United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. SKRETNY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
action, Plaintiff Adam Villar seeks damages from Erie County
and its sheriff, Timothy B. Howard, for violations of his
constitutional rights while he was incarcerated in the Erie
County Correctional Facility (“ECCF”). Before
this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Villar's
complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted, pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 55.) For the following
reasons, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied
Court assumes the truth of the following factual allegations
contained in Villar's complaint and the attached
exhibits. See Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of Rex Hosp.,
425 U.S. 738, 740, 96 S.Ct. 1848, 48 L.Ed.2d 338 (1976); see
also Hamilton Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, Inc. v. Hamilton
Coll., 128 F.3d 59, 63 (2d Cir. 1997).
Adam Villar was arrested in Erie County on December 31, 2009
and taken to the Erie County Holding Center
(“ECHC”) in Buffalo, New York. (Complaint, Docket
No. 1-1, pp. 3-78, ¶ 16.) On January 2, 2010, Villar was
transported to ECCF in Alden, New York. (Id., ¶
17.) On January 3, 2010, Villar was sexually assaulted and
raped by another inmate in a shower stall in the Nova Unit at
ECCF. (Id., ¶¶ 20-25.) The inmate who
sexually assaulted Villar “ran” the Nova Unit and
was known to both Erie County and Sheriff Howard.
(Id., ¶ 24.) This inmate stated that he had
done this-referring to sexual assault-before. (Id.,
¶ 26.) On January 4, 2010, Villar was sexually assaulted
again, by the same inmate, in a shower stall in the Nova Unit
at ECCF. (Id., ¶¶ 27-29.)
Erie County operated ECCF. (Id., ¶ 5.) Timothy
Howard, as Erie County Sheriff, was and is responsible for
the day-to-day operations of ECCF. (Id., ¶ 9.)
Erie County and Timothy Howard were aware of the risk of
sexual assault faced by Villar in January 2010.
(Id., ¶¶ 12, 30.) On July 15, 2009, Acting
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Loretta King issued a letter
(“the King letter”) detailing the results of a
Department of Justice investigation of ECHC and ECCF.
(Id., ¶ 15.) Erie County and Sheriff Howard
were on notice of the risks to inmates described in this
letter. (Id.) The United States brought a lawsuit
based on the issues in the King letter against Erie County
and Sheriff Howard on September 30, 2009. (Id.,
¶ 15.) The King letter and the complaint from the
resulting lawsuit are attached as exhibits to Villar's
complaint. (Docket No. 1-1 at pp. 29-78 (letter), pp. 14-25
King letter noted 70 reported incidents of inmate-on-inmate
violence between January 1, 2007, and February 9, 2008,
detailing five specific incidents where assaults happened in
the absence of staff supervision. (Id., p. 49.) It
identified inadequate inmate supervision and a failure to
properly classify inmates as causes of this violence.
(Id., pp. 48-49.) The letter referred to an April
2007 New York State report that also addressed the inadequate
classification system. (Id., p. 52.) The King letter
recommended remedial measures including increased staffing
levels, improved supervision of common areas, improved
security rounds, the development of a classification system
that classified inmates based on inmate history, and rape
prevention training for staff. (Id., pp. 69-71.)
Defendants did not implement any of the remedial measures
suggested in the King letter. (Complaint, ¶¶ 14,
alleges that both Defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for failing to protect him from assault while he
was in their custody, in violation of his Fourteenth
Amendment rights. Villar alleges several theories of
Defendants' liability. Villar alleges that both
defendants are liable because they knew of and disregarded a
serious risk that he would be assaulted. (Complaint,
¶¶ 36-37.) Villar alleges that Erie County, as a
municipality, and Sheriff Howard, in his official capacity,
are liable to him because there was a policy or custom of
failing to prevent inmate assaults at ECCF. (Complaint,
¶¶ 33-34.) Finally, Villar alleges that Sheriff
Howard, in his individual capacity, is liable because he was
personally involved in the failure to protect him.
