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Santana v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 29, 2018

EDIBERTO SANTANA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, COMMISSIONER JOSEPH PONTE, WARDEN KENNETH STUKES, and DEPUTY WARDEN ROBERT KELLY, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          EDGARDO RAMOS, U.S.D. JUDGE.

         Ediberto Santana (“Plaintiff”), acting pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action against the City of New York (“City”), Commissioner Joseph Ponte, Warden Kenneth Stukes, and Deputy Warden Robert Kelly (collectively “Defendants”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that the conditions of his confinement at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center (“Bantum”) violated his constitutional rights and that he was housed in punitive segregation without due process. Defendants bring the instant motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Liberally construed, Plaintiff principally alleges that he was subject to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at Bantum's Enhanced Supervision Housing (“ESH”) on Rikers Island from April 15, 2015 to December 15, 2015. Plaintiff's Opposition Memorandum to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (“Opp. Mem.”) (Doc. 37), at 4. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that he was placed in ESH where detainees are locked up in continuous cycles of 24 hours in their cells followed by 7 hours outside of their cells. During the 24-hour lock-up period, detainees are not afforded time to shower or an hour for recreation. Plaintiff's Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 2) at 3. He alleges that no one ever cleaned his cell even though his cell was searched every week. Opp. Mem. at 6. Plaintiff also claims that detainees were subjected to excessive and unjust beatings and were denied prompt medical attention. Compl. Ex. A. Specifically, he describes an incident during which he was severely beaten by several correction officers and thereafter denied medical attention for the injuries he suffered.[2] Opp. Mem. at 7-8. He further alleges that he ate two out of three meals in his cell and that the food was not served at the prescribed temperature as mandated by the health code. Id. at 3. Plaintiff also claims that there were prolonged delays in delivering inmates in ESH to the visiting area, and that they were kept in their cells even when the temperature exceeded 90 degrees. Id. Ex. A. Plaintiff claims that these conditions, as well as the fact that detainees housed in ESH are not allowed to have a representative on the Inmate Council, demonstrate that detainees in ESH were actually subjected to punitive segregation in violation of the Eight Amendment. Id. at 3; Ex. A. Punitive segregation is intended as a response to an offense committed by an inmate while he is incarcerated. See 40 R.C.N.Y. § 1-17(a).

         As a result of these conditions, Plaintiff states he suffers from “[d]epression, [i]solation, despair, disorientation, hal[l]ucinations, depr[i]vation of senses, hearing, sight, smell” and is “unable to think and put things in perspective [and] seeing ghost[s] at night.” Compl. At 3. He also alleges that he did not receive any medical care for these issues while in confinement. Id. Plaintiff is seeking $8 million in damages for treatment and care of these afflictions, all of which were allegedly caused by the unconstitutional conditions of his confinement. Id. at 5.

         Additionally, Plaintiff alleges a violation of his constitutional right to due process stemming from his transfer to ESH on April 15, 2015, without any prior notification or administrative hearing. Opp. Mem. at 3-4. Plaintiff claims that there was no pre-transfer event that could have justified the transfer. Id. at 3. Although he concedes that during his pretrial detention he had three previous altercations with other inmates which caused his security classification to increase from 20 to 30, these altercations were remote in time, having taken place between March 2014 and September 2014. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that he had no more altercations between September 2014 and the date of his transfer to ESH seven months later, received no more citations, and had his security classification level decreased from 30 to 17 in the seven months preceding his transfer to ESH. Id. Plaintiff asserts that the only reason given for his placement in ESH was his criminal history. Compl. at 5.

         It was only after being confined in ESH for two weeks that Plaintiff was afforded a hearing to oppose his transfer. Opp. Mem. at 4. At that hearing, Plaintiff claims that he was not provided any assistance and was not allowed to call any witnesses to testify on his behalf. Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that hearings would take place every forty-five days to determine whether to continue his placement in ESH. His placement was extended after every subsequent hearing despite the fact that his only disciplinary citation during this period was for a violation of the smoking ban. Id. at 5. Plaintiff alleges that he tried to file a grievance regarding his placement in ESH by writing directly to Warden Kenneth Stukes, Deputy Warden Robert Kelly, and the New York City Board of Correction, but was informed that his placement at ESH was not a grievable issue. Compl. at 4.

         In addition to monetary damages, Plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief ordering the Department of Corrections to change its practices concerning the operation of ESH, Plaintiff's removal from ESH, and treatment for Plaintiff's afflictions mentioned above. Id. at 5.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed the instant action on August 24, 2015. See Compl. The Complaint did not include an allegation that Plaintiff had been beaten by correction officers. Defendants filed their answer on April 22, 2016. Doc. 15. Defendants filed an amended answer on August 18, 2016. Doc. 25. On April 4, 2017, this Court granted Defendants' order to show cause why this action should not be dismissed for want of prosecution pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) based on Plaintiff's failure to keep the Court and Defendants apprised of his current residence. Doc. 28. That same day, Plaintiff filed a letter providing his current mailing address and explaining that while he was incarcerated, the documents pertaining to the case were lost. Doc. 29.

