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Amaker v. Boyd

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 14, 2020

A. BOYD, et al., Defendants.




         The Clerk has sent to the Court for review a complaint submitted by pro se plaintiff Anthony D. Amaker asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq. Dkt. No. 2 (“Complaint”).[1]


         A. Governing Legal Standard

         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.” § 1915A(a)-(b); see also Carr v. Dvorin, 171 F.3d 115, 116 (2d Cir. 1999) (per curiam) (noting § 1915A applies to all actions brought by prisoners against government officials even when plaintiff paid the filing fee).

         A court may 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) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In assessing whether this standard has been met, courts “must accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party's favor.” In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted). Although 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “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). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, a pleading that only “tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” will not suffice. Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         The Court must construe pro se complaints liberally, see Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam), and should exercise “extreme caution . . . in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and both parties (but particularly the plaintiff) have had an opportunity to respond.” Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted).

         B. Summary of the Complaint

         Plaintiff asserts allegations of wrongdoing that occurred while he was incarcerated at Bare Hill Correctional Facility (“Bare Hill C.F.”) and in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”). See generally Compl. The following facts are set forth as alleged in the Complaint.

         In March 2015, Plaintiff suffered from knee discomfort, “lower herniated discs[, ] and sciatica” while incarcerated at Otisville Correctional Facility (“Otisville C. F.”). Id. at 3.

         On June 30, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred to Bare Hill C. F. from Fishkill Correctional Facility. Id. at 13. Upon his arrival at Bare Hill C. F., Plaintiff “witnessed a racism assault on a dark skin[ned] Hispanic prisoner” and “was subjected to racial intimidation and harassment.” Id. Plaintiff was also denied his Ramadan meal for two days despite informing the sergeant in the reception room of his desire for religious meals. Id. at 13-14. After Plaintiff received his Ramadan meals, he was denied permission to attend religious services for two weeks, until he filed a grievance. Id. at 14. The issue was then corrected. Id.

         On or about July 30, 2016, Plaintiff slipped in the shower and injured “the second toe on [his] left foot.” Id. at 15.[2] Following the injury, Plaintiff was transported by van to “the clinic.” Id. at 15-16. Upon arriving at the clinic, Plaintiff was examined by Nurse M. Harmon, who pressured Plaintiff to move his toe even after plaintiff informed her that he was unable to “wiggle [his] toe” and was “in pain.” Id. at 16. Thereafter, Harmon asked Plaintiff to sign the injury report that she completed, which he refused to do because the document contained “misinformation” about the condition of his toe. Id. at 16-17. After Plaintiff refused to sign the injury report, Harmon walked away, placed a call on “the phone on the back wall[, ]” left the room, and then returned with two corrections officials. Id. at 17. One of those corrections officials, Sergeant Coleman, [3] “asked [Plaintiff] what the problem was and kept . . . disrespectfully telling [Plaintiff] [that he] was harassing the nurse.” Id. Plaintiff explained that Harmon wanted him to sign something that contained incorrect information, and Coleman directed Plaintiff to correct the document as he desired and then sign it. Id. Plaintiff then signed the form, and Coleman told Harmon and another correction officer, Albert, [4] to “write a misbehavior report for harassment[.]” Id.

         Following the issuance of the misbehavior report, Plaintiff was “cube confine[d].” Id. at 17. As a result of the misbehavior report, Plaintiff had to “wait four days to see a doctor for [his] dislocated toe[, ]” during which time he was in “extreme pain.” Id. at 18.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff received a disciplinary hearing on the misbehavior report, which was presided over by Correction Lieutenant Flint.[5] Id. at 17-18. Flint denied Plaintiff's request to introduce into evidence copies of the “schedule for de-escalation of writing [a] misbehavior report and re-training of the staff throughout the State of New York.” Id. Flint also caused Plaintiff's statements and objections to be deleted from the transcript of the hearing and denied Plaintiff's request to call a doctor as a witness, even though the proposed witness would have offered testimony that Plaintiff's toe was actually injured. Id. at 18. Flint found that the misbehavior report was justified because Plaintiff “had no injury.” Id. Following the hearing, Flint sentenced Plaintiff to thirty days of lost privileges and “cube confinement.” Id. Correction Captain A. Boyd upheld this determination. Id.

         Plaintiff also raises additional allegations about the manner in which religious practices were handled at Bare Hill C. F. On an unidentified date during Eid-Ul-Fitr, Correction Officer Benior[6] “refused to supply the Sahor [sic] bag to start the fast, despite being told to do so.” Id. at 14. In addition, on or before January 11, 2017, Reverend Ranney[7] caused an “erroneous packet” to be distributed, which directed that members of the Nation of Islam to pick up Sahor [sic] bags from the mess hall on February 25, 2017, and return to the gym to eat at 12:30. Id. On January 11, 2017, Plaintiff notified the “facilitator” that the timing and consumption location for the meal was wrong. Id. However, this error was not corrected, and as a result, Plaintiff was not allowed to take food back to his cell. Id. Superintendent B. Yelich, Deputy Superintendents D. Phelix and S. Barton, and Ranney were responsible for the violation of Plaintiff's religious rights because they “allow[ed] non-Nation of Islam members to dictate [the] practice of religion” at Bare Hill C. F. Id.

         Plaintiff also seems to suggest that Ranney impaired the rights of Nation of Islam members in other ways, including (1) not placing a DVD in the locker for class; (2) ending the class at 9:00 p.m. instead of 10:00 p.m.; and (3) failing to submit paperwork for a fundraiser. Id. at 15.[8] According to Plaintiff, this is because Ranney has a “conflict of interest” because of “deep-seated racial animosity at Bare Hill C. F.” Id.

