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Jackson v. Downstate Correctional Facility

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 1, 2018

RAYMOND JACKSON, Plaintiff
v.
DOWNSTATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, S. REYES CO., and CO. THOBAN, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          NELSON S. ROMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Raymond Jackson ("Plaintiff) commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants CO. Reyes ("Reyes"), CO. Thoban ("Thoban") (collectively, the "Defendants"), and Downstate Correctional Facility ("Downstate")[1] for alleged violations of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (See The Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") (ECF No. 22).). Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as mandated by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e ("PLRA") ("Defendants' Motion"). (See Defendants' Brief in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs. Br.") (ECF No. 38) at 1-2.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff is an inmate incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton"), a prison operating under the auspices of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). (See SAC at 2.) Plaintiffs claims arise from an incident that occurred on October 8, 2015 while he was housed at Downstate. (Id. at 4.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that while he was in the "draft" room, he was attacked by Defendants. (See id.) The following day, Plaintiff was transferred to Clinton. (See Declaration of Bruce J. Turkle in Support of Defendants' Motion ("Turkle Decl") (ECFNo. 39), Ex. 1 at 8.)

         Upon his arrival at Clinton, Plaintiff attended "Phase 1"; an orientation program at Clinton covering all aspects of incarceration, including a review of the grievance process and the remedies available to inmates under 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701 et seq. (See Turkle Deck, Ex. 1 at 12-13.)

         On October 21, 2015, Plaintiff completed an inmate grievance and sent it to Downstate complaining of the alleged assault that took place on October 8, 2015 when he was still housed there (the "Downstate Grievance"). (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 1 at 46-47; Ex. 4.) A letter dated October 27, 2015 was sent to Plaintiff from K. Watson, Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP") Supervisor at Downstate advising that she had received the October 21, 2015 grievance, but in light of Plaintiff s transfer to Clinton, he was required to file his grievance "at the facility where [he was] housed even if it pertains to another facility." (Turkle Deck, Ex. 5.) The letter also noted that the original grievance was being returned to Plaintiff to "proceed as [he saw] fit." (Id.)

         On October 26, 2015, Plaintiff filed a grievance at Clinton (the "October Grievance"). (See Turkle Deck, Ex. 1 at 66-67; Ex. 6.) This grievance was not written on the standard grievance form, but a regular piece of paper. (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 1 at 67-69; Ex. 6.) Plaintiff testified that as soon as he received Ms. Watson's letter, he used a piece of carbon paper to create the October Grievance and filed it the same day. (See Turkle Deck, Ex. 1 at 66-69.)[3] Plaintiff contends that his October Grievance was ignored and not acknowledged. (Id. at 69, 90-91, 95, 102, 103.) Plaintiff repeatedly maintains that it was filed. (Id.; See Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion ("Plf. Br.") (ECF No. 44) at 2.)[4]

         Plaintiff twice completed "requests for interview information" addressed to A. Sweeney, Assistant Superintendent at Clinton ("Sweeney"). (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 7.) The first was on October 20, 2015, the day before he drafted his Downstate Grievance, and merely requested to speak with Sweeney. (Id.) The second was on October 26, 2015, and stated that he was "told [he] can still pursue a Grievance against Downstate Correctional Facility from Clinton Annex? [sic] If so ma'm that is what I am asking permission to do." (Id.) Sweeney sent Plaintiff a letter on October 29, 2015, acknowledging that he requested to speak with her and sought permission to pursue a grievance against Downstate correctional officers. (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 8.) Sweeney informed Plaintiff of the following: (1) as to his October 20, 2015 request, that he needed to provide a reason for meeting with her; and (2) with respect to the October 26, 2015 request, "if [he had] any concerns [he felt were] in need of a grievance", that he could "pursue this through [the] formal grievance process." (Id.) Sweeney also directed Plaintiff to address any of his concerns regarding the grievance process to Mrs. Brousseau, Clinton's IGP Supervisor. (Id.)

         Plaintiff made no further contact with any prison administrators or IGP members to ascertain the status of his October Grievance before initiating this lawsuit in January 2016. (See Turkle Dec]., Ex. 1 at 90-91.) Nevertheless, during the months of November and December of 2015, Plaintiff testified that other inmates were telling him that something was wrong with his grievance and that he should have already received a response or hearing by that point. (Id. at 90.) Plaintiff did not, however, reach out to Sweeney again, or contact Mrs. Brousseau as Sweeney had suggested. Instead, on January 7, 2016, Plaintiff initiated this Section 1983 lawsuit, (see ECF No. 1), because his October Grievance was not acknowledged and he thought "they were playing games", (see Turkle Decl., Ex. 1 at 103.)