         On June 8, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(c). Doc. 30. Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendants' motion on August 14, 2017. See Opp. Mem. Defendants' reply memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss was filed on September 15, 2017. Doc. 43.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Rule 12(c) Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Rule 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed--but early enough not to delay trial--a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The Court applies the same standard of review to a Rule 12(c) motion as it does to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). Cleveland v. Caplaw Enters., 448 F.3d 518, 521 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Karedes v. Ackerley Grp. Inc., 423 F.3d 107, 113 (2d Cir. 2005)). On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is required to accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and to draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014). However, the Court is not required to credit legal conclusions, bare assertions or conclusory allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-81 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain enough factual matter to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Accordingly, a plaintiff is required to support his claims with sufficient factual allegations to show “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. If the plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed.” Id. at 680 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         B. Pro Se Plaintiff

         The same standard applies to motions to dismiss for pro se plaintiffs. See Zapolski v. Fed. Repub. of Germany, 425 F. App'x 5, 6 (2d Cir. 2011). The Court remains obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally, and to interpret a pro se plaintiff's claims as “rais[ing] the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d. Cir. 2006) (citing Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006)). The obligation to be lenient while reading a pro se plaintiff's pleadings “applies with particular force when the plaintiff's civil rights are at issue.” Jackson v. N.Y.S. Dep't of Labor, 709 F.Supp.2d 218, 224 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citing McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004)). Nevertheless, “pro se status ‘does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.'” Triestman, 470 F.3d at 477 (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)). To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a pro se plaintiff's pleadings still must contain “more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation.” Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 678. A pro se complaint that “tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further enhancement” will not suffice. Id. (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         C. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Plaintiff seeks to impose liability on the City pursuant to Section 1983. Compl. at 1. Although a municipality cannot be held liable under Section 1983 solely on a theory of respondeat superior, a Section 1983 claim may be brought against a municipality if the alleged unconstitutional action was the result of an official policy, practice, or custom. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N. Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690-92 (1978). To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) defendants were state actors or were acting under color of state law at the time of the alleged wrongful action, and (2) the action deprived plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution or federal law. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49- 50 (1999). Section 1983 does not create any rights, but merely provides “a procedure for redress for the deprivation of rights [already] established.” Sykes v. James, 13 F.3d 515, 519 (2d Cir. 1993) (internal citation omitted). Accordingly, a civil rights action brought under Section 1983 will stand only insofar as the plaintiff can prove an actual violation of his rights under the Constitution or federal law. Singer v. Fulton Cnty. Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Liberally construing the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he suffered unconstitutional conditions of confinement and a violation of his due process rights in connection with his placement in ESH. Compl. at 3. In Plaintiff's opposition to Defendants' motion, he alleges new facts that were not included in his Complaint. Opp. Mem. at 2-8. Most notably, he alleges that he was beaten by several correction officers. Id. at 7-8. In addition, Plaintiff seeks to add 27 new defendants and raises a number of new causes of action, namely: excessive force, deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, failure to protect, and disability-based discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Id. at 1, 7- 8, 9, 17-19. Plaintiff, however, has not sought leave to amend his Complaint.

         “Ordinarily, plaintiffs may not amend their complaints through their motion papers.” Anderson v. Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, 850 F.Supp.2d 392, 402 (S.D.N.Y. 2012); see also Soules v. Connecticut Dep't of Emergency Servs. and Pub. Prot., 882 F.3d 52, 56 (2d Cir. 2018) (“[A] party is not entitled to amend its complaint through statements made in motion papers . . . .”) (quoting Wright v. Ernst & Young LLP, 152 F.3d 169, 178 (2d Cir. 1998)). Despite this restriction, “the mandate to read the papers of pro se litigants generously makes it appropriate to consider a plaintiff's papers in opposition to a defendant's motion to dismiss as effectively amending the allegations of the plaintiff's complaint, to the extent that those factual assertions are consistent with the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint.” Cusamano v. Sobek, 604 F.Supp.2d 416, 461 (N.D.N.Y. 2009); see also Aponte v. Buono, No. 11 Civ. 1077 (CBA) (MDG), 2011 WL 6812924, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 28, 2011) (“[T]o the extent [Plaintiff's opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss] contains new facts relevant to [Plaintiff's] claim against [Defendant], the Court liberally construes the factual allegations in the original . . . complaint as effectively amended by this submission.”).

         Plaintiff cannot amend his Complaint to add additional causes of actions in his opposition papers. See Wright, 152 F.3d at 178 (declining to read in Plaintiff's amended complaint a new cause of action asserted in opposition papers to a motion to dismiss); see also Mathie v. Goord, 267 F. App'x 13, 14 (2d Cir. 2008) (holding that claim asserted in a pro se plaintiff's opposition papers to a motion to dismiss was not encompassed in the plaintiff's amended complaint); Williams v. Rosenblatt Sec. Inc., 136 F.Supp.3d 593, 609 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (“A [pro se] plaintiff cannot amend his complaint [by adding new or different claims] in response to a motion to dismiss.”); Bernstein v. City of New York, No. 06 Civ. 895 (RMB), 2007 WL 1573910, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. May 24, 2007) (holding that “[n]ew claims not specifically asserted in the complaint may not be considered by courts when deciding a motion to dismiss” a pro ...


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