         Additionally, at some unidentified point during Plaintiff's confinement at Bare Hill C. F. and upon Phelix's authorization, Correction Officer Russell[9] refused to pick up mail from Plaintiff's dorm area bound for Plaintiff's attorney because Russell “claim[ed] prisoners [were] smoking.” Id. at 20. Plaintiff alleges that as a result of Russell's refusal to pick up his mail, he is “being denied” the ability to file “a post-conviction remedy motion.” Id. at 19, 22. Plaintiff also accuses D. Willet[10] and Yelich of “operating under illegal policy [and] overriding the Commissioner['s] authority” regarding Plaintiff's access to legal mail. Id. at 19. Barton was also “in charge of the unconstitutional policy governing the internal and external mail at Bare Hill C. F.” Id. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he has not received timely responses to his grievances and, on one occasion while he was incarcerated at either Otisville C. F. or Bare Hill C. F., did not receive mail from his brother containing “religious photos.” Compl. at 19-20.

         The improper conduct at Bare Hill C. F. was a product of DOCCS Commissioner Annucci, Deputy Commissioner Joseph Bellnier, and Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey McCoy's “blind eye in management.” Id. at 19. Plaintiff “has suffered and continues to suffer from the pain of [his] dislocated toe, ” which he “has not been able to bend” since July 30, 2016, yet has been refused follow up treatment with “a foot doctor[.]” Id. at 21. During Plaintiff's confinement at Bare Hill C. F., he also “suffer[ed] from the denial of reasonable accommodation of bus services[, ]” was “made to walk long hill and distance [sic] [, ]” and “never received adequate or follow up treatment concerning his knee braces and elbow sleeve[.]” Id. at 23.

         Construed liberally, Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (1) RLUIPA and First Amendment free exercise claims against Benior, Yelich, Phelix, Barton, and Ranney; (2) First Amendment retaliation claims against Harmon, Coleman, and Albert; (3) First Amendment access-to-courts claims against Willet, Yelich, Barton, Russell, and Phelix; (4) First Amendment free-flow-of-mail claims against Willet, Yelich, Barton, Russell, and Phelix; (5) Eighth Amendment medical indifference claims against Harmon, Coleman, and Albert; (6) Fourteenth Amendment due-process claims against Coleman, Harmon, Albert, Flint and Boyd; (7) Fourteenth Amendment equal-protection claims against Benior, Yelich, Phelix, Barton, Ranney, Harmon, Albert, and Coleman; (8) supervisory liability claims against Annucci, Bellnier, and McCoy based on the aforementioned alleged constitutional violations; and (9) ADA and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 claims based on Plaintiff's alleged failure to receive bus services at unidentified times.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. Id. at 26-28. For a complete statement of Plaintiff's claims, reference is made to the Complaint.

         C. Analysis

         1. Section 1983 claims

         “42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a civil claim for damages against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of the right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States.” Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir. 1999). Section 1983 does not create any substantive rights; it provides civil litigants a procedure to redress the deprivation of rights established elsewhere. Id. (citing City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808 (1985)). “To prevail on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish that a person acting under the color of state law deprived him of a federal right.” Id.

         It is well settled that “personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.” Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d 880, 885 (2d Cir. 1991)); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. “[A] Section 1983 plaintiff must ‘allege a tangible connection between the acts of the defendant and the injuries suffered.'” Austin v. Pappas, No. 04-CV-7263, 2008 WL 857528, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2008) (quoting Bass v. Jackson, 790 F.2d 260, 263 (2d Cir. 1986)) (other citation omitted). “[V]icarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

         a. Request for Injunctive Relief

         Plaintiff's Complaint includes a request for injunctive relief. Compl. at 26-27. After filing the Complaint, however, Plaintiff submitted a letter to the Pro Se Intake Unit for the Southern District of New York in which Plaintiff indicated he is no longer incarcerated. See Dkt. No. 6.

         “In this circuit, an inmate's transfer from a prison facility generally moots claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against officials of that facility.” Shepherd v. Goord, 662 F.3d 603, 610 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272 (2d Cir. 2006)). Inasmuch as the Complaint requests the Court order officials at Bare Hill C. F. to provide Plaintiff with medical treatment and accommodation, his release from prison moots this request for relief. Khalil v. Laird, 353 Fed.Appx. 620, 621 (2d Cir. 2009) (“When Khalil was released from prison, he no longer had a ‘continuing personal stake' in the outcome of this action, and his claims were rendered moot.” (quoting Muhammad v. City of N.Y. Dep't of Corr., 126 F.3d 119, 123 (2d Cir. 1997)). Accordingly, Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief is dismissed without prejudice.

         b. RLUIPA and Free Exercise Claims

         RLUIPA affords prison inmates certain protections relevant to exercising their religious beliefs, and provides, in pertinent part, that

[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution . . . even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of a burden on that person-
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a).

         “RLUIPA does not authorize claims for monetary damages against state officers in either their official or individual capacities.” Holland v. Goord, 758 F.3d 215, 220-22 (2d Cir. 2014). Moreover, as set forth above, since plaintiff is no longer incarcerated, he may not pursue claims for injunctive relief against the named defendants. Accordingly, Plaintiff's RLUIPA claims are dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         Additionally, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to free exercise of religion. See U.S. Const. amend. I; Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 719 (2005). As is true with regard to the First Amendment generally, the Free Exercise Clause applies to prison inmates, subject to appropriate limiting factors. Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582, 588 (2d Cir. 2003) (holding that “[p]risoners have long been understood to retain some measure of the ...

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