(Id., ¶¶ 34.)
move to dismiss Villar's claim for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12 (b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rule 12 (b)(6)
(b)(6) allows dismissal of a complaint for “failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b)(6). Federal pleading standards are
generally not stringent: Rule 8 requires only a short and
plain statement of a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). But the
plain statement must “possess enough heft to show that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L.Ed.2d
determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court
must construe it liberally, accept all factual allegations as
true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the
plaintiff's favor. Goldstein v. Pataki, 516 F.3d 50, 56
(2d Cir. 2008); ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd.,
493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). Legal conclusions, however,
are not afforded the same presumption of truthfulness. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949,
173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (“The tenet that a court must
accept as true all of the allegations contained in a
complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”)
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
Labels, conclusions, or “a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555. Facial plausibility exists when the facts
alleged allow for a reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct charged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
The plausibility standard is not, however, a probability
requirement: the pleading must show, not merely allege, that
the pleader is entitled to relief. Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). Well-pleaded allegations in the complaint must nudge
the claim “across the line from conceivable to
plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
two-pronged approach is thus used to examine the sufficiency
of a complaint, which includes “any documents that are
either incorporated into the complaint by reference or
attached to the complaint as exhibits.” Blue Tree
Hotels Inv. (Can.), Ltd. v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts
Worldwide, Inc., 369 F.3d 212, 217 (2d Cir. 2004). This
examination is context-specific and requires that the court
draw on its judicial experience and common sense. Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679. First, statements that are not entitled to the
presumption of truth-such as conclusory allegations, labels,
and legal conclusions-are identified and stripped away. See
Id. Second, well-pleaded, non-conclusory factual
allegations are presumed true and examined to determine
whether they “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.” Id. “Where the well-pleaded
facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct, ” the complaint fails to
state a claim. Id.
Villar has sufficiently alleged Defendants' deliberate
alleges that Defendants are liable for failing to protect him
because they knew of a risk to him, and failed to remedy it.
Defendants argue that dismissal of Villar's claim is
warranted because Villar has not sufficiently alleged their
knowledge of such a risk, and therefore has not established
their “deliberate indifference.” Villar argues
that he has sufficiently alleged Defendants' knowledge by
incorporating the King letter into his complaint.
officials have a duty ... to protect prisoners from violence
at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 833, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1976, 128 L.Ed.2d 811
(1994). This includes inmate-on-inmate sexual assault.
Id. (“Prison conditions may be restrictive and
even harsh, but gratuitously allowing the beating or rape of
one prisoner by another serves no legitimate penological
objectiv[e]. … Being violently assaulted in prison is
simply not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay
for their offenses against society.”) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted). Officials'
failure to protect an inmate from a risk of assault can
therefore be a violation of that inmate's constitutional
rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Id. at 834; see also Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d
17, 29 (2d Cir. 2017); Taylor v. City of New York, No. 16
CIV. 7857 (NRB), 2018 WL 1737626, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 27,
alleging an inmate-on-inmate sexual assault, without more,
does not state a claim for a constitutional violation. To
state a claim for failure to protect, a plaintiff must allege
(1) incarceration under conditions posing a substantial risk
of harm, and (2) that the defendants acted, or failed to act,
with deliberate indifference. James v. Westchester Cty., No.
13-CV-0019 NSR, 2014 WL 4097635, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 19,
2014); Nolen v. Goord, No. 02 CV 499, 2006 WL 448686, at *4
(W.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2006), aff'd, 218 Fed.Appx. 41 (2d
Cir. 2007) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833-34).
requirements for establishing deliberate indifference differ
between claims for Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment
violations. Under the Eighth Amendment, which applies to
convicted prisoners, officials' failure to protect a
prisoner constitutes cruel and unusual punishment when
correction officials (1) are subjectively aware of an
excessive risk to the prisoner's health or safety and (2)
disregard that risk. ...