         By letter dated February 1, 2016, Plaintiff finally reached out to Mrs. Brousseau, to ask why there was no response to his October Grievance. (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 9.) In response on February 4, 2016, Mrs. Brousseau advised Plaintiff that "[t]here is no record of a grievance on file for you at Clinton annex that concerns allegations of assault." (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 10.) Plaintiff also received a memorandum dated March 7, 2016 from Downstate in response to his request for records, which informed him that they did not have any grievance on file pertaining to an assault that took place on October 8, 2015. (Id. Ex. 11.)

         During this time, Plaintiff spoke with two Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") representatives, Cedrick and Beatha, who informed him that the evidence showed "that [he] filed the" October Grievance, (see Turkle Decl., Ex. 1 at 102), the Clinton IGP administrators "probably just didn't acknowledge it and they threw it out", (id.), and he should file a new grievance, (id. at 116-18.) Thereafter, on March 15, 2016, Plaintiff requested leave from this Court to withdraw his Complaint, as he did "not use the proper vehicle in this matter," but otherwise failed to explain the impetus for this request. (See ECF No. 9.) On April 15, 2016, this Court granted Plaintiffs application and dismissed his case without prejudice. (See ECF No. 14.) In the interim, Plaintiff filed a grievance on April 3, 2016 (the "April Grievance"). (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 12.)

         The April Grievance stated that Plaintiff had previously filed a grievance in October, but "got no response", he felt "this is in retaliation against [him] for filing a grievance against another officer" at Downstate, and that CO. Reyes and CO. Thoban "assaulted [him and] they hurt [his] elbow .. .." (Id.) Plaintiffs April Grievance was dismissed as untimely on April 19, 2016. (See Turkle Decl., Exs. 13-15.) The decision indicated that there was no grievance on record regarding an alleged assault at Downstate and that Plaintiffs April Grievance was filed beyond the timeframes articulated in 7 N.Y.CR.R. § 701; thus it could not be accepted or investigated. (See id.) Plaintiff appealed to the Clinton Superintendent, who affirmed the IGRC's decision on April 26, 2016, and reiterated that the April Grievance was untimely and "unsubstantiated." (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 16.) On April 29, 2016, Plaintiff appealed the Superintendent's decision to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), (see Turkle Decl., Ex. 17), and after a hearing on August 31, 2016, the CORC affirmed the Superintendent's decision, (see Turkle Decl., Ex. 18.)

         Approximately three months later, on November 16, 2016, Plaintiff made an application before this Court for leave to reinstate his action, based on the CORC's denial of his April Grievance. (See ECF No. 15.) Defendants opposed Plaintiffs application, arguing that if Plaintiffs reasoning for discontinuing the action was originally related to his need to exhaust his administrative remedies, his only recourse was to now initiate a new lawsuit, not reopen the action. (See ECF No. 16.) By short order dated January 26, 2017, this Court granted Plaintiffs application to reopen the case and directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint on or before March 13, 2017. (See ECF No. 19.) Thereafter, on February 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint and amended his pleadings a second time on March 13, 2017. (See ECF Nos. 20, 22.) Plaintiffs March 13, 2017 second amended complaint is the operative complaint.

         In support of their motion, Defendants also provide the Court with affidavits from Michael Kirkpatrick, Superintendent at Clinton, Brousseau, and Karen Bellamy, Director of the Inmate Grievance Program at DOCCS, all demonstrating that no grievance dated October 26, 2015 or related to an October 8, 2015 assault at Downstate (aside from the April Grievance) was ever filed with the IGRC. (See Turkle Decl., Ex. 19¶¶2-4; Ex. 20 ¶¶15-16; Ex. 21 ¶¶7-9.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of pointing to evidence in the record, "including depositions, documents . .. [and] affidavits or declarations," see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A), "which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact," Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may support an assertion that there is no genuine dispute of a particular fact by "showing.. . that [the] adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). If the moving party fulfills its preliminary burden, the onus shifts to the nonmoving party to raise the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).

         A genuine dispute of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, Ml U.S. at 248; accord Gen. Star Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Universal Fabricators, Inc.,585 F.3d 662, 669 (2d Cir. 2009); Roe v. City of Waterbury,542 F.3d 31, 35 (2d Cir. 2008); Benn v. Kissane,510 Fed.Appx. 34, 36 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary order). Courts must "draw all rational inferences in the non-movant's favor," while reviewing the record. Kirkland v. Cablevision Sys.,760 F.3d 223, 224 (2d Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 411 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Importantly, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter," nor is it to determine a witness's credibility. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see also Kaytor v. Elec. Boat Corp.,609 F.3d 537, 545 (2d Cir. 2010). Rather, "the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial." An ...


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