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Shehan v. Erfe

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 4, 2016

WARDEN ERFE, et al., Defendants.


          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Joe Lewis Shehan, commenced this civil rights action against correctional officers at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center (“Corrigan”). He asserted claims of excessive force, deliberate indifference, denial of due process, negligence, assault, and battery arising from his confinement in restraints following an incident at Corrigan in November 2014. In earlier rulings, the Court dismissed all except the following claims: (1) deliberate indifference claims against defendants Norfleet, Ruggiero, and Clapper; (2) an excessive force claim against defendants Marten, Erfe, Williams, Champion, Conger, Norfleet, and Ruggiero; and (3) state law claims for assault and battery against defendants Norfleet and Ruggiero. The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment addressing the remaining claims. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Legal Standard

         A motion for summary judgment may be granted only where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(a), Fed. R. Civ. P.; In re Dana Corp., 574 F.3d 129, 151 (2d Cir. 2009). The moving party may satisfy his burden “by showing-that is pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009). To defeat the motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must present such evidence as would allow a jury to find in his favor. Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000).

         II. Facts

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.[1]

         A. The Plaintiff's Familiarity with the Grievance System

         The plaintiff was first admitted to the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) in 1988. Over the next ten years, the plaintiff was discharged and readmitted to custody several times. He also was transferred between Connecticut correctional facilities many times. On January 5, 2001, the plaintiff was admitted to custody for his current term of incarceration and has since been transferred between correctional facilities multiple times.

         During readmission and transfers, the plaintiff received inmate orientation. As part of the orientation process, the plaintiff received booklets or pamphlets that explained the prison grievance system. Upon transfer to the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in 2006, the plaintiff received an Inmate Handbook that contained a section explaining inmate grievance procedures. There is evidence that the plaintiff had filed at least one inmate grievance before the incident underlying this action, although the plaintiff disputes this and the Court will treat it as a disputed issue.[2] See note 1, supra.

         B. The November 12, 2014 Incident

         On November 12, 2014, Correctional Officer Hamilton observed the plaintiff assaulting and fighting with his cellmate in their cell at Corrigan. When Officer Hamilton called for assistance, the plaintiff covered the cell window with toilet paper. Defendant Champion arrived at the cell with other officers and ordered the plaintiff to uncover the window. The plaintiff refused and began to yell profanities through the cell door. Defendant Champion could hear the two inmates whispering to each other. Officer Hamilton reported that it appeared that the two inmates were staging the fight. Defendant Conger attempted verbal intervention without success. Defendant Champion then ordered both inmates to approach the cell door so that restraints could be applied. Both inmates refused to comply. Again, Defendant Champion heard the inmates whispering to each other. Defendant Champion disbursed a chemical agent under the cell door and tried to open the door to secure the inmates. She was unsuccessful. A clinical social worker and a nurse also attempted verbal intervention. They were unsuccessful. “The inmates may have tampered with the locking mechanism on the door.” (ECF No. 59-2.)

         Two cell extraction teams assembled and the plaintiff was again ordered to exit the cell. He was warned that the chemical agent would again be deployed if he failed to comply with the order. Both inmates refused to comply. Defendant Champion disbursed another burst of chemical agent under the door. When this was unsuccessful, defendant Champion deployed a third burst of chemical agent. After the third deployment, the inmates complied. They were secured and removed from the cell. The plaintiff received disciplinary reports for assault, impeding an order, and hostage-taking. He also was arrested by the Connecticut State Police on charges of assault, unlawful restraint, reckless endangerment, and failure to submit to fingerprints.

         After he was removed from the cell, the plaintiff was escorted to the medical unit where he was decontaminated from the chemical agent. He also was given medical and mental health examinations for medical approval before being placed in restrictive housing. The plaintiff refused to answer any questions. As a result, he was not approved for placement in restrictive housing. The plaintiff was confined in cell 113 in the medical unit to mitigate any possible self-harm.

         C. Plaintiff's Confinement in In-Cell Restraints

         In the medical unit, the plaintiff was required to participate in the routine strip search protocol under Administrative Directive 6.7. This directive requires an inmate to undergo a strip search before the inmate is placed in restrictive housing or if the inmate has been involved in a significant incident. See Defs' Ex. E, Doc. 59-7, Directive 6.7, Section 7(A)(6) and (7). The plaintiff had participated in a significant incident and was slated for confinement in restrictive housing, so the strip search was required.

         The plaintiff refused to bend at the waist and spread his buttocks. Instead, he wanted to squat and cough. Directive 6.7, Section 3(Q) requires a visible inspection of the rectum. The parties dispute whether the rectum can be visibly inspected when the inmate squats and coughs. When an inmate refuses to comply with a strip search, as defined in Directive 6.6 Section 3(Q), correctional staff may either conduct a hands-on controlled strip search under Directive 6.7, Section 7(D), or use in-cell restraints under Directive 6.5, Section 8(A)(4). In-cell restraints may be used to “ensure compliance with an order” and “to maintain order, safety and security.” Directive 6.5, Section 8(A)(4). Shift supervisors may use in-cell restraints for any reason set forth in Section 8(A). Directive 6.5, Section 8(B)(1).

         In-cell restraints may include one or more of the following: handcuffs, leg irons, flex cuffs, a “black box, ” a waist chain, and a tether chain. The inmate is handcuffed with his hands in front. His ankles are secured by leg irons. A tether chain connects the two with sufficient slack to enable the inmate to stand erect. The black box fits over the handcuffs and covers the keyholes to prevent the inmate from picking the locks. It forms a rigid link between the inmate's wrists. In-cell restraints cannot be used as a punitive measure. Once the restraints are applied, the inmate must be checked every fifteen minutes with observations recorded. The shift commander must observe the inmate at least twice per shift and medical staff must observe the inmate and conduct a mental health assessment at least twice per day. Inmates are able to feed themselves and use the toilet while restrained.

         A hands-on controlled strip search frequently results in an explosive situation and exposes staff to injury. In this case, the officers decided to use in-cell restraints instead.

         The following facts are supported by evidence submitted by defendants but disputed by the plaintiff. See note 1, supra. The officers placed the plaintiff in a safety gown and in-cell restraints in medical unit cell 113. After the officers applied the restraints, Nurse Martin checked the restraints in accordance with the restraint protocol. When Nurse Martin determined that the right wrist restraint was too tight, the restraint was adjusted. An officer was posted at the plaintiff's door for continuous observation. Nurse Martin later observed that the restraints had been properly applied and allowed for appropriate circulation and motion.

         The plaintiff admits that he was confined and shackled in in-cell restraints from 7:15 p.m. on November 12, 2014, until 2:25 p.m. on November 14, 2014. He denies that, during this time, his restraints were checked every fifteen minutes or that he was offered several opportunities to be released from restraints if he would agree to undergo the strip search protocol. He admits, however, that ...

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