 (TJM), 162 F.R.D. 15, 16 (N.D.N.Y. June 23, 1995) (other citations omitted)).

         A court should not dismiss a complaint if the plaintiff has stated "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the court should construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. Thus, a pleading that contains only allegations which "are so vague as to fail to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them" is subject to dismissal. Sheehy v. Brown, 335 Fed.Appx. 102, 104 (2d Cir. 2009).

         IV. SUMMARY OF THE COMPLAINT[3]

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which establishes a cause of action for " 'the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." German v. Fed. Home Loan Mortgage Corp., 885 F.Supp. 537, 573 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (citing Wilder v. Virginia Hosp. Ass'n, 496 U.S. 498, 508 (1990) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983)) (footnote omitted); see also Myers v. Wollowitz, No. 6:95-CV-0272 (TJM/RWS), 1995 WL 236245, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 10, 1995) (stating that "§ 1983 is the vehicle by which individuals may seek redress for alleged violations of their constitutional rights." (citation omitted)). "Section 1983 itself creates no substantive rights, [but] . . . only a procedure for redress for the deprivation of rights established elsewhere." Sykes v. James, 13 F.3d 515, 519 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). The Court will construe the allegations in the Complaint with the utmost leniency. See, e.g., Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (holding that a pro se litigant's complaint is to be held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.").

         On July 26, 1994, Plaintiff was committed to DOCCS' custody after being convicted of attempted robbery and criminal possession of a weapon. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 5. On January 17, 2014, Plaintiff received an Administrative Segregation Recommendation from Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton C.F.") issued by S.B. Duncan ("Duncan") and approved by Superintendent LaValley.[4] Id. at 5-6. The recommendation was based upon Plaintiff's "penchant for serious violence both in the correctional setting and in the community." Id. Specifically, Duncan cited to the following: (1) a 2000 assault on staff members at Green Haven Correctional Facility; (2) twenty-four misbehavior reports; and (3) a documented history of escape plots and threats to witnesses, staff and other inmates. Id. At the time the recommendation was prepared, Plaintiff was confined in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") at Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate C.F."). Dkt. No. 1-1 at 5-6. The recommendation indicated that a hearing would be conducted within fourteen days and that Plaintiff would remain in the SHU pending the hearing. Id. at 6.

         On February 26, 2014, Officer Bullis ("Bullis"), the Administrative Segregation Hearing Officer, accepted the recommendation.[5] Dkt. No. 1-1 at 9. Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Commissioner of DOCCS arguing that the hearing officer was biased, refused to allow Plaintiff to call witness, and failed to rely upon "some evidence."[6] Id. at 9-14.

         On March 12, 2014, Plaintiff wrote to defendant Counselor Melissa A. Cook ("Cook") claiming that there was no reason to place him in administrative segregation. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 18. Plaintiff stated that he posed no threat and had not committed any act of violence in over thirteen years. Id.

         On March 13, 2014, a Sixty Day Administrative Segregation Review/Hearing was held. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 37. The three member facility committee, including Cook and defendant Superintendent Donald G. Uhler ("Uhler"), recommended that Plaintiff remain in administrative segregation and refused to award Plaintiff any "incentives" pursuant to the Pilot Incentive Program for inmates in segregation. Id. at 8. On April 10, 2014, defendant Deputy Commissioner Joseph Bellnier ("Bellnier") reviewed and approved the decision. Id.

         On May 5, 2014, Plaintiff wrote to Bellnier asking to be released from administrative segregation or for "better accommodations." Compl. at 4; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 37-42. Plaintiff also objected to the March 2014 review claiming that it was inaccurate and exaggerated his history. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 37-42.

         On May 29, 2014, Albert Prack ("Prack"), the Director of the SHU, reversed the February 2014 decision and remanded the matter for a new hearing.[7] Dkt. No. 1-1 at 31. Plaintiff was required to remain in the SHU pending a rehearing. Compl. at 3. On June 11, 2014, the rehearing was held at Upstate C.F. with Eric Gutwein ("Gutwein") presiding.[8]Compl. at 3; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 16-17. The hearing officer found "substantial evidence" that Plaintiff "executed a savage assault on staff" and had "numerous institutional violations over the years" which "demonstrate a grave risk to the institutional safety." Dkt. No. 1-1 at 17. Accordingly, administrative segregation was imposed. Id.

         In August 2014, Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the conditions of his confinement in the SHU. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 33. Plaintiff claimed that he was being treated like inmates on "SHU status." Id. Plaintiff asked for a television, commissary privileges, phone calls, and the ability to listen to pre-recorded Jumuah services. Id. On August 19, 2014, the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") issued a response denying the grievance reasoning that Plaintiff was receiving privileges in accordance with DOCCS' Directive #4933. Id. at 34.

         On August 20, 2014, a Sixty-Day Administrative Segregation Review/Hearing was held. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 49-54. On August 29, 2014, the facility committee found that continued confinement was appropriate. Id. Pursuant to the Incentive Program, Plaintiff was permitted one additional visit per week, one personal pair of sneakers, shorts, and pants, and one phone call, not to exceed ten minutes, per month. Id. at 50, 54. On October 8, 2014, Bellnier concurred with the recommendation in favor of Plaintiff's continued placement in administrative segregation. Id.

         On August 22, 2014, Plaintiff wrote to the Deputy Superintendent of Security, identified as "Bell, " and asked to be removed from administrative segregation.[9] Dkt. No. 1-1 at 43-48. Plaintiff complained about his conditions of confinement and maintained that Cook would not allow him to use the telephone, despite the prior recommendation. Id.

         On March 2, 2015, a Sixty Day Administrative Segregation Review/Hearing was held. Dkt. NO. 1-1 at 25-27. The facility committee opined that release from administrative segregation was "not warranted." Id. Plaintiff was permitted one additional visit per week, one personal pair of sneakers, shorts, and sweat pants, and one phone call per week, not to exceed fifteen minutes. Id. at 28. On March 19, 2015, Bellnier approved the recommendations. Id.

         On April 12, 2016, Plaintiff sent a letter to the Administrative Segregation Review Committee ("ASRC") claiming that the reviews were "a farce." Dkt. No. 1-1 at 62-65. Plaintiff argued that defendant Paul P. Woodruff ("Woodruff") "made it clear" that he would not be released from administrative segregation for two to three years. Id. Plaintiff objected to Cook's role in the review process and asked for certain accommodations. Id. To wit, Plaintiff asked that the plexiglass shield over his cell door be removed, to participate in Jumuah Service via listening to pre-recorded sermons, and for an alternative to soy given his predisposition for colon cancer. Id. at 64-65.

         In May 2016, Plaintiff filed a grievance requesting to return to the general population. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 56. During interviews, Woodruff and Cook told Plaintiff that he would not be released from the SHU. Id. Plaintiff complained that the review process was "perfunctory and rote." Compl. at 4. The IGRC denied Plaintiff's grievance and Plaintiff appealed. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 57. Sandra Danforth ("Danforth"), the Acting Superintendent at Upstate C.F., issued a decision concurring with the IGRC.[10] Id. at 58. Plaintiff appealed Danforth's decision to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") noting that "Woodruff is not giving me meaningful reviews[.]" Id. CORC upheld the Danforth's decision. Id. at 60.

         On July 4, 2016, Plaintiff sent a letter to Uhler and the ASRC claiming that he did not receive his March 2016 review. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 66-71. Plaintiff complained that the reviews were a "sham" and that Woodruff had no intention of allowing Plaintiff to leave the SHU. Id.

         On August 17, 2016, a Sixty Day Administrative Segregation Review/Hearing was held. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 72. The three member committee, including Cook and defendant Deputy Superintendent of Programs Joanne Fitchette ("Fitchette"), reviewed Plaintiff's status and determined that continued confinement was appropriate. Id. As part of the Incentive Program, Plaintiff was provided "out of cell time" once per month, the opportunity to purchase food at the commissary, one additional visit per month, personal items. and one thirty-minute phone call per week. Id. at 75. On February 10, 2017, these decisions were approved by the Deputy Commissioner.[11] Id.

         On January 30, 2017, a Sixty Day Administrative Segregation Review/Hearing was held. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 177-179. On February 9, 2017, a three member committee, including Fitchette, found that continued segregation was appropriate. Id. Pursuant to the Incentive Program, Plaintiff was provided "out of cell time" once per month, the opportunity to purchase food at the commissary, one additional visit per week, and one thirty-minute phone call per month. Id. at 179. On July 31, 2017, the recommendations and incentives were approved.[12]Id. at 177-179.

         On April 20, 2017, Woodruff issued a memorandum to administrative segregation inmates rescinding the Pilot Incentive Program. Compl. at 4; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 77. On April 21, 2017, Plaintiff wrote to Woodruff asking him to reinstate the Pilot Program. Id. at 79-80.

         On June 22, 2017, Plaintiff wrote to Bellnier complaining that his August 2016 review was the last review that he received. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 82. Plaintiff complained that the review was not signed by Bellnier until February 10, 2017 and was not forwarded to Plaintiff until February 17, 2017. Compl. at 4; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 82-83. Plaintiff reiterated his objections to the review process and the decision to discontinue the Pilot Incentive Program. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 82-83.

         Construing the Complaint liberally, Plaintiff asserts the following: (1) Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims related to Plaintiff's initial placement in administrative segregation; (2) Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims related to the June 2014 rehearing; (3) Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims related to Plaintiff's continued confinement in administrative segregation; (4) Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims related to the Pilot Incentive Program; (5) Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process claims; (6) Eighth Amendment claims related to Plaintiff's conditions of confinement in the SHU; (7) Eighth Amendment claims related to Plaintiff's medical needs; and (8) Eighth Amendment claim against Cook related to threats. See Compl., generally.

         V. ANALYSIS

         A. Official Capacity Claims Pursuant to Section 1983

         The Eleventh Amendment has long been construed as barring a citizen from bringing a suit against his or her own state in federal court, under the fundamental principle of "sovereign immunity." U.S. Const. amend. XI ("The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State."); see also Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho,521 U.S. 261, 267 (1997); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman,465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); Hans v. Louisiana,134 U.S. 1, 10-21 (1890). Eleventh Amendment immunity is lost only if Congress unequivocally abrogates states' immunity or a state expressly consents to suit. Gollomp v. Spitzer, 568 F.3d 355, 365-66 (2d Cir. 2009). It is well-settled that Congress did not abrogate states' immunity through Section 1983, see Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 343-45 (1979), and that New York State has not waived its immunity from suit on the type of claims asserted in plaintiff's complaint. See generally Trotman v. Palisades Interstate Park Comm'n, 557 F.2d 35, 38-40 (2d Cir. 1977); se